Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the issue of benefits for our Canadian Forces members and veterans. This issue is very important to me because I believe that as Canadians we all owe a great deal to our men and women in uniform.
Our government is firmly committed to ensuring that the people who sacrificed so much receive appropriate compensation and care.
Let there be no doubt that the government will ensure their pension plan, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, fulfills their needs and the needs of their families.
Canadian Forces men and women have more than demanding careers. They undergo significant stress. The jobs are dangerous. The physical demands are great. They deal with long separations from their homes and families.
The pension plan developed for our men and women in uniform reflects the reality of their jobs. It acknowledges the service that Canadian Forces members provide. The fact is military careers, robust careers lasting decades, can end while members are still relatively young. We do not want our veterans worrying about the future of their spouses or their children.
This is an excellent pension plan with many features that average Canadians do not have access to within their own pension plans. The plan contains a solid basic pension formula, generous early retirement provisions, benefits payable to survivors, spouses and children, and it is fully indexed to the cost of living.
In this motion, my hon. colleague wants the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act to be amended to allow second spouses of Canadian Forces veterans to access pension rights upon the death of a Canadian Forces member or veteran. We are examining how we can best meet the needs of all Canadians. We need to take into consideration several critical factors, including cost, precedence and existing provisions.
We need, for example, to consider what the typical Canadian private pension plan provides. I feel, perhaps, the hon. member may have overlooked the act's comparatively generous terms. Most private pension plans do not make significant allowances for their members' spouses. If a person marries after his or her job comes to an end, in the eyes of a typical pension plan, that person's spouse or children just do not exist. They get nothing.
The idea is that an employer's responsibility under a pension plan should be to the family that existed during the employee's career. Average Canadians, working for typical Canadian companies, cannot claim benefits for families they acquired 15 years or 20 years after they have left their jobs. Still, we recognize that Canadian Forces members are not average Canadians and their work is far from average.
The job descriptions of Canadian Forces members include sacrifice and risk. It takes a lot out of their youth. Because of that, Canadian Forces members tend to retire at a much earlier age than average. The provisions of the pension plan are responsive, no matter what age a Canadian Forces member retires. We have made generous allowances.
Normal benefits are payable to surviving spouses and any children provided that the marriage takes place before the age of 60. If members marry after the age of 60, they may still ensure their survivors receive a benefit. They may accept a small reduction in their own benefits to make this happen. This choice to provide for survivors is not available to the majority of Canadian pension plans.
Even so, I note that Conservative MPs have recognized this matter as an issue worthy of deeper consideration. For instance, our former colleague Werner Schmidt, the member for Kelowna, introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-362, in the previous Parliament. Mr. Schmidt felt that the decision of some forces members to marry later in life should not penalize their spouses in terms of receiving benefits. He felt that the age 60 cutoff was arbitrary.
Indeed, his private member's bill was inspired by the real life case of a veteran and constituent of Mr. Schmidt, Gordon Read. Mr. Read's story is compelling. Mr. Read served 24 years in the RCAF and fought to defend civilization in the Battle of Britain.
That private member's bill was taken up in this Parliament by another Conservative colleague, the member for Prince Edward—Hastings. His bill, Bill C-202, also seeks to eliminate section 31-1 of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act to remove what many believe is an injustice in the system. However, before we can act we must pause to consider what we are doing, how we should be doing it and how much it is going to cost.
This new government has demonstrated its strong, unwavering support for our soldiers, sailors and aviators.
We have nothing but respect and gratitude for our veterans. We want to meet their needs and their families' needs. Our responsibility to Canadians is to consider the possible repercussions before making changes to an exhaustive and extremely generous plan.
The government is not ignoring this issue. There is a certain reality to the work that our Canadian Forces members do, one that earns them special consideration. The poppies that we wear every year, the yellow ribbons on the backs of our cars, the rallies that have been held across the country have tremendous significance.
During this year, as parliamentary secretary, I have learned a lot about our men and women in uniform and what they endure and what their families sacrifice. I have had the opportunity to cross the country and visit various military bases. The most vivid memory I have, from all my base visits, was my visit to Canadian Forces Base Edmonton when some of our troops returned home from Afghanistan. I saw smiles and tears that expressed a wealth of emotion. I watched as families were reunited. I actually saw fathers meeting their newborn children for the very first time. What struck me was the absolutely unwaivering and unconditional support those families gave to our troops. I will not forget that.
If the very families who suffer heartbreak when troops are deployed can support our men and women in uniform with such determination, then we should certainly be able to do so. We have heard the concerns voiced by our veterans, by Canadian Forces members and by their families. We know the sacrifices they have made, and we are listening to their concerns.
Our government is considering this issue carefully. We want to help our families. We are reviewing the alternatives to find the best options and then we will act.