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.