An Act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (fairness principles)

Sponsor

John Brassard  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 14, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-378.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Department of Veterans Affairs Act to require that, in exercising his or her powers and in performing his or her duties and functions, the Minister of Veterans Affairs take into account certain principles in relation to, among others, persons who have served in the Canadian Forces or merchant navy or in the naval, army or air forces or merchant navies of Her Majesty as well as in relation to their dependants or survivors.

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

Feb. 14, 2018 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-378, An Act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (fairness principles)

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2018 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend from the NDP, as a veteran herself, for her service to Canada.

First of all, this is about our veterans, how we move forward, and how we make sure we get this right. This should not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, we have a government and a Prime Minister that have used them as pawns. They have made promises and have betrayed our veterans. We want to make sure that we point that out to Canadians so they understand that there has been a betrayal. There is no trust in the government to honour that sacred obligation we have as Canadians.

We had an opportunity last night to actually start moving ahead. We had an opportunity to pass Bill C-378, which would have put in statute law that sacred obligation, that social contract veterans are owed by the government and the people of Canada and what Canadians believe should be done. It was not just for the sake of veterans but because it is the right thing to do. It is time for us to move on this, and it is time for the government to finally get it right.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2018 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my friend, the member for Yorkton—Melville.

This is an important debate today. First and foremost, let us honour our veterans, those who have gone out there and served, who fought, and made sure we are safe here at home. They have made major sacrifices on behalf of themselves and their families. It is important that not only do we honour and respect them but that we share the covenant and sacred obligation to support them.

As Conservatives we believe in that, to the letter, unlike the government. The reason we are having this debate today is because of some very insensitive comments made by the Prime Minister in a town hall just recently. However, this started before the Prime Minister was in Edmonton, and said there was no more to give.

This started when the Prime Minister broke his promise that he would no longer force veterans to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned.

When we look at the promise that was made back on August 24, 2015, which is in the motion that we are debating here today, and look at what the government did, not only by taking the Equitas group of veterans back to court, we have to look at the arguments it made.

In paragraph 99 of the submission, the government says to the defendants, meaning Equitas, the veterans, that there is no written, defined, or articulated social covenant or social contract between members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the government, and people of Canada, which has those attributes.

Despite the rhetoric that has been coming from the Liberals, their argument has been that there is no social contract or social covenant. They actually say it again, that at no time in Canada's history has any alleged social contract or social covenant had the attributes pleaded by the plaintiffs, the veterans, been given effect in any statute, regulation, or as a constitutional principle, written or unwritten.

Again, the Liberals are arguing that no principles exist, there is no certainty, there is no clarity, and that the Government of Canada has no obligation to our veterans. That is really disappointing.

I have met with some people of the Equitas lawsuit, including Aaron Bedard who does Veteran Guerrilla Radio on Facebook. These are veterans who have been fighting the government. These are veterans we had a handshake agreement with under the former minister of veterans affairs, the member of Parliament for Durham, our friend and colleague.

We were moving forward as a government to fix that. The Prime Minister said quite clearly in the election campaign that veterans would not have to fight the government in court, but then Liberals turned around and betrayed veterans who went out and campaigned for them, working on their behalf. The Liberals betrayed them by not honouring that promise.

It was a broken Liberal promise, and veterans are back in court.

The next broken promise was when the Liberals said that veterans were going to have a lifetime pension. The member for Winnipeg North was just saying that Liberals gave them a lifetime pension. He is not listening to what veterans are actually saying, because veterans feel betrayed by the Liberal program that was announced.

Don Sorochan, lead counsel for the Equitas Society, said:

The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don't have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament, on the election campaign.

Mark Campbell, who is part of the Equitas group, said:

The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game.

Sean Bruyea, who is a veteran and veterans advocate, said on CBC:

Instead, the government merely resurrected ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodeled, and repackaged programs that already exist.

There is no new money here, and any new money that the Liberals are talking about is actually down the road, past 2019, past the next federal election. There is actually no cash in the bank for veterans today. That is why veterans were on the front lawn protesting the government for betraying them and breaking the promise about not having to take them back to court, and betraying them and breaking the promise about having a true pension for life.

We just heard the member for Winnipeg North, and we hear the Minister of Veterans Affairs stand up in question period. The Minister of Veterans Affairs gets up here with his bravado, chest-thumping, and Liberal arrogance. I can tell members that veterans are insulted when he performs that way. It is not showing respect for our veterans. It is not honouring their service, and they feel they have been used as political pawns, as many members on the other side have with veterans when they stood behind the Prime Minister, and made promises for lifetime pensions, and when they made promises to actually keep veterans out of court. This is just completely disrespectful.

We can look at what the Prime Minister actually said in Edmonton when he was asked by a veteran, an amputee, why we were still fighting against certain veterans groups in court. The Prime Minister responded, “Because they're asking for more than we are able to give.” Of course, there were boos and shouts. Even the Royal Canadian Legion, which usually does not get involved in political statements, said, “These sorts of words are extremely insensitive.” Again, it is another betrayal that we have a Prime Minister who says that there is no money, and there is no sacred obligation in the court case.

However, there was an opportunity just last night when my colleague, the member for Barrie—Innisfil, came forward with Bill C-378, which would restore fairness principles and the sacred obligation, and to actually put that into statute law. Every single Liberal stood and voted against the recognition of the sacred obligation that the government has to our veterans. I am disgusted by that.

The Prime Minister says that it is more than we can give. I can tell members that the Liberals had no problem finding $2.6 billion to help developing countries fight climate change. That money could have been used here to actually enhance spending for veterans. Just earlier this week, we learned that the Liberal government announced $59.5 million to Burkina Faso for education efforts there. Why are we not spending that on our veterans? The Prime Minister says that it is more than we are able to give, I guess, to our veterans.

Our veterans are out protesting on the front lawn right next to a $8.1 million temporary skating rink. That could have been used to support our veterans. There is the $10.5 million payout to Omar Khadr, a convicted terrorist who was prepared to kill our veterans who were serving in Afghanistan. Let us not forget the reintegration of returning ISIS terrorists to Canada. There are federal dollars for that, and the $500 million to the Chinese-Asia infrastructure bank.

This is not the only time the Liberals have taken our veterans to court. We just learned last week that they are also taking the Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans who have faced sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, while they served in the Canadian Armed Forces, to court from a class action lawsuit. In its argument, the Government of Canada said that it does not “owe a private law duty of care to individual members within the Canadian Armed Forces to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

The Prime Minister said he did not know about it, but that just shows he is incompetent. This actually undermines the Chief of the Defence Staff General Vance's Operation Honour where he wants to encourage victims of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct to come forward and report. Meanwhile, we have the government actually taking those veterans back to court with the class action lawsuit against the government.

It is amazing that all the litigation that the Government of Canada undertakes actually goes through a cabinet committee on litigation management, which is chaired by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and actually five out of seven members are women. The vice-chair is the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, who used to be the minister of status of women, and the Attorney General sits on that special cabinet committee on litigation management. Therefore, the Liberals knew about it, and let it go forward, which points out the hypocrisy they have. If it is not hypocritical, then they are incompetent for allowing this to go forward.

To summarize, when it comes down to restoring lifetime pensions as promised by the Prime Minister, he broke that promise. When it comes down to veterans being forced to take their government to court, the Prime Minister broke that promise. When it comes to making life easier for veterans, he broke that promise.

It is time for the Liberals to honour those election promises, and apologize for the way they are treating our veterans in Canada.

February 15th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the witnesses for being here today.

Before I begin questioning you, I want to make a comment, and that is how disappointed I am with the government members of this committee for voting down Bill C-378 last night. It was a non-partisan attempt to enshrine a military covenant—similar to what has been put in place in the United Kingdom, with all parties agreeing unanimously—for fairness, dignity, and respect, recognizing the special bond that veterans have—

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2018 / 11 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to clarify that with respect to some of the items that were in Bill C-378, timeliness, dignity, and respect are already part of the Veterans Bill of Rights. That is why putting it into legislation was not appropriate.

My colleague is a new member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I appreciate the opportunity to work with him on veterans affairs. He is very passionate about it. I look forward to continuing to work with him. With respect to his question, I think we have demonstrated our commitment. When he said that we have not increased benefits, we have increased the earnings loss benefit or pre-release salary from 75% to 90%. We have been in office for two years. We have made great strides, with close to $10 billion in dedicated new funding for veterans. There is still so much more we can be doing. We need to work together to ensure that the veterans who have served us so valiantly continue to be served.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2018 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member opposite for the question. As he is a former firefighter, I thank him for his service to his community.

What the member opposite did not mention is that I met with him in my office on November 21, regarding Bill C-378. I asked him many questions regarding the bill, such as how we would measure timeliness, because what would be timely for one may not be timely for others, and how we would measure dignity and respect. I asked him about the social covenant that the U.K. uses and how it has been implemented. I asked him to work with me. If the objective is to increase timeliness and support our veterans, I asked him to work with me, to stand shoulder to shoulder, and do it together. I asked him to come back to me. I stood in this very House on December 1 to debate Bill C-378. I asked him to work with me. I never heard back.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2018 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her two sons who provide a great service to our country.

This debate today is about insensitive comments made to a veteran in Edmonton based on promises the Prime Minister made.

I appreciate the fact that the hon. member talks about partisanship. We had an opportunity last night, when we debated a bill I introduced, Bill C-378, for all of the House to come together and recognize the sacred obligation that we as a government and Canadian people had to our veterans, and to enshrine those principles of a military covenant and the sacred obligation into the Veterans Affairs Act through amendments I proposed. The government side, including the member with two sons, voted against Bill C-378.

Therefore, if the intent is to truly cast aside partisanship in this place, why did the member not support the amendments I proposed yesterday?

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2018 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, February 13 the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-378 under private members' business.

The House resumed from February 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-378, An Act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (fairness principles), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2018 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank everybody who contributed to this fulsome debate on Bill C-378, my proposed amendments to the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.

I want to make clear right off the start that this was not intended to coincide with the unfortunate comments of the Prime Minister, which he made in Edmonton a couple of weeks ago. This bill was introduced in October 2017 after I and my colleagues travelled the country to talk to veterans. One of the things we heard over and over again was the sacred obligation, this covenant, that the Government of Canada and the people of Canada should have, which mirrors exactly what Sir Robert Borden spoke about in advance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He spoke about the sacred obligation and military covenant that our country has to its veterans.

I am intending to put that into the legislation by amending the Department of Veterans Affairs Act so that it does not become an aspirational thing for members of Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown to be looking at. It is for the current and future governments to be reminded of that sacred obligation that we have to our veterans, and it is being done with the sincerest of attempts.

I will remind everyone again of the covenant. There is only one elsewhere in the world, and that is in the United Kingdom, which has the military covenant act. It deals with veterans, as well as their families and survivors, that they be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. Veterans and their duties are unique among Canadians, and I think all of us in the House can agree with that. There is an obligation to care for veterans because of sacrifices made by them, and that obligation must and should extend to their families.

One of the areas that I know needs some work, and when it gets to committee we can look at this in a fulsome way, is that the care, treatment, and transition of Canadian Armed Forces in and to civil life are dealt with in a timely manner. That is the kind of work that the committee can do to deal with what exactly is a “timely manner”. I will remind the House that the backlog right now is about 29,000 cases for disability claims, and that number is going to increase as we move forward.

We talk about sacred obligation, and the Prime Minister has spoken about sacred obligation several times. On December 9, 2014, he said in Hansard, “Mr. Speaker, we have a sacred obligation to our veterans who chose to put everything on the line for their country.” Again on December 9, 2014, in Hansard, he said, “Mr. Speaker, we have a sacred obligation”. On August 24, 2015, when he stood in Belleville with his hand over his heart and made the promises we have talked about, he said, “We have a social covenant with all veterans and their families—a sacred obligation we must meet with both respect and gratitude.”

On November 25, 2014, the Prime Minister said, “Mr. Speaker, we have a sacred obligation to our veterans, but too many are struggling”. Over and over again, not only the Prime Minister but the current Minister of Veterans Affairs and the former minister of veterans affairs all talked about this sacred obligation that we have to our veterans. What I am trying to do with this bill is to enshrine that in legislation, so that not just the current government but future governments, future prime ministers, future ministers of veterans affairs, and future employees at Veterans Affairs Canada understand that it is the will of Parliament and the Canadian people to make sure that we live up to and fulfill this sacred obligation that we have to our veterans.

I was elected in 2015 and have had the privilege of coming into this place as one of 338 members across this country. Since Confederation, only 4,000 of us have sat in the House of Commons. When I sit here and think of the sacrifices, I think of the blood that has been spilled, the lives that have been lost, the lives that have been decimated by war, those who fought for this country, fought against tyranny, fought against oppression, fought against Naziism, and who fight against Islamic jihadists to allow us the privilege and honour to sit in our symbol of democracy. We owe them no less than this sacred obligation and I am calling on the government to live up to that obligation and support Bill C-378.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2018 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-378, which is an act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.

I would like to thank our colleague from Barrie—Innisfil for his ongoing attention to the welfare and well-being of our veterans. It is my passion too. My dad was on a corvette. My mom repaired airplanes at No. 10 Repair Depot in Calgary. Both my grandfathers served in the First World War for Canada. My great-grandmother got the keys to the City of Vancouver for sending eight of her boys off to fight in World War II.

I think all members of the House would agree that the well-being of veterans and their families is important to them, and that Canadians want the best for these men and women should they fall ill or become injured. We all want what is best for this country's proud veterans, and I am pleased to be able to speak to how far this government has gone.

We have heard from veterans and their family members. We have spoken to thousands across this country and the comments are always in the same vein. When soldiers come home, all they ask for is to have the services and care they need for themselves and their families. We could not agree more. This is what our government promised to do when we came to office just over two years ago, and this is what Veterans Affairs Canada endeavours to do every day as it delivers benefits and services to over 190,000 Canadian Armed Forces veterans, Royal Canadian Mounted Police veterans, and their families.

The proposed amendments to the Department of Veterans Affairs Act speak to the principles that guide our government every day, the principles of action that guide Veterans Affairs Canada and its commitment to ensure veterans and their families receive the care, compassion, and respect they deserve, and principles similar to those already enshrined in the Veterans Bill of Rights. They are the same principles that the Minister of Veterans Affairs leads his department by, and which led to the announcement in December of the new pension for life. However, they are not objective principles that should be written into law, which is why we cannot support Bill C-378. This bill offers no benefits or services for veterans or their families.

I assure members that just as veterans and their fallen comrades sacrificed everything to safeguard our future, this government is here to safeguard theirs and that includes the work we do to deliver services and benefits to veterans. What we can and should all support are measures to increase benefits for veterans, measures like our promise to re-establish a tax-free pension for life for pain, which recognizes and compensates veterans for disabilities resulting from a service-related illness or injury.

It is important to deliver on our government's promise while also delivering on our commitment to treat veterans with the dignity, respect, and fairness they deserve, and to support them as effectively as possible, to ensure a smooth transition with a focus on well-being. “Well-being” means a veteran has purpose, is financially secure, safely housed, in good physical and mental health, highly resilient in the face of change, well-integrated into the community, proud and cognizant of his or her legacy, and is valued and celebrated. We know that each of these qualities means something different to each individual veteran, because all veterans have their own unique story and their own individual needs. That is what led to the pension for life and making this nearly $3.6 billion investment a reality.

Combined with the over $6 billion in initiatives that we announced in budgets 2016 and 2017, the result is a flexible package of benefits and programs that allow veterans and their families to decide what form of compensation works best for them. With these changes and enhancements, veterans have access to tax-free financial compensation to recognize pain and suffering caused by a service-related illness or injury, an income replacement benefit to help with financial support during rehabilitation or to make up for lost earnings, and support programs to help veterans with such aspects as education, employment, and physical and mental health. The new pension for life is a combination of benefits that provide recognition, income support, and stability to members and veterans who experience a service-related illness or injury.

One of the key new benefits is the pain and suffering compensation. This is a monthly lifelong payment recognizing the pain and suffering of members and veterans caused by a disability resulting from a service-related injury or illness. The monthly amount can be cashed out for a lump sum, giving members and veterans the flexibility to choose what works best for them and their families.

Additional support for those with service-related, severe, and permanent impairments causing a barrier to re-establishment in post-service life is available through the additional pain and suffering compensation provided as a monthly benefit. The income replacement benefit is another monthly program that will provide income support during transition for those facing barriers to re-establishing themselves because of health problems resulting primarily from service. In an effort to streamline services and simplify the application process for veterans, the IRB will replace six current benefits: earnings loss benefit, extended earnings loss benefit, supplementary retirement benefit, retirement income security benefit, the career impact allowance, and the career impact allowance supplement. Additionally, veterans who wish to join the workforce may earn up to $20,000 per year from employment before any reduction in their IRB payment.

With that said, we know that a successful transition requires more than money alone; it must address personal and professional growth. In fact, the most successful transition occurs when a veteran has a positive state of well-being, a balance of financial, mental, physical, and social factors. Pensions for life provide a holistic package of financial security and wellness elements to help veterans and their families transition to the next stage of their life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it is education, work, or retirement.

Now that we have delivered a balanced and effective combination of programs and services, of which pension for life is a key piece, we are turning our full attention to delivering them with the excellence that veterans and their families want and deserve. These investments and enhancements all speak directly to the goal of my colleague's proposed amendments in his bill. I might also remind my colleagues that the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act was revised in early 2015 to clearly speak to the just and due appreciation owed to members and veterans for their service to Canada. It is gratitude shared by all Canadians and not one to be taken lightly.

Among the reasons I ran for office was to do my part to ensure that our Canadian Armed Forces members, our veterans, and their families, have access to the benefits and services they need when and where they need them. This government is proud of our brave men and women in uniform, and we are grateful for their service and sacrifice for their country. Make no mistake, treating veterans and their families with fairness, respect, and dignity is the cornerstone of the delivery of our programs, benefits, and services, which are the principles in the Veterans Bill of Rights. They are respected and embraced by the government in everything we do. It is also why they need not be written into the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.

I applaud our government's continued efforts to improve the experience of our veterans. I applaud the spirit with which my friend from Barrie—Innisfil has put forward his private member's bill as we recognize the sacrifices and contributions of veterans and their families.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2018 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Village of Arthur in Wellington county is known as Canada's most patriotic village. It has that title because of the actions that its citizens took between 1939 and 1945.

On November 2, 1942, the Toronto Daily Star ran an article, and the headline of that article read, “Arthur Village Gives Sons and Money to Aid the War”. The article talked about how over 100 of the village's barely 800 citizens had enlisted to serve in the Second World War. By the end of the Second Word War, that number had more than doubled. The article talks about families, like the Day family, whose four sons were serving overseas, or the Colwill family, whose six of their 11 children were serving at the time, with the youngest five being too young to serve at the time. The article talks about how the Village of Arthur raised over $250,000 in mere days in the war bond program. At the time, this represented 64% of the tiny village's taxable income base, or taxable property tax value.

I raise this story about the Village of Arthur, because it reminds me of a mural that is proudly displayed in Arthur beside its fieldstone cenotaph. The mural proclaims the simple reminder that freedom is not free. It is not the actions of politicians in this place that make us free. It is not the words that we say in this place that make us free. Our freedoms as Canadians comes from those who have served our country in uniform, from the brave women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces who have served in the past and who continue to serve to this very day. To them we owe a duty of dignity, respect, and fairness. Bill C-378 would do just that.

Bill C-378 would elevate more expectation to that of a legal requirement. We owe our veterans more than we can ever truly repay, but it serves us in our requirement as legislators to ensure our veterans are provided with what they are owed. It is a very important matter that we provide them with dignity, fairness, and respect.

It is appropriate that we are debating the bill in 2018. Indeed, it was 100 years ago this year that the armistice was signed and we saw the end of the First Word War. We saw the end of the Great War. We saw the end of the war that would end all wars. We saw the first of those veterans return home to Canada.

I am reminded of one of Perth County's famous sons, the Right Hon. Arthur Meighen, one of the great orators of this place. During the First World War, he had this to say:

No one has seriously argued in this House—and in solemn truth no one seriously believes—that we can dispatch, as we have done, 350,000 men overseas, commissioned by us to stand between our country and destruction, pledge them the undying fidelity of a grateful people, watch them through harrowing years of suffering, bathe ourselves in the reflected glory of their gallantry and devotion, and then leave them to be decimated and destroyed. Surely, surely, an obligation of honour is upon us, and fortifying that obligation of honour is the primal, instinctive, eternal urge of every nation to protect its own security.

These words were uttered during the conscription debate of 1917. However, the duty we owe as legislators today to our veterans and those who have served our country remain just as strong today as the words uttered 101 years ago in this very chamber.

We have often heard phrases “military covenant”, or “social covenant”, or “sacred covenant”, the duty we owe to our veterans.

Those words and that thought came from our wartime Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. Overseas, he said the following:

The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home, and it will always be our endeavour to so guide the attitude of public opinion that the country will support the government to prove to the returned man its just and due appreciation of the inestimable value of the services rendered to the country and empire; and that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken with the men who won and the men who died.

Those words remain true on this date as well. We owe so much to our veterans. My mind is drawn to the more recent veterans, those who have served our country in uniform over the past decades, particularly those who served our country in Afghanistan. There are more than 40,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have served in Afghanistan, and 158 who lost their lives serving our country in the pursuit of freedom.

My mind is also drawn to Master Corporal Anthony Klumpenhouwer from Kurtzville, in North Perth, Ontario, who lost his life as a member of JTF2 and was the 54th casualty in 2007 in our battle in Afghanistan. My mind is drawn to those veterans who served us in Afghanistan and who continue to serve us. We owe them our undying gratitude. More tangibly, we owe them a duty of fairness, and that is exactly what this bill would do. It would enshrine in law for all Canadians to see and parliamentarians to respect, the principles of dignity, respect, and fairness.

It is my great honour to support this bill, and I hope all parliamentarians will do the same.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2018 / 6:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today to Bill C-378, a bill to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.

The welfare of veterans and their families is an important issue to me and to our government. It takes more than recognizing sacrifice on Remembrance Day. It is our duty to take care of those who have served and protected our great nation.

The government launched consultations on issues affecting veterans, which has helped us gain a better understanding of their needs and those of their families.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs also created advisory groups made up of veterans, veterans groups, and experts, including the Royal Canadian Legion; Brian Forbes, who has advocated for veterans as the chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations of Canada; retired General Joe Sharpe; and veterans who served in Afghanistan, such as Aaron Bedard, Mark Campbell, and Willy MacDonald. The six ministerial advisory groups focus on the following government priorities: policy, service excellence, mental health, families, care and support, and commemoration.

As part of the electoral platform in 2015, the government has been hard at work to uphold its promises made to veterans and their families.

To provide better support, the government has introduced the program pension for life. This monthly tax-free payment will allow more financial liberty to ill and injured veterans and their families. This benefit could be the difference between being able to pay rent and homelessness, and a financial safety net for a veteran who is transitioning to life after service.

The pension for life includes three different component programs. The pain and suffering compensation will be available to veterans who suffer because of an illness or an injury resulting from their service. The additional pain and suffering compensation is another benefit for veterans who experience obstacles in their reintegration due to a severe and permanent service-related disability. The income replacement benefit streamlines existing benefits, such as earnings loss benefits, supplementary retirement benefits, and retirement income security. It offers income to veterans who face hardship on their road to re-establishment due to health-related issues.

The government has also introduced the new education and training benefit, which comes into effect this April. I am proud to say that this program allows veterans who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces for six years or more to pursue post-secondary education. The government will spend a total of $133 million over a period of six years to support the continuing education of our Canadian veterans.

Furthermore, the government has made considerable investments to enhance the following services addressing veterans and their families, including the disability award, the career impact allowance, the career transition services, the veteran emergency fund, and, lastly, removing limits for eligible spouses and survivors so they can access the rehabilitation and vocational assistance program when and if they need it.

Our government also recognizes that helping veterans and their families goes beyond monetary assistance. It is equally important to provide mental health and caregiver support. As such, we have increased funding for the veterans family programs in all 32 military family resource centres, and the veteran community now has access to free mental health first aid training.

Moreover, the 2017 budget included services and benefits such as a monthly tax-free payment of $1,000 to family caregivers who assist veterans. The government has also formed a partnership with organizations like VETS Canada to address the issue of affordable housing and homelessness.

Additionally, our government has reopened nine veterans affairs offices, a new office in British Colombia, and has extended outreach efforts to veterans in the territories.

All of the initiatives undertaken by our government are based on respect and our recognition of the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families.

Amidst the conflicting priorities and limited resources of any government, we have made it a top priority to work hard for veterans and their families. We also recognize that this file is an ongoing process and that the well-being of veterans must and will remain a top priority for this government.

I had the honour this summer of attending the Invictus Games, which are the games put on by Prince Harry for veterans who were injured. The Invictus Games are based on a poem called, Invictus, and there is a line in there which I truly think is wonderful. It says:

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

My grandfather, Frank Baylis, who I am named after, fought in the First World War and was buried alive. He fought in the trenches and when the trenches collapsed, he just had his hand out. Luckily for him, his comrades in arms saw his hand and dug him up. He was obviously hospitalized, but he had an unconquerable soul. I thank my grandfather for his unconquerable soul. I stand here today because of it.

I also stand here today because of the unconquerable soul of many men and women who have fought in the armed forces. Our freedom of speech, our values, our very way of life has been defended and protected by our veterans and people actively serving in the armed forces today. I thank all of them for their unconquerable soul. We owe them a debt of respect, which goes without saying, and we owe them our deepest gratitude.

I thank all our veterans and all the men and women who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2018 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a true privilege to stand today and speak to this private member's bill from the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil.

Recently in Victoria I was privileged again to meet with veterans at a veterans' round table. We had a fairly lengthy discussion about the issues that they were facing, and these were people who have been advocates for veterans and assist in their dealings with Veterans Affairs Canada. There was one word that was said over and over again, and then right at the very end when we were wrapped up, one of the veterans' wives said, “If you have heard anything, please remember one word, and that is respect.”

Recently at a town hall with our Prime Minister, he basically delivered the message to veterans of the reason they are in court. During the election campaign the Prime Minister stood with veterans and promised them that they would never have to fight their government in court. That is a broken promise that shows an utter disrespect to veterans. In terms of this particular private member's bill that my colleague has tabled in the House of Commons, he has referred to it as the military covenant bill, but it is an extension of a sacred covenant that goes back to 1917 and our prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, who after the First World War, the Great War, said that Canadians have a special bond with veterans and are responsible for veterans' health as they returned home from that Great War. He was the first person to express in this place that sacred covenant.

What my colleague is trying to do with this bill is to use his accumulated knowledge in the role of veterans shadow minister or critic as he travelled across the country and listened at various round tables to veterans. When I took the role on, I got the three eight-inch-thick binders with every comment that was made and transcribed during those round tables. The common thread that weaves through those discussions when listening to veterans is the fact that they were promised by the current government not to go back to court, yet we have veterans right now appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada to be able to take the government to court on a class action lawsuit for failing to give veterans what they have so rightfully earned, in many cases the equivalent of pre-2005 pension benefits, and not scale it so that some who are more moderately injured and have been injured in their duty to this country would receive far less than they would have received through that pension plan that once existed.

The other part of their application to the Supreme Court that the advocates have told me is that they are asking the court to consider the sacred covenant, the covenant that my colleague is talking about here. It has been done in other countries. The United Kingdom in 2011 put into place through legislation the Armed Forces Covenant. It goes so far as to require the government to report annually on the treatment of veterans in the U.K. Bill C-378 aims to have similar fairness and unique principles in the legislation as that which created the Department of Veterans Affairs in the first place.

We are looking at something here that wants to put three principles into legislation that puts obligations on the government. My colleague from the NDP read them and I want to add them to my transcript today.

Veterans and their dependants or survivors are to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. We need to recognize the uniqueness of veterans' duties and sacrifices and the impact on their lives. Decisions regarding care, treatment, and transition to civil life should be made in a timely manner The member has coined it in the legislation as a “military covenant”.

This has been talked about in this place on many other occasions. This is the first occasion we as legislators from all parties will be able to do the right thing for veterans.

I am going to go back to the word “respect”. I am going to talk not with my own words, but with the words of people who every day are involved in the veterans community, to describe where they are today and what the landscape is today on the Liberal broken promises.

The first quote is on fighting our veterans in court. Don Sorochan, the lead counsel for Equitas Society, said on CBC News on January 31, 2018:

The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don't have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament, on the election campaign.

Mark Campbell, a veteran and Equitas plaintiff, and a member of the Minister of Veterans Affairs' policy advisory group, said on restoring lifelong pensions, “The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game.” He was advising them what to do, and they took an opposite direction.

Here is another quote relating to lifelong pensions. This was said by Sean Bruyea, a veteran and veterans' advocate:

[T]he government merely resurrected the ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodelled and repackaged programs that already exist.

Here is another quote from a different individual:

It's fair to say the disappointment (with the new plan) has been immense because it just didn't do the trick.... If you're going to make a promise to provide lifetime pensions, then do it.

That was said by Brian Forbes, the executive director of War Amps Canada and chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations of Canada.

The Prime Minister told veterans that they are asking for more than the government is able to give right now. The Prime Minister said that to a veteran during a town hall meeting. The veteran lost one leg in Afghanistan to an explosive device and 80% of the use of his other leg, for which he has been having all kinds of surgery to even get 20% of its function. He looked back at him and said that veterans are asking for more than the government is able to give right now. In commenting on that, the Royal Canadian Legion said, “These sorts of words are extremely insensitive”.

Colin Saunders, a veteran and veterans' advocate said this about the Liberal record. “The reality is veterans aren't seeing that money”

I will wrap up quickly and underscore what I believe everyone in the House should, without reservation be voting for, and that is respect for our veterans. Let me repeat that everyone should be voting for respect for our veterans.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2018 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be here as the critic for Veterans Affairs on behalf of the NDP, and I want to thank my friend and colleague from Barrie—Innisfil for tabling this very important bill.

Bill C-378 recognizes what all Canadians know and believe. Specifically, this bill recognizes that our veterans, as well as their dependants and survivors, should be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness, and that the uniqueness of the person's profession and the obligations and sacrifices such a profession demands also impact the experiences of their families, and that any decision regarding the care, treatment, or re-establishment in civilian life of the person and the benefits to be provided to them be made in a timely manner. On these points, we will find little disagreement among Canadians and certainly not among New Democrats.

However, this bill, as well intentioned and agreeable as it is, represents somewhat of a missed opportunity to state unequivocally that the government, acting on behalf of the people of Canada, recognizes that we have a sacred obligation to our veterans. Canadians, of course, love our veterans and their families, and we thank them for their service and sacrifice. At one time, this love and respect was obvious in the treatment bestowed upon veterans by the government. Lifelong pensions, the creation of Wartime Housing Limited, and complete coverage for all disabilities incurred during service were once the ways this love was shown to veterans by the government on behalf of all Canadians.

Indeed, it is widely agreed that at one point in time, the government firmly believed that it had a “sacred obligation” to veterans and their families. This obligation was a clear acknowledgement that when a woman or man entered into the service of our country and put their health and lives on the line for us, the government would be there to care for them for the rest of their lives. I say that we believed that at “one point in time” because I am no longer sure this is the case.

The Harper Conservative government made an effort to modernize the rights, services, and benefits provided to Canada's veterans, but in reality, it inadvertently made life worse for many. In the 2015 campaign, the Liberal Party promised to make things right for veterans. The Prime Minister, before he was Prime Minister, made lofty goals and raised expectations for so many people in need, but sadly, the government is failing to live up to its own commitments and the expectations of Canadians who put them in government to finally make things right. We can and must do better, and New Democrats will always work with other parties in the best interests of veterans.

Bill C-378 also fails to address in any way the many specific issues facing veterans and their families today. There are, of course, limits to what legislative bills or amendments can be tabled, debated, and adopted by individual members, but it would not have been impossible to explicitly recognize some of the specific injustices perpetrated upon military personnel and veterans over the course of many governments.

We must never forget our own collective failings as a society and a government to take care of and look after veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, nuclear radiation, and other lethal and debilitating toxins and agents in the course of their service; the horrific sexual trauma that has been endured by many military personnel, particularly women, over the course of their military service; the serious psychiatric side effects associated with the use of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine; the widespread prevalence of operational stress injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological challenges faced by active and retired armed forces personnel; and the unconscionable transition gap, which denies benefits to so many veterans who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life.

Veterans Affairs Canada acknowledged late last year that there were about 29,000 applications for disability benefits in the queue waiting to be processed at the end of November, and nearly half of those cases took longer than 16 weeks to process. That is a 50% increase over the last eight months.

A particularly stark example of how governments have changed the way they serve veterans is with housing. Today, veterans are camping out just blocks away from here, in the cold, to raise awareness about veterans living on the streets of our country. Wartime Housing Limited was created after World War II to transfer 30,000 affordable homes to veterans, but today there are more than 770 veterans that the government classifies as homeless and living on the street. However, the number we hear from Veterans Affairs Canada is over 5,000 and, shamefully, we know that number is rising with the current housing crisis in our country.

Improving support programs for families and dependants of veterans who are also suffering and who also carry a very heavy burden on behalf of our country is another unaddressed issue, as are the unintended and negative consequences experienced by veterans as a result of changes under the new veterans charter, including the ongoing court battle with Equitas and its effort to re-establish lifelong pensions for veterans, which began under the Harper Conservatives and which the Liberal government has now adopted.

The list of challenges and injustices facing veterans today that could have been referred to explicitly in this bill goes on and on. In spite of all these omissions, I would like to thank the member for Barrie—Innisfil for tabling this bill, which we will be supporting at second reading.

The House resumed from December 1, 2017, consideration of the motion that Bill C-378, An Act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (fairness principles), be read the second time and referred to a committee.