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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is rcmp.

NDP MP for Sackville—Eastern Shore (Nova Scotia)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 54.10% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 10th, 2014

With regard to homeless veterans: (a) what programs from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) are in place to assist homeless veterans; (b) what programs are in place by other government departments, if applicable, to assist homeless veterans; (c) what organizations are working in partnership with VAC to provide support to homeless veterans, broken down by province; (d) what is the annual breakdown of contributions issued to organizations working in partnership with VAC on veterans homelessness from 2009 to 2013 inclusively, broken down by province; (e) how much did VAC spend on veterans homelessness annually from 2009 to 2013 inclusively; (f) what are the details of VAC's evaluation of the effectiveness of their financial contribution and program delivery for the partnership defined in (c); (g) is VAC considering a plan for a national coordinated effort to support homeless veterans and, if so, what are the details; (h) how many homeless veterans have been identified annually by VAC, from 2009 to 2013 inclusively; (i) how many homeless veterans have been identified by organizations working in partnership with VAC annually from 2009 to 2013 inclusively, broken down by province; (j) how many homeless veterans identified in (h) and (i) are now in receipt of departmental benefits or services; (k) what is the breakdown of the type of departmental benefits or services the homeless veterans received from 2009 to 2013; (l) what are the planned expenditures by VAC for homeless veterans for the next five years; and (m) what are the planned expenditures by VAC for organizations working in partnership with VAC to provide support to homeless veterans?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 10th, 2014

With regard to disabled Canadian Forces veterans who are trying to obtain fair compensation with settlements under the New Veterans Charter (NVC): (a) how many Members of Parliament wrote to the Minister of Veterans Affairs with respect to fair compensation for injured veterans under the NVC, for each of the years from 2006 to 2014 inclusive; (b) what is the total amount of money spent by all government departments and agencies, excluding the Department of Justice, from October 2013 to the present, on the Equitas Society class action lawsuit, that is, the defence against disabled Canadian Forces veterans trying to obtain fair compensation with settlements under the NVC; (c) what is the total amount of money spent by the government to hire outside legal counsel from October 2013 to the present on the Equitas Society class action lawsuit; and (d) what is the total amount of money spent by all government departments and agencies on the Equitas Society class action lawsuit from October 2012 to the present, including all costs associated with the work of Department of Justice?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 10th, 2014

With regard to disabled RCMP veterans who are trying to end the reduction of long-term disability benefits by the amount of their Veterans Affairs Canada disability pension: (a) how many Members of Parliament (MP) wrote to the Minister of Veterans Affairs with respect to the issue identified above for each of the years from 2010 to 2014; (b) how many Conservative MPs wrote to the Minister with respect to the above issue for each of the years from 2010 to 2014; (c) what was the total amount of money spent by all government departments and agencies on the disabled RCMP members' class action lawsuit, including outside legal counsel; and (d) what is the estimated cost for settling the RCMP class action lawsuit?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 5th, 2014

With regard to homeless veterans: (a) what programs from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) are in place to assist homeless veterans; (b) what programs are in place by other government departments, if applicable, to assist homeless veterans; (c) what organizations are working in partnership with VAC to provide support to homeless veterans, broken down by province; (d) what is the annual breakdown of contributions issued to organizations working in partnership with VAC on veterans homelessness from 2009 to 2013 inclusively, broken down by province; (e) how much did VAC spend on veterans homelessness annually from 2009 to 2013 inclusively; (f) what are the details of VAC's evaluation of the effectiveness of their financial contribution and program delivery for the partnership defined in (c); (g) is VAC considering a plan for a national coordinated effort to support homeless veterans and, if so, what are the details; (h) how many homeless veterans have been identified annually by VAC, from 2009 to 2013 inclusively; (i) how many homeless veterans have been identified by organizations working in partnership with VAC annually from 2009 to 2013 inclusively, broken down by province; (j) how many homeless veterans identified in (h) and (i) are now in receipt of departmental benefits or services; (k) what is the breakdown of the type of departmental benefits or services the homeless veterans received from 2009 to 2013; (l) what are the planned expenditures by VAC for homeless veterans for the next five years; and (m) what are the planned expenditures by VAC for organizations working in partnership with VAC to provide support to homeless veterans?

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will give the government credit. It has moved the yardstick ever so slightly on the helmets to hardhats, for example, which was an American initiative brought into Canada, and there is some progress working on that.

However, let us not forget what the legislation says. The legislation says, for priority hiring, “If you meet the qualifications of the job. If you have psychological or physical problems, you may not be able to”.

We are hoping that with our recommendations tomorrow and with the government looking at an overall view of this, it will look at these veterans who are medically released from the military and understand that in order to place them in a public service role they may need additional training, they may need additional rehabilitation, or something else, in order to fit those needs. They may not meet the needs right away, on a résumé, but with time and training, they be able to do that.

I was recently in the United States for a one-day symposium on what the U.S. government is doing in hiring veterans. The State of Virginia, alone, in two years, hired over 50,000 veterans. One state and that many veterans. The way it did is was quite remarkable and I hope to be able to share that with my government colleagues in the committee when the bill comes to committee.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as the official opposition critic for veterans affairs, I do not just deal with veterans in my riding. I deal with them right across the country. On any given day, I receive 50 to 60 phone calls, emails, faxes, and letters from veterans, not only in my own riding but right across the country, with concerns and issues.

That is not to say that some veterans are not getting very good service. I can assure members I have spoken with many veterans who are getting very good service from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is the way it should be.

For the hon. member who asked the question, who by the way I think is one of the finest MPs in the House of Commons, all I want is for every veteran, every RCMP veteran, and their family members to receive the same quality service.

Today, I received a call from a gentleman in the Saint John Regional Hospital. There are 14 veterans' beds that are closed. They are not open. He knows of three veterans who served in World War II but because they did not serve overseas, they do not get access to those long-term care beds.

I just want to say, while I am on my feet, to the minister, for whom I have great respect, I am hoping that eventually we can have that conversation about long-term health care for the modern-day veterans and their families to ensure that they indeed get the same access to services that our World War II and Korean veterans received, as well.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, sometimes when a lob ball is thrown, it is gets batted out of the House.

I can guarantee there are no security passes. Many constituents, including the Legion and the vets, including some Conservative members of Parliament, have been in my office, and they have had to use the phone. Oh, what a shock, that Conservative members of Parliament would be in my office and happen to make a phone call. In fact, they cannot live without their BlackBerrys constantly going off in my office.

The reality is Legion members have been in my office, and they have used the phone. I am a member of the Legion and the ANAVETS, and nine other veterans organizations. Does that mean every single one of them should be tainted by the fact that maybe they have been in my office, but only one of them should get to plug in their chair because he is a disabled veteran?

The reality is I really quite get a kick out of this, to be honest. If that is the extent of the hon. member's question, it is unbelievable. That shows the state of affairs in the Conservative Party of Canada. If that is the type of question we get from an hon. member of Parliament, who I have great respect for, who has served his country with great respect, something has happened to him now that he is a member of Parliament. To ask that type of question, it is really incredible.

I hope the member has a good night's rest and that tomorrow he understands that tomorrow should be a very good day for all of Canada's veterans.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, thank you. I appreciate that, and I will withdraw it. It was an absolute fabrication. In fact, the envelope was so stretched that it was incredible.

This is a disabled veteran from Niagara Falls who runs the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, and what does he do? The disability scooter that he has is paid for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He plugs it in to a socket in my office so he his battery is charged every time he comes up to Ottawa.

I have offered him the opportunity to put it in the hon. member for Durham's office, who has a much larger office than mine two doors down. However, I do not see the hon. member for Durham offering the same opportunity for a disabled veteran to park his scooter in his office.

That is quite offensive. For one veteran to attack another is simply unconscionable and he should be ashamed of himself. As a person who was born in Holland and whose parents were liberated by the veteran community, I have always thought that every veteran, regardless of when he or she served or how, should be treated with the utmost respect. Just because certain veterans disagree with other veterans who happen to be on the government's side, the disagreement should not result in slander in the House of Commons.

I invite the hon. member, whenever he wishes, either privately or publicly, to apologize to Mike Blais and the Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

There is another thing going on that is simply unconscionable. We heard the member say that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy actually accepted funding from “unions”. The fact is that it is an Internet veterans group that gets its funding from all kinds of people. One union gave it $2,000. That was one union, one time, yet the member said “unions”, which basically tried to make the slant that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy was just a union front. If, indeed, it is a union front, long live the union movement. However, the fact is, nothing could be further from the truth.

I only wish the hon. member for Durham, for whom I have great respect, could get his facts straight and understand that when veterans disagree with the government, it does not necessarily mean they disagree with him personally. It just means they disagree with the policies coming from his government.

That is fair. That is why they wore the uniform. That is why they stood on guard for thee. It was to be able to tell Canadians that even though we might disagree on political fronts, we at least had the right to agree to disagree.

Without hesitation, the last couple of months have not been a very good time for the Minister of Veterans Affairs. First, there was the meeting that he blew off and then came to Room 130-S. He completely embarrassed himself, the Government of Canada and all parliamentarians, for that matter, when he literally verbally abused veterans.

Then there were the events of the other day. The reality is that we heard the excuses that he did not hear the woman or that he was late for a vote. It was absolute nonsense. The reality is that I left the room five minutes after the minister and got here six minutes before the minister and still had ten minutes to spare.

He could have stopped and said that he was sorry, that he had to go to a meeting or a vote. He could have given her his card and suggested they meet in the future, but no. Not only did he not do that, but the parliamentary secretary rushed right past her. We can see that in the video.

During her press conference, two members of the minister's staff were watching her speak. The deputy minister walked by. Other staffers walked by. We would think that for one second, one member of the government or the department would have stopped and asked if there was any way that they could help her. However, no, they completely brushed her off.

What an absolute embarrassment. I, as a member of Parliament, was absolutely embarrassed that our government, even though I did not vote for it, treated her in this fashion. That is twice. Those members do not get a third time.

I can assure members not to worry. There will not be a third time, because when the election comes around, this party, the NDP, will be over on that side and we will ensure that veterans get treated with the respect they so rightfully deserve.

For example, every time I ask the minister a question, I give him the question well in advance. Today I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs, who I have great respect for, if he would he you at least meet with this woman at a time that was convenient for both of them for her to discuss her issues about her husband. The answer was that he would take it under consideration. In the House of Commons, the question was not answered. A member of Parliament from the opposition has the courtesy to give a minister the question in advance but does not even get a response.

What are people watching this expected to believe? I was not playing for political points. I was not playing any opportunism. I gave the minister the question in advance, as I always have done for 17 years. All I asked for was a respectful answer and I did not get it. What is Jenifer supposed to think now? Her husband has severe post-traumatic stress disorder and all she has asked for is a little help. Did she get it? No. She got the back of the hand of the Government of Canada, and that is shameful. Every member over there should hang their head in shame for that despicable behaviour. It is unbelievable and it goes on and on.

I have so many files on my desk from veterans across the country who are disappointed with the government.

Having said that, I hope tomorrow will be a very proud day for Canada. The Veterans Affairs committee, which I have been member of for many years, is releasing its report tomorrow. Although I cannot divulge what is in that report, I have to give the parliamentary secretary, the members of the Conservative Party, my colleagues from the Liberals and my hon. NDP colleagues as well, kudos for working together to come up with recommendations that hopefully the government will accept and move on very quickly.

This will be a start. If the government accepts and adopts the recommendations, then the committee has done its work. The Veterans Ombudsman has done his work. The Canadian Veterans Advocacy, the Legion and the vets, all those other groups that have come forward to the government over the last eight years with recommendations to improve the new veterans charter have done their work.

This will require an investment from the government not only financially, but personnel as well. I cannot say if the report is unanimous or not, but I am very proud of it. I am very proud of all the members who serve on that committee. I am very proud of all the witnesses who came before us. We heard some very heartfelt stories.

One story on the public record is about Corporal Mark Fuchko, a double amputee who took over nine months to get the paperwork done for renovations to his home. Brian Forbes of the National Council of Veterans Associations said it very clearly and succinctly: “A double amputee shouldn't have to fill out any forms”. Think about that. It should not have taken him nine months to get the help he needed; it should have taken nine minutes. The minute he was a double amputee, the department should have asked him what he needed. It should have said that it would get his house renovated and ensure that he would get everything he needed so he could move forward to a positive life.

If after the report is tabled tomorrow, we can see that kind of action, the committee under the great chair, the member for West Nova, then we will have done something really well. I, and I am sure all members of the committee, will be very proud of that.

However, as I have said before, I have been here for 17 years. I have been on a lot of committees and I have worked on a lot of recommendations. An awful lot of them are still sitting on the shelf. Just because these are recommendations does not necessarily mean the government will adopt them.

However, it will be our job in opposition, and I would hope that of the members on the back bench of the Conservative Party, to encourage their government to listen to these recommendations, to understand what was said, and be able to adopt them in a sincere and expedited manner so that those most seriously disabled and their families will get the help they need, and get it right away. We will wait and see how it turns out in that regard.

Getting back to the bill, it is a noble effort for the government to introduce legislation for the priority hiring of veterans. Again I say that I hope the government will accept the NDP's recommendation in committee to include disabled RCMP members as well. We also have to look at the fact that in many cases there are spouses of veterans who may also want to work in the public service because of their experience. I am not saying that is something we need to adopt, but it is something we should seriously look at. Many spouses of veterans have a lot of experience dealing with disabled members, whether it is psychological or medical. I believe that an awful lot of family members can provide an awful lot of assistance to us as members of Parliament, to senators, or to the Government of Canada. Hopefully, this is something the government will look at when this bill eventually gets to committee.

At the end of the day, the reality is that we need to treat every single member of the military and the RCMP and their families with the utmost respect. Bearing in mind that not every Legion, not every individual member of the military, not every member of the RCMP, or their families, are going to agree with the government of the day. I can tell the Conservatives that as a member from 1997 to 2006, I received just as many complaints when the Liberals were in power about veterans' issues and benefits, access to them, and everything else. The reality is that the complaints have not gone away.

There are new complaints, but there are some similarities. One similarity is access to benefits. When people becomes disabled, either psychologically or medically, they go through what I call the Gordian knot of bureaucracy in order to achieve those benefits in a timely manner. That is one of the biggest problems within the Government of Canada. This is why the hon. member who spoke before talked about reducing bureaucracy, basically saying 1,500 public servants will be laid off by the time the government is done.

It has only barely touched the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. This is my hobby horse that I have been on for many years. If I were sitting in the minister's chair right now, there would be no Veterans Review and Appeal Board and there would be no Bureau of Pensions Advocates. Why? It is because veterans are the only citizens who get a lawyer from the government to fight for a benefit against the government.

There is something called benefit of the doubt, the compassionate clause. We respect our veterans. An entire system is set up that costs millions of dollars to catch the possible 3%, 2%, or even less, who are trying to cheat the system. Every veteran is included in that. The Veterans Review and Appeal Board, in my 17 years, is one of the biggest problems the minister and the Government of Canada has. I hope that they will seriously look at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and understand very clearly that if a veteran comes forward with a concern of some kind, has a doctor's note that says his or her condition may be related to military service, has a second note from a specialist that qualifies and quantifies the first note and says, yes, there is a high probability this condition may have been caused by military service, that veteran should be entitled to the benefit.

What happens is veterans go through the appeal board and are denied, they go again and are denied, they go again and are denied. It is called the no-go policy. We know it very well. If the board says no long enough, the veterans go away. There is old 3D policy that I have witnessed many times. It is called the delay, deny, and then die policy. Mr. Art Humphreys of Musquodoboit Harbour had to go through that experience. Get this. He was an 87-year-old veteran who lived in his house for many years. All he asked for, because he could not go down the 13 steps any more, was a lift for his house, so he could go down to his basement to be entertained. It was where his big screen was and his friends would come.

They sent in a 25-year-old VON nurse on contract to DVA, who said, in her opinion, that all the qualities of life he needed were upstairs and that he did not need to go downstairs anymore. He was denied the lift.

I made the argument to the minister of the day and unfortunately on the day of my argument, that veteran passed away. For $425 and $30 a month rent, they could not give a World War II veteran a lift. Let us think about that.

Having said that, we will support the legislation. Hopefully our amendments will be brought in. I plead with the government and I plead with the minister to streamline the bureaucratic process to ensure that when a veteran calls in, the only thing that person on the other end of the phone should say is “How can we help you?”

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I was having a nice quiet time in my office today when I was asked to come and speak to this important legislation. I want to point out that we in the NDP will be supporting the legislation, but let us go over a little history of this.

I am probably one of the few members of Parliament in the House who was here in 2004 and 2005 when work on the new veterans charter started. One of the parameters of the new veterans charter was that priority hiring for veterans would be a key aspect of the charter. What happened was that after eight years, DND and DVA were the only two departments hiring. The other departments were simply not. Now the government is forced to bring in legislation to do such a thing.

I already said in my question that the government wants to hire veterans, but on a premise that they have to be qualified. They have to meet the test of whatever it is they applying for. It does not necessarily mean that as veterans they get jobs. It means that as veterans they may apply for a job in the public service.

Let us not forget that 30 veterans were recently released from the Commissionaires out of the Fire Watch Service at Cape Scott, Halifax. Now the government is saying it wants to hire veterans, but DND is saying it is going to lay them off. In addition, many veterans have been laid off because they were last in, first out, with all the cuts the government has made to the public service across the country. Therefore, the Conservatives are saying to all the veterans out there that they should not to worry, that if they exit the military on a medical premise of any kind, if they meet the qualifications, they may get a job with the public service. That is “if, if and may”. There is no guarantee that will happen.

However, we hope to improve the legislation because we notice that in all the discussions of the Conservatives over there, they have not once mentioned the RCMP. Why should RCMP veterans who apply for their benefits from DVA be excluded from priority hiring when they become disabled and exit the RCMP? We would like to see RCMP disabled veterans included in the legislation.

By the way, there are a lot of Conservatives over there whom I respect tremendously. Today marks the 17th anniversary of my being elected to the House of Commons. I congratulate all those from the class of 1997. I see there is a Saskatchewan member from the class of 1993, a decent guy.

The hon. member for Durham, whom I respect, served his country very well for 12 years. He said the following, and I am quite offended by this because he is absolutely wrong. I will give him a chance to apologize either publicly or privately. He said this of Michael Blais of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, “who works out of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore's office”. That is a blatant fabrication. It is an outright lie. Because he is—

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to stand up and give the hon. member a bit of a compliment, but then he slants the unions in terms of union bosses. There is no such thing as a union boss. That is the first thing he should understand.

A couple of weeks ago I did a press conference in Halifax, where DND is laying off 30 commissionaires, and every single one of them is a veteran. They are being laid off from the fire service, the watch service they have on the dockyard at the Cape Scott yard in Halifax.

I want to let the member know we support the legislation. We hope to improve it at committee. However, that said, how can the government on the one hand stand up and say it is supporting veterans and wants to hire veterans, when on the other hand the Department of National Defence is laying off 30 veterans from Halifax? It is a simple question. How does it hire veterans when at the same time it is laying them off?