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Veterans Hiring Act

An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act (enhancing hiring opportunities for certain serving and former members of the Canadian Forces)

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

Sponsor

Julian Fantino  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now 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 provide increased access to hiring opportunities in the public service for certain serving and former members of the Canadian Forces and 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 the Minister of Veterans Affairs determines 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.

Votes

June 3, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
June 2, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act (enhancing hiring opportunities for certain serving and former members of the Canadian Forces), not more than five further hours shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and that, at the expiry of the five hours provided for the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-27, the veterans hiring act, would be another meaningful way for us to create new opportunities for eligible veterans and still-serving members to continue serving Canada through the federal public service. It would do this by giving veterans and still-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces regular access to rewarding jobs in the federal public service.

First and foremost, it would create a statutory priority entitlement for those eligible men and women who were medically released from the military because of a service-related injury. These deserving men and women would be moved to the front of the hiring line in recognition of their service and sacrifice on behalf of Canada. It would assure us continued access to the talent of these men and women that Canada helped to train and develop in the first place.

I had an opportunity to live a portion of my father's 36-year career for 17 years before leaving home and I was fortunate to witness his exceptional leadership, management, problem solving and public speaking skills to some small extent. My older sister, also in the military, excelled in many areas, including purchasing and asset management, to name but a few. Her husband was an air frame technician for 20 years, while my youngest sister became fluent in the Russian language and used her knowledge to the benefit of Canada in postings to Alert on a couple of occasions.

All of these skills are transferrable not only to the private sector but also to the public sector. All of my family transferred to the private sector, with the exception of my father who retired.

As a further testament to the skills learned, I want to provide a quote from Wayne Mac Culloch from the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping. He said: “My own experience highlights the value that disabled veterans continue to be able to contribute to the public service and Canadians. I was medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces for service-related injuries in October 2008. Although I did not enjoy the level of priority being proposed in C-27, I was fortunate to turn my regulatory priority into an intermediate appointment in January 2011 and I have continued to rise in authority, accountability and responsibility. My knowledge, experience, ability to focus on priority issues, analytical excellence and agility in action, accrued through a wide variety of employment, are seen as having particular importance in today's government business operations. Re-engaging with a familiar workplace and pursuing meaningful employment has greatly increased my quality of life, while providing continued value to government and the Canadian public”.

The bottom line is that Bill C-27 would be a win-win for our men and women in uniform, as well as the country they served so proudly.

Of course, the legislation would also build upon our government's extraordinary record of action on behalf of veterans, still-serving members and their families.

In fact, since 2006, our government has invested in a cumulative total of almost $4.7 billion in new funding to enhance veterans' benefits, programs and services.

As the member for Edmonton Centre said during second reading of the bill, our government has been single-minded in doing everything it can to ensure veterans and their families have the care and support they need, when and where they need it. This included implementing the new veterans charter, with its immediate and long-term financial benefits for injured and ill veterans, as well as comprehensive medical, psychosocial and vocational rehabilitation services, health care benefits, mental health services and one-on-one case management for those who required such help.

It also means being there to help veterans with everything from the shovelling of their driveways in the winter and the cutting of their grass in the summer, to assisting them with housekeeping services year-round.

The program is necessary in order for my own mother to continue to live independently. On her behalf, I would like to thank Veterans Affairs and the veterans' independence program for their support. Part of the reasons for these programs are so individuals can live in their homes longer and are not a strain on the system.

In fact, the range of services available to veterans and their families extends from benefits and supports for modern day veterans and their families to long-term care and the funeral and burial program. It also includes our delivering on what all the available research tells us: a successful transition from the military often depends upon finding satisfying and rewarding new employment.

After all, the average age of a member releasing from the Canadian Armed Forces today is 37 years. These young men and women do not just want to start new careers, they also need to find new careers. That is why we have developed a flexible new approach to our vocational rehabilitation services to provide up to $75,800 for eligible veterans to pursue the new training they may need to gain employment when their time in uniform is complete. That is why we contributed $150,000 to the Helmets to Hardhats Canada program, which is helping veterans find good paying jobs in the trades and construction industry. That is why we are actively encouraging employers across the country to place priority on hiring veterans. That is why we are working more closely than ever before with blue-chip partners, like the True Patriot Love Foundation and corporate Canada generally, to find innovative new ways to improve the transition process for veterans and their families.

For business leaders, the military world may seem difficult to understand and a little intimidating. That is why organizations such as True Patriot Love, the Treble Victor Group, Wounded Warriors Canada, and Veterans Affairs provide effective support to help facilitate understanding and to connect talented veterans with employers.

The Canada Company military employment transition, otherwise known as MET, brings together employers and veterans in an online marketplace and provides workshops about military culture, values, and structure in order to supply employers with an understanding of the applicability of military experience to the business world. The impact of MET, founded by Blake Goldring, chair and CEO of AGF Management Limited, can be seen through the experiences and results obtained by both Target Canada and Bell Canada.

Gabriel Granatstein, group manager and senior counsel of employee and labour relations at Target Canada, himself a veteran, secured the active support of senior management to establish Target Canada as a veteran friendly employer. A key step was to invite MET to hold workshops for Target Canada recruiters to help them understand the positive attributes skilled veterans bring to the workplace. Target Canada is now actively recruiting veterans and sponsoring MET workshops for other employers.

Kristine Emmett, vice president of organizational development at Bell, champions the value that veterans bring to Bell's business and sees MET workshops as an excellent means of educating recruiters. Ms. Emmett views MET as a “great business partner” that has helped Bell recruiters better understand the value of hiring veterans and reservists. MET has already conducted two workshops for Bell recruiters, and Ms. Emmett said that the MET program also provides Bell with the opportunity to post jobs on MET's Hot Jobs communication channel, which goes directly out to MET members. Walmart, Cenovus, Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, Queen's University, and CN Rail, all of of which are veteran friendly employers.

That is why we introduced this important legislation, Bill C-27, because we are committed to leading by example. The merits of this legislation are well known and they have been repeated often. However, it is important that I remind the House what Bill C-27 proposes to do.

It would move eligible veterans to the front of the line for those jobs they are qualified to fill in the federal public service. This would be achieved by creating a five-year statutory priority entitlement for any members of the Canadian Armed Forces who would be releasing from the military because of a service-related injury or illness. Bill C-27 would also extend the existing priority entitlement period from two years to five years.

In addition, this legislation would create other hiring opportunities for honourably releasing veterans and still-serving members who want to start a new career in the federal public service. For example, if passed, this legislation would permit still-serving military personnel with at least three years of service, as well as veterans who are not employed full time in the public service, to compete for internally advertised positions within the federal public service. This eligibility would continue for a full five years after their honourable release from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Furthermore, Bill C-27 would also establish a hiring preference for veterans applying for externally advertised positions in the federal public service. This means is that if a veteran has been honourably released with at least three years of military service, and is equally qualified for the position at hand, he or she would be given hiring priority over all other eligible applicants.

These measures were designed to recognize that Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans who have served for three years have gained enough military knowledge and attributes to make them a clear asset to the federal public service. In addition, three years of military service demonstrates a sufficient commitment to Canada. It is consistent with the minimum commitment required of new recruits. It also demonstrates a real sense of purpose and a willingness to serve on the part of our veterans and still-serving members. At the same time, as others have noted, the five-year hiring preference for veterans would give them sufficient time, if needed, to further upgrade their education and skills before they seek a career in the federal public service.

Let me be very clear. While these measures greatly improve access for veterans and still-serving members to start rewarding new careers in the federal public service, this bill is not a blank cheque. Veterans and still-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces must still be fully qualified to perform the work for which they are applying. This is an essential point to note. We are committed to building the best, most talented, and most professional public service in the world, and we will never compromise on that.

However, as I noted at the outset, we are also well aware of the experience and expertise our veterans can bring to the workplace. We know that they have the skill sets to succeed at anything they set their minds to, and we want to maintain our own access to this pool of high quality individuals.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs often says that Canada's veterans reflect the very best of what it means to be Canadian. Who would not want to hire them into the positions and jobs they are trained and fully qualified to perform? That is why I am urging all members of the House, through you, Mr. Speaker, to support this important piece of legislation.

I do believe that we will have unanimous support, judging from the work we did on the committee. Here I would like to take this opportunity, once again, to thank my fellow committee members on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. We do work incredibly well together. We do have the hearts of our veterans in mind. Many of us have a strong military background and are on the committee because we really want to serve our veterans well. This is one piece of legislation that I think would absolutely do that in conjunction with others.

Now, more than ever, let us show our support for every Canadian who has proudly worn our nation's uniform. They deserve every opportunity that we can provide for them. Bill C-27 is a truly worthy piece of legislation whose time has come. Let us make it happen. Please support it and all the fine men and women it is designed to help.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. I also want to acknowledge his work at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

As far as Bill C-27 is concerned, my conclusion is that it is a good bill, but it needs more work. In committee, we pointed to a few flaws. We also proposed some amendments that the government members did not want to accept.

One major oversight in this bill was that it left out RCMP officers. Many RCMP officers might have operational stress injuries and if those officers had been included in this bill, they might have benefited from it and applied for work in the public service. Unfortunately, the government failed to include them.

Other soldiers were left out, including those with operational stress injuries. Their injuries are related to their service, but they have to wait and turn to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to reverse the department's decision, which initially did not recognize their service-related injuries.

Unfortunately, the government members did not want to amend the bill to include those people and I would like the hon. member to tell us why.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is correct that we discussed this in committee. Regarding the members of the RCMP specifically, they are members of the public service. Their employer is the Treasury Board and policies for them are devolved by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

We welcome that suggestion. However, we felt it was important to move forward because we do not control that particular policy. We can only control the policy that is applicable to the members this particular legislation is referring to. Maybe that is something the committee can consider at some point.

That being said, I believe that the RCMP is not included as a priority one hiring but within priority five hiring, so there is still a component of this legislation that does include the RCMP. It just does not move injured RCMP personnel right up to the number one priority.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sault Ste. Marie, as well. On that committee, we are all earnest in our efforts on behalf of veterans but, of course, confined by the limits that a majority government puts upon us.

I would like to ask the member two questions, through you, Mr. Speaker. The first was raised at committee, so the member will not be surprised by it. Some of our veterans suffer from illnesses that do not manifest themselves until much later, especially when it comes to issues relating to mental illness. It can take them past the time limits within which they would otherwise qualify for this program. While they remain entitled to the statutory benefits that the law provides, they are not entitled to priority and hiring. I would like the member to address that.

In addition, I would like him to address the fact that since somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 people are being let go and there is a hiring freeze, how realistic is it that veterans might actually get a job within the federal government?

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, regarding the late manifestations of injuries specifically, I believe that is why the bill is retroactive to 2012. For some of those manifestations that might come two years later, those folks would have an opportunity to start over with respect to their having five years of eligibility. I think that was our thought process with respect to that.

If we look at one of our recommendations on the new veterans charter moving forward, it was to look at what those potential new types of injuries are and how we might deal with them. I believe that was one of the recommendations, so it is partially addressed through that.

With respect to hiring, we did look at a chart that pointed out that about 7.8% of veterans who leave the armed forces will be looking for work. We heard from the Public Service Commission of Canada that there are 8,000 federal public service employees who are leaving and retiring each year. Since 2012, we heard that 2,500 of those employees have been rehired. I think we can assume that there is going to be a rehiring process going on, based on the statistics that we heard. We can also make an assumption in moving forward with the veterans hiring act that priority injured veterans would move to the top of the line.

This is just a great benefit for our injured veterans.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:25 p.m.
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Durham Ontario

Conservative

Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to personally thank the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie. I had the honour of sitting on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs when I first joined Parliament in 2012. His passion and commitment to the Canadian Forces and our veterans, and his family's service in the Canadian Forces, have been clear to me from the first time I met him, as it has been to all members of the House.

He has raised some of the fundamental reasons why the veterans hiring act is before Parliament. There are groups of Canadians in Canada Company; True Patriot Love; and Treble Victor, a networking group of former men and women of the Canadian Forces and allied services, already doing veteran hiring, networking, and connecting. There are employers across the country hiring veterans not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is accretive to the bottom line of the company, because are hiring people with training, loyalty, and the inherent ability to stay on the job and complete tasks.

My question for the member stems from the comments of the member for Guelph, who seems to think that a lot of people might not be hired through this. I would like to ask the member how important it is that one of the largest employers in the country, the Government of Canada, puts as a top priority the hiring of veterans. The symbolism of that action, showing that we are putting veterans as a top priority for hiring and encouraging other employers to do that, is as important as the dozens or several hundred who might be hired as a result of this program. Could the member comment on that?

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Yes, I absolutely can comment, Mr. Speaker. It is incredibly important that we lead by example. A portion of this bill started in what I believe was Bill C-11. It was initiated a couple of years ago. This builds on that bill and makes it a better bill.

If the Government of Canada was not leading by example, it would be pretty two-faced to try to push it on corporate employers.

This bill is long overdue. I am very thankful that we are bringing it forward, and I hope we have the support of all members in the House.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to be speaking to Bill C-27 at report stage, which gives veterans hiring priority in the public service.

First of all, I would like to remind Canadians that it has been a long road for this bill. Bill C-11 was introduced over a year ago. However, the government left out certain details and made some mistakes. As a result, the bill was abandoned and the government came back with Bill C-27, which is being studied today.

This new bill was introduced in response to certain criticisms of a less-than-stellar record concerning our veterans' employment and return to civilian life.

According to certain statistics, between 2006 and 2011, 2,000 veterans took advantage of the hiring priority and 1,024 of them obtained a job in the public service. Of these 1,024 veterans, 739 were hired by National Defence, which makes it the largest employer of veterans. The Department of National Defence tries really hard to hire veterans. Unfortunately, it is the only department that is making a significant effort to hire veterans, since the Department of Veterans Affairs provides the majority of the jobs, or 72%.

At Veterans Affairs, which should be quite open to hiring veterans, the situation is more disastrous. During this same service period, from 2006 to 2011, only 24 veterans managed to be hired by Veterans Affairs, which represents less than 2% of all jobs.

The second largest employer of veterans is Correctional Service Canada, which, in the same five-year period, hired 54 veterans, or 5% of all veterans hired. Not far behind is Human Resources and Skills Development, with 44 veterans hired, or 4% of all hires.

When we look at these figures, we see that few departments are making an effort to hire veterans. Most of the other departments did not hire even one veteran, while a few hired less than 10.

This means that a major change in culture is needed within the public service. I am not sure that this bill will be able to reverse the trend and ensure that many more veterans are hired, especially since so many cuts have been made to the public service in recent years. I think it will be many years before this bill has any effect on the hiring of veterans in the public service.

True to form, the government has introduced a bill that I feel is incomplete. This superficial bill is primarily designed to give the impression that the government is taking the necessary measures to help our veterans transition to civilian life. However, that is not the case. This bill is incomplete because it would have a limited impact, as I mentioned.

We will still support this bill, since in the long term—but not in the short or medium term—this bill will still help our veterans find good jobs and seamlessly transition into civilian life.

In this bill, the government did the bare minimum of what it could have done for our veterans who have been injured in service and are looking to get back into the job market. It can be extremely hard for veterans with disabilities to find suitable jobs.

Not only do veterans have to deal with physical limitations, but some may also face a number of prejudices related to operational stress. They must face many challenges to find a good job once they return to civilian life.

A survey of private-sector employees indicated that it would be essential to improve co-operation with the private sector, since they have very little knowledge of veterans' skills.

Human resources staff do not know how to read the resumés of military applicants. This same survey indicated that, of the 850 employers surveyed, the majority had little or no understanding of veterans' skills. Only 16% of companies make a special effort to hire veterans. Nearly half of employers believe that a university degree is far more important than the skills acquired by military personnel during their time in service, and only 13% of them stated that their human resources departments knew how to interpret the resumés of military applicants.

Given this situation, the government needs to accommodate these veterans and make it easier for them to join the public service. However, it is clear that this alone is simply not enough. The government decided that not all veterans would have access to priority hiring in the public service.

According to this bill, only military personnel who are medically released will have that priority in the public service. That is far too restrictive. It in no way takes into account our veterans who are not granted a medical release, but who, after launching an appeal with the department or the veterans board, are then recognized as having a service-related injury or disability.

Many veterans with physical and psychological symptoms would not be given immediate medical release. They have to appeal to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to overturn those decisions and acknowledge the link between their injury and their military service. However, even once the board recognizes that, these people would unfortunately not receive hiring priority under this bill.

Unfortunately, the government chose not to include these people in this bill despite the fact that we proposed amendments to include them. The Conservative members of the committee simply decided to reject the amendment. To me, it was a no-brainer to grant hiring priority to that kind of veteran as well. The government just decided to turn its back on them.

Some injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, do not show up until years later and can have a major impact on veterans' work. The Conservatives think that all the veterans have to do is sign up for a transition program and hope to find work that is a good fit with their condition, which is not always easy, especially in the private sector. As I mentioned, too few civilian employers truly recognize veterans' skills. The government's decision not to include them is shameful.

The public service would have been a very appropriate environment for these kinds of veterans. Working conditions and the duty to accommodate would have really helped these veterans maintain suitable, stable, long-term employment in an environment where they could properly adjust to their situation.

Furthermore, the Conservatives changed the definition of “veteran” in the Public Service Employment Act, so as to exclude the spouses of veterans from the preference list for jobs in the public service. This preference for the spouses of veterans, who would come before other Canadian citizens, was offered to the spouses of our Second World War and Korean War veterans.

Why did the government decide to exclude those spouses from the preference list? We might have thought that it was simply an oversight, but the government also refused our amendment that would have corrected the situation. Once again, the Conservatives decided to ignore these entirely reasonable requests.

The government says it wants to help families, but excluding spouses from the preference list is certainly no way to help families. On the one hand, the government accepted the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding families, but on the other hand, its actions go against those principles.

Once again, the government has abandoned veterans. In my opinion, the Conservative members of the committee were never interested in discussing the amendments with other committee members. I will even quote something the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs said when the committee was examining the bill:

...right now obviously the intent is to get this bill through as quickly as possible. With regard to other suggestions and I think wonderful initiatives that you brought forward, we are happy to look at those, moving forward.

He will be happy to look into those suggestions, but he will do it later. He cannot be serious. Once this bill is passed, I doubt we are going to come back and amend it. What a joke. He just said that to get rid of us.

We also unanimously supported the report on the new charter, and we got the same type of response: later. The government said that it would examine the recommendations later, not now. That is nonsense. The Conservatives are not showing any real willingness to do anything that would actually help our veterans. The only amendment they made after the bill was examined in committee was to clarify who would be responsible for establishing the link between the injury and the military service. It is a good thing they did that because the bill was rather vague in that regard when it was introduced. That was also one of the ombudsman's major concerns.

The Conservatives were also unable to conduct a decent examination of this bill because the shooting in Parliament took place on the first day this bill was scheduled to be examined in committee, and the meeting had to be cancelled. Unfortunately, instead of adding another meeting when we returned to work, the Conservatives decided to hold only one committee meeting to examine this bill. We were therefore unable to hear from anyone other than representatives of Veterans Affairs Canada and the Treasury Board. We were unable to meet with veterans groups that could have also presented some amendments and spoken to certain aspects of the bill. In my opinion, the bill was not thoroughly examined.

Some veterans groups had reservations about the bill. A member of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping said:

I am uncomfortable about the distinction made between service-related and non-service-related causes, and to the lack of recognition for RCMP members.

RCMP officers therefore have the right to be treated in the same way as members of our military. Unfortunately, the government did not want to include them in the bill.

What is more, the veterans ombudsman said the following on his blog:

...all medically releasing [sic] Canadian Armed Forces members should be treated the same way, because there is an inherent service relationship for every Canadian Armed Forces member who is medically released because the individual can no longer serve in uniform.

The Union of National Defence Employees had this to say:

Disabled veterans, especially those with stress-related injuries, who return to the workforce, must have access to reintegration services. Bill C-27 includes no such provision

To come back to the study in committee, unfortunately we were unable to have a meaningful study because the government did not schedule at least one meeting to hear from people who may have also been able to recommend certain changes. As I was saying, no changes, except for one minor one, were approved in committee.

This is a joke. Veterans' representatives should have appeared before the committee as witnesses, but the Conservatives wanted to pass this bill as quickly as possible. I think they have proven time and again that they have nothing but contempt for the legislative process and for Parliament.

As I said at the start, they did the bare minimum. The bill excludes soldiers who have non-service related injuries. It excludes veterans whose injuries are recognized later and it excludes veterans' spouses from the preference list.

The bill also leaves out RCMP officers. Half measures like these are no way to properly honour our veterans.

Mr. Speaker, we are going to support this bill, but we are a bit disappointed with its final draft. As they did with the committee report on the new charter, the Conservatives made promises they did not keep. They take far too long to make good on those promises.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:45 p.m.
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Durham Ontario

Conservative

Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his remarks today and for his service on the Veterans Affairs committee. I sat with him for some time and appreciated his work on the file.

He used debate on the veterans hiring act to, unfortunately, launch into a bit of a political attack, sadly, on a day when one of the findings in the Auditor General's report is that one part of Veterans Affairs that is working very well is rehabilitation and vocational assistance for injured members. There are 4,600 veterans within this program with mental health injuries, something that has been talked a lot about today.

The department has a goal of hitting 80% of cases being processed within a two-week standard to help veterans get rehabilitation and vocational retraining support for their transition to civilian life. It is actually exceeding that target. The Auditor General said that 84% are being assessed for vocational support and help with the transition to their new civilian lives within that two-week window.

I am sure that the member, as a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, has read this section of the Auditor General's report. Does he not think that since we are doing a good job on the rehabilitation and vocational end that this hiring act would also provide an opportunity for people to find opportunities in the public sector?

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I will first answer the question he asked at the very end, and then I will come back to his other comments.

This definitely can help veterans but, as I mentioned, not in the short term or the medium term. With all the cuts made in the past few years, and those still to come, I find it hard to see how we can help veterans in the short term, since the public service has been gutted.

Of course there will be new hiring processes in the medium to long term. At that time, veterans will indeed be able to rely on the hiring priority to find a job in the public service. Furthermore, being aware of the hiring priority, they can find a new career and perhaps even learn new skills before the five-year deadline.

The parliamentary secretary spoke about the Auditor General's report. Unfortunately, we are looking at it through rose-coloured glasses, as it is a damning report for the government with respect to several issues concerning veterans. In particular, it mentions wait times that are far too long because about 1,000 positions have been cut at Veterans Affairs Canada in recent years. Consequently, the processing of veterans' cases takes much too long, and veterans do not receive the services to which they are entitled in a timely manner.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the member from the Conservative Party would stand and challenge the member from the NDP who just spoke and suggest that he was politicizing this debate by talking about how little may have been done and then would do the very same thing himself by highlighting one very tiny pebble of congratulations the Auditor General may have extended to the government, among a mountain of criticism about the failure of the government to properly and in a timely way provide mental health services to the most needy veterans, those suffering from mental health conditions. Let us put this in perspective.

Having said that, I had the opportunity to be at Wainwright for four or five days and then on the HMCS St. John's for four or five days, and I can say that our service men and women, both at Wainwright in the military and in the navy on the HMCS St. John's, have incredible skills that could be translated into the private sector.

One of the things I asked the government to do was invest in a proper skills translator, instead of just offering people jobs that really do not exist, because of the hiring freeze, and find ways to identify people's skills and move them into the private sector. However, it did not want to do that. It is just another incident that suggests that this is all window dressing.

I am wondering if the hon. member can comment on that.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and for the work he does on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. He is a huge asset to that committee. When this bill was being studied, he proposed several amendments that were rejected out of hand.

My colleague is correct. The government is all smoke and mirrors when it comes to veterans affairs. For months, it repeated that it had invested $5 billion to help veterans since it came to power, even though that was untrue. It was $4 billion, since $1 billion was diverted and returned to the treasury. We could have used some of that money to hire staff to help veterans or military members who are struggling with service-related mental health problems.

The National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman mentioned many times in previous reports that about 100 medical employees were needed to help people struggling with mental health problems. However, as we are seeing today, the government simply said that it would accept the recommendations in the report, but then it turned a blind eye to the issue. The government simply looks the other way and avoids the problems.

The government has shown in many ways that it has no regard for the mental health of veterans and it is not interested in helping them deal with this issue . The Auditor General's report today made it very clear that the way this government treats veterans is absolutely disgusting.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the outstanding work he has done on this issue and as part of the committee.

In drafting this bill, the government did not consider putting the entitlement period on hold while the veteran is going through the appeal process.

What kinds of problems will that pose for our veterans?

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her very relevant question. The entitlement period is one of the many issues with this bill.

Some military personnel who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are not immediately recognized as having a service-related injury. They are not granted the right release status when they return to civilian life. Sometimes, they have to launch an appeal with the veterans board so that their injuries are recognized as being directly related to their service.

When it take veterans two or three years to obtain that decision from the board, in very rare cases, they can go back to see the national defence minister, who can amend the reason for release. If it takes three or four years for the reason for release to be changed, there is only one year, maybe two, left in the priority hiring period. That can cause problems. The veteran is at a disadvantage because his or her entitlement period is shorter than that of veterans whose injuries were immediately recognized upon release.

It is shameful that there was absolutely no desire to change that in committee. These people will have only one year or two to take advantage of their priority job placement in the public service, if they need it.

Veterans Hiring ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2014 / 3:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the most substantial efforts we can make on behalf of our veterans is to help them find a career when they are released, medically or voluntarily, from the Canadian Forces. This bill might do this, though even if it does, I am afraid it likely will not be enough.

This bill amends the Public Service Employment Act to increase access to hiring opportunities in the public service for certain serving and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Furthermore, and perhaps more notably, this legislation would establish a right of appointment and priority over all other persons for certain members of the Canadian Forces who were released for medical reasons that were attributable to service. If members of the Canadian Armed Forces were released due to service-related injuries or illness, their priority in the public service hiring would move from fourth to first. Access to internal postings of the public service and priority over all others for external postings would be extended to Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans who had served at least three years and were honourably released.

It is one thing to have priority for jobs in the public service, but it would remain contingent on possessing the skills that match any number of the public service jobs that exist. It would rely on there being positions available in the first place.

There is nothing in this bill that offers any form of skills translation or upgrading. Also, with the freeze on hiring, what jobs are Conservatives proposing these veterans fill? With 50,000 fewer jobs and a freeze on new hiring not many jobs are really available to recently or medically released veterans.

Officials from Veterans Affairs Canada noted that where issues arise, they involve certain groups of veterans: younger veterans, those with fewer years of service, those in the lower ranks, and those medically or involuntarily released.

The unemployment rate for veterans is more or less the same as the general Canadian unemployment rate, about 8%. That said, the unemployment rate for medically released veterans is much higher, at approximately 15%.

Beyond potential incapacity, there is the additional hurdle of seriously injured veterans who may be unlikely to find employment in line with their initial goals. Injury dashes a lot of those dreams. It is a long and often endless road from recovery to rehabilitation, and finally, to employment. This bill neither shortens this road nor hastens the completion of their efforts.

The government cannot look a wounded soldier in the eye and point to this bill as an example of what a good job they are doing if, when that man or woman is ready to re-enter the workplace, that person is then told that there is no vacancy, that a hiring freeze is in place, and that the time in the Canadian Armed Forces really did not prepare him or her for a career in the public service.

Realistically, this bill is anathema to Conservatives. They do not believe that the government has any role in veterans' affairs, career transition, or rehabilitation. First and foremost, Conservatives have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from Veterans Affairs Canada, $1 billion really, tying the hands of the department when it comes to delivering the benefits and supports veterans rely on.

Now add the egregious closure of nine regional Veterans Affairs offices, often in more remote places, like Brandon, Manitoba, and Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton, making it more difficult for veterans to access these benefits and services in their communities. It is unconscionable that veterans, some of them seniors, might have to drive hours outside of their communities to receive face-to-face help.

Conservatives have claimed that veterans can still attend nearby Service Canada centres for services, but front-line staff at Service Canada are not trained to specifically help veterans, and caseworkers are currently burdened with a 40-to-1 caseload ratio.

The government would like Canadians to think they are doing a great job with veterans hiring. They spent millions of dollars advertising the career transition services in prime time playoff slots. I say millions, because among the only new spending in this year's Veterans Affairs estimates is $4 million for advertising, a new and exclusive line item. I say millions, because despite my requests to the minister, his political staff, and his departmental officials, I cannot get an answer as to how much money they are spending on their advertising, precisely.

Had the minister accepted the committee's invitation to testify on this bill, I might have asked him how many veterans currently have access to priority hiring, how many more will have access with the changes made, and how many positions are in fact available to these veterans.

I might also have asked him about concerns expressed by the Veterans Ombudsman, Guy Parent, who, early on, questioned the adjudication of a releasing Canadian Armed Forces member's file to determine if the medical release was service-related.

This will be important in determining whether the member has a statutory or a regulatory priority, or, in effect, whether the priority will be for internal or external postings. This is unclear in the legislation, and I fear it has become a little more complicated since the amendments proposed by the government at committee. Initially the legislation held that the priority for appointment over all others was given to:

... a person who was released from the Canadian Forces for medical reasons that are attributable to service, who belongs to a class determined by the Commission and who meets the requirements established by the Commission.

Upon amendment, the section I quoted changes the priority to be given to:

a person who was released from the Canadian Forces for medical reasons that the Minister of Veterans Affairs determines are attributable to service

We know who adjudicates the files now, but I cannot believe that leaving it to the discretion to the minister was the sort of clarity the ombudsman was looking for. We must remember that this is a government that continually insists that it will not release soldiers before they are ready, but has repeatedly and abruptly ended the careers of injured soldiers who have asked to be kept on.

Finally, I would have asked the minister why his legislation would impose a five-year limit for priority hiring. For starters, the government is not hiring right now. Anyone who applies once this legislation goes into effect is racing against the clock for the government to lift its hiring freeze.

More importantly, the government is putting a five-year time limit on rehabilitation and then on finding a job, which does not take into account potential relapses of injuries at a later date or a later manifestation of an injury that may not be present immediately upon release. I am reliably informed that many still have an avenue to benefits, but no opportunity for employment. It is important that they be eligible to be employed, notwithstanding that they have access to the other regulatory benefits and at a time surpassing the five-year limit.

We are always responsible for those who were so willing to make sacrifices on our behalf, yet somehow the government feels that it has a limited responsibility for these brave men and women's unlimited liability.

The minister would have us believe that veterans, if healthy, will just move on to a career in security or policing, but that is not true. There are veterans like Sergeant Bjarne Nielsen, who wants to be a financial planner, or Corporal Mark Fuchko, who wants to be a lawyer. They do not need a government that dangles weak and ineffective legislation before them in place of real, effective action.

We all just returned from Remembrance Day ceremonies in our ridings a few weeks back. Thousands of celebrations were held across the country, celebrations made perhaps more meaningful by the sacrifice of two brave members of the Canadian Armed Forces here in Canada at a time when they never would have expected to face threats or danger. We have all just returned from looking into the faces of generations of Canadians who served this country with honour, dignity, and professionalism.

To our veterans we owe a sacred obligation. When they and their families agreed to make sacrifices for the well-being of Canada and Canadians, we committed to their well-being and the well-being of their families, and in that commitment lies the necessity to take care of them no matter what.

I truly hope that this legislation will create positions for veterans. Even if it helps one veteran, we should and must support it. The Liberal Party will support it. However, members should not be mistaken: this is a weak, inefficient, and disappointing bill put forward by a minister and a government that have confirmed time after time that they would rather look good than do anything meaningful to help our servicemen and women and their families.