House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.

Topics

Main Estimates
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

March 2nd, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh raised a question of privilege concerning the premature publication of information contained in the main estimates that was prior to their transmission to this House via message from His Excellency the Governor General.

I want to thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for bringing this matter to the House's attention. Upon review, it appears that some of the information was indeed out in the public domain approximately an hour before I actually tabled the official documentation.

Obviously, any pre-publication of the material in question is not proper and not in keeping with past procedures and practices of this House.

I would also indicate to you, Mr. Speaker, as President of the Treasury Board any inappropriate or untimely release of documents is always taken seriously and steps to prevent that type of thing will continue to be pursued most diligently.

I would also note that on the specific procedural issue of an alleged prima facie case of privilege, I would like to draw your attention to the statements on page 894 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice concerning such matters. This reference points out that in the past similar matters have been treated not as a matter of privilege but rather as a matter of parliamentary convention.

However, as I said earlier, any pre-publication of information of this nature before it was tabled in the House is not proper.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am sure the member will appreciate the minister's comments on this matter.

The House resumed from February 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Winnipeg North had the floor. I believe there are 15 minutes left in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand today to conclude my remarks on Bill C-55. To be clear on the issue, the Liberal Party recognizes the great value of the legislation.

At every opportunity in the veterans affairs committee reference has been made to Bill C-55. It is in good part due to the fact that we want to ensure we do everything possible to see the bill in committee. I get the sense there is a willingness in the chamber to see this bill move forward. Members of the committee, including me, are anxious to see the bill come before us. I suspect it is only a question of time before it does.

Bill C-55 would address income loss, base salaries and lump sum payments. These are all important issues to our veterans and we owe it to them to do our work as quickly and as diligently as we can.

Some members in debate have nudged others to move forward on the legislation. One of the things I would share with the House is the fact that the Liberal Party does not require any nudging on the bill. We see its value. We have an immense amount of respect for our veterans and we ultimately want to see it pass.

I have had opportunities in the past, as I am sure my colleagues have, to deal with veterans. A number of years ago veterans actually sat right behind us in the Manitoba legislature. I thought it was appropriate. I remember sitting in the chamber, being able to reach back and touch one of the veterans, thinking we were able to have that debate because of our veterans.

We recognize the valuable contributions that our veterans have made to who we are today as a free nation. We need to do whatever we can to extend adequate compensation to them for the sacrifices they have made.

Being on veterans affairs committee, I recognize it is important for us to go even further than what the legislation proposes to do. Compensation is critical, and I cannot emphasize how important it is that we get that compensation to our veterans. However, there are other things which the government should seriously look at doing.

I did not know, and I suspect a good number of members of Parliament would not be aware of this either, that we have in excess of 750,000 veterans in Canada, which is an amazing number. They participate in our society in so many ways. We have to think beyond even what we will pass today.

Bill C-55 would allow for income loss and other forms of compensation so our veterans would be more properly and adequately taken care of, and that is great. However, much like other issues, we need to do more in preventing some of the illnesses and injuries that occur.

We had a psychiatrist, who is a colonel in Australia, on video conference the other day. I was really impressed with what Australia has put into place to assist future veterans so their dependency on compensation, on disability, will not be as high, especially in the area of mental illness.

I will highlight a couple of those points.

Australia is prepared to put in the necessary resources to ensure there are minimal compensation packages after someone leaves the service. That is a direction in which we should move. We should be putting more emphasis on that in our Parliament.

To give members a sense of what Australia does, it looks at the complications and the mind games that take place in today's forces. It has a psychological training component incorporated within its boot camp system for everyone who enters the forces.

Recognizing that not everyone, even from within the boot camp, might be engaged in a situation like Afghanistan or other countries of that nature, where there are all sorts of turmoil, Australia also has developed what it calls a pre-deployment course. Once someone has been deployed to Afghanistan, for example, another training session takes place and there is a psychological component to that training. That, again, is the way to go.

Taking it even a step further, Australia has after-disengagement training. After they have served in a country like Afghanistan and they come back, there is a post-course provided that will assist them in dealing with the issues they had to face while they were in a foreign country.

Equally important, Australia also has a transition course component. When people leave the forces and they go back into civilian life, they are afforded the opportunity to have that course which will, in essence, assist them in better adapting into civilian life.

This is the type of progressive thinking that is necessary in order to meet the needs of future Canadians who make the decision to serve our country. Ultimately, I would encourage the government to seriously look at this.

I posed a question about cost. There should be no doubt. There will be an additional upfront cost in ensuring that we have the right complement of psychiatry and other potential professions within the regular forces so we have those courses and give legitimacy to them.

However, by investing at that end, we are assisting individuals going forward so when they decide to sign on the dotted line, enter our forces and maybe serve in a country like Afghanistan or in another country, come back and ultimately end up back in the civilian life, they will be better able to adjust.

I believe if it is handled appropriately or if there is a plan for investment upfront, then we will prevent many illnesses from occurring in the first place or we will be able to minimize the psychological impact of someone being in a war-torn country where there is civilian unrest and all kinds of horrors that our military personnel often confront.

Ultimately we would have a better equipped force, and this is why it is to relevant to the bill we are passing today. By doing this, future compensation requirements will not be as high. That should be the goal. Minimizing the amount of money that we would ultimately have to pay would not be the primary reason. That would be the secondary reason.

The primary reason will be the impact that it has our soldiers, once they get back into the force and once they are in full retirement. That is the real value and the primary reason why we need to move in that direction.

The secondary reason would be one of finances. I ultimately argue that there would be additional costs upfront, but at the end of the day we would save money in compensation, in terms of the potential income loss that goes up significantly because of the passage of the bill, and justifiably so, and in terms of issues such as the base salaries or the lump sum payments. That is stating the obvious.

There are so many other expenses that governments, and not only the federal government but also provincial governments, have to incur as a direct result of individuals who have been in the forces and once retired become veterans. After all, it is the individual provinces that ultimately deliver our health care services. A part of those health care services is mental health, among other things. Ottawa itself invests billions of dollars annually in public health.

When we are talking about compensation, the type of compensation we are talking about within this bill is fairly specific, but there are many other forms of compensation as well. It is not as easy to say that we have a bill, Bill C-55, and by passing it, all the issues veterans face in terms of overall compensation will be resolved.

I trust and hope that no one here would try to imply that this would be the case. This bill, from my perspective and I believe from the perspective of the Liberal Party, is but a first step in recognizing the value of our veterans and the importance of the House of Commons to adequately and properly compensate those men and women who have sacrificed a portion of their life in order to ensure we have what we have today.

We can do more. I encourage the government, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, the Prime Minister and others, cabinet and all members, opposition included, to do more to support our vets. It is not just this bill. This bill is a very good first step and we look forward to seeing it in committee, but that is what it is, a first step.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on his presentation on Bill C-55.

The government has made some improvements over the previous Liberal government, but these improvements took a long time coming. As a matter of fact, it was only through the efforts of people like our critic, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who basically lives and breathes these issues and fights constantly on behalf of the veterans of this country, that we get improvements from the government.

My concern is that it was a big mistake for us to adopt any form of lump sum payment. The government likes the lump sum because it thinks it can walk away from the liability. We are dealing with a lot of young people who get injured, are under a lot of stress and it is attractive for them to opt for a lump sum. However, when the money is gone, and there are lots of examples of how the money disappeared very quickly, the problem still remains and the government would have to come back at some future point to take care of the problem.

Does the member agree that lump sum payment issues should not be part of this process?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do know that the lump sum payment is an issue. There are individuals who would argue that they should be afforded the choice.

Should someone have the opportunity to say that at a certain point in their life they would rather take the lump sum, or is it more appropriate for the government, as opposed to giving a lump sum, give a monthly amount for a number of years?

I think there is a valid argument for both. I look forward to the bill going to committee. The nice thing about being open-minded in committee is that I trust we will see some amendments brought forward and be able to evaluate them.

I assure the member for Elmwood—Transcona that there was no nudging. This is not a competition between political parties. The Liberal Party is just as strong an advocate as any other political party in this chamber for our veterans.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague talks about prevention, but I do not see how we can do effective prevention before our Canadian Forces troops get to a theatre of operations. We can train them all we like, but how can we prepare them for a bomb that explodes next to them and kills two of their best friends? How do we prepare them to be taken prisoner and be tortured? How do we prepare them for such things and ensure that treatment is available for them when they return home? How can we understand them?

He mentioned Australia. I was at the committee meeting and I did not see how Australia was doing more than Canada, which is doing nothing at all. There is no follow-up support for veterans. When people leave the army, there is no follow-up. No one knows where they are or what state of health they are in.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks of these statements and what he would propose so we can ensure more consistent follow-up for veterans.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe we can learn from individuals who have gone through those experiences in a foreign country. We have the capability and many able-minded individuals within the profession of psychiatry, and more, who are able to develop programs that better enable a person to adapt.

Australia has invested time, energy and resources to pre-deployment courses. There is no statistical evidence because it is still somewhat new, but at least the government in Australia has recognized the value of providing pre-deployment courses. I would like to see more of that done for our troops.

I believe that we can benefit if we equip our people physically and mentally when they go into war-torn countries where there is civil unrest.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill is extremely important and I am looking forward to a significant representation at committee of stakeholder groups to deal with these issues. It is very difficult for us here to appreciate the situations that people are in and I encourage the committee to do that.

One issue that comes up from time to time is the type of disabilities we are talking about. Neurological diseases seem to be orphans in this regard. To the extent that a veteran develops ALS, MS or even battle fatigue syndrome, which could very well be a permanent impairment, these are situations that Canadians would like us to look at and address in a fashion which is sensitive to the realities that these people were protecting Canadians' rights.

Does the member think that we need to be open to more suggestions from those involved on how to properly and sensitively address the issue of disabled veterans?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question.

Veterans Affairs and other presenters have highlighted the need for Canada to do more in terms of tracking. Very little tracking is done. Information is critically important in order to develop and conduct assessments that ultimately allow us to have a better understanding of the depth of the problem. That needs to be dealt with.

When we talk about PTSD and other disorders or injuries, whether they are of a physical or mental nature, we need to get a better assessment of it. There is a great deficiency in the tracking of those issues which has come up at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Elmwood—Transcona indicated, the NDP will be supporting this bill after the very able work of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

There are, of course, things that are not in the bill and I would like the member to specifically comment on the situation with agent orange. We know that members of the Canadian Forces at CFB Gagetown were exposed to agent orange in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. There was a very narrow window of opportunity for armed forces personnel to be compensated for that exposure to agent orange and some of the terrible things that happened to their families.

I wonder if the member could comment on whether he thinks it is important that we expand the scope for veterans and their families to receive compensation for exposure to agent orange at CFB Gagetown.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good issue. I suspect all are concerned about issues surrounding agent orange. Members will recall that when I addressed the bill itself, I talked about it being a first step. When I say that, I mean in good part that there is a lot more we could and should be doing.

Let us get this bill to committee and see if some amendments can be brought forward to make it a better bill. Even if we want to keep the amendments within the scope of the legislation itself, we are still not going to be able to do all the things we would like to do in order to adequately and better compensate our veterans in general.

We need to acknowledge going into committee that this is not a perfect bill, but it is a step forward and we should all encourage and support it going forward. If we can make amendments at committee that will make it a better bill we should do that, but let us not lose sight of the idea that we owe more to our veterans than just this particular bill. We should look for additional resources, laws, whatever it takes, to make our veterans that much better and safer.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member from Québec.

I rise today to debate Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. I would first like to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle but, as you will see, there is room for improvement.

I hope that this bill will make people aware of the new concept of veterans. Veterans now include those known as modern-day veterans, those returning from the Afghanistan mission who are between 20 and 40 years old. Men and women who embarked on a mission to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban are returning with physical injuries and are often severely affected psychologically by what they have seen.

Since the beginning of this mission in 2002, 154 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives. Statistics provided by the Department of National Defence indicate that a total of 1,580 Canadian soldiers had been injured or killed in Afghanistan as of 2008. In 2009, 505 soldiers were injured, on top of the 1,075 injured as of 2008.

Furthermore, as a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw with my own eyes veterans or their family members who told us about their daily nightmares, what is called post-traumatic stress disorder. These people often have to take very strong medication and undergo rigorous medical follow-up to live and reintegrate into our society.

I wanted to take a few minutes to show you that I am informed about and aware of this type of situation. It should also be noted that the Department of National Defence refuses to disclose the nature and seriousness of injuries. We will have to wait until the end of the current year to obtain the statistics for 2010. The current mission will be over, but other members of the military who have training functions will continue to face the dangers arising from their presence in that country. I am giving the example of the Afghanistan mission as a reminder that the mission of our Canadian military has changed greatly over the past decade.

I would like to point out that we have always been particularly concerned about the well-being of our veterans. As parliamentarians, we may seriously disagree on political decisions or military missions that the public finds controversial. But what is most important is that our veterans should not pay the political price of this debate. They sacrificed much of their safety, their well-being and their health. It goes without saying that injured and disabled veterans deserve nothing but our full gratitude and recognition, and we must give them the support that they need.

Upon reading Bill C-55, we can see that it contains measures that we hope will help veterans. It proposes some important changes: at least $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, those too injured to return to the workforce; a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit; an additional monthly payment of $1,000 for life to help our most seriously wounded veterans who are no longer able to work; and improved access to the permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance, which will include 3,500 more veterans.

A minimum salary of $40,000 is not a lot of money. To receive $58,000 and the additional $1,000 for life, the individual has to be confined to bed and unable to move. He has to be completely incapacitated. Even that is not much money in exchange for one's health.

The Bloc Québécois is disappointed that the Conservative government did not include measures to pay the monthly pensions. The Minister of Veterans Affairs trumpeted the fact that his department was going to invest $2 billion to help veterans. That is an impressive figure, but we believe that it is poorly managed and poorly allocated.

I said before that all of the stakeholders are unanimous: they believe that the government should abandon the idea of lump sum payments and bring back the lifetime monthly pension for those who are entitled to it.

If we are not able to convince the Conservative government here in the House, we would like to hear what veterans have to say about what this government is doing when we study Bill C-55 in committee. After all, they are the ones affected by this legislation.

I would like to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is aware of and sensitive to veterans affairs. Many veterans have had to make significant sacrifices in the defence of liberty and justice. Many veterans experience after-effects and have to live with the physical and emotional injuries they sustained during their years of service. The Bloc Québécois has the utmost respect for military personnel who risk their lives carrying out highly dangerous missions.

This profound respect implies that, since their lives are in danger, we have the responsibility not to expose them to further risk. Once their mission is complete, we have the collective responsibility to offer them all the support they need when they return home.

In its parliamentary work, our party has always been concerned about the support given to veterans and those who proudly wore a uniform. For example, we have always demanded that the government allocate all the resources possible to help soldiers and veterans and meet their health care needs, particularly in the case of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The government will allocate a $1,000 taxable supplement to veterans with permanent disabilities who can no longer return to the labour market. It is expected that 500 veterans will benefit from this measure in the first five years after this bill comes into effect.

We believe that, given the nature of the situation, this $1,000 supplement should be exempt from tax. We are offering this money to veterans who fought and sacrificed their well-being at their government's request. This monthly supplement will be paid to veterans who are unable to hold gainful employment because of their injuries. Not only will they have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives, but they will also never be able to have a normal financial life because of those injuries. Why penalize them further by making the supplement taxable?

When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, the veterans ombudsman invited parliamentarians to reject a system that would give veterans a choice, as Bill C-55 does. He felt that this option would not do any good because most veterans would choose a lump sum payment. With that in mind, the ombudsman urged parliamentarians to take a tough love approach with veterans.

On top of that, we were also disappointed with the amount in question. The Bloc Québécois would have liked the government to increase the maximum level of compensation. At present, the maximum payout for a disability award is $276,000. However, if we went back to a lifetime monthly pension, veterans could receive between 15% and 35% more than they are receiving now. Thus, the $2 billion the government wants to inject simply amounts to payments that it has not made and that it owes our veterans. That money is there for precisely that purpose. The new duties, the new amount and the new money set out in this bill will serve only to pay small amounts and line the government's pockets.

On behalf of our veterans, I cannot help but wonder why the government did not respond to the concerns of veterans regarding the lump sum payment. A study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 31% of veterans were happy with what they received, while the minister promised new improvements to the lump sum payment.

Instead, the government merely divided up the payment differently, for example, as a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years the recipient chooses, or as a single lump sum payment.

In that regard, the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at a maximum of $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. Australian service members receive about $325,000, and British service members receive almost $1 million. The government is trying to save money on the backs of our veterans, as I said earlier. Everywhere else in the world, veterans receive much higher sums and that money is managed much better than in Canada. Here the government is always trying to save a few pennies to put money elsewhere. The government spent $1.2 billion on the G8 and G20 summits, and nothing was achieved in those three days. It could have used that money to help our veterans.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government needs to stop saying that the Bloc Québécois does not support veterans. I have a message for the Conservatives: I am the daughter of a veteran. My father fought in England, as did my uncle and aunt. My father came back with tuberculosis; my uncle, with a leg missing; and my aunt, with only half of her head. It is very important to me that Bill C-55 about veterans be well thought out and well crafted. My father had tuberculosis and received a monthly pension to help him move past the depression, the ordeal and the horror he had gone through in the war.

Why does the government still insist on not providing a monthly pension to those returning from war, those who defend democracy? These are our parents, our brothers, our sisters. I would like to understand why the government is being so stubborn about the monthly disability pension. Why does my colleague think?