An Act to amend the statute law in relation to veterans' benefits

This bill was last introduced in the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in October 2000.


George Baker  Liberal


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(This bill did not become law.)


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February 25th, 2013 / 4 p.m.
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Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

— page 5, replacing line 3. This involves the insertion of a few words. We have reorganized it slightly by saying the Chief of the Defence Staff is the final authority in the grievance process and shall:

(a) decide all matters relating to a grievance, including financial matters; and

(b) deal with all matters as informally and expeditiously as the circumstances and the considerations of fairness permit.

It's essentially putting in an extra possibility, an extra qualification to the decision-making, and saying he should have the power to include financial matters.

Mr. Chair, I will speak in favour of that.

I think we've been through this before. We've had representations to the committee going back to the consideration of Bill C-41. We had multiple considerations. We've had complaints made to the grievances committee. We've had a series of complaints to the ombudsman, who has been here before us. We've had the grievances committee chair speak to this. We've had publicity nationally, particularly recently, on the home equity assistance program, where the CDS ruled favourably for a particular grievance but no financial award has taken place.

We've also had an attempt to resolve the matter by creating an order in council—that was done last June, although without any publicity until recently—that allows for ex gratia payments. We've had some comment on that by Mr. Hamel, from the grievance board. He explained, in a rather convoluted and complicated way, that ex gratia payments apply if you're not entitled to something, but if you are entitled to it, they don't, and you can't change the rules to give an ex gratia payment, or some such interpretation as that. That seems somewhat complicated.

It appears the ex gratia payment order that was passed last June by cabinet has not resulted in anybody receiving any money and doesn't seem to solve the problem. The simple solution is an amendment to this legislation that establishes that the Chief of the Defence Staff can make a decision in terms of financial matters.

Again, we're under the circumstances where a huge number, if not the majority, of grievances that go before the board are about matters of benefits. Are you entitled to an allowance for moving? Are you entitled to an extra holiday? Are you entitled to payment for work you did that was over and above the expectations on a particular occasion?

All of these things are not necessarily horribly complicated. What happens, though—as the evidence we heard the last time showed, and Mr. Hawn will remember—is that if a grievance is approved, then it goes to the lawyers within the Department of Defence to decide whether a person has a claim against the crown in law. That's a very different set of circumstances than having a grievance whereby someone says, “Yes, you're entitled to an extra $1500”, or “Under travel policy xyz, you're entitled to that $800 as part of your moving expenses.”

Why don't we want the Chief of the Defence Staff to have the final authority? As my colleague Mr. Alexander so adamantly said, this is the intention of the act. The final authority has to be the Chief of the Defence Staff. Well, if that's true, let's give him the authority. Let's say he can order that somebody is entitled to receive the $2500 he won his grievance on, and then somebody writes a cheque.

We're talking about the Chief of the Defence Staff here. We're not talking about a clerk in a remote location having the keys to the treasury. We're talking about the Chief of the Defence Staff. If a grievance proceeds after significant consideration all the way through the grievance procedure, some of which takes a long period of time and involves many reviews, in some cases, for policy considerations, and it ends up on the desk of the Chief of the Defence Staff, surely the Chief of the Defence Staff can be allowed to decide whether a soldier who should be receiving a benefit is going to get it or not.

We had all kinds of arguments last time about fact it was ruled out of order.

It's not out of order now, so members of the committee can feel free to give the Chief of the Defence Staff authority in this matter. I urge them. We hear all this talk about supporting our troops and supporting our soldiers, but when we've got people complaining about such simple matters that have to do with their personal financial circumstances, their family circumstances, morale is at risk. We've got people complaining all the time about the length of the grievance procedure, which is one thing. Some moves have been made to try to fix that. Fair enough, that's been done to some extent but not to everybody's satisfaction.

The issue of getting paid when you win your grievance should be a simple matter. I think every other organization of the country manages.... If they have a collective agreement for example, and they win a grievance, they get their money. If they have a system that isn't unionized, people don't have the right to have a union, a collective bargaining arrangement.

But they have a system that's supposed to provide them with an adjudication of any grievances that they have and it should provide them with a cheque if they win. Whether it's $50 or $500 or $2500, and most of these things involve a small amount of money, in terms of the satisfaction of the soldier who wins a grievance, and then is told they have to wait until some lawyer they don't necessarily have any contact with decides whether it's appropriate or whether they actually have a claim against the crown in law, which is not part of the grievance at all, the soldier shouldn't have to deal with it.

When I say soldier, I mean soldiers, and sailors, and airmen, and women and all of that. We're just using the generic here. This is unfair to the men and women who work for the Canadian Forces to be in a situation where they win a grievance and they don't get paid.