House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was literacy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South
Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for West Nova.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss how our government cares for and supports Canada's men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families. I feel strongly about the importance of caring for and recognizing a group of individuals that has sacrificed so much, but had asked for so little in return from our nation.

Our government is providing veterans with the support they need, when and where they need it. That includes supporting them as they make the transition from military to civilian life.

The members of the House are all aware of the unprecedented amount of money budgeted over the last six years to support veterans, be it for the implementation of the new veterans charter and its enhancements, the expansion of the veterans independence program, or the network of operational stress injury clinics located across Canada. All of these efforts will make a lasting difference.

What about the families of veterans, those who may not wear a uniform but serve our country nonetheless? They are the strength and foundation of the Canadian Forces member both while in service and when he or she transitions back to civilian life.

When an individual joins the Canadian Forces, he or she does so by choice. However, that choice can take a heavy toll on the family of the veteran. Whether it is being left alone while their loved one is deployed or trying to transition to civilian life after years of being a military family, in many cases, it is the spouses and caregivers who provide stability and balance at home while the veteran recovers and finds her or his place in the civilian world.

Our government understands that and that is why we are proud supporters of the new veterans charter.

When the charter was first introduced in 2006, its goal was to get the best results for our veterans and their families. I want to stress that it is for our veterans and their families. The needs and expectations of these veterans and their families are evolving. As the minister has clearly stated, we need to evolve with them. To keep the status quo would be an enormous disservice to those who have put their lives on the line for our country. Therefore, in recent years our government has made substantial changes to the programs and services to bring about the well-being and stability of our veterans in their civilian lives.

I want to take the opportunity this debate presents to look at what we are also doing for our military families and to remind Canadians that these families deserve our support and respect.

The best example of this care and support provided comes in the form of case management and rehabilitation services available to veterans and how the family plays a major part in developing their individual case plans. It is crucial that spouses, parents, children, or ideally all of those individuals, be full partners in a veteran's recovery. They are a critical support system, and they need to know what their loved ones are going through, how they are progressing and how the family can help. They are involved every step of the way through the transition process.

At the same time, families also need to know that there is help for them to have their own support systems. The military family resource centres are wonderful places to start, as is our network of family peer support coordinators. I had the great privilege of meeting with many of them last week.

Both Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence have created a very successful network known as the operational stress injury social support program. Specially trained peer support coordinators who have first-hand experience with operational stress injuries and the loss of loved ones provide vital personal support. We met with the spouses of veterans and we met with the spouses of Canadian armed forces members. These are the very folks providing the peer-to-peer counselling. Family members have said that having someone to talk to who has already been there is incredibly supportive and comforting.

Our government has also invested more money in the network of operational stress injury clinics. These are the clinics that serve our veterans and Canadian armed forces members who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Veterans Affairs Canada and National Defence have worked together on this initiative to create a network of 17 mental health clinics throughout the country. While continuing to live in their community, veterans attend appointments at the OSI clinic. They are offered a clinical assessment and a variety of treatment options, including individual therapies, group sessions, psycho education sessions and other resources.

The clinical teams are made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses and other specialized clinicians who understand the experience and needs of our veterans. The team works closely with other health care and community organizations to ensure that there is appropriate follow up within our communities. Loved ones can be involved in the treatment and eligible family members can also receive these services.

As of today, there are 10 of these clinics operated by Veterans Affairs Canada. The Canadian Forces offers its support through 7 operational trauma and stress support centres. Support like this brings back stability and strength to the family unit. As a result, veterans can make better use of the other services we provide, services such as career counselling, vocational assistance and job placement. The spouse of a deceased or severely injured veteran can get the training he or she needs to find work and help bring financial stability back to the family unit if the veteran is unable to benefit from these services. That means everyone can focus on what matters most: getting better and getting stronger.

The initiatives I have mentioned represent only a few of the actions taken by our Conservative government to provide assistance to Canada's veterans and their families. When it comes to easing the transition from military service to the civilian world, we believe families, first and foremost, are the most critical social support system. Knowing their families' interests are important, understood and supported keeps our existing forces strong.

I want to assure Canadians, veterans, servicemen and women and their families that we are working hard to provide them with the services and benefits when they need them and where they need them.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech.

There are good intentions in her speech. However, I note that, although the current Conservative government claims to support our troops, it abandons them at the earliest opportunity with irresponsible budget cuts, the refusal to pay benefits, and the disclosure of confidential medical information about veterans who stand up for others. When will the Conservatives stop attacking our veterans?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

In fact, Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. Our government takes the privacy of our veterans very seriously. When it comes to providing benefits to our veterans, it is our Conservative government that has actually enhanced the benefits available to our most severely disabled veterans.

I find it amusing that the opposition party would even raise this issue, considering it consistently votes against funding enhanced benefits to our most seriously disabled veterans. Frankly, it should be ashamed of itself and its track record.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I heard the parliamentary secretary in the course of her remarks say that to keep the status quo would be an immense disservice to our veterans and yet the amendment proposed by the government side is to maintain veterans' benefits. I am not an English major but I am having a little trouble trying to figure out the difference between status quo and maintain.

Why not take the savings that will be encountered through the strategic and operating review and fund the veterans transition program? The hon. member saw this program first-hand. It is an excellent program that is receiving nothing from the government. Why not plow the savings from the strategic and operating review into the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research? Why not? Is the status quo—

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals had some 13 years to do right by veterans and never did. They did nothing on agent orange ex gratia payments. It took our Conservative government to fund that. They never once created the Office of the Ombudsman. It was actually the Conservative government that created the Office of the Ombudsman. It was the Conservative government that brought in the bill of rights for veterans.

Our Conservative government constantly stands by veterans. Our simple proposal today is that we will maintain all benefits for veterans. However, any savings to be found by eliminating inefficiencies in our bureaucracy ought to be had immediately. I do not understand why the opposition would not support such a simple premise.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to the Minister of Veterans Affairs for all that he does for this country.

As a retired member of the RCMP, I am much appreciative of the benefits that I receive yearly on behalf of Veterans Affairs. More important, what I would like the parliamentary secretary to expound upon is this. My son served in the last combat mission in Afghanistan from November 2010 to July 2011. I was blessed with the fact that we were phoned every month to ensure how our family was doing while he was serving overseas. I wonder if the member could again explain some of the programs that are available to the families while their loved ones are serving overseas.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his service to our nation, as well as that of his son. It is very much appreciated.

Putting our families front and centre is a priority for our government. While Canadian Forces members are serving overseas, the stress that is put upon their family members back home is sometimes unbearable. We have created a number of peer-to-peer support centres for these family members to offer them assistance and support.

More important, we want to ensure that we offer some assistance to our veterans when they return home to transition back into civilian life. Our committee has actually been focusing on that in the last weeks.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is an incredibly important discussion that we are having today. I will begin by making something very clear, and I think my colleagues on the committee would agree. I do not think there is a member in this House who does not support our veterans. I think every elected member understands the importance of what these great people have done for our country. Whatever disagreements we may have, I think they are in the spirit of how we can make it better and how we can continue to support our veterans. I just wanted to get that on the record because we do not always agree on everything.

I also want to point out that tomorrow is an important day. It is the day when the minister appears before the committee to discuss the main estimates. It will be a very fulsome, public discussion about what will take place and what will not. I want to get it on the record again, as the minister said many times, there will be no reductions in services to veterans. Legally, we cannot do that. As a government, we will fully support the services that are provided to veterans. Whatever else goes on, whatever one wants to add to it, that is a different kind of discussion. However, we need to be clear that there will be no reduction in the budget in terms of services to veterans in Canada. We just would not do that.

I will also point out, as I am supposed to use some of the document prepared for me, and make mention of the fact that there are some important anniversaries coming up. Part of what we do is commemorate what our veterans have done. We know that next month there is a special anniversary and special celebrations for the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is one of four important battles but this one is special because it really showed that Canada was becoming a nation recognized around the world.

On April 8, some 500 cadets will gather here in Ottawa. It is very touching and moving ceremony. They hold an all night vigil in recognition of the tomb of the unknown soldier. If people are around, I would encourage them to go. One of the great things we have seen in recent years is the take up among young Canadians of what veterans and the military mean to our great nation. Every year they are showing up in greater numbers showing their understanding of the importance of what our veterans have done. That is certainly an important event.

Also, and I thought one of these years I might get to go, but the minister will lead a delegation to France with some 5,000 students and a number of veterans and military representatives. They will be able to see that very special place and to commemorate with our great Canadians how important not only the monument is but the whole event, the whole recognition of Canada being recognized in France for what we have done. We certainly think that is important. I just want to remind members that this coming up next month.

As well, there are a number of other programs and services. I want to touch on those because I think we overlook things sometimes. I think anybody on the committee would agree that this year we had a number of great witnesses come in. Many have started initiatives on their own or in partnership with the department. In every case, there is phenomenal growth in the services taking place for veterans in Canada. There is a whole recognition.

I know my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore remembers when we saw the peer group come before us a couple of years ago. There is a whole recognition of all the new challenges that veterans face, whether they be physical, mental, financial or whatever. I see continued progress taking place. I think a lot of it is in recognition of their service, although there were cuts that took place in the mid-1990s, which was unfortunate and it took a long time to bring them back, but now it is a matter of continued growth and recognition.

A former minister said quite often, and it is so true, that we can never do enough for our veterans. I think that will always be the case, but we can never stop trying. We can never stop listening. We can never stop reaching out and telling them how much they mean to our great nation.

Even though we may disagree on the timing of that, it is important to remember that the efforts that are being made show that every year there is an improvement over the year before.

We also know there are a lot of veterans who need special care and special attention. I know the talk has been about cutbacks, reductions and so on. I think the test will be when the budget comes in. I will just smile as I look at my colleague and say that this is the year for him to vote for the budget and to support the veterans in a meaningful way.

It would be so marvellous to see my colleague stand up that day and say that it may not be everything, that it may not be all that we want, but that the government is doing the right things for the veterans of Canada. I want to hear the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore stand up and, with great praise and great enthusiasm, do that.

All kidding aside, it is important to note that as we look at the issues we are facing and the issues to come, the modern vets need special recognition. I would agree with many of the points made over recent years that there were problems, whether it was regarding privacy or other issues. The fact is there has been a response to those, and a continued response is necessary.

It has been pointed out by other members that not just recognizing the services, but as the department becomes more efficient, more of the money should be spent on the veterans and less of the money should be spent on bureaucracy.

We will not get into a debate about the things that should stay or go; that will continue in the years to come. However, I will tell members one thing. Whatever we end up doing, as colleagues in this House, we have to keep trying and every day of every year we have to remember what these people have done.

The modern vets are coming home. As I said earlier about one of the meetings we had a couple of years ago, these peer support groups are becoming so important. There are homeless vets. There are a lot of problems that vets face. We have learned that the best approach is for someone who has been in their shoes to be the lead and the contact with veterans. They will make the contact and will bring them in. This is something that probably I and most of us could not do. They have been there. They have suffered. They understand and they want to help. We have to listen to these people. We have to support these people. We have to ensure they are given the supports they need. That is our job. I see a lot of opportunity for improvement there.

I have probably left a few things out that were in my notes, but I did want to take this opportunity to say that tomorrow is an important day. The minister is going to be with us at the committee. The committee members will have an opportunity to go into detail, but please let it be with the full understanding and comprehension that we start by saying there will be absolutely no reduction in services to veterans. We just will never let that happen.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Nova Scotia. If I may say in a non-partisan way, he does an excellent job as chair of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and for that I am greatly appreciative.

He said that we need to do more and we could never do enough. He is right. The reality is that in some cases the disabled veteran or family member is 86 years old, 90 years old, 97 years old. I raised the case of Mr. Dionne from North Vancouver in the House. Does the member honestly think for a second that a 97-year-old veteran who just had a pacemaker put in at a hospital and his 89-year-old wife should be told that the department will get back to them in 16 weeks if it may help them? This is just one of thousands of issues we deal with on a regular basis.

Does the member not think the answer should be that the department will help them immediately and that the paperwork can be filled in later? Does he not think that would be a much better way to go?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree in principle, obviously. How would a person disagree with respect to a veteran of that age?

I would also remind members that every year we see the numbers of satisfied veterans, in terms of getting service and support, going up. The vast majority of veterans get the services that they want and need.

There are these that certainly deserve our attention. We have to focus more on the eligibility question. They deserve the benefit of the doubt. I do not argue at all. Also, the member knows that we are seeing the wait times actually begin to shorten. That is one of the major commitments to take place. All of us as members have been frustrated when dealing with veterans matters to see how long it has taken sometimes to get an answer, positive or negative, but certainly we want to continue. On that point, we would certainly agree.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to commend the hon. member for his work as the chairman of our committee. I know that I have not made it particularly easy for him. It would be great if more of the committee business was done in public. However, he is a good man, doing a good job.

He said in the course of his remarks that tomorrow is a very important day because the committee is going to consider the main estimates. He also said that legally we cannot reduce the amount that is being paid for veterans benefits.

Is he prejudging the outcome of the vote tomorrow? Does the committee not have the right to examine the numbers that come before it, to discuss them and to decide whether or not to pass them? If they are legally bound, what are we meeting for tomorrow?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I hope I did not misunderstand my colleague from Charlottetown. What I said was that we were legally bound to maintain the level of service for veterans. I hope he is not suggesting that at tomorrow's meeting any member of the committee would talk about reducing support to the veterans, to actually reduce the amount of money going to veterans. I am not trying to be presumptuous of the committee, but this side of the House is going to absolutely vote to support and maintain the programs and services available to the veterans of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse
Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my voice to those of the two official critics, to commend the work of our chair of the veterans affairs committee. As well, I commend the work of the whole committee, which has provided an excellent report on remembrance as we approach the centennial of the First World War, which is very important.

The member raised the issue of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This is at the very heart of our country. I wish every member and every Canadian could seize the sacrifices made by those Canadians at that time.

Tomorrow, I will be more than happy to appear in front of the committee where I will present an additional budget of $43 million that will be required for the current fiscal year. I will also be seeking support for an additional $3.5 billion in the main estimates for next year. I hope I will get the support of the member as well.

My question for the chair of the committee is this. Today we have a motion, but is it not more important to vote when there are budget initiatives? What can we expect from a party that is consistently voting against veterans? Should we not be more proactive and support our veterans?

As we heard, the member is asking for streamlining of processes so we have more money for veterans and less for bureaucracy.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was getting a lot of helpful advice around this corner of the House, so I may not have the full intent, but I did get the sense about voting for the budget. It is kind of a segue to say, first, I heard one comment. No, I was not at Vimy Ridge. I did not see it personally, although I may be older than some members.

I absolutely agree that the real test is in the budget itself. The Minister of Finance, when he brings that great document forward, is one more member of the House who is totally aware of and supportive of veterans.

I know the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore will have to really contain his enthusiasm when he votes in favour of the budget that comes in this year. I look forward to that.