House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raised a very interesting point. The Conservatives are always at the ready for photo ops with the military and to say that they defend the military and that it is a priority for them. Now we see that veterans who return to Canada unfortunately are not a priority for the Conservatives. We must defend the veterans. The Conservatives are willing to spend almost $30 million to purchase F-35 fighter jets, but nothing on veterans.

I would like to know how my colleague feels about this hypocrisy.The Conservatives are willing to have their photos taken with the military, and they say they are pro-military and prepared to defend soldiers, but when the time comes to help them after they return home, they do nothing.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. All of us appreciate the efforts of our troops on the front. When we oppose a measure that it wants to implement, this government says that we are against the troops. The opposite is true. That is a despicable response to questions about investments in Afghanistan and the F-35 fighter jets.

It is very nasty of the government to continue saying that we are against the soldiers because we want them to be treated better. It is not true.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her passionate speech and her support for the veterans in her riding.

I, too, have been a strong advocate for the veterans in my riding. I think of Joe, Tiny and Bill who all come into my office and talk to me about the issues they are having.

It is great that we are talking about Bill C-55 and getting that money out there. Once we get the bill passed, the money is there, but the problem they are having is getting the money. They are being denied claim after claim.

Is it not time that we actually find some way, through Bill C-55, to ensure our veterans get the money they deserve, rather than having to come and see us all the time and beg, plead and borrow to ensure they get the money they deserve and fought for?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member has 30 seconds to reply.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. My colleague is quite right. It is time for us to choose to do things differently and to do more for our veterans. I repeat that we will be voting in favour of this bill because we believe it is a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise on behalf of the NDP to debate the third reading of Bill C-55.

I want to say at the outset that when the bill first came to us in November, we looked at it very carefully and talked to various organizations and individuals, and we gave the minister our private and public support for Bill C-55, on the premise though, and this was a great big but, that the minister and department had told us and the House that further changes were coming.

We welcome this type of dialogue. It is for this reason that I want to personally congratulate the minister for what he surely recognizes, the ongoing concerns our veterans and their families, and RCMP members and their families are facing in this country.

The fact is that Bill C-55 is a short step forward, a minor step forward to be completely honest. We know where the difficulties lie within the Department of Veterans Affairs. We know that we can never ever have enough money to do everything that we wish to do.

However, we can streamline the process. We can make sure that veterans and their families, and RCMP members and their families do not have to go on television to plead their case before the nation, as Major Mark Campbell did just the other day on CTV in Calgary.

Let us think about that. Here is a hero of our country who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, who said very clearly, “I didn't end up this way just so I could earn 25 per cent less than I did before I lost my legs”.

No veteran, especially a disabled veteran, either psychologically or physically, should have to do that. It should be a no-brainer. The department should have immediately sat down with him, assessed his needs and determined exactly what he required to carry on with his life.

On the new veterans charter, let me provide members with a little historical asterisk. I remember the great Jack Stagg, who was probably one of Canada's finest public servants. He helped negotiate the Marshall decision in 1999 regarding Donald Marshall, the aboriginal Canadian. He helped in the creation of Nunavut. Most importantly in my mind, Jack Stagg was instrumental in developing a new veterans charter.

I remember sitting with Jack Stagg, and rest his soul, as he is no longer with us, and the department. They were very clear that the veterans charter might have the odd flaw, but they wanted to change the paradigm of veterans' care from not just giving veterans money and keeping them at home for the rest of their natural lives, but providing them and their families with educational opportunities and providing rehabilitation services where they could become productively employed members of our society.

I say this because many of these veterans are quite young. In fact, if I am not mistaken, our youngest veteran in the country is about 19 years old. I believe our oldest, if I am not mistaken, is about 102 or 103 years old. There is a wide range of veterans in this particular regard.

It is true that it is a challenge within the department to recognize the needs of and assistance required by these various age groups and the various indications of disabilities, psychological, mental or physical they may have and what they require. There is not one policy that fits all.

When the four leaders at that time came back from Holland in 2005 they recognized that the charter was a good thing. It was then passed in this House on the premise that it was a living document, meaning a document that implied that when there were problems and anomalies and errors, they would be corrected and be corrected rather quickly.

Our challenge is that we are now five years into the charter, and Bill C-55 is the first opportunity for change. This opportunity for change is a small step. The government had every opportunity to make a huge step to improve the lives of veterans, RCMP members and their families, but it chose a smaller step.

I do not buy the argument of fiscal restraint. For example, the government can allocate, at the snap of its fingers in an untendered contract, $30 billion for new jet fighters. And do not get me wrong on this, because the CF-18s indeed need to be replaced, but we just do not know if the F-35 is the right type of aircraft. However, if the government can be that aggressive on that type of procurement, then surely to God it could be that aggressive when it comes to helping veterans. Surely to God, veterans should not have to wait years to get a hearing and then when they get to that hearing, their claim is denied. Why are they denied? It because of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

I say directly to the minister, and I am glad that he is here, that this is the problem in his department, not the staff. There are 4,000 wonderful people working in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and every day they get up and try to do the very best they can for Canada's heroes.

The problem is the politically appointed Veterans Review and Appeal Board. There are 24 people on that board, which has a budget of $11.5 million. It also has a director general for 24 people, and 19 of them are political appointees, and four of them have some form of military experience and one has some form of medical training, but I do not believe the person is a doctor.

Yet if the veteran, Steve Dornan, of Annapolis Valley has five different cases of medical evidence, and even the federal court has said that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has no right to declare his medical evidence as not credible, how does a person, without being a doctor, without being trained, without military experience, without RCMP experience, adjudicate cases of veterans and their families?

Mr. Dornan and wife Roseann have been fighting for nine years. They have the medical evidence. The federal court ruled that the medical evidence was credible. Since when do unaccountable people in the VRAB make that decision?

Then we hear from the minister and the department on letter after letter that I have forwarded to them, and we see the benefit of the doubt not being applied in any of the over 600 veterans' cases I have worked on since 1997. That is despite section 39 of the legislation stating quite clearly that the benefit of the doubt has to be applied if there is evidence that the injury or psychological concern may have been caused by military or RCMP duty. I have yet to see that applied.

These people sit in that tower in Charlottetown and make decisions that frustrate the living hell out of these men and women. Steve Dornan should not have to go to the newspapers to get help. Major Campbell should not have had to go before the media to get help.

We all remember Brian Dyck, that great man from Ottawa who did a press conference with the former ombudsman, Pat Stogran. Just before he died from ALS, he said very clearly to all of us, not just to the government but to all Canadians: “My advice to the ministry is if you are not willing to stand behind the troops, feel free to stand in front of them”. Unfortunately, he died.

However, I give the government top marks as it then immediately recognized that military veterans with ALS would then get the coverage they needed. The government did not have to move legislation for that; it was a regulatory change. The government did not need Bill C-55 or to bring something else before us, but it did it immediately. The government has the power and wherewithal to do this.

However, I will say again that veterans should not have to go public to get the help they need. They are our heroes.

We were told by a senior official in committee that Bill C-55 was going to help 3,500 people. That is not true. Research by the Library of Parliament shows that it will only help 500 people over five years. Where the additional veterans will get help is not from the legislated changes in Bill C-55, but in the regulatory changes. We do not need legislation to change regulations.

We heard from the minister, and god love him for it, that this is a $2 billion investment. Again, that is like telling a guy who makes $30,000 a year that he is going to make $1 million over 40 years. We cannot really do that.

I could go and on regarding veterans and their families, but I do thank the minister for moving Bill C-55 forward. However, I encourage the minister and the government to move much faster. If the government can give Christiane Ouimet a half million dollars for not doing her work, then it can turn around and give veterans the money and the programs they need to get back to a normal life.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his support for modern-day and other veterans.

I would like to tell him right away that we are currently working on increasing the number of veterans who sit on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. We believe that it would be beneficial and enriching to have more veterans among us.

With regard to the number of people who will receive the permanent monthly allowance, we know that when the new veterans charter was adopted, it contained an error. We verified the figures again and there are indeed 3,500 people who, in the next five years, will be able to receive this permanent monthly allowance, which is a little bit like the one granted under the old pension system. This amount will vary from $543 to $1,631 a month.

With regard to the board's decisions, I would like to remind the hon. member that we are trying to find out whether we can post them on the Internet so that everyone can have access to them.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to say publicly that I know the minister is sincere, but in 2005 at the Conservative Party convention the Conservatives said that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board would be replaced with military, RCMP and medical personnel. We have yet to see that.

I do not believe we need a Veterans Review and Appeal Board in the Department of Veterans Affairs, but if there is a VRAB, we should at least make sure it is made up of military and RCMP personnel and doctors. That way when military personnel are being reviewed, they are being reviewed by their peers, not by political appointees by the political party of the day.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There will be three minutes left for questions and comments for the hon. member for Sackville--Eastern Shore after question period. We will now move on to statements by members.

Hockeyville
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the well-known Antigonish arena on its position in the top ten in the Kraft Hockeyville contest on CBC. I would like to encourage all of my fellow MPs to go to the CBC website and cast a ballot for this storied hockey temple. It is Nova Scotia's only entry to crack the top ten and is fitting of that honour.

With an army of volunteers, the arena ices teams from Timbits to the Junior A Antigonish Bulldogs of the Maritime Junior Hockey League to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. These teams and those of every age group imaginable call it home ice.

With our votes the Antigonish arena could be this year's Hockeyville and benefit from $100,000 from Kraft Canada dedicated to upgrading the arena. Then all of Nova Scotia could show Canada how much we truly are Hockeyville when the Antigonish arena hosts an NHL pre-season hockey game and a CBC Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. All Canadians will be proud.

Hockey began in Nova Scotia, and now I ask all hon. members to help bring it back.

Health Care
Statements By Members

March 11th, 2011 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week doctors from across the country descended on the Hill to make a house call on parliamentarians.

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, hosted a breakfast for over 100 MPs, senators, members of the media and health care stakeholders. He brought with him an important call to action.

Today Canadians are saying that health care is as big a concern as the economy and they want action now.

I hope that the government will be inspired by this vision of the future of health care and that it will enthusiastically embrace the CMA's initiative to transform health care rather than pursuing its plans for prisons, fighter jets and tax breaks for businesses.

Imagine, that $30 billion for untendered fighter jets is equivalent to the total annual federal contribution to health care.

The doctors and nurses of Canada deserve better.

St. Patrick's Day
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, next week we will celebrate St. Patrick's Day, the national day of the Irish people.

Quebeckers of Irish descent make up the second-largest cultural community, after those of French descent. It is estimated that up to 40% of Quebeckers have Irish ancestors. The first Irish arrived in North America in the 16th century, but the majority immigrated in the 19th century, during the potato famine.

The oldest St. Patrick's Day parade in North America takes place each year in Montreal, Quebec. Year after year, hundreds of thousands of people join in the fun.

On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, as someone of Irish ancestry on my mother's side, I would like to wish all Quebeckers of Irish descent a happy St. Patrick's Day.

Japan
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, like all Canadians, New Democrats were shocked and saddened this morning to hear of the devastating earthquake that hit Japan overnight. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan and to Canadians who are still trying to reach their loved ones.

As the tsunami makes its way across the Pacific, our thoughts are also on the safety of those living along coastal areas, including Canada's Pacific coast.

It will be days before we understand the full effects of this disaster, but we know Canadians stand ready and willing to help in the days ahead.

New Democrats will strongly support efforts by the government to provide aid and relief to those affected and do what we can to help people in their great time of need.

On behalf of all New Democrats, we send heartfelt condolences to the people of Japan and all those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy.

Religious Freedom
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the world became a more dangerous place on March 2 when Pakistan's minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was brutally gunned down in his country's capital. Others in the House have risen to condemn the extremist assassins and our Prime Minister, on behalf of all Canadians, has expressed deep shock and sadness.

It is alarming enough that Minister Bhatti was the only Christian minister in Pakistan's government, but the ruthless ambush and murder is made all the more outrageous because he was killed for standing up for religious freedoms, standing up for those of all faiths in his country where, unlike our own, such freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Too often Pakistan's blasphemy laws are abused to restrict freedom of religion and expression. They have been used disproportionately to target religious minorities. Canada and the international community have called upon Pakistan for this to stop. After last Wednesday, the world is now watching more closely than ever.

Let us be mindful of Shahbaz Bhatti's great legacy. May his example strengthen our own resolve to challenge extremism wherever and whenever we may find it.

Evening of la Francophonie
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, next Wednesday, March 16, the Club Richelieu LaSalle will present its fifth annual Soirée de la Francophonie, in co-operation with the borough of LaSalle.

This event has been gaining popularity since it began. It is always held as part of the Semaine de la Francophonie, with the goal of celebrating the French language and culture. The Club Richelieu LaSalle takes advantage of the opportunity to crown its “francophone personality of the year” and hand out awards to students in public speaking, dictation and poetry competitions.

I would like to take a moment to commend the magnificent work done by Gilles Dubien, chair of the organizing committee, who, for over five years now, has worked diligently to make each edition of the Soirée de la Francophonie a tremendous success.

On behalf of my constituents, I would like to sincerely congratulate him on this remarkable initiative, which helps to promote our beautiful French language.