House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

moved that Bill C-215, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, and my entire party from coast to coast to coast for their support during the six years that I have been trying to get the bill passed. This is the sixth year that Bill C-215, in its many forms, has come to light.

First I would like to thank Roger Boutin, Mel Pittman and John Labelle from Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, for bringing this matter to my attention over six years ago and helping me with this legislation.

When individuals in the military or RCMP retire at age 65, the amount of money they receive from the Canada pension plan is deducted from their superannuation. Also, if they become disabled in their forties or fifties, for example, whatever amount they get from CPP disability benefits is deducted from their superannuation. That is wrong.

Most people do not know that all federal and provincial public servants who receive an annuity from their government, from the Canada pension plan, get that deducted from their superannuation when they retire at age 65, except for senators, judges and your friendly members of Parliament.

In 1965-66, when the scheme came into place, nobody in the military or the RCMP was advised of this. They had no options, yet somehow this great scheme avoided members of Parliament, senators and judges. As I have asked repeatedly over six years, if it is such a great deal for members of the armed forces and the RCMP, why did members of Parliament not get into it? It is quite obvious that somebody was looking out for our personal interests at that time.

In 1966, people paid a certain amount into one pension plan. When the Canada pension plan came into effect in 1966, the system was blended. Members of Parliament have what is called a stacked system. However, most people have a blended system which is divided into superannuation and CPP. The argument is that they did not pay enough into both to merit both when they retire.

If indeed that is the case, then why is it that at age 60 a person can fully retire, receive his or her superannuation and then apply for the Canada pension plan? He or she would get a reduced amount in CPP, but everybody does.

For example, a person receives $3,000 in superannuation. If he or she applied for the Canada pension plan at age 60, then instead of, say, $800, he or she would get $600. He or she would still get both, the superannuation and the Canada pension plan, until age 65.

Here is what happens for those in the military or the RCMP.

The government sends the dreaded letter, and anyone in the military or the RCMP at retirement age knows about this letter. It is from their friendly government officials: “Congratulations on reaching age 65. If you were collecting CPP at this time, you would have received this amount of money.” The letter informs them, for example, that they will keep the $500 or $600 in CPP that they presently receive, but the government is going to deduct more from their superannuation. They will actually lose money, but the government tells them not to worry because the old age security will kick in and should offset the loss of their Canada pension plan clawback.

I remind everyone that old age security, OAS, has nothing to do with defined plans. It comes from general revenues. Therefore, to say that something else builds that up is simply misleading. It is simply wrong.

For example, and this is true story, a gentleman in my riding who had 32 years of service with the RCMP had a stroke at the Halifax airport and was rushed to the hospital. When he woke up in the morning the doctor told him that he had good news and bad news for him. The good news was that he was going to survive his stroke. The bad news was that he had cancer. He was sent to London, Ontario for treatment. While he was there, he was told by his senior officials that, after 32 years of service with the RCMP, he would never work again. Then he was told to apply for CPP disability benefits because he was unable to work.

He said, “Okay, my pension is around $3,000 from the RCMP.” He thought that if he applied, he might get about $800 in Canada pension plan disability benefits. He calculated that if he got both amounts, and if he survived his health problems, that he would be okay with $3,800 a month. He was told, “Oh, Jim, we are so sorry, but that is not how the game is played.” He would get the $800 in Canada pension plan disability benefits, but it would be deducted dollar for dollar from his superannuation. He said, “Why am I applying for CPP disability benefits?”

That is the $64,000 question. Why should he have to go through all these hoops, all the trials and tribulations and do all that paperwork when it is going to be deducted from his superannuation, not at 65 but when he is 52? What the government did not tell him is that when he turns 65, the Canada pension plan disability benefits will stop for him. Then he will go on a reduced CPP, which is clawed back from the superannuation.

If he dies, his wife will get 50% of the clawed back pension. That is the big thanks he gets for 32 years of loyal service to his country as an RCMP officer. This also applies to military personnel. It also applies to all federal and provincial public servants.

The reason we focus on members of the RCMP and the military is that they do not have unions or associations that could argue this at the bargaining table. In fact, PSAC and others have gently refused to support this legislation. I believe I know why. They are waiting to see if we are successful. I believe that they themselves may wish to argue this issue at a future round of bargaining.

The heroes of our country, the RCMP and military, should not have to suffer the financial indignation of clawbacks at age 65 or when they are disabled.

I would like to deal with a couple of myths. There are roughly 740,00 to 750,000 retired military and RCMP officials, along with their spouses.

This bill only affects about 96,000 of them. They would have had to have served over 20 years in order to get superannuation. Now, for the modern military personnel, it is 25 years. If they served five years in the military, this bill does not apply to them. Everybody knows that.

What I have also heard from some people is that the bill is retroactive. It is not. It will only come into force when it becomes law. Everybody is fully aware of this.

On the cost, we heard the former parliamentary secretary to the minister of defence once say in a committee that the bill would cost about $100 million. He is about right. To run this program every year is another $100 million. People who serve for over 20 years in the military or the RCMP can get superannuation.

However, one thing they pay into, which by the way members of Parliament do not pay into, is employment insurance which, if they retire from the military, they cannot collect. We, as members of Parliament, do not pay into EI because we cannot collect it.

Can we tell the average person serving their country in an RCMP uniform or a military uniform the fairness of that little scheme? It is simply wrong.

And $58 million of the superannuation could be easily transferred by cancelling the EI deduction and moving it over to superannuation. That is a simple deduction right there.

Also if they received more CPP money at age 65 or if they were disabled, they would receive less old age security at age 65. This would be another savings to the government.

The average person would get about $200 extra a month. What would a disabled hero of our country, someone who is 65 years old, do with an additional $200 a month? Well, that person might buy prescription drugs. He or she might buy heating oil, or take the granddaughter and grandson out for lunch. That money would be put right back into the economy, right back into the tax system.

The bill itself, when we look at the overall picture, is fairly revenue neutral. The most important aspect of this is these people are the heroes of our country, and they require financial dignity when they retire.

Why is it that we as members of Parliament, the leaders of this country, do not suffer this indignation, but they do? It is simply wrong. I have case after case of individuals showing me the letter, showing me how much they made at age 64, for 364 days, and then on their 65th birthday how much they are making. An awful lot of them lose money. It is tough enough in our economy now without them losing more of their income.

Why would we do this to them? Why did they not have any say back in 1965-66 when this was done behind closed doors? In the 1960s and 1970s, most of them were not advised this was happening. Although it was in the book they received, it was written in language that was difficult to read. I have to admit the government is correct, everyone leaving the military now is fully aware of what will happen to them if they become disabled or if their benefits are clawed back. However, it is simply wrong.

Here is the case of Roddie O'Handley, from Nova Scotia, a disabled gentleman from the RCMP. He was supposed to receive 75% of his pay from the RCMP, which he got. Great-West Life, the insurance company, was supposed to cover him for two years of long-term disability. He received that. After two years, Great-West Life said it would not pay him any longer, that he would have to apply for Canada pension plan disability benefits. He did that, and he received benefits. However, all the money he got from CPP, backdated for two years, had to be paid back to Great-West Life. This happens to everyone. He had to pay it all back. Then, of course, CPP was deducted from his RCMP superannuation. Therefore, he did not gain any money; he lost it.

He asked, “If I'm supposed to receive x number of dollars from the RCMP for my disability on my superannuation, why is it that they can deduct it from my superannuation?” He should not be losing money for being disabled. Those additional funds are required in order to help him move forward.

There are probably many veterans watching us debate this on the great channel, CPAC, right now. I encourage members of Parliament to talk to the Royal Canadian Legion, to the ANAVETS and to the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. They are fully supportive of this initiative.

At the end of the day, when the heroes of our country become disabled, or when they retire at age 65, they should not suffer receiving the dreaded letter.

We have already outlined in previous Parliaments, in committee, and everywhere else how this can be paid for. At the end of the day, when these men and women were on the front lines in the country and around the world, no one asked them how much money they made. When they had to pick up a bunch of kids off a vehicle that rolled down a ditch and all four of them died, no one asked them how much money they made. On the front lines in Afghanistan, or in World War II, or wherever they may have been, no one asked them that. Now we are asking them how much money they make and we are going to deduct it from them.

This is not to be confused with the SISIP clawback. That is something completely different. This is the annuity clawback, the pension benefit reduction at age 65 or when disabled.

Most of my colleagues on both sides of the House know that the disability part is a real sore thumb for them, and they want to fix it. We can fix that quite easily if we want to, and we can work on the other aspect later if they like.

The reality is, people who serve our country deserve no less. They deserve to be treated with the greatest of respect. As I have heard many times, they deserve to be treated with financial dignity when they retire. They serve our country. They allow us to have a good night's sleep. They look after our families. They really are the best of Canada. As Rick Mercer once said, “If you're going to take the very best of Canada and send them to hell on earth, you might as well give them the gold card when they're there”.

As parliamentarians, we have the ultimate responsibility for the needs of these men and women all the way up to and including the headstone. They do not deserve to have those pensions clawed back. It is simply wrong and unfair. It is not illegal, but it is immoral and wrong and it needs to change.

God bless all those who have served our country in the military and the RCMP, and their families. Lest we forget.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could circulate all his actuarial tables and numbers to all members of the House to help us understand where he is getting his numbers from. It would be most helpful.

This is a type of a bridge payment. My mother, who is a librarian, has received a bridge payment. She understands it is not a clawback when it ends, it was a special payment for a period of time. The member said before, in previous committee testimony when his former bill was up for debate, that it is not retroactive. Who would this impact? Would this impact members of the armed forces and RCMP who have previously served over 20 years and are retiring? Would it only impact people who are entering the RCMP and armed forces today, or is there some line in between? The retroactivity and a full explanation of how this legislation would impact that would be appreciated.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, those figures and papers were submitted to committees previously, but I will present them to the member again.

The retroactivity would only apply to members of the military and RCMP who have served over 20 years and are retired. It would only apply to them. They have to have served over 20 years in order to receive superannuation. For example, if someone serves 10 years or 18 years, the bill would not apply. Someone who is 74 years old and is subject to a clawback, that clawback would cease the minute this bill became law. For someone who will become 65 years old in a couple of years, there would be no clawback because it would stop right then and there. For someone who is disabled, the clawback would immediately stop right then and there.

It would only apply to roughly 96,000 people who are currently retired or disabled.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his long-standing commitment to ensuring that the veterans who do return home are treated with the respect they deserve and are able to live the lives they should be able to live.

I remember very well when the New Democratic Party brought the veterans first charter into the House in 2006. At that time, with the spotlight on the vote, every member on the government side supported the initiative. Yet I am seeing that when it comes time to follow through, they have been dragging their feet, particularly on this issue of the clawback.

We have received unanimous support from the legion. We have received unanimous support from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP. The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association has supported it. The veterans are calling for action. The House has already voted on it. The Conservatives have been on the record as supporting ending the clawback.

Why does the member think the government is continuing to deny the RCMP and the veterans this basic right?

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, if I may have your indulgence for a second to allow my hon. colleague for Timmins—James Bay to hear what the bureaucrats have said about this.

The projected accrued benefit actuarial cost method...was used to determine the current service cost and actuarial liability.

The actuarial liability with respect to participants corresponds to the value, discounted in accordance with the actuarial assumptions, of all future payable benefits accrued as at the valuation date in respect of all previous service at that date. For pensioners and survivors, the actuarial liability corresponds to the value, discounted in accordance with the actuarial assumptions, of future payable benefits.

Is there anyone in the House who understands the words that just came out of my mouth? No, but 96,000 members of the military know exactly what they mean. They see the clawback. They see the deduction. They make less money at age 65 than they did before. That is simply wrong.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House today, as many others on the government side have done before me, to add my voice to the debate on Bill C-215.

We have no dispute with the statement by the member opposite that veterans have served this country with distinction, with courage, with selflessness and that not just this government but every government has a duty to look after them. However, the suggestion that we are taking benefits away, or that the current system somehow has been unfair or lacking in enhancement is simply wrong.

One of the core commitments of this government has been to modernize the Canadian Forces so that our country has the military it needs to deal with the 21st century security environment.

Three years ago we released the Canada first defence strategy. Members are very familiar with it. It is a 20-year framework to revitalize the armed forces based on a long-term predictable funding framework. We are investing in new and renovated infrastructure for men and women in uniform. We are purchasing new equipment for our navy, army and air force. We hear about these procurement exercises in this House every week, almost every day.

We are not just focusing on our efforts to support serving members of the Canadian Forces; we are also making sure that veterans receive the support they deserve because, as the member opposite said, we owe them a great debt. Their service has shaped modern Canada. It has given our country a respected and influential voice in world affairs. It has helped to make Canada one of the safest and most secure countries in the world. For this, we cannot ever fully repay them, but what we can and must do is make sure our veterans' particular needs and those of their families are fulfilled. The government understands this, which is why over the last few years we have undertaken a number of initiatives to stand up for veterans, to enhance support for veterans.

We have increased access to employment insurance for military families. We have funded new community war memorials across the country. Recognition is incredibly important to veterans. We have put into place a veterans bill of rights, the new veterans charter and a veterans ombudsman.

The bill of rights ensures that each and every one of our country's veterans is treated with respect and dignity. The charter provides veterans and their families with special programs and services to improve their quality of life. We have been very clear before the House and in committee about the investments this entails, some $189.4 million over the next five years, a $2 billion investment over the life of the program. The ombudsman, who operates at arm's length from government, plays a key role in raising awareness of the needs and concerns of veterans.

The government has also tackled issues related to veterans health and reintegration into civilian life.

There is now a one-time tax-free ex gratia payment to individuals with an illness related to the use of agent orange at CFB Gagetown, another issue that went unaddressed for too long. We have instituted a program that awards special financial recognition to Canada's atomic veterans.

We have launched the joint personnel support unit, a collaborative venture between National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. Twenty-four joint personnel support units and nine satellite units have been set up across the country to serve veterans, whatever their needs, especially the nearly 40,000 of them who served in Afghanistan and who are reintegrating into civilian life in Canada. They provide help to current and former CF members who want to get back to normal, and they ensure the services offered by National Defence and Veterans Affairs are coordinated and integrated.

A generous pension plan is one more way we are taking care of veterans. The government's contributions to the CFSA constitute around 75% of the total pension a member will receive, while the members' contributions account for around 25% of their pensions.

Part of each contribution goes to the Canadian Forces superannuation plan, or CFSP, while part goes to the CPP. Confusion sometimes results from the fact that benefits from the two plans are combined so that they blend seamlessly in order to meet the particular needs of Canadian Forces veterans. Let me explain to members what this means.

Unlike other Canadians, the vast majority of Canadian Forces members retire by the age of 60, before they become eligible for CPP. The CFSP contains a special provision designed to cover the gap between retirement and eligibility for the CPP.

When a member retires, the member immediately begins to receive the pension benefits payable to him or her under the CFSP. These consist of a lifetime benefit and a bridge benefit. The lifetime benefit continues from retirement onward. The bridge benefit, as its name suggests, is a special allowance only provided to veterans during the period between release from the forces and eligibility for CPP at the age of 65.

Once the member's CPP payments kick in, the bridge benefit ends. It ends because it has done what it was meant to do, by bridging the period between retirement and eligibility for CPP. In the vast majority of cases, a veteran's overall pension remains stable as the bridge benefit is fully replaced by the CPP.

Why do veterans not continue to receive the bridge benefit even after becoming eligible for CPP? Continuing the bridge benefit past 65 would ignore the added benefit provided by CPP after that age. It would undermine the intended purpose of the bridge benefit, which is to provide for the period between release and eligibility for CPP. In addition, pension plan contributions are currently based on the assumption that the bridge allowance will end at age 65 when CPP typically begins. This is what we can afford. It is fair. It is what the circumstances of service in the Canadian Forces require for us to do right by veterans.

The amount contributed by a Canadian Forces member and the government would have to rise significantly during a member's career in order for his or her bridge benefit to continue past the age of 65. This is a point that has not been fully reflected in the member opposite's comments. In return, Canadian taxpayers support veterans pensions to ensure that they enjoy a fair, stable and predictable retirement income throughout their lives.

The government believes this support for veterans is just and fair, but we also have a duty to be fair to taxpayers. Those who wish to see the bridge benefit extended beyond age 65 should remember that the money must come from somewhere: either member contributions would rise significantly, or taxpayers would supplement what is already a very fair and equitable pension practice.

The government stands behind serving retired members of the military. We are committed to making these investments. We have established new programs to support veterans. We want veterans to have a stable, predictable and equitable pension, but we are also committed to responsible stewardship of public funds. Bill C-215 would put a greater financial strain on serving members. It would increase their contributions and would require taxpayers to fund further the already generous pension benefit package enjoyed by Canada's veterans.

Our actuarial calculation is that the financial implications of the member opposite's bill would be a further $8.3 billion investment. This is not something that is provided for in our fiscal framework. It is not something to which the member opposite has spoken. It is not the right way forward.

Let me simply remind the House that this bill is not being proposed by the member opposite in a vacuum. It comes in the context of a mission in Libya that has just ended for Canada. It comes in the context of unprecedented investments in procurement, a veterans charter, provisions for which have been reflected in our budgets, one of which is scheduled for passage at third reading today.

I have some questions for the member opposite. Why stand in the House and raise false hopes on the part of veterans on this issue, when there is a fair, equitable, enhanced practice in delivering reliable pensions for Canadian Forces members? Why does he not support the real-life investments in equipment, training and human resources that the Canadian Forces require today, that this government has brought forward and that are the lifeblood of a successful army, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy?

Why is the member standing for the sixth time to bring this bill forward while continuing to oppose almost all aspects of the agenda relating to the Canadian Forces, its equipment, its people, its procurement, indeed its veterans, when this is an agenda that Canada and Canadians want? The agenda the member opposite has proposed is unaffordable and unfair.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on behalf of Bill C-215, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act.

When members of the RCMP and military along with federal civil servants receive a Canada disability pension, it is deducted dollar for dollar from the superannuation plan, which leaves many of our heroes, who served Canada, in financial hardship when they become disabled.

For all the people who work hard for us, with these clawbacks, there is an overall loss of income in the hundreds of dollars because the old age pension is far less than the maximum Canada pension.

I would like to give the House some facts I have received from the military and RCMP veterans associations. It states that the money is in the fund to help pay for these costs:

On January 1, 1966 the Canadian Forces employee’s contribution was reduced from 9.3% to 7.5% of their gross rate of pay. Hence, a “So called” reduced Annuity contribution to our CFSA has accumulated a C.F. Military Annuity surplus funds of almost 20 billion dollars! It clearly indicates that contributions to the CFSA continue to be sufficient to pay for our benefits without a reduction clause.

The associations went on to say:

Today a Chief Warrant Officer with 38 years of service draws an Annuity smaller than that of a serving Private’s income.

Veterans that retired in the year 1970-80 today receive an average annual Annuity of $15,000. The annual average payment to annuitants was $21,684 for the year ending March 2009.

The 2009 annual pension report indicated that there were 86,406 Military annuitants. 39,192 were over the age of 65. The total annual cost of the CF Vets annuity benefits for the year 2009 was $2.391 billion. The CF pension plan assets recorded for 31 March 2009 was 6.94 billion. More than sufficient funds to terminate the CPP benefit reduction program.

The Government of Canada enacted the Canada Pension Plan in 1965 and the plan came into force on January 1, 1966. Its intention was to provide another source for an income security program supplementing the old age security pension plan. Military/RCMP Veterans maintain that in 1966 the Government of Canada deliberately or otherwise imposed on them a gross injustice and unfairness by merging rather than stacking their Annuity and CPP contributions and benefits, and by not providing them with any other options.

This worthwhile initiative continues to grow! Over 112,500 Veterans have pronounced their support. To date 121 former Generals and Colonels have signed our Veterans petition. It includes the signatures of 54 former Generals and RCMP Superintendents.

The Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, The Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada, and the Air Force Association of Canada have adopted resolutions at their Annual General meetings in 2006 in full support of our Annuity initiative. We have also received support regarding our mission from numerous other Military Associations.

The Yukon and the Nova Scotia Provincial standing Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously passed motions in support of the military/RCMP Veterans Annuity issue in 2011.

What I recently read is a transcript from the military and veterans associations. The point is that the money is there so it should not be clawed back.

I have received some other correspondence over the last couple of days. I want to quote, for this House, a correspondence that was in The Ottawa Citizen blog yesterday. It is from Robin Brentnall from Gambo, Newfoundland. In his letter to the Prime Minister he states, in part:

Last year, your Party voted against Bill C-201, “An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity)”.

Your government keeps repeating that they “Support Our Troops and Veterans”, yet you vote against a Bill that will assist all Soldiers, Police, and Veterans with ceasing the deduction from annuity, a deduction that was never asked for nor voted on. The Military and RCMP don’t have a Union [as a member stated previously in the House] nor the ability to vote on whether they want a deduction or not.

This letter goes on to state:

By following the same “slap in the face” that Soldiers, RCMP, and Veterans received last year from you and your Party, you will confirm to Canada that you DON’T Support Our Troops and Veterans, thereby affirming that you do not respect what they have done to protect this country from those who would use their Dictatorships to rule with an iron fist.

It then continues:

Mr. Prime Minister, you can fix this wrong. Do not use our “fragile” economy to refute this Bill. If our economy is so “fragile”, why would your government continue on with it’s spending on expensive jets, jails, and Corporate Tax Cuts? Why continue to send our troops into battle when we can’t afford it? Why continue to buy hockey tickets for your RCMP guards with taxpayers' funds so that you can watch a hockey game, yet deny the same RCMP guards the deduction that they need that you voted against last year? Why allow your Ministers to order Air Force pilots at taxpayer expense to get to the airport on time but deny those same pilots the deduction that you voted against last year?

I will continue reading this letter but it states how hypocritical the government and the Prime Minister are. It goes on to say:

We served this country with pride, respect, and honour. The least your party can do is have the dignity to fix this deduction by voting “Yes” [on this bill] and truly supporting our troops, police, and veterans. To do anything less will confirm what is already thought: The Conservative Party of Canada does not Support Our Troops.

I have another letter here from Michael Gregory from Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. The letter is an email sent to the Minister of National Defence. I will read some parts of this correspondence that pertain to Bill C-215. He states, in part:

On Monday, 21 November at 11 a.m. Bill C-215 will be debated in the House of Commons. This bill will eliminate the shameful and unfair claw back of retired Canadian Forces and RCMP service pensions.

I recently spoke with a retired RCMP veteran who spent 40 years in the RCMP. He told me he received his first old age pension cheque in August and because of the claw back his pension cheque went up $26. It is my understanding that the federal politicians pensions are not subject to the same humiliation [as was quoted earlier today].

I read your newsletter for November and it is very touching. The following is a quote from that newsletter.

At the end of this letter to the Minister of National Defence, he writes:

“On Remembrance Day, when Canadians from all corners of this great country join together in silence, may we fill those empty moments with the thoughts of gratitude and compassion for the men and women, and their families, who have given so very much for the causes of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Canadians are eternally grateful for the sacrifices of those who serve to protect us”.

These quotes were from Michael Gregory and Robin Brentnall.

Cape Breton is one of the highest areas of recruitment for military and police services across this country. I am an honorary Cape Breton Highlander and I can appreciate the sacrifices of our men and women who maintain our peace. This is also true for police officers in our region.

When Bill C-215 comes up for a vote, I would ask all members of Parliament to vote in favour of it. They owe this to the brave men and women who serve our country.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-215, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity).

This bill is very important to my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore. For over six years now, he has been working, with the support of hundreds of thousands of army and RCMP veterans from across the country, to ensure that the Government of Canada provides compensation for the reduction in pension benefits that applies to our veterans and members of the RCMP. My colleague told me that over the years he has met with veterans and former RCMP members who have spoken about a persistent problem: their pension is reduced at the age of 65 and the Canada pension disability is reduced.

To reiterate what my colleague already explained in more detail, it all started in 1965-66, when the Canada pension plan was created. The government proposed what it called a blended plan, because at the time, people had contributed to a retirement pension. When the Canada pension plan was created, the government said that its purpose was not to increase contributions for men and women in the armed forces or for members of the federal and provincial public service. The government therefore blended the program and determined how many people had to contribute to the Canada pension plan and a retirement pension. However, this was done without the consent of the men and women of our armed forces and the RCMP, and without their full understanding of the impact of these new measures.

In the past, the government has asked why we are giving priority solely to veterans of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP given that all sectors of the federal public service are affected by this clawback. It is important to recognize that the men and women of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP play a different role from all other members of the country's public service. They have an enormous responsibility. They are ready to risk their lives to defend Canadian ideals and to protect our country. They also ensure that our communities are safe. I have the utmost respect for the incredible work done by our men and women in uniform.

Every federal government worker is affected by this pension clawback, except senators, judges and members of Parliament. The pensions of the men and women of the armed forces and the RCMP are clawed back, but this does not happen to members. It is unacceptable that members, senators and judges are not affected by this rule, but that the men and women who protect us are.

If the government is concerned about how much this measure would cost, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has already broken it down. He has been looking into this issue for over six years. During that time, he has had the opportunity to discuss it with pension experts across the country. This bill presents a very interesting proposal, and we have a plan to minimize additional costs for taxpayers.

As the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has already explained, if veterans are allowed to keep both of their moneys at age 65 or on disability, they would receive less old age security and guaranteed income supplement. Including old age security and the guaranteed income supplement in the argument that they do not lose any money is simply incorrect. Those payments come from general revenues, not from defined benefit pension plans. There is nothing stopping the government from cancelling the employment insurance deduction, taking that amount and putting it in the veterans' superannuation. That would cover the cost of the bill.

A committee review of Bill C-215, as introduced by my colleague, would also be a logical follow-up to the report adopted by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in June 2010. That committee report was on the living new veterans charter. Here is what the committee report had to say about the uncertainty surrounding veterans' standard of living at the age of 65:

Committee members expressed concern about the lack of information that would enable them to anticipate the situation of a seriously wounded veteran upon reaching the age of 65. The earnings loss benefit stops at the age of 65, and the permanent impairment allowance is only paid under exceptional circumstances. Consequently, all that is left is the Canada pension plan or the Quebec pension plan and old age security. Since the earnings loss benefit does not grant entitlement to make contributions to pension plans, it is reasonable to expect a significant drop in income for injured veterans who are not receiving a substantial pension from the CF.

My colleagues and I are committed to working very hard on behalf of Canada's veterans, and we will fight not only to protect their pensions but also to invest in their well-being. I know that many members here in the House are willing to do a lot more to enhance the quality of life of those who fought for us.

That is why I would also like to take this opportunity to say that we also need to take care of our veterans' most recent health concerns. The intensity of the combat operations in Afghanistan took its toll on front-line soldiers both in the field and on their return home. The government needs to be proactive when it comes to the mental and physical health of Canadian soldiers and veterans. More support is needed for veterans making the transition to work outside the military, as well as support for caregivers and other family members. Better follow-up with our veterans is also needed after their service, since post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries may manifest themselves many years after their period of active service. We are all very concerned about this issue and we will continue to work for Canada's soldiers to ensure that they get the services they need.

To understand veterans' issues, we have to take the time to speak with veterans and their families. I hope the Conservative MPs will at least go visit their local legion branch and meet with veterans. They should talk to them and ask them what they want. They should talk to them about Bill C-215. Then the Conservative MPs might realize that the vast majority of military personnel, RCMP officers and their families want to eliminate the clawback of their pension by the government.

A few years ago now, a number of veterans' groups, including the Royal Canadian Legion and the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, unanimously adopted resolutions in support of the initiative of the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. What is more, 110,000 people from across the country have signed a petition in support of this bill. Among the signatories we have Major-General Lewis MacKenzie and Senator Roméo Dallaire. Nevertheless, this government continues to deny that there is a problem.

On May 5, 2010, the vote on bill C-201—to which Bill C-215 is identical—was successful. Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House at that time subsequently declared that Bill C-201 could not proceed because the Prime Minister had refused to ask for a royal recommendation. However, the Prime Minister has said in the past that, when a bill is passed by a majority of members democratically elected to the House of Commons, this government must honour the request.

I would also like to remind this House that in November 2006 the NDP members proudly voted in favour of the “veterans first” motion, a five point motion that would have helped former RCMP officers and their families. Unfortunately, the Conservatives were fiercely opposed to the motion.

Thus, we are giving the government another opportunity to respect not only the democratic process, but in particular, to honour the sacrifices made by veterans of our armed forces and the RCMP. Finally, we should at least study the bill in committee, which would afford us the opportunity to call experts and to have an honest, open and thorough debate about this matter.

I am proud to defend this bill today because it provides an opportunity to address an injustice that has gone on for too long. No veteran or RCMP officer, nor their families, should live in poverty after serving their country. For that reason, we must put an end to this situation today.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight the exceptional work of my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore and thank him for it. For years he has listened to veterans, visited them and tried to understand and summarize their proposals. That is what is truly important—to listen and to be grateful. Bill C-215 would be a great way, so soon after Veterans' Week, to permanently support and recognize what veterans do for us every day of our lives.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-215, which, earlier today, I had the honour of seconding.

The bill would end pension clawbacks from our military and RCMP veterans and from those with significant disabilities. The bill in its first incarnation was introduced by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore in 2005 and he has re-introduced this bill in each of the Parliaments since then. I thank him for doing that. It has been part of the member's work that he has taken on this House as being a champion for veterans in all areas. I thank him and congratulate him for the work that he has done.

The members on the other side like to say that there has been some kind of vacuum on this bill. I just want to point out that its previous incarnation, which came forward for its first debate in March 2009 and then came back in May, was passed by the House of Commons by of a vote of, I believe, 139 to 129. It then went off to committee where there was a toing and froing and machinations. It came back to the House without what is called a royal recommendation.

Stripping away all those technicalities, what it means is that the government did not support the bill. It argued that it was necessary to expend public funds and, therefore, the government would not let it proceed further.

I must say at this point that, when the Conservatives took over government from the Liberals, I thought there would be one thing that they would be better on than the Liberals have ever been and I thought that would be on the treatment of the military and veterans. On some fronts, yes, it is true that there have been some improvements, but this case is one, unfortunately, where the veterans have not received the fair treatment that I thought a Conservative government would have given them.

I will not review the list of things that I see right now that are a crisis for veterans but I do need to mention what is taking place right now with cuts to Veterans Affairs. The government has proposed taking $223 million away from the Department of Veterans Affairs and says that somehow this will not impact services for veterans. It is very hard to see how that could possibly happen.

On this side of the House, the NDP has called for exempting Veterans Affairs from the government's program review and to maintain the spending on those who served our country so well for so many years.

Now, rather than continue down this road talking about the deficiencies in treatment of veterans, I would like to treat this as an opportunity for all of us to do better by veterans, both military and RCMP. We need to remember that we are talking about those who have served more than 20 years for their country.

This brings us to one of those myths, the myth about the number of people affected by this bill. It is not hundreds of thousands as the other side likes to imply. It is not that total of more than 700,000 retired military and RCMP veterans. It applies only to the 96,000 who retired with over 20 years of service and, of course, to future retirees who will then have 25 years of service.

The bill is not proposed to be retroactive, which leads to the related myth about costs. At one point, even the government admitted that the real cost would be about $100 million a year. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has certainly shown us how this could be a revenue neutral process. Chief among those measures to ensure that would be true is to stop charging the premiums for unemployment insurance, which members of the military and the RCMP could never collect, and shift those premiums over to cover the cost of this fair treatment for veterans with such long service.

The second point would be to focus on the net cost to government. Certainly, by increasing pension payments, this would lead to lower costs for governments in many other areas. Both federal and province governments would save money by paying these extra pension benefits for which members of the armed services and the RCMP have already paid through deductions off their paycheques.

When the government says that it would be necessary to raise contributions to cover future costs, I am not convinced. The facts say otherwise. And, when I talk to veterans in my riding, they are not convinced.

I will now talk about some of the many veterans from whom I have heard. My friend, Doug Grant, is the manager of the Esquimalt Legion Dockyard Branch No. 172. Doug gave me permission to tell a little bit of his story. He started his story by asking me what I was doing in 1962 when he was serving in the Canadian navy in the Caribbean as part of the Cuban missile crisis that threatened armed confrontation and even nuclear war.

I stopped Mr. Grant to point out that I was in elementary school. However, since that time I have studied Canadian history and I have also been a participant in international human rights missions. I know from the field, both in East Timor and Afghanistan, the great dangers and sacrifices that the members of our military put forward on our behalf.

I know that many veterans in my riding, who continue to write to me and call for an end to this cutback, are not asking for something they do not deserve, they are not asking for something they have not earned and they are not even asking for something for which they have not paid.

I will read one last quote. I will not name this resident because I do not have his permission. He said, “As a resident of Colwood and a current serving member of the Royal Canadian Navy, I ask that you support Bill C-215. ... And now after contributing independently to both my superannuation and CPP for 34 years, I will have both reduced to the equivalent of my military pension upon turning 65. I know the country has huge financial demands but I wish the reigning government would respect their members of the military and RCMP and not use them like a piggy bank and not try to ignore the surplus in their pension funds”.

I call on members of all parties in the House, because this is a private member's bill, to vote their conscience and vote in favour of those who have given so much service to our country, more than 20 years in the military and the RCMP, correct this injustice and immediately end this clawback to their pensions.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this important issue. I compliment my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has established a reputation in the House over many years of working tirelessly on behalf of veterans and RCMP members, the front-line service workers. It is one thing to put people in harm's way, it is one thing to be there when we are sending them off and have the media watching but then they come home and retire. We see all too often that a black hole appears.

I think of a widow in my riding whose husband never asked for his pension. He served his country, damaged his ears and legs serving overseas and came home. When she was too sick to live in her house, she finally asked for her pension and was told that her pension was $1.30 a month. She could not buy a Tim Hortons coffee for that. Yet, her husband had served with distinction and put his life and health on the line. These are things that happen. It is not to blame one government over the other but to say that when we make a commitment we need to follow through.

The issue of the clawback is essential. In 2006, all members of the House stood to support the New Democratic Party on our first veterans motion that laid out the principles and steps needed to ensure that, whether people served their country in the military or in the RCMP, they would be protected and have the things they needed. This was our covenant to the men and women who put their lives at risk. Every member of the House stood and agreed to those principles in that covenant. However, five years later, we are still having to tell the government that it made a promise to those people, they heard it make that promise and they have not seen it deliver on that promise.

The issue of the clawback is one of the areas where the government has failed veterans. It told them one thing and did not deliver. When it supported the veterans first charter, it said that it would happen. Veterans, the Canadian Legion, the Air Force Association and CARP, the Canadian Associated of Retired Persons, heard that message and were expecting action but they are not seeing it, which raises many questions.

This is not a huge ask. My colleagues in the Conservative Party act like it will bankrupt Canada if they actually need to live up to their obligations. It is the kind of rhetoric we get all the time from the same people who cannot wait to have their pictures taken with the troops for their press releases. However, when the troops come home and are looking for their pensions, they are told that if the government actually had to lived up to it, it would go bankrupt.

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Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Why don't you vote for them, then?

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

The defence minister is sitting over there heckling. It shows the level of commitment—

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Just once so far.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

—that they are heckling over an issue like pensions.

Can the folks back home imagine that that member stood in the House of Commons and supported the veterans first charter and then comes in here and heckles over the fact that the New Democrats are trying to get a fair deal for the people who serve the country. One must ask oneself what it is that drives that man to have his picture taken with the troops. He is always with them. The only person who has had his picture taken more than that member often is George Bush. However, when it comes to standing up on the issues of pensions, clawbacks and ensuring that the widows get a fair deal on their husbands' pensions, we hear the ridicule and attacks. It needs to change.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business is now expired and the order is dropped to the order of precedence on the order paper. The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay will have six minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.