House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labour.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the government is apt to point out the maximum lump sum payment that a person can receive is around $276,000 but the average payment is about $40,000. Very few people actually receive $276,000. The problem is that the maximum lump sum payment in Britain is almost $1 million, yet British and Canadian soldiers fight side by side in many circumstances.

Would the hon. member agree that the amount of payment, no matter what it is, spread over a period of time should be increased to meet the needs of the veteran to compare with what other countries are paying their severely disabled personnel or families of deceased personnel?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the excellent question. He has also been a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for several years and does a great job.

The lump sum payment could always be increased. Perhaps a certain sum could be calculated that could serve as a life-long monthly payment. But the lump sum payment poses another problem: even if it were increased to $1 million—as it is elsewhere, as he said—and it were given in a single payment, a young man of 22 or 23 might have a very hard time dealing with receiving such a large sum, especially when returning from a very difficult combat mission, and not spending ridiculous amounts of money. He could lose that money for the rest of his life. That is the Bloc Québécois's concern.

If the lump sum payment were larger and the percentage, say 20%, became $200,000, and it could be paid in several payments, I would not allow people to choose. People tend to think one way at 22 or 23, and another way at ages 30, 40 or 50. Furthermore, when a soldier returns from a difficult combat mission, he or she might have a hard time managing that. Then the family is left to deal with it and forced to help the person who spent all that money.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party to indicate its initial support for Bill C-55. As I have already told the minister in private and in public, New Democrats will be supporting the principle of the bill. It has been indicated to the minister privately and publicly that it is a tiny step forward, that the government should have moved one way but went the other way.

We know that any time opposition can get the government to move, that is a good thing. It is nowhere near what New Democrats would like, but in fairness to the minister, I honestly think he is trying to do the very best he can within the constraints of the Conservative government.

Let us go over the merits of Bill C-55. I first want to thank the minister for listening to the debate today and working with members possibly through committee to make slight alterations to the bill to improve it. In all of the bills that come from government, especially the Conservatives, we see the word “may” written often. For those of us who have done collective bargaining, which my colleague from Hamilton would know very well, the word “may” means whatever one wants it to. It means that one may or may not do something.

Subsection 3(2) is where the bill gets a bit redundant. This program is already enshrined in the new veterans charter, but it is repeated in the bill, which states:

The Minister may, on application, provide career transition services to a member’s or a veteran’s spouse, common-law partner or survivor if the spouse, common-law partner or survivor meets the prescribed eligibility requirements.

That is already in the new veterans charter. One has to ask why it is in this bill.

If we go further down the page, there is a mistake. Section 12 is complete in the French language, but it is not complete in the English language. I would ask the minister to ensure his staff or the legal people get that completed before it goes to committee.

The word “may” is all over the map in the bill. New Democrats have a concern with that. The minister is right that he does not determine who has PTSD or any kind of medical concerns. That is up to the experts. However, when those experts make a decision and that decision is forwarded to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board or to the Department of Veterans Affairs , then the minister may want to do something. The minister may wish to allocate this or that program. The minister may or may not decide to do something to help veterans or their families. That word in a couple of paragraphs needs to be changed.

The word “shall” in some paragraphs should be changed. When it comes to the payment aspect, New Democrats will agree that the word “may” can stay, but not in any collective bargaining or contractual obligations. We call it a weasel word. We know the minister did not intend to do that in any way, shape or form, but we will have this discussion at an appropriate time.

As well, I have been in contact with all veterans organizations over the past few months about the bill. One of the things they have asked me to do on behalf of New Democrats and the opposition is to ensure that I talk with my Bloc and Liberal counterparts to seek their support to move the bill through the process fairly quickly. I indicated that I would and I am glad to see that Liberal and Bloc members have, although with reservation and they are right to express concern, agreed to move it forward.

I remember the days when the veterans charter was being discussed. Jack Stagg, the former deputy minister, may God rest his soul as he is no longer with us, before the implementation of the bill invited the various veterans groups to the process of the bill making, as well as the critics of the opposition, before the bill was even drafted so the minister could say that this is what he wanted to do and how could he get members' help to move it through even quicker.

The bill could have already been passed by now. If the government really wants to speed this along, I have advice for the minister for next time, and we hope there will be a next time, very soon hopefully, because we know this is one step forward of many steps that have to happen. The next time legislative changes are required that need the opposition's support, he should call us in advance. We would be more than happy to sit down with the department to give our acceptance or not in that regard. That way he would know how quickly something could be passed.

We know when it comes to veterans the last thing we wish to do, in any way, is to hold up something that may be beneficial to veterans and their families.

I talked about the fact that the bill is a small step forward. The new veterans charter divided veterans in this country into three classes. Right now, for example, World War II and Korean veterans who have a disability that is severe enough may be eligible to go to a hospital like the Camp Hill in Halifax, Ste. Anne's Hospital in Quebec, Colonel Belcher in Calgary, or the Perley here in Ottawa. Not every World War II or Korean veteran has access to those beds.

By the time we go to bed tonight this country will lose another 110 to 120 of its World War II and Korean heroes because of the passage of time. It is unfortunate, but time has caught up with them.

What will happen to those hospital beds when the last of the World War II and Korean veterans pass away? Right now, modern-day veterans from post-1953 do not have access to those beds. This is going to be a problem. We hope the government will look at this problem seriously and understand that there are now over 750,000 current veterans, RCMP members and their families.

There are going to be some 600,000-plus Korean and World War II veterans, many of them in their late 60s and early or late 70s, who are going to require long-term care or hospital care as a result of injuries suffered during their time in service. Right now they have to depend on the provinces to get that help. We hope the government will look at this serious problem and work with us to facilitate their having access to facilities.

Over the holidays we heard about SISIP. My friend, Dennis Manuge, a veteran from Porters Lake, challenged the government on the SISIP deductibility from his veterans pension, which is a clawback. Representing over 6,500 veterans in this country, the class action law suit made it all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled unanimously that the class action suit can proceed.

There are 6,500 disabled veterans this class action law suit affects. They have been asking for years that the previous government and the current government fix this problem once and for all. In fact, two DND ombudsmen have said to fix it. The previous veterans affairs ombudsman said it must be fixed. Two votes in the House of Commons said it must be fixed. The veterans affairs committees of the House and the Senate said it must be fixed.

Yet 6,500 veterans and their families have had to seek legal redress to get this fixed. The minister and the government could stand in the House of Commons and say that this court action and this legal action will stop now. Officials would meet with members of the class action law suit, Dennis Manuge and his group, and come to a reasonable compromise that is fair for the veterans and fair for the taxpayer.

I suspect, because I have seen it before, that the government is going to continue to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money fighting disabled veterans for what they so rightfully deserve. That is one thing the government could do to fix it right now. We said that the bill is step in the right direction, but it needs to go further.

We have talked about vocational training. I thanked theMinister of National Defence for his comments when he said that the DVA is now starting to look for veterans to be employed within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The problem is that a military person with 23 years of experience may have 5 or 6 weeks of vacation entitlement time. If they become disabled, become a veteran and then go to work for DVA, they go all the way back to the bottom of the vacation entitlement plan. They go down to three weeks. They are not entitled to carry their years of military service over to DVA. Under the law, members of the military are not considered public servants.

The same applied to the RCMP and the RCMP were successful in taking the government to court to change that aspect of it.

We are telling the government that it is one line that it can change that would allow members of the military who are injured and need to leave the service, if they get jobs in DVA or other aspects of the public service, which the new veterans charter allows them priority service hiring, to take the years of service they provided to Canada with them. That is a simple thing that can be done and it would bring smiles to many veterans who find themselves in that case. It is a simple thing to be done and we hope the government will do that.

The government could do another thing to help veterans out. Let us imagine military persons with over 35 years service who have served their country, have travelled the world and have left behind their families many times as they have gone to serve in Bosnia, Afghanistan or wherever. They are 55 years old right now and all of a sudden, unfortunately, their spouse passes away. As sad as that is, it happens all the time.

If they are lucky enough and fortunate enough to remarry another person at 59 years old, great. They live for 20 years, they die and their second spouse would be entitled to their superannuation pension. However, if that individual had the audacity to marry the second person at age 60, lived for 20 years and died, the second spouse would get nothing. That is called the “marriage after 60” clause or, as we call it, “the gold digger clause”.

In fact, Werner Schmidt, a former Reform Party member of Parliament, now the Conservatives, and my colleague over there knows him quite well, introduced legislation in the House to ban the marriage after 60 act. If we were to remove one line in the legislation, we would be done, but, no, after all these years we are still fighting that clause. The reality is that when a military person, an RCMP member or whomever remarries, it should not matter to the government when they remarry. We know the law was put in during the Boer War, well over 100 years ago. The British government was worried that young girls would marry older veterans for that pension cheque. I am sure even the minister would know that is rightly unfair.

That is one thing the government could do right now to help many veterans and their spouses. If they are fortunate enough to find the love of their life once, that is great. If they get to do it twice, that is really remarkable. When they remarry should be no concern at all to Government of Canada, whether they remarry at 59 years and 364 days day, but on that 365th day, at age 60, they get nothing later in the future. That needs to change.

Those are just some of the aspects of change that could happen.

Another one is the agent orange aspect. We know that the current government, when it was in opposition, promised so much more on agent orange compensation for those folks who were affected from spraying in Gagetown from 1958 to 1984. In fact, the former minister of veterans affairs and the current Prime Minister, who was then leader of the opposition, said very clearly in Gagetown that they would look after everyone affected by chemical spraying from 1958 to 1984.

However, when the Conservatives became government, they implemented a plan that was even more restricted than what the Liberals were offering. The Liberals were offering that only those people in 1966 and 1967 affected by the spraying of agent orange that could be claimed back to the American aspect of the involvement in Gagetown would be compensated.

However, then we need to go to February 6. I am glad to see that the minister just recently changed that requirement and allowed many more people to make the application for agent orange.

However, the minister and the government knows that will only help about 1,100 more people. There are thousands upon thousands more people who were affected by chemical spraying in Gagetown. The one simple thing that we would ask is exactly what they asked when they were in opposition: a public inquiry into the spraying at Gagetown. If the minister were to stand and say that we will have a public inquiry as to the spraying at Gagetown, that would go a long way toward alleviating a lot of concerns for veterans and civilians. Those are the things that the Conservatives called for when they were in opposition.

Those are just a few of the items that the government can do in order to move the yardstick on veterans' care.

I will give the current minister some high marks. I have travelled with him on a couple of occasions already and I have seen that his interaction with veterans and their families is truly sincere. In fact, all of the ministers with whom I have associated since my time in 1997 have been nothing but sincere and true. Whether they were Conservatives or Liberals, I know that each and everyone of them truly wanted to do the very best they could to help the veterans and their families.

It is time to put those kind thoughts and words into action. Bill C-55 is a small start. There are a couple of small amendments that we may have to look at in committee. However, one of the recommendations I would make for the government for future legislation is that it increase the amount of payment that comes out, which right now is $276,000. It should easily be double and never in a lump sum payment for younger people. I do admit that if the government is willing to offer quite a large amount of money to people in their late 50s or early 60s, it may be something that they would want to think about. However, for people in their early 20s or 30s, it would be a major mistake to take that kind of money right off the bat.

We have a lot of people in DVA who will make the determination of whether a person is severely injured or not. We know it will not be the minister doing that. We would like to know how that determination is actually done, because we frequently hear that people who are severely disabled or severely injured or cannot continue in their employment, they can receive these benefits. Who determines that? How is that preordained?

Right now in many of the cases we have, one of the things I despise the most within the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I say it with great respect to people in that area, is the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. That is something I would like to see done away with in a heartbeat. If it cannot be done away with, then we should do what the minister said. He did not say this but I will say it for him. Instead of putting political friends on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, the government should starting putting people on that board who have military, policing or medical experience so that when people go before the VRAP, they are adjudicated by their peers, not political hacks and flacks.

That, by the way, is what the Conservatives said in the convention in 2005 or 2006. At the convention, they actually said that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board would be replaced by people of medical, military and policing history. That is what we would like to see on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

Right now we have a bunch of folks there who have never served one day in their lives and they are adjudicating on people who have served valiantly for their country, who have signed the unlimited liability. We have the ultimate responsibility for their and their families' needs.

At the same time, when we talk about veterans and their families, we also need to include members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is why I happen to be wearing the RCMP tie today. I believe the members of the RCMP serve their country just as much as those in the military and they should be treated together. I would hope that some of the benefits that are applied to veterans eventually will apply to members of the RCMP.

Those are some of the issues we have issued to the minister. We want to thank the minister for cracking open the door on the new veterans charter. It is a living document. We do not want it to die on Bill C-55. We want it improved and we want it done quickly. We know the resources are there to help. We in the NDP, and I am sure my Liberal and Bloc colleagues, will do everything we can to assist the Minister of Veterans Affairs who is a really decent guy, to move forward quickly on all the aspects we have talked about in order to make the lives of our true heroes of this country better for the long term.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his support and collaboration throughout the development of the new measures in support of our veterans that we are preparing to implement through Bill C-55. I also want to thank him for understanding that we have to move quickly in order to pass this bill before the budget is introduced. Since there are election rumours, we do not know what is going to happen and in that context, our veterans deserve to have this right away.

The hon. member is talking about taking tiny steps, but this is a whole new chapter we are writing for the new veterans charter, new measures that will help protect in a much more tangible and significant way those who, by misfortune, might return injured from Afghanistan. In that context, these measures are a step in the right direction.

I want to come back to the amount that other countries give as a lump sum payment. I want to remind hon. members that in the United Kingdom, the payments are usually around $8,927, while in Canada it is $28,532 and on average it is $40,000. Only a very small number of people have received the maximum amounts in the United Kingdom, while here far more people have.

We could add many things, but at some point we have to set priorities in life and it is exceptional for a minister and a department to get $2 billion from their government during a recession. That shows how important veterans are to us and that is why the government is moving forward to support our veterans.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, when people put their life on the line and face the bullets for us to have a good night sleep and protect freedom and democracy, the last thing we should be worrying about is how much it will cost to care for them. We cannot start nickel and diming and saying that one veteran fits in a particular box, another veteran who did this fits in another box and the veteran who did not go overseas fits in another box.

A veteran is a veteran is a veteran. We should get DVA to the point where when a veteran calls up to say that he or she needs help, the only question DVA should ask is: “Did you serve”? If the answer is, “yes”, then it should be, “How can we help you?”

Veterans are not asking for the Lexus and a trip to Florida. They are asking for coverage for prescription drugs. They want to ensure their families are taken care of. They want to ensure they have enough money on a monthly basis to not only care for their day-to-day needs, but to get rehabilitated and get back into the workforce.

That is the beauty of the new veterans charter. It was not just to give out money and for them to go away. It was actually to give veterans some assistance to help them become productive citizens again and move their life forward. That is an important change.

At the same time, the government should not talk about having certain restraints when it can find $1 billion for a G20 conference and $16 billion to $20 billion for certain fighter jets, which there is no question that we need, but we do not know if we need these ones. If the government can allocate that kind of money without thinking, then surely our veterans should have access to those kinds of funds without thinking as well.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague did raise the issue of long-term care. I wonder what he thinks about the need for a long-term care strategy and the fact that we are missing specialized services, for example, palliative care, rehabilitative services, dementia care, mental health, day programs and outreach.

One of the key concerns I have is timely access to appropriate dementia care options and long-term care facilities throughout many regions of the country, both urban and rural. This is very limited in rural areas, particularly for people with aggressive behaviours.

Many of our veterans have suffered from PTSD. There are people from the Korean War who are still being treated for PTSD and they develop dementia. We have a number of cases here now but we cannot get them the help they need. They are being put in facilities that are not equipped to deal with their special needs.

I wonder what recommendations the member might make to the minister.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Etobicoke North for her kind and thoughtful question. I also congratulate her as the Liberal official critic for veterans affairs. In the short time she has been critic, she has done remarkable outreach with the veterans.

On this particular question, it is not just for military personnel, veterans and their families. We have a problem throughout the entire country with civilians as well, and the hon. member knows that. Even if I were the minister, I could not say that we have all the people and facilities in place to help the veterans. We simply do not.

The government needs to start investing right away to get people up to speed, especially the DND ombudsman, the DVA ombudsman, the departments themselves, and everyone associated with military, RCMP and veterans communities. They need to get up to speed in order to facilitate and on principle understand the concerns, how to deal with the concerns, and how to assist with the concerns. I wish it could be much faster.

I will give the government credit, though. There has been some movement on this front, but it is ever so slow. We need to move much quicker, the hon. member is absolutely correct. We hope that in further discussions in our committee on other subjects we can move these important issues forward as well.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech and ask him a question.

In 2005, passage of the new veterans charter was fast-tracked. Today, we realize that the new veterans charter had some shortcomings, including the lump sum payment, which is being challenged by a number of veterans.

I believe it is important to take the time to study this bill and hear what certain witnesses have to say at committee meetings. I am not saying that we should simply mark time, but some target groups have some answers to our questions regarding this bill.

I feel the pressure being exerted by the Conservative government to fast-track passage of this bill. In fact, it is claiming that there will be an election. For its part, the Bloc Québécois believes that if the Conservatives do not want an election, three parties in this House can negotiate. The Bloc Québécois is interested in sales tax harmonization. The government should include sales tax harmonization in its budget, compensate Quebec for harmonizing its taxes, and then there will not be an election and we can take our time to properly study this bill. I believe that we must be vigilant and not adopt the bill too quickly. I am not saying that we should mark time, but the bill must be studied in committee, and certain witnesses must be heard—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I must give equal time to the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore to reply.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the answer is quite simple. If the government wishes to avoid an election, there are several things the government can do. One, it can adopt our new veterans charter, which was voted on twice. It could also look at the NDP's proposal with regard to the Canada pension plan. It could also look at the NDP's proposal regarding old age security. It could put the F-35 contract under a competitive bid. It could reintroduce our Bill C-311 on climate change introduced by my colleague from Ontario.

There are many more things. If the government wishes to avoid an election, it should take those great New Democratic Party ideas, incorporate them in the budget, and then we will have that conversation.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Greg Kerr Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I am certainly pleased to rise in support of Bill C-55. I am just trying to get over the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore's suggestion that he might possibly vote for a budget. It came as quite a shock. I was caught off guard here for a moment.

This is an important step forward in dealing with the very important issues that veterans have raised. As a matter of fact, those who attended the veterans affairs committee today heard the ombudsman encourage us all to move on and get this bill forward. The reason we want to move it forward is, although it does not answer all the questions, it brings these incredibly important issues forward and makes these payments available to those veterans as soon as possible. Therefore, I encourage all members to support the bill and get it through.

This new enhanced veterans charter act only fulfills a promise made by the Minister of Veterans Affairs to improve the financial benefits available to injured Canadian Forces members and veterans. However, it also reflects how this government listens to our veterans.

The measures I speak to today amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act proposed by the previous government, commonly known as the new veterans charter. The act received royal assent in 2005, passing unanimously through both this House and the other place.

At the time, it was a groundbreaking piece of legislation. It focused on giving our service men and women the tools to live healthy and productive lives once out in the civilian world. We are hearing that more and more, not about the payments on a regular basis but the support mechanisms, the compensation, and the initiatives that help these brave men and women get back into regular life and live a good, normal life for as long as they possibly can.

Experts agree with the approach. Various advisory councils agreed with this approach as well. We knew at the outset that developing new legislation for our new generation of veterans would not be without its challenges. Today we are five years into the new veterans charter and have gained valuable insight and experience.

We rarely acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns with the charter and we are responding to them in real and meaningful ways. Although it will not all be fixed at once, this definitely is a very important step forward. That is why we have introduced these changes that will benefit thousands of veterans over the coming five years. These improvements underscore our government's deep commitment to repay the growing debt we owe Canada's veterans and their families.

Following extensive discussions with veterans right across the country, we have proposed our first step in moving the veterans' concerns forward.

The bill contains three key financial benefits that will improve the life of thousands of new veterans.

First, it improves access to the permanent impairment allowance under the new veterans charter and the exceptional incapacity allowance under the Pension Act.

Second, it introduces a $1,000-a-month supplement for severely injured veterans who are unable to be gainfully employed and who are already receiving the permanent impairment allowance.

Finally, it gives Canadian Forces members and veterans a choice on payment options for the disability award.

One of the key features of the new veterans charter is the disability award, or lump sum payment as it is better known. Certainly, we have talked about this at length in the past few months.

For the record, I am not sure how much clearer I can be than to say that the disability award is for pain and suffering. I would like to say this in no uncertain terms. The disability award is not a pension. It is not a monetary pension set for that purpose. It is to recognize the pain and suffering these terrific people have gone through.

Each of these improvements is designed to address concerns we have heard from veterans and their families, other stakeholders, as well as through our own evaluations. They spoke and we have listened. Now we are acting, just like we said we would do all along.

Allow me to provide some detail on each of these important initiatives.

The permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance provide monthly support for veterans whose disabilities result in permanent and severe impairments. They also recognize that serious injuries such as amputation, loss of vision, hearing or speech, or severe and permanent psychiatric conditions are not only physically devastating but can result in diminished employment potential.

It takes very little imagination to see that they can affect a person's ability to earn a living. As we know, that inability to support one's self can be just as devastating to one's health as the physical injury.

These allowances were a progressive move but in retrospect access was too limited. Currently, only a handful of veterans receive it, and clearly it is not providing the support and financial independence it was supposed to provide. By adjusting the eligibility criteria for these allowances, thousands more veterans will be eligible to receive monthly financial support.

The permanent impairment allowance provides $536 to $1,609 per month to seriously injured veterans, depending on the extent of their injuries. Our determination to stand by our veterans and men and women in uniform does not end there. These new changes also offer up to $1,269 per month under the exceptional impairment allowance.

Many individuals with serious disabilities can and do continue to work with the help of rehabilitation and other supports. Some, however, simply cannot. Additional measures in Bill C-55 offer an extra $1,000 per month to veterans who receive the permanent impairment allowance and who cannot return to work at all at full potential due to the severity of their impairment.

While the new veterans charter in place today is a great foundation, we recognize the need for adjustments in legislation to address the shortcomings we have only come to realize through experience.

Through consultation with veterans and their advocates and with good research and study, we now know what can be adapted and adjusted to better fit the evolving needs of modern day veterans and their families. Veterans themselves have told us what we need to do and we are doing it.

A perfect example of that feedback is how we have made some changes in the regulations for the earnings loss benefit, another financial support under the new veterans charter.

Changes to our regulations will guarantee recipients of the monthly earnings loss benefit a minimum of $40,000 per year, no matter what their salary was when they were serving in the Canadian Forces. This important change will benefit veterans who were released early in their careers when they held a low rank in the military or for those veterans who were released years ago when military salaries were much lower.

Finally, this legislation would provide veterans with a choice of how they wish to receive their disability award.

This tax free disability award was established to recognize the pain and suffering caused by a service-related injury. As I mentioned earlier, it does not replace a pension. In fact, it was a completely new benefit in 2006. There was never recognition for the non-economic losses associated with an injury prior to the new veterans charter.

This new legislation would allow veterans to choose whether to receive their disability award as a lump sum, in annual payments, or a combination of each. Furthermore, at any time, veterans who so choose may change their minds and receive the remaining amount as a lump sum payment.

This action was taken because veterans themselves asked for it. The decision demonstrates our government's commitment to amend and improve elements of the new veterans charter. It is not about turning back the clock but instead responding to sound advice and recommendations, so that we have a strong array of programs geared to the needs of our modern day veterans.

This government's priority is to ensure that Canada's veterans and their families have the support they need when they need it. We are committed to extending these supports as soon as possible, and we urge the House to join us in giving veterans what they need to live their lives with honour and respect, comfort and dignity.

The minister has worked hard on bringing forward a lot of changes. We have heard a lot about the many changes over the past year. We heard the many concerns that were expressed and we are responding to those in a timely fashion. As well, changes are taking place within the department to better adapt to and respond to the needs of our veterans on a first case basis.

Along with what else is going on, we believe that this initiative today is not the end of the journey, but is a strong start in response to those important priorities veterans have brought before us over these past few months.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, we understand, appreciate and support the bill that is before us today. In listening to the debate, in particular to the New Democratic critic, a couple of thoughts came to mind. It is almost as if NDP members are trying to give the impression that they are encouraging the opposition to support the bill. I can assure everyone that the Liberal Party does not need to be led to do the right thing for veterans.

For many years I have had wonderful relationships with veterans and former ministers of Veterans Affairs. The Liberal Party cares just as much as any other political entity in the country about doing what is right for veterans. If members had listened to our most capable and able Liberal critic with regard to veterans affairs, they would have seen a very passionate, caring attitude to doing what is right for the veterans in our country.

Suffice it to say, Liberals do not need to be told about the importance of it by opposition parties, or even the government for that matter. We are glad to see that the bill is before us and we will give the necessary support to be respectful of both our veterans and the process.

Remember that it is the veterans who protected the integrity of our system and that they would surely want to ensure that there is a process for this to be done in a fair and appropriate fashion, making sure that if amendments can be made to the bill, they will be made in a proper fashion. It is very clear from the comments of the critic that we want this bill to pass, and we are going to go out of our way to make sure that happens.

I do not believe there are members who are greater champions per se than others who are passionate on this issue. There are a number of individuals within the chamber who would love to see this bill acted upon, to go through committee and, ultimately, receive royal assent before the budget is put before the chamber. I suspect that will in fact be the case.

I have had the opportunity to see bills pass through the Manitoba legislature and I must say that quite often when ministers want bills passed, they will go out of their way to work with members of the opposition and others to try to accommodate that speedy passage, to share with members what is happening within the department, and to provide briefings and so forth so there are no surprises. I would ask the government, in particular the minister responsible for this bill, to reflect on what types of actions he has taken to reach out to ensure that this bill will pass as quickly as it should. Suffice it to say, I would suggest that the minister could have done more.

Having said that, the Liberal Party sees the benefits and value of having this bill pass. For those on permanent impairment allowance for serious injuries, ensuring there is adequate compensation is something that Liberals are going to continue to fight for through passage of this particular bill. Moreover, as has been pointed out by the critic, this is not the end. This is a stepping stone—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member. He will have about 16 minutes remaining when this debate resumes.

The House resumed from February 3 consideration of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACT
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 6:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the report stage of Bill C-42.

The question is on Motion No. 1.

Call in the members.