Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans Act

An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act (priority hiring for injured veterans)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Julian Fantino  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 20, 2013
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Public Service Employment Act to establish a right of appointment, in priority to all other persons, for certain members of the Canadian Forces who are released for medical reasons that are attributable to service.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:20 p.m.
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Vaughan Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

moved that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act (priority hiring for injured veterans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to rise before the House today to speak to this important issue and changes that will further enhance the way our government supports Canada's veterans and their families. It is also a pleasure to do so soon after our nation came together as one to express its great pride and profound gratitude for what these men and women and their families did for our country.

The outpouring of respect and admiration we saw from coast to coast to coast on Remembrance Day and throughout Veterans' Week was truly heartwarming and reassuring to me as Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs. I have always believed that this support and recognition for veterans and still-serving members must extend year round, and the changes we are discussing today are another example of how our government is doing exactly that.

Before I turn to the specifics of the amendments before us, I would like to take a moment to talk about the reasons why we are proceeding with these changes and how they fit within our ongoing effort to help veterans and releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces to make seamless transitions into civilian life.

As Minister of Veterans Affairs and previously as the associate minister of national defence, I have had the privilege to see personally and up close why the men and women who have worn our nation's uniform and those who continue to wear it reflect the very best of who we are as Canadians. I have been impressed by their skill and professionalism, their character and courage and their commitment to serve without hesitation or reservation. I have listened with pride and awe to their stories and experiences. I have been amazed by their modesty and have appreciated their frank discussions about the issues that matter most to them and their families.

One concern I have heard many times is the challenge some of them have faced, or are facing, as they make the transition to civilian life. Central to this are the difficulties some experience trying to start rewarding new careers.

We know that former personnel sometimes face barriers trying to demonstrate how their military training, skills and experience translate into the civilian workforce. Our government understands this and that is why we have been doing everything we can to promote veterans' skill sets to potential employers. That is why we were a founding partner and financial supporter of the Helmets to Hardhats Canada program that provides veterans with opportunities for employment and apprenticeship in the construction industry and why we launched our hire a veteran initiative in partnership with employers across the country to assist veterans in finding new and meaningful work.

My department has been doing its part by specifically targeting veterans for hire by treating military experience as an asset in our selection process. Now our government is proud to take these efforts an important step further. Through our proposed amendments to the Public Service Employment Act and through changes to its regulations, we are moving veterans to the front of the line when it comes to hiring qualified Canadians for federal public service jobs.

With the proposed amendments before us, we will create a five-year statutory priority entitlement for Canadian veterans who are medically released for service-related reasons. This change will give veterans the highest level of consideration for jobs above all other groups in recognition of their sacrifice to Canada. With this change, we are recognizing that while these men and women have suffered injuries that prevent them from continuing to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, they still have so much to contribute to our country. This is the right and honourable thing to do.

Also, through changes to the act and accompanying regulations, full-time, regular and reserve force veterans who are medically released for non-service related reasons will see their existing level of priority extended from two to five years. This will also allow them a longer period of priority entitlement for positions they are qualified to fill. Simply put, these changes will offer qualified veterans the employment and career opportunities that never existed before for those injured and while they were serving as members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

What is more, we will extend these opportunities to Canada's cadet organization administration and training services and to Rangers by adding them to the definition of who is considered “personnel” with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Finally, the proposed amendments we make to this legislation will be retroactive to April 1, 2012. This means that if a veteran previously had priority status under the regulations and that status expired during the past 18 to 19 months, we will reinstate it with a full five years. It is the same for those veterans who still have priority entitlement. We will extend that out to a full five years as well.

We are doing all of these things because we believe veterans deserve such considerations and because Canada will also be better for it.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to work with veterans on a daily basis, we understand that without these changes, we run the risk of continuing to lose the valuable contributions of highly-qualified individuals when they honourably end their military careers because of an injury or an illness. That is why we believe these amendments are common sense and that is why it is incumbent upon us to work in close consultation with key partners such as the Public Service Commission, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Department of National Defence, so Canada can continue to reap dividends from having invested in and supported veterans' military careers, ensure our nation's workforce is bolstered and enriched by the contributions veterans have to offer and, most certainly, at the same time continue to provide injured and ill veterans with the chance to keep serving their country and develop their experience and skills in a civilian capacity.

The measures I have outlined today are yet another way we can continue to honour veterans in a meaningful and practical way and ensure they share in the wealth and security that they helped create.

To summarize, every year, many military members transition out of the Canadian Armed Forces. For those Canadian Armed Forces members who cannot deploy and meet the demands of operations, finding meaningful employment is a key factor in making a successful transition to civilian life.

When a position becomes open in the public service, different groups have different levels of access. In spring 2014, when this regulation is expected to come into force, those regular force and reserve force members who are medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces for service-related reasons will receive a statutory priority for a period of five years. This will provide veterans with the highest level of priority consideration for public service positions above all other groups in recognition of their sacrifices and service to Canada. This recognition will also apply to their families.

It will move veterans who are injured in the service of Canada to the front of the line. Those full-time, regular or reserve force veterans who are released for non-service related medical reasons will continue to receive their existing level of priority. However, the duration of their access will be increased from two years to five years, allowing them a longer period of priority entitlement for positions. Veterans who make use of this measure must qualify for the postings they are seeking. The changes will apply to medically released veterans who received a priority entitlement on or after April 1, 2012.

When I announced this legislation in Toronto, Shaun Francis, the chair of True Patriot Love Foundation, said:

The leadership skills, experience and expertise that our personnel develop in uniform is second to none, and makes them an invaluable asset to any new organization they choose to join...We are proud of our ongoing partnership with the Government of Canada to ensure that soldiers, sailors and air personnel can continue to build on the incredible commitment they have already shown to Canada.

In addition to the proposed legislative and regulatory changes, our government continues to work with corporate Canada to help veterans find new opportunities to successfully make the transition from military to civilian life. Partnering with corporate Canada allows veterans to put their training and skills acquired during their service to good use in the civilian workforce, while at the same time also providing a quality of life for themselves and their families. We also provide opportunities to train and upscale their abilities to better qualify for available jobs in the federal public service and elsewhere. We recently announced in excess of $75,000 for such training and upscaling.

I would like to close by calling upon all members of this honourable House to lend their full support to these important changes and ensure that our men and women, who have given so much to our country and who are now becoming our veterans, receive their full entitlement and our respectful support for this proposal.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for introducing this bill to help military personnel make the transition to civilian life.

I would like to ask the minister two questions. One of them concerns his bill and the other touches on a related matter. The minister mentioned in his speech that he is proud to be able to help veterans in their transition to civilian life through the helmets to hardhats program, which helps veterans find jobs in the construction industry. However, this program is not available in Quebec. Quebec veterans are at a disadvantage compared to veterans in the rest of Canada who have access to this program.

Therefore, I would like to ask the minister if he is working on other partnerships with the private sector, as requested by the ombudsman in one of his recent reports, such as partnerships with the aerospace industry or defence industry.

Furthermore, the bill seems to have forgotten about a category of people. For example, a soldier with a non-service-related injury could ask the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) to overturn this decision. After two or three years, VRAB could recognize this.

Is the minister prepared to amend the bill to extend the deadline for someone whose appeal to the board to overturn the department's decision is successful?

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his concern for the well-being and welfare of our veterans and their families. I encourage him to lend support to this initiative as it will help along the way to achieve the best possible results in helping our veterans transition.

With regard to the Helmets to Hardhats program, I do not know that there is any limitation as to who can avail themselves of the program. We are partnering with the construction unions and the industry. I will look into the issue the member raised with respect to Quebec. I believe it is available nationwide, but I will make a specific inquiry and get back to the member with respect to that.

With regard to the private sector, obviously this is an initiative that focuses on jobs in the federal public service. We also have other programs that we recently announced. There are $75,000-plus for upgrading skills and training for a veteran who may choose to embark on a career elsewhere. This is also available to a spouse or a related family member.

There is great buy-in on the part of corporate Canada to join with us in securing good jobs for our veterans and welcoming them into the workforce.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat amused to hear the hon. minister describe the Government of Canada as a financial partner in the Helmets to Hardhats program. Last year during the NHL playoffs, the Government of Canada was spending about $90,000 per ad on self-serving economic action plan ads. Its annual investment in the Helmets to Hardhats program is a little bit more than $100,000 for a website.

Would the minister please explain why economic action plan ads are a more important investment than the Helmets to Hardhats program?

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the hon. member for his expressed concern, but I wonder if he would also consider speaking to some of his folks with regard to helping us promote the good programs. His colleagues can obviously chime in, and every little bit helps. Helmets to Hardhats is a program that is in partnership with the corporate private sector.

This is another initiative, and if the hon. member has other ideas or suggestions, as Minister of Veterans Affairs I would welcome his input. However, let me also indicate that very often when these initiatives are put forward, the only thing we can contribute is rhetoric, and I hope that is not the case with the hon. member opposite.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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Brampton—Springdale Ontario

Conservative

Parm Gill ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the hon. minister for his hard work in bringing this piece of legislation forward to help our veterans and for his commitment and hard work toward not just the veterans but also the families of veterans.

My question for the minister is this: how does this fit into his overall vocational rehabilitation plan? He just announced an increase to $75,800 of the cap for education. Also, I understand eventually this piece of legislation will appear before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Could he also highlight a message he has for members of the committee as to how we would like to deal with this in an expedient manner?

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member not only for his question but for his efforts and great assistance and support in this particular area of veterans issues.

One of the things we are trying to do is improve on many different fronts the response our government continues to make to veterans and their families; for example, since about 2005 some $5 billion of net new money has gone into programs and services and other support for veterans.

We have consistently improved on the new veterans charter, with enhancements that will in essence allow veterans to avail themselves of much more resources and support, up to and including cutting their grass, shovelling their snow or cleaning their homes, if they are not able to do it themselves.

That said, it is important to note as well that the parliamentary committee on veterans affairs has been requested, or commissioned, so to speak, to delve into the new veterans charter to see what improvements can be made to upgrade our response to continue to keep the veterans issues on the forefront, as we have been doing. To that end, I believe the committee will be acting post-haste in this particular area and we will receive back recommendations that will enable us to increase, enhance and continue to work on veterans issues.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank our veterans who serve us very bravely overseas over the years. We also have an obligation to take care of our veterans when they return from wars.

In a number of cases, veterans have come to my office who are having a very difficult time accessing these benefits through the government.

In my riding, there is a veteran who served in Afghanistan and came back and has been asked to wait five months before a psychological doctor can be seen. Literally, this veteran is out in the cold. He is going to be out on the street. My question for the minister is this: why does it take five months to see a doctor so this veteran can get his benefits?

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing I have learned in my lifetime is to never guess at giving answers when I do not have the facts. I do not know the facts, but if the member opposite would like to share—

Mr. Speaker, the member can smile and ridicule all he wants. I do not have an answer to that. I do not know what he is talking about.

I am offering him the opportunity, as a reasonable, understanding person, if he wishes to pursue this issue, to have me listen to him. I would be more than happy to do that. Otherwise, I do not know what he is talking about.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate hearing the comments of the minister with regard to looking for ways to support veterans who have been released from the armed forces. He did ask for ideas and input from the members on this side of the House; therefore, my question relates to the release process.

The legislation would actually complicate the release process and would potentially delay the released member's beginning to seek employment and so on, because of additional red tape.

I was recently at the Legion Command for Alberta and Northwest Territories and met with some of the senior executives there. There are deep concerns about the release process already. The poppy fund is being used to bridge the gap when forces members are released, because the processing is so slow that they are not receiving any of the benefits to which they are entitled. They are unable to pay the rent at times, and so the poppy fund is stepping in.

How would the minister ensure that this additional red tape on the release process—a process that already is backlogged, not working and costing our recently released forces members—would not make it worse for all the members who are leaving the armed forces?

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are absolutely allergic to red tape. We are trying to find ways to streamline all of the services and support systems to veterans. An example of that is the elimination of 1.2 million documents annually that Veterans Affairs Canada would have processed, and did process, with regard to expenses that were being incurred by veterans with respect to their very basic needs. For those who could not look after their own homes, Veterans Affairs Canada does that.

However, having said all that, we would not be increasing bureaucracy. This is far from it. This would enable a streamlined effort to ensure a smooth transition between being serving members in the military and veterans.

Admittedly, this is the purpose of the comprehensive review of the new veterans charter. If there are hiccups, if there are issues, if there are concerns, if there are gaps, we encourage the member to bring those to the attention of the committee and they will be dealt with.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-11, introduced by the Minister of Veterans Affairs. This is only the second bill since the Conservative government came to power. That is very little considering all the issues that have been raised, including in the ombudsman's reports, and the recommendations on how to improve the new veterans charter.

It is a little disappointing that our government has so often ignored our national heroes over the past six years. The worst part is that the new veterans charter was supposed to be a living document, but the bill we are about to debate does not deal with the new charter. Contrary to what the minister was saying in response to the parliamentary secretary, the new veterans charter has not been routinely improved; it was improved only once.

When the charter was adopted in 2006, the concept of a living document meant that the charter would be amended as problems emerged. In the mission in Afghanistan, our troops suffered heavy losses. There were 158 deaths, and over 2,000 wounded soldiers came back, not to mention those who will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the coming years. According to a recent study, that is 14% of our troops, but we suspect that the number of injured soldiers and soldiers affected by stress is much higher.

It is against that backdrop that the new veterans charter was adopted by Parliament on the condition that it be a living document. That meant that it was going to be amended a number of times if required, as needs arose, or if the charter proved to be inadequate, as has been shown by the issues and comments raised in the past two years.

Since they came to power, the Conservatives have not kept that promise. The charter was amended only once in 2011, by means of Bill C-55. After seven years, a minister has finally decided to review the new charter in its entirety. It is not official, however, because the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs has not yet begun the official review. As specified in Bill C-55, that study was supposed to have begun on October 4. Today is November 21 and the House adjourns on December 11, so we will have hardly any time to begin studying the new charter before the House adjourns for the holidays, and we will not be starting again until next February.

That leads us to today's debate on Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act. Essentially, this bill seeks to give priority to veterans and members of the Canadian Forces who are released for medical reasons that are attributable to service. If, during the hiring process, the veteran demonstrates the essential qualifications required, the Public Service Commission will have to appoint that person in absolute priority, ahead of employees who are considered surplus or on leave. They will henceforth be in the highest category of hiring priority.

A second provision of the bill deals with the extension of the entitlement to priority, from two years to five. At the moment, veterans are in a regulatory category whereas public service employees are protected by the act. The government has therefore decided to include veterans in a category that is protected by the Public Service Employment Act.

This is a noble gesture on the part of the government. However, like the measures it has taken previously, such as the Last Post Fund, and the reimbursements for training and post-secondary education, these are half-measures that will have little impact on the quality of life of most veterans.

We will therefore support this bill at second reading, but we consider that it does not go far enough and that it raises questions that the government will have to answer. Moreover, in a climate of budget cutting, where we are seeing massive layoffs in the public service, this bill unfortunately will not really help veterans to get jobs in the public service, at least in the medium term.

This bill is actually a reaction to poor human resources management. The Conservatives have laid off so many public servants that veterans are no longer successful in being hired from the priority list.

What is most disappointing about the measures this government has introduced is the little impact they have had. I will not start listing off everything from 2006 on. I will only go back as far as the last budget, tabled in 2013.

The Conservatives announced with great fanfare that they were going to improve the Last Post Fund and double the refundable amount from close to $4,000 to a little under $8,000. An ombudsman, Patrick Stogran, had been mentioning this problem since at least 2009. The government waited some three or four years before addressing it. I would like to point out that it was a Liberal government that gutted the program in 1995 or thereabouts.

More recently, the Conservatives announced that they were increasing aid for training and post-secondary education, with maximum funding of $75,800 per veteran and a maximum envelope of $2 million over five years. As they say, the devil is in the details.

Although I do not know exactly how many veterans will apply for assistance under the program, let us take the amount of $2 million, for example, and divide it by $75,800, which is an accurate amount for someone going to university. If veterans receive the maximum amount, only 27 of them will have access to the program over this five-year period. Therefore, a little over five veterans a year will have access to the program.

I do not see how these measures will help our veterans. The Conservatives say they are increasing aid, but the criteria are often so strict that no one qualifies for it. It is easy to pull numbers out of the air and then make sure the criteria are so restrictive that the government will not be out of pocket at the end of the day. That is what the Conservatives are doing. They are using these tactics and saying that they are helping veterans, when what they are really doing is balancing the budget at their expense.

Now there is this bill that gives veterans priority for appointment to public service jobs. At first glance, it is a wonderful measure. However, on closer inspection, this bill is much less attractive because few public service jobs will be available in the coming years.

From 2006 to 2011, about 2,000 veterans made use of this priority entitlement. Of that number, 1,024 veterans secured a job in the public service. Of those 1,024 veterans, 739—72%—got a job with National Defence.

At Veterans Affairs Canada, the situation is somewhat more dire. Between 2006 and 2011, only 24 veterans got jobs at VAC, which corresponds to only 2% of all jobs.

However, our veterans, who have experienced the difficulties involved in the transition to civilian life, should be ideal candidates for jobs at Veterans Affairs Canada. They should play a key role in the development of VAC policies to ensure that those policies are designed for them and meet their needs.

The second-largest employer of veterans in the public service is the Correctional Service of Canada, which hired 54 veterans during that period, or 5% of all veteran hires. The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development is not very far behind with 44 hires, or 4% of the jobs obtained during this period.

When we look at these figures, it is clear that not all departments are making the same effort to hire veterans. Indeed, most departments have hired fewer than ten veterans, while others have hired none.

Therefore, these departments would have to undergo a major culture change to ensure that such measures actually help our veterans. As things stand right now, I am not sure that this will help even things out in terms of hiring more veterans in our public service.

The Ombudsman has found that about 4,500 veterans per year participate in vocational rehabilitation services. On average, 220 veterans put their names on list of those eligible for job priority status, and, as a result, 146 veterans on average get a job in the public service. This is a very small number. This does not make much of an impact on the majority of veterans or even on many of them.

Moreover, the job priority status for veterans applies only to a very specific group.

The vast majority of jobs in the public service require bilingualism, a post-secondary diploma or even university education. Two to four years of experience is often also required.

Under current regulations, veterans are given a two-year priority entitlement. The veteran must already have a diploma in hand because there is not enough time to start a university degree. Even now, with the new deadline, there is not enough time for a veteran to go to university, if he so wishes, and be available within the time prescribed.

In addition, veterans who do not have a university degree are not overly interested in going to university for the extended period required. As I said earlier, 4,500 veterans participate in the vocational rehabilitation program each year. Only 63 veterans chose university-level programs; 32 received support from Veterans Affairs Canada and 31 received support through the service income security insurance plan. The other participants chose vocational training or college-level programs that lasted anywhere from 12 to 24 months.

That number, 63, caught my attention. Is it true that only 63 veterans chose university-level programs, or are people being discouraged from choosing such programs because of the severely restrictive criteria?

The Ombudsman wrote the following in his report:

While...Veterans Affairs Canada profess[es] to consider the needs of the client/Veteran, they normally do not permit training or education in a new career field if, at the time of release...the client...has skills that are transferrable to the...workforce....

They are required to take a job that does not interest them or one that pays less than a career requiring post-secondary education, simply because they have skills.

The government does not want to do anything that will cost a lot of money. That is the conclusion. In the end, it is not need that influences the decisions, it is the cost of funding education.

The government is putting a lot of focus on the helmets to hardhats program, as though the construction industry were the miracle cure for job transition for our veterans. I agree, it is a good program, but it is not available in every province and it does not cover all trades. As I said, it is not available in Quebec, unfortunately. I have received calls from veterans who are disappointed that they cannot access this program because it is not available in Quebec.

I believe this restricts our veterans' ability to improve their quality of life and their job prospects. For example, the ombudsman recommends entering into partnerships with other industries and organizations, such as the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian defence and security industries and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada. We have to have more collaboration from private sector players, who are not always aware of veterans' skills. Unfortunately, human resources departments do not know how to interpret the CVs of military candidates. A recent study revealed the scope of the task. The Navigator study, conducted for the Veterans Transition Advisory Council in late August, found that most of the 850 employers consulted have little or no understanding of veterans' skills. Only 16% of employers make a special effort to hire veterans.

Almost half of employers believe that a university degree is more important than military service when hiring. Only 13% said that their human resources department knows how to interpret a resumé from a military candidate. We have to do more in this regard.

To my mind, this bill has a major flaw. First, we have to remember that only Canadian Forces members medically released for service-related reasons will have access to the program. Previously, to be given priority, members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP had to be released for medical reasons, whether they were service-related or not. That is also the spirit of the new charter. To qualify for Veterans Affairs Canada benefits and services, the injury has to be service-related. If the department ruled otherwise, the veteran could appeal the decision to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and then the Federal Court. Unfortunately, this is no longer clear.

In addition, if a veteran needs to appeal a decision before a Canadian Forces tribunal or the VRAB, the procedures involved in these administrative tribunals can be very long. Does this mean that the duration of the priority, which begins the day the soldier is released from duty, continues to run out while these administrative procedures drag on? The ombudsman had this to say recently on his blog:

However, under the new legislation, the system will have to adjudicate an individual’s file to determine if the medical release is related to service or not. This could add additional red tape to the release process and potentially delay the ability to access priority hiring upon release.

Like the ombudsman, we are worried about this uncertainty. Would it not be better to use the recognition of the link between the injury and the service to determine the accessibility and length of the priority entitlement? This could be done two ways: either the reason for release is designated “service-related medical release” or the link between the injury and the service is recognized by VAC or the VRAB. Either way, the system remains consistent, some of the red tape can be avoided and we could ensure that veterans do not lose their entitlement priority.

This bill also creates categories of veterans, and we are against that approach. The NDP supports the principle of having a single category of veterans. That is not what this bill does.

Veterans of the RCMP are not included in the bill and remain in the regulatory category. I think that a member of the RCMP who suffered a trauma and wanted to get out of the policing environment to start a new career could have benefited from priority hiring under this bill. Including veterans of the RCMP would have been a way of thanking them for their service and sacrifices. Now members of the Canadian Forces released for medical reasons attributable to service will have this priority entitlement and others will not.

This bill should have gone further. One major problem facing the Canadian Forces is the principle of universality of service, which requires members who cannot be deployed to be dismissed from the Canadian Forces. This is not entirely fair. We understand the importance of this principle to cohesion and morale, but would it not be possible to include the duty to accommodate principle?

Do those who served their country not deserve to be given a job where they could continue to serve? That is what the RCMP does for its members. The Minister of Veterans Affairs says that the Department of National Defence wanted to maintain the status quo on this. However, would it not be possible for the Standing Committee on National Defence to study this issue? Does this government not owe it to our troops and our veterans?

For months now we have been asking the government whether it realizes that it has a moral, social, legal and fiduciary obligation toward injured veterans. The government's lack of response would suggest not. The NDP has said time and time again that it will honour this century-long commitment made by successive Canadian governments, except for this one.

Again, the NDP will support Bill C-11, but the government will have to address our concerns in committee and make the necessary changes to ensure that this bill benefits the largest possible number of veterans who need this priority entitlement for a smooth transition and a better quality of life for them and their family.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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Vaughan Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it saddens me in a way to hear so much negative focus on the work that we have been doing.

To be perfectly candid and up front, I do not agree with the member's assertion that nothing has been done with the new veterans charter. Almost $5 billion in enhancements to the new veterans charter in the last few years is nothing short of remarkable.

I want to ask the hon. member opposite why his party has consistently voted against such things as $8.5 million in funding to support service enhancements for the new veterans charter and almost $700,000 in funding to improve service for severely injured veterans. There were monies to promote the well-being of current and former members of the navy, $4.6 million to veterans' assistance programs to pay for health care costs not covered by the provincial health program, and I could go on.

I find it difficult to hear all this concern and all this criticism when in actual fact, year after year, budget after budget, that party has voted against our efforts to increase benefits, support, and services to veterans and their families.

Ultimately, the only thing I would like to ask is whether the member and his party are not in sync with our efforts to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I always have a good laugh when ministers and the members opposite say that the NDP or the opposition is always against their measures. Of course, their measures are 500 pages long, reams and reams of paper, and 80% of the content is bad. They ask us to vote for measures that we cannot even examine properly.

It is funny when the minister says that he has invested $5 billion. He is so far from being transparent in his management that it is hard to figure out if all the money was spent. Recently, we were asked to vote for a budget that will grant more money, while the department has probably not even spent all the money that Parliament granted it in the last budget.

It is somewhat inflammatory to say that we are against their measures when those measures are buried deep in omnibus bills. They should stop doing that. Canadians understand very well that we cannot support such bricks.

In addition, the ombudsman reviewed the new veterans charter and said that there were a number of problems with it. According to him, compensation is quite inadequate for many wounded soldiers, compared to regular workers who can challenge the decisions of workers' compensation boards and will receive a much higher amount than wounded Canadian Forces members.

A lot of improvements need to be made, and I hope that the minister will listen to the measures that we are going to propose during the study of the new charter.

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans ActGovernment Orders

November 20th, 2013 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the NDP member for his speech and ask him a question.

I would like to know what the hon. member thinks about the situation of veterans, given what the minister told the public about them, namely, that veterans do not play a special role, that they are just like any other member of society, and that the government and Canadians do not have a sacred duty to treat them differently. Veterans' representatives and veterans themselves were very disappointed to hear that this government had broken this historic promise here in Canada.

Does the hon. member believe that this bill will undo the damage done by government lawyers and the minister himself? They broke this sacred contract between veterans and our country.