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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded divisions, government orders will be extended by 19 minutes.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Peace River has two minutes remaining in his presentation.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to complete my speech by saying that the motion before us today from the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore ignores a critical point. Our government has been very clear that we will maintain benefits for veterans. However, this does not mean we cannot find internal efficiencies and ways to cut red tape and improve services for veterans. With that in mind, I move that the motion be amended by replacing all of the words after the word “committing to” in section (a) with “maintaining veterans' benefits and”.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion. Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore if he consents to the amendment being moved.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

No.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

There is no consent. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85, the amendment cannot be moved at this time.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the hon. member's speech, I must admit it never ceases to surprise me. In any case, the Conservatives constantly display some hysteria—we might even say they illustrate and add colour—in launching witch hunts they justify as an attempt to cut red tape. I have seen the same thing when it comes to small businesses and another hon. member from this government. At the end of the day, they are sweating the small stuff and completely ignoring the bigger picture at the expense of our veterans.

After his speech, will the hon. member please stop distracting us from the main issue, which is truly to take care of our veterans with tangible actions? In other words, will he listen to the NDP's proposals instead of focusing on problems that do not really exist?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time veterans have ever heard that red tape at Veterans Affairs has not been a problem. I am blown away at the suggestion the member just made. He suggested that no veteran has ever experienced red tape being a problem within the department. Having spoken to veterans in my constituency as well as veterans across this country, I can say that one of their largest frustrations is dealing with the red tape in terms of waiting for documents to be sent in and then hearing back and the vocabulary that is used in rendering the decisions.

This is the crux of the problem. We are dealing with it. Anyone watching this debate will clearly identify that it is the personal opinion of the member opposite and not the opinion of the entire NDP, but if it is, that will demonstrate how out of touch the NDP and the member are on this issue.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to honour our veterans, their families, the fallen and those still serving. There is no commemoration, praise or tribute that can truly match the enormity of their service and sacrifice. We owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay.

Instead of trying to repay our obligation, we let them down on so many issues. For example, too many injured veterans go without the care they need. Too many veterans do not receive the support they have earned. Too many veterans have nowhere safe to sleep at night. It is truly shameful that a 92-year-old veteran in Edmonton ever had to say to me, “There is a long road to go to make this right and you must not give up because we never did”.

Does the hon. member think that our veterans deserve better and that they need more services, more supports, and not less?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right that our veterans deserve the best care that we can provide. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices that they and their families have made for Canada.

Clearly, there have been problems. Starting with our government's action to reform the veterans charter and the actions that have been undertaken for the last six years, a litany of changes have been brought into place, all intended to make it easier for veterans to get the care that they need. There has been an expansion of the care that is available to veterans and their families.

We are committed to standing with our veterans and to standing with families of veterans to ensure that they have the care. We have done that for the last six years. The mess we found when we first took over the department and many departments was unfortunate. We are going to continue to find efficiencies. We are going to continue to provide the service, continue to provide the care to our veterans and their families. I would ask all members of the House to support this government's initiatives in doing just that.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on this important topic relating to our veterans and the services we provide to them through Veterans Affairs.

I would like to thank our veterans past, present, and future for the proud work they have done and will do day in and day out for all Canadians. Despite conditions or locations, they answer the call every day. When people join the Canadian Forces they sign a contract to serve our country with unlimited liability and that could include their life or physical impairment. For that, we can never do enough for them.

As parliamentarians, Canadians and Canadian taxpayers, we owe it to them when they come through on the other side to support them with programs and to deliver those services on a timely basis that truly reflects the service and commitment they have made for us. In that context, I think every parliamentarian believes that, and I really believe that virtually all Canadians at home believe the commitment the forces make and that we make in return.

To put some context to the service we provide to veterans, we need to go back to 2006 and look at how and why the new veterans charter came into place. It is a new level of commitment that all parliamentarians of the day made to veterans. Certainly the previous level of services under the Veterans Act was one level, but the new veterans charter raised the bar and created a new atmosphere and level of service. It was not mandated by bureaucrats; it came from the grassroots.

The new veterans charter came about because veterans were asking for different services. The model that was brought in is a living document, one which is not set in stone forever and always. It can evolve with the changing needs of our veterans.

Ironically, from 2006 to late 2010 and early 2011, we saw the evolution and the changing needs of our veterans in just those few short years. Because the veterans charter is a living document we began to investigate. We heard from different groups what they would like to see and what the shortcomings were with the veterans charter, and changes were made. It was passed unanimously in the House and brought into effect in the fall of 2011.

I have had the pleasure to serve on the committee since 2008, which is when I was elected. There were two or three highlights. One had to do with the earnings loss benefit, providing a minimum income for those veterans who were injured who qualified. It brought them to a minimum level of $40,000, despite where they were on the pay grade. In addition, there was the permanent impairment allowance. That is key. That was brought to $58,000 for those who are the most severely injured. It is vitally important to recognize that there are commitments we need to make both at the department and taxpayer levels to support those who have been severely injured. In addition, all members who were on the committee in the last Parliament would attest to this highlight, the lump sum benefit. Veterans were asking for flexibility around that, that maybe instead of taking a lump sum payment, to look at receiving instalments, similar to an annuity, over a number of years as they saw fit.

These were some of the changes we saw as the new veterans charter evolved. They were good changes. There were many more, but for the purpose of this speech, those are some that we can focus on.

There is another important thing we can look at which was also a vital contribution by the past veterans ombudsman, Colonel Pat Stogran. I have great respect for what the gentleman had to say and the fact that he was able to speak his mind, specifically on behalf of veterans. I applaud him for his courage. One of things he spoke about was the service delivery by the department.

Most Canadians assume that all government departments and bureaucracies operate at the highest level of technology, with the current day technologies that most corporations and businesses have come to know. In fact, one of the most important things in Veterans Affairs, the veterans' health records, is not electronic. This is something the department is embarking on. It is part of its transformation agenda. It is vitally important to be able to deliver faster and more efficient services to our veterans. In addition to that, all of the other IT software systems will work to provide all staff members inside the department a much better way of communicating with one another, because it does not just come out of one department in one city or town. Rather, it is from coast to coast to coast. The better and the greater the use of technology, the better services we can provide to our veterans. This is similar to what President Obama in the United States embarked on in 2009 with the transformation 21 initiative, wherein the American government was working on making its health records electronic.

I had a discussion with a friend in the military about his medical records and how things worked where he was stationed in Petawawa. I found it amazing that in the year 2012 this is how documents are handled. Therefore, I am happy to see the department move forward.

In addition to everything I have discussed, let us look at some things the department provides funding for and is committed to at the very grassroots level.

I had the great opportunity late this past year to go to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton. Truly all Canadians would be proud of the level of technology, service and care provided there. It was really astounding and impressive that in Canada we have such a high degree of services we can provide veterans, young and old. We were able to see what it was doing right from one end of the hospital to the very other. In addition to that, some of the corporate partners in Alberta have really helped to bring forward some of the latest technologies to Glenrose Rehabilitation centre. Therefore, when we look at services, we need to really take a look at those.

One interesting comment that veterans' advocate Michel Drapeau said back at the end of August was that it is not a cost issue but an internal issue, when we are looking at the services delivered to veterans. The point is that no matter how much money the department has in its budget, it can never do enough. There would never be enough to really put into perspective the level of commitment and sacrifice that all of our veterans have provided. We have to work internally to find out why and how we can deliver services in a more timely and more efficient manner. It is true that every year nearly 90% of the budget of $3.4 billion or $3.5 billion is delivered directly in services and benefits. It is the 10% that we really need to work on so that we can deliver that 90% in the most efficient manner possible.

There were a couple of interesting groups that we have heard in committee this past year. One in particular was CanVet Vocational Rehabilitation Services. There was another group that came in as well. These people help place veterans in the workforce. They do a great job working on their resumés and working with the individuals to really meet the needs of the employers. Veterans Affairs works with these groups in placing thousands of veterans every year. As well, helmets to hardhats will be a great portal and avenue for veterans to find jobs and provide links with the corporate community for them find them meaningful and gainful employment. We know they have so much to add. They have had great experiences in working with teams in tough conditions. They have a lot to offer, both the old generation that is working today and the new generation.

I know my time is running short. I could talk all day about all of the great services and benefits that Veterans Affairs provides, but we always need to work harder to find new ways to serve our veterans. We should never say this is where we are happy, because the sky is the limit for what we can provide to our veterans.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague who is on the Standing Committee of Veterans Affairs, where he is a well-respected member. I have an awful lot of time for this fine man, sir. I think he is a decent parliamentarian and a good advocate on behalf of veterans. He has also heard testimony from many people within Veterans Affairs about people who are very frustrated.

I have heard the government talk about cutting red tape. The member knows all too well that one of the largest problems we have within the Department of Veterans Affairs is something called the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. He knows it very well. He knows that the vast majority of its members are political appointees, that they have never served a day in uniform, either in the RCMP or the military, and that not one of them is considered a doctor. Yet they get to adjudicate cases on medical evidence and then, eventually, deny these in many cases.

If the government wishes to cut red tape, would he agree that we should get rid of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, take that $11 million and reinvest it back into programs and services for veterans, RCMP members and their families?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 5th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a fair question. I think we could all make our own commentaries on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Let us be honest: there is room for improvement there. I do not think anyone in this House today should say it is perfect. That is just a fact of life. There do need to be improvements at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. I would look forward to any suggestions the member has to make improvements, to provide efficiencies. I do not think getting rid of it is the first step we should take. We should try to make some improvements and push those forward because, at the end of the day, the board is supposed to be there to provide a second set of eyes for the evidence being provided in the first case.