Evidence of meeting #64 for Veterans Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was system.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gary Walbourne  Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman
Robyn Hynes  Director General, Operations, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman
Guy Parent  Veterans Ombudsman, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman
Sharon Squire  Deputy Veterans Ombudsman, Executive Director, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Also, in the business world you communicate a great deal with your customers to find out if they're happy or not. Do we do that to the extent that we should with our armed forces and our veterans?

9:30 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

I believe there are certain cases that demand more engagement than others. Finding the right balance of how many times I should reach out to an individual, again, is something that is a developed and learned skill as we go through. Do we do it enough in all cases? No. Do we do it sufficiently in some cases? Yes.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

What about the browser that you're setting up and all of the work that you've gone through to get the information you need to know that you're doing it right? Has there been a lot of communication with service members to see if it's going to serve the purposes that you're hoping it will, or is that going to come after the fact as you release it and they try it out?

9:30 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

I have two points to that. What we've done is we've run pilot programs with various sections. We used the MFRCs, which are a great conduit to our getting to the members. We've allowed them to go practise and play with it. We've given it to some of the IPSCs across the country. They've played with it. We've done some piloting.

The program, once it's up and running, is for the members. It's for them to determine and tell us what else they'd like to see in there or how they'd like to see it presented. We're going to give them a platform, but our office is totally open to taking any constructive feedback or doing any improvements to the system. It will be an evergreen piece of the kit.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

I have one more quick question. You also mentioned that if machinery of government changes are needed to knock down those barriers, there is a mechanism for that, and if legislative or regulatory changes are needed, there are mechanisms for that also. Would you like to describe to me what those mechanisms are?

9:30 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

For example, if we need to introduce a new piece of legislation, we know what that mechanism is. There are certain steps. The bill gets introduced and so on and so forth. If we need to change the regulatory regime, there's a body responsible for that. All the mechanisms I talk about are common, everyday mechanisms that we have: how we introduce legislation into this country, how we change regulations, how we create policy.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Sure, but then—

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

I'm sorry. We're out of time.

We have Mr. Bratina for five minutes.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Thanks. I may share my time with Ms. Romanado.

Thanks again for joining us.

I have a simple question. What's the contract for new recruits to the Canadian military? Does the answer to some of these problems lie within the agreement coming in? We're worried about the coming out and the transition. What rights do the current recruits have in terms of the contract they make with the Canadian military?

9:30 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

All recruits to the Canadian military sign on the bottom line also—unlimited liability. They enter into the same program that has been established for a while for all Canadian Armed Forces members.

There's a massive amount of training, time, and effort that goes into a recruit. I believe we're starting to look at that recruitment phase now and what other things need to be introduced at that point in time to ensure that these recruits understand what the programs are and what you do if there is an accident, illness, or injury. I think we need to get to a point in the recruitment phase where we tell people they need to self-advocate sometimes: make sure you're keeping track of your own records, make sure you're doing your own file maintenance, ensure you do the follow-ups.

I believe there is a level of effort currently going on around recruitment and how they're going to do it. We know there's a push on for recruitment. I think the issues inside and around the department are well known, so I think people are coming in with their eyes a little more open, and I think the Canadian Armed Forces is doing a better job of expanding on that once they arrive.

Where will it go in recruiting? Will there be further testing? Will there be psychological testing and all those things? Those things will be figured out by what the Canadian Armed Forces require, but I believe there is opportunity at the recruitment phase to make sure that these people are better prepared moving forward.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Ms. Romanado, would you like to take a question?

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Certainly.

It's a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Walbourne.

You mentioned the benefits browser as a one-stop shop for serving members. I just want to check. Is that, in fact, for currently serving Canadian Armed Forces members? Those are benefits and services available to them through Canadian Armed Forces, DND. Is that correct?

9:30 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

That's correct.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

That is not talking about veterans' benefits vis-à-vis My VAC.

9:35 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

No, absolutely not.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

In terms of reducing redundancy, you mentioned that our ombudsman for Veterans Affairs, to whom we'll have the great pleasure of speaking in a few moments, also has a benefits browser, so I'm just curious if it would be beneficial to have all of these entities working together to have that one-stop shop so that when a serving member....

I've gone across Canada this year. I've visited 12 bases since March, talking to family members, talking to military, and talking to veterans. One frustrating thing, as you said, is that there are parts everywhere rather than that one-stop shop. Would there be a possibility of creating un guichet unique, as you refer to it, for serving members or family members, wherever they are in their career in the military? Whether you're a new recruit, transitioning out, or already have successfully transitioned out, or you're having difficulty transitioning, you have that one-stop shop, whether it be My VAC or another.

What is your suggestion vis-à-vis that?

9:35 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

That's exactly the mindset we took when we went into this. I believe the transitioning members need to know what programs, benefits, and services are provided by the Canadian Armed Forces, so I want to make that a one-stop shop for the families and the members.

We've intentionally ensured that we've built it on the same platform as the benefits navigator at VAC so that if and when we get to the point where there should be a closer relationship.... I've asked that they make sure the IT contractor keeps that as a plug-in module so that someone could plug in and say, “Okay, who am I at this stage of the game, and how do I unfold?” That would be the ultimate end goal, to get those two systems so there could actually be one that takes you from while still serving, to well after.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

You talked a bit about working in lockstep. I was participating in the announcement for the joint suicide prevention strategy, and something we don't see often is having two ministers from two different portfolios working together on a common cause. We're delighted that this is in fact happening now.

With respect to your counterpart, how often do you meet with Monsieur Parent? Is it something you do on a monthly basis so that the two teams are working together to make sure that whatever issues you're seeing from your members, who will eventually become Monsieur Parent's members...? Are you meeting often in terms of sharing those best practices and issues that are coming along?

9:35 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

Guy and I do not meet that regularly. Guy is running a shop. I'm running a shop. We both have issues we're trying to conquer.

The work that Mr. Parent and his group is doing is moving the Veterans Affairs issues forward. I think my job is to make sure those Canadian Armed Forces members who transition are best prepared to arrive in that world.

I think the desire and intent of both offices is exactly the same: let's make the system better.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you.

Mr. Calkins, you have four minutes.

November 2nd, 2017 / 9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Walbourne.

My line of questioning is going to be a little different. In my years of experience as a member of Parliament, I don't think it really matters what government agency or government department you're dealing with. There seems to be a cultural issue within some of those departments. I'm not saying this in a negative context. It's just the reality. I think that might be some of the issues we have here.

Prior to being on this committee I was the chair of the ethics committee, and of course, we oversaw privacy and access to information legislation. I'm very surprised to find out, through your testimony today, that there is a difficulty in Veterans Affairs receiving information from the Department of National Defence, or there is an issue with the Department of National Defence sending information to Veterans Affairs.

Is this an issue of pulling information by veterans from National Defence, or is this an issue of not wanting to push the information from National Defence to the Veterans Affairs department? Why would there be any barriers between those departments? Is there a legislative issue I'm not aware of?

9:35 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

The legislative issue, as I understand it, is that the information, once collected, must be used for the intent for which it was collected. If collected by the Canadian Armed Forces, it has a certain restriction to it for Veterans Affairs Canada.

When we talk about file transfer and the delay, a lot of the issue was about digitization, and I think we're still talking about that.

I believe the ability to easily transfer files is impeded by some of the rules and regulations that are in place.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Would you say those rules and regulations that are in place are to do with the privacy legislation or access to information legislation?

9:35 a.m.

Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

Gary Walbourne

There are a couple of issues. There is some chafe against the privacy legislation, and then there's also the compatibility of the systems and how they work transferring the information. I think there is also a compatibility issue.