House of Commons Hansard #180 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ministers.


War Veterans Allowance ActGovernment Orders

10 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard Liberalfor the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency)

moved that Bill C-61, an act to amend the War Veterans Allowance Act, the Pension Act, the Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-related Benefits Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act and the Halifax Relief Commission Pension Continuation Act and to amend certain other acts in consequence thereof, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

War Veterans Allowance ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Nipissing Ontario


Bob Wood LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to be here today to speak to the improvements to veterans' legislation which are contained in Bill C-61.

Because we will be debating the specifics in committee in the days to come, today I would like to focus my comments on the general reasoning behind the bill and, in so doing, show that these amendments are in keeping with our longstanding tradition of providing the best service possible to Canada's veterans.

A bit of background is in order. To understand the history of our country we need only to know the sacrifices of those who served in peacetime and in war throughout this country.

From the very early days of our nationhood, Canadians served their country with distinction, often in places far from home, and veterans' benefits were few and far between. The first world war changed all that. We lost 66,000 of our young, which was catastrophic for a nation of just eight million. The utter devastation on the lives of those who survived that terrible carnage demanded action on the home front. Military hospitals, vocational training, re-establishment and job placement were the orders of the day.

Another 45,000 Canadians were lost in the second world war and, with the anticipated return of one million service men and women, the government at the time recognized that a single department devoted exclusively to veterans was needed.

In 1944 the Department of Veterans Affairs was born. In the early years it was the repairing of broken bodies and shattered spirits that took precedence, putting interrupted lives back on track and bringing them back to the country where these heroic men and women longed to be. For all those suffering permanent injury, disability pensions were guaranteed.

Further, for the first time these pensions were given to members of the women's auxiliary forces, the merchant seamen, commercial fishermen, Canadian overseas firefighters and other civilian groups which contributed to winning the war.

When body and soul were patched up as well as possible, it then became a matter of making sure these valued citizens got a chance to live the Canadian dream. For some it was assisting in the buying of a small piece of property and for others it was education and training.

We have come a long way since the veterans' charter that codified these programs for veterans, from rehabilitation to re-establishment, from land settlement to home construction, from pensions to allowances and beyond. Canada provided then and provides now a package of benefits that rivals any in the world.

The Department of Veterans Affairs remains committed to providing the very best care and comfort to veterans whose average age is now moving from the old to the very old. The mandate continues to be quite simple: to take care of those who took care of us; to take care of those who answered this country's call in a time of desperate need. Although our commitment to veterans has never wavered, the ways in which we meet that commitment as we approach the millennium have changed.

In all that we do we try to look at our programs from a veteran's perspective and ask the question: What do they want and need at this stage of their lives? We have talked to veterans and veterans organizations and they have responded.

They want to see a continuation of current programs, those with which they have become familiar and often which they have come to count on. So we continue to provide war service allowances to those whose life circumstances have left them at the lower end of the income scale as they live out their senior years.

We continue to provide an innovative veterans' independence program which allows veterans to remain in their homes as long as possible. VIP provides a cross-section of services to ease some of the heavier burdens associated with living and taking care of a home. With Meals on Wheels, housekeeping, grounds maintenance, transportation and personal care, our at-home vets are able to enjoy the comfort and dignity of independent living.

We continue to provide disability pensions and as a result of new technology and internal improvements, and a lot of hard work by a team of very dedicated staff, we have reduced the processing time for pension applications by more than 50%.

By the way, applications for disability pensions are not limited to wartime veterans. Regular force members are also eligible and their numbers are up, which is not surprising given Canada's significant contribution to keeping peace around the world.

Disability pensions for the forces now make up almost 50% of new applications in some of our district offices. Of course we continue to provide for eligible veterans a broad spectrum of other services, including comprehensive health care, targeting the needs that the frailties of old age bring to us all. These include the provision of prescription drugs, dental care and access to long term care community beds.

Veterans want to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect, as we all do. To this end, we work very hard to be sure that we become their path of least resistance, not only when it comes to getting information about our programs but, if need be, about other government programs as well.

Our front line staff make sure that from the minute veterans walk in the door, whatever the problem or question may be, from veterans' benefits to income tax forms, from CPP to old age security problems, we steer them in the right direction from the start, and that is exactly how it should be.

With the millennium the average age of our remaining war service clients will approach the 80 year mark. Their medical needs are changing. Frankly, this is unchartered territory. We are entering an era of health care never before known to governments, taking on the needs of a substantial and very elderly population. It is in this context of change that we are constantly examining our legislation to make sure it keeps up with the times and continues to be fair, timely and responsive, all of which brings me to the bill before us today.

Its measures are consistent with our past practices and look to the future needs of our treasured veterans and their dependants. This is an omnibus bill, covering a cross-section of current legislation.

Let me turn first to the prisoner of war recommendations. As hon. members know, many of our veterans receive disability pensions arising from an illness or injury they incurred as a result of their service in peacetime or wartime, and if their disability is sufficiently serious or disabling they may be eligible for special benefits such as an attendance allowance that assists those veterans in need of day to day personal care.

Similarly, exceptional incapacity allowances are awarded to pensioners who are extremely incapacitated by their disabilities. The dollar amount is based on the extent of the helplessness, pain and loss of enjoyment of life and the shortened life expectancy.

At the present time veterans who receive prisoner of war compensation are not entitled to receive these special allowances unless they are also in receipt of a disability pension. The amendments to this bill will remove this bar. Former prisoners of war will now be allowed to receive the special allowances if they meet the eligibility criteria. These provisions recognize the very particular needs of POWs, all of whom suffered greatly by their incarceration, some for periods lasting throughout the war years. In passing these changes the House will respond positively to a key priority of the National Council of Veterans Associations.

Another major provision of this legislation will result in more Canadian survivors, more often than not widows of veterans, becoming eligible for increases in their pension payments. This change will potentially affect over 35,000 survivors where the disabilities had been assessed at less than 48%. The Pension Act will be amended to permit an application for increased pensions for these survivors if they believe that their spouse's disability should have been assessed at a higher level at the time of their passing. In passing these changes the House will respond positively to the number one veteran's priority of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Bill C-61 also brings merchant navy veterans under the very same legislation that applies to armed forces veterans, namely the Pension Act and the War Veterans Allowance Act. This is by its nature largely a symbolic change. I say this because merchant navy veterans have been receiving identical benefits to their armed forces counterparts since 1992. Symbols are important and this change of status is one that this group of veterans has been requesting for quite some time.

By using the same acts to respond to the needs of both merchant navy and armed forces veterans we send a powerful signal that we value the service and sacrifice performed by the merchant navy during the wars. There are other actions which have been taken in recent years to underscore the value placed on the contributions made by merchant navy veterans.

In 1993 merchant navy veterans joined armed forces veterans in a pilgrimage to Liverpool to commemorate the battle of the Atlantic. They also accompanied the delegation that went to the pilgrimage last year to commemorate the battle and have participated in pilgrimages marking the 50th and 55th anniversaries of the second world war.

Merchant mariners are also recognized in other veterans affairs commemorative initiatives, including a teacher's kit, a CD-ROM on the second world war and a recently released publication entitled “Valour at Sea”.

Perhaps among the most significant symbolic gesture was the instalment in 1994 of the merchant navy book of remembrance in the memorial chamber. It lists the names of Canadian merchant mariners who gave their lives during the first and second world wars.

I want to assure members that merchant navy veterans are veterans in every sense of the word and this bill underscores that fact. There are other provisions in Bill C-61 dealing with allied veterans residing outside Canada, changes to the administration of the funeral and burial program, continuing assistance to certain survivors of the Halifax explosion of 1917, and amendments to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act. Although important in the scheme of things, they are perhaps better left to committee debate.

Canadians have always felt that of all our citizens who made sacrifices for their country, it was those who defended our freedom in war we should honour above all others. Of those veterans who returned from the two world wars and Korea, over 400,000 are still with us today. A good number of them receive benefits in one form or another from veterans affairs. Over the years we have been called upon to implement a substantial body of legislation designed to meet their changing needs. One of our strengths has been our ability to anticipate challenges and as a result our programs in Canada have been ahead of the times.

So today we are called on once again to make changes to meet these challenges. It is to the credit of successive governments and parliaments that whatever their political make-up they have continued in the tradition of providing Canadian veterans with benefits that remain second to none. Let us continue in that tradition by giving this legislation speedy consideration and passage.

War Veterans Allowance ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Peter Goldring Reform Edmonton East, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-61, an act to amend the War Veterans Allowance Act and related legislation.

This is an omnibus bill that, when coupled with separate assumed undertakings by the government to right past wrongs, caused elderly merchant navy veterans to end their hunger strike on the steps of Parliament Hill last fall.

As with much omnibus legislation, there are several separate legislative initiatives, so that voting against the legislation means that one could be seen to be voting against certain provisions that actually improve matters for veterans, including merchant navy veterans. In the alternative, one could vote against the legislation based on what is not included in it. There is much in this legislation that does little to improve the the circumstances of merchant navy veterans in terms of their well known grievances.

Voting against legislation based on what is not there is not particularly constructive in my view. Voting against legislation because all the provisions are not as one might wish is also not particularly constructive. On the other hand, the parliamentary practice of introducing omnibus legislation is not a particularly fair or honest way of addressing primary grievances.

I want the record to show that while I favour specifics of the bill I do not believe that its format allows for a debate on this substantial issue at hand, that of compensation to our merchant navy veterans for past government wrongs, for past avoidance of responsibilities.

To correct this I will propose at committee that a special subcommittee be formed to examine compensation claims for years of denial of equality from the war to this date. I am expecting our government's wholehearted co-operation and participation in this special subcommittee.

In this bill there are two provisions that should meet with general approval in the House. Both relate to the lifetime effects of war, effects along with memories that are rarely erased. By way of amendment to the Pension Act former prisoners of war may now apply for special allowances even though they are not in receipt of a disability pension. An allowance of this nature could be used to provide for an attendant. This amendment would be welcomed in such cases where a prisoner of war never claimed a disability pension but now finds there is need for assistance. By this amendment there appears to be a general recognition that experiences as a prisoner of war will always have an effect on the enjoyment of later life even if no specific disability can be traced to the prisoner of war experiences.

In similar fashion spouses of deceased veterans classified as partially disabled at the time of death will now be able to seek a re-evaluation of the disability status of the departed veteran in order to receive increased survivor benefits. By this amendment it is recognized that any war related disability may become progressively more incapacitating even though the veteran chooses not to inform veterans affairs as to his deteriorated state.

Veterans have demonstrated time and time again that they are proud people, proud of their service to the country and proud of their independence. Veterans do not readily stand in the queue for a government cheque. By this amendment it is recognized that such independence of the veteran, while admirable, should not result in financial prejudice to a veteran's spouse whose post-war life was also affected by war related disabilities.

For example, a veteran may have suffered permanent hearing loss as a result of bombing missions over Europe. The veteran was assessed as partially disabled. However, his balance became progressively worse due to the effects of diminished hearing. At some point the veteran ceased to work due to difficulties with walking and balance. What this amendment does is recognize that once again a war related injury may have lasting and progressively more serious effects on the well-being of any veteran. The effects of war are again recognized as lifelong.

Many arguments have been made to deny merchant navy veterans the benefits they have claimed. I will canvass the principal claims. It has not been easy to obtain agreement as to these four points given the various factions within the merchant navy veterans organizations, although I did succeed in obtaining agreements from all parties. There are four main demands of all groups representing the various factions: to be recognized as war veterans, to receive prisoner of war benefits, to receive compensation for years of denial of equality, and to receive recognition on ceremonial days.

Bill C-61 addresses recognition of war veterans status. Merchant navy veterans are war veterans for all purposes and in all respects. Therefore formal recognition of merchant navy veterans on ceremonial days, in particular on Remembrance Day, should now occur as a matter of course. Equivalency of prisoner of war benefits is also implicitly addressed.

The key issues not addressed in Bill C-61 is compensation to our merchant navy veterans for years of denial of equality. As with prisoner of war benefits, general benefits available to all veterans have been available to merchant navy veterans since legislative amendments in 1992. The fact that they may or may not be treated equally now is not the issue. The issue not addressed in this legislation and also not addressed in the 1992 legislation is retroactive compensation, to acknowledge that merchant navy veterans despite their crucial and valorous service in war were not placed on the same benefit footing as other returning veterans after the war.

An inequality of post-war opportunity leads to an inequality of post-war outcomes. In short, the post-war lives of our merchant navy veterans were short changed by the government.

The valour and sacrifice of our merchant navy veterans are well known. They faced death more than any other Canadian fighting force with one in seven merchant mariners being killed in World War II. This horrendous statistic is evidenced by the fact that, until corrected recently by veterans affairs, the commonly held wisdom was that the death rate was one in eight, which is equally horrendous.

Members of our Canadian merchant navy were vital suppliers to the war effort. It is true that merchant mariners were not subject to the same military discipline as those in the armed forces. It is also true they were paid marginally more than those in the armed forces. However, their service to Canada's war effort was very different from those who contributed to the war effort in factories and offices but who did not face death daily. Their service to Canada's war effort was also very different from those currently in receipt of veterans pensions who were members of the armed forces but who never went overseas.

The reason we view members of the merchant navy as war veterans is that the nature and dangers of their service were clearly no different from anyone else on the front lines. Given the paltry difference in salary between those in the armed forces and those in the merchant navy, it cannot be said that merchant navy veterans risked their lives for the money. Like others actively serving in the war, they risked their lives for their country and to preserve its freedoms. At minimum, they could be viewed as resistance fighters for Canada and certainly should be treated no differently from allied resistance fighters in other countries who our political leaders have been so quick to compensate with Canadian taxpayer resources.

Compensating our merchant navy veterans for years of wrongful denial of equality is both a symbolic and tangible means by which we can thank fellow Canadians for their efforts in preserving the freedoms we enjoy today.

Consider that 12,000 men and women served in the merchant navy in World War II. Many were older than the average age of Canadians in the armed forces since many of these merchant mariners had also served Canada during World War I. Members of our merchant navy, in addition to playing a vital role in the transportation of supplies in support of the war effort in Europe, also defended Canada's shores during the battle of the Atlantic.

In my capacity as opposition critic for veterans affairs, I participated last year in ceremonies commemorating the 55th anniversary of the battle of the Atlantic. The battle of the Atlantic was the only battle of World War II that was waged close to Canada's shores. German submarines reached as far as the shores of Halifax and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Armed merchant navy carriers contributed significantly to turning the tide as the battle of the Atlantic was being won by the allies in 1943.

Perhaps politicians have chosen to ignore the plight of merchant navy veterans due to the comparative smallness of their numbers. The merchant navy was comprised of no more than 12,000 seafarers. Of the 12,000 who served in the merchant navy, 1,629 lost their lives in World War II, 8 of whom were women. This represents over 13% of the service or approximately 1 in 7.

Members of the merchant navy were not a world apart from those in the armed forces. It should be remembered that at the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy took control of all shipping. It should also be remembered that all who served in the merchant navy were volunteers. None were compelled to sail but most did. Once signed on, merchant navy seamen were subject to sail or jail orders just as the navy.

What was denied to the merchant navy veterans at war's end, such that they did not have the equality of post-war opportunity available to other veterans? The benefits denied are not minor and clearly their absence would have lifetime impacts. Merchant navy veterans received no financial assistance to attend university as did other war veterans. Many of the leaders in professions during the 1960s to the present are or were veterans who received such assistance.

Merchant navy veterans were not accorded priority in public service employment as were other returning veterans. After the war the employment of the public service offered the benefit of economic stability and the opportunity to re-establish one's life in an orderly fashion. It was a particularly important benefit remembered by those whose youth occurred during the great depression when employment in the public service was also often the only gainful employment available. The denial of this benefit to the merchant navy veterans had lifetime effects.

The third benefit denied to the merchant navy veterans was land or its cash equivalent. Returning veterans were provided with an opportunity to acquire housing under the Veterans Land Act as well as income support. The opportunity to acquire housing coupled with financial assistance to attend university, income support and priority in public service employment meant that many veterans could overcome the scars of war and look forward to stable family lives and careers. None of this was available to merchant navy veterans except in limited circumstances where such veterans were disabled.

That this wrong has not been addressed for nearly 55 years after the end of World War II is a national disgrace which will hopefully not continue. It is true that as of 1992 merchant navy veterans have essentially been “on equal footing” with other veterans in terms of benefits. Now with Bill C-61 they will be on equal footing under the same legislation and are therefore no longer symbolically separate but equal.

This still does not address the issue that the lives and families of every one of our merchant navy veterans have been scarred by a government imposed inequality of post-war opportunity.

There are several reasons given for this discriminatory treatment at war's end. Some argue that it was because there were many socialists in the merchant navy and it was believed by the government of the day that any support accorded merchant navy veterans would strengthen socialistic and pro-union sentiments. That these beliefs continued into the cold war of the fifties is understandable given the tenor of the times, though it does not make them right.

To this day I can advise the House that organizations representing merchant navy veterans represent a broad political spectrum that results from time to time in a degree of fractious discord. The fact that to this day merchant navy veterans have difficulty speaking consistently with one voice should not be a matter to be taken advantage of politically.

On occasion and quite recently I have been asked to detail my goals with respect to my current role as official opposition critic of veterans affairs. As has been publicly reported, I stated that one dimension of this portfolio, the same portfolio addressed by the Minister of Veterans Affairs, is that many of the files are not new. Many of these issues are not new. Some of these issues have been going on for 50 or 55 years, far too long.

For reasons best left to historians many of these issues that could have been addressed by governments 20 and 30 years ago were not addressed, let alone resolved. I support the bill as one small step toward resolving the merchant navy concerns and I encourage the government to do more.

War Veterans Allowance ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with great respect that I rise today on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-61, an act to amend the War Veterans Allowance Act, the Pension Act, the Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-related Benefits Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act and the Halifax Relief Commission Pension Continuation Act and to amend certain other acts in consequence thereof.

The purpose of this bill is to provide financial compensation to make up for our governments' negligence.

The government passed legislation providing numerous benefits for armed forces veterans returning to Canada at the end of World War II, but refused to help merchant navy veterans who were trying to resume their lives, which had been interrupted when they volunteered to serve their country, particularly during the two world wars in the heavily torpedoed convoy lanes.

For over 50 years, the Canadian merchant navy veterans, the fourth arm of the fighting services as they were called during World War II, have been discriminated against by the government because they were paramilitaries.

This bill will correct certain anomalies and has the support of the Bloc Quebecois. But unless these individuals receive retroactive compensation and the same treatment as their military comrades, the injustice inflicted on them by our government will never be erased.

It is important to give some background when talking about the merchant marine. On November 16, 1939, two weeks after Great Britain declared war on Germany, the first merchant marine convoy left the Port of Halifax.

This convoy opened the war-time route to England and the Soviet Union, carrying vital supplies to overseas allied forces, and many of the crew members on these ships lost their lives. Their losses were proportionately higher than those of all the other military forces.

The merchant navy was the backbone of the supply system in the North Atlantic that helped preserve the freedom of the British and of their allies. At the beginning of the war, Canada's merchant navy, which was governed by the very strict measures in the Canada Shipping Act, had a total of 37 ocean going ships and about 1,400 seamen.

The government played an active role in the evolution of the situation. A Canadian interdepartmental merchant navy commission was established. A crown corporation, Wartime Merchant Shipping Limited, was set up in 1941 to look after the merchant navy and, the following year, the Park Steamship Company was created to supervise merchant seamen and ships under construction.

Recruiting offices were set up to send people where demand was strongest. Merchant seamen were under the authority of DND's naval section. Ships left in convoys or alone, with sealed orders from the British admiralty that were handed out locally by the commander of the naval forces.

In spite of the casualties, by the end of the war, Canada had 157 ships and some 12,000 seamen, or an additional 120 ships and 10,600 seamen. We had the third largest merchant navy in the world.

On February 8, 1944, C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and Supplies, said on CBC radio that “without our merchant seamen, our combat forces would have been immobilized and the brilliant campaign in North Africa would not have been possible. We would not have succeeded in landing on the coasts of Sicily and Italy”. Without our seamen, thousands of soldiers would not have been transported to the battlefields of Europe or the Pacific, as members of inter-allied operations clearly remembered. They were also responsible for delivering Malta.

Their precious cargoes made them immediate targets for the Axis powers. The German strategy was to follow the merchant marine to cut the supply lines to Canadian ships. German submarines and planes knew their itineraries and unmercilessly attacked the merchant ships. In addition, the German submarines hunted them up and down the Atlantic coast in an effort to find them, monitor them and catch them.

In fact, in 1942, they penetrated deep into the Gulf of St. Lawrence where they attacked a convoy and sunk six merchant ships, including two Canadian ships and two of their Canadian escorts.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill admitted, and I quote: “I was much more concerned over this battle than I had been over the glorious air battle known as the Battle of Britain”. He acknowledged that all would have been lost had the merchant marine failed. However, it succeeded and kept the British and their allies in the war.

Before the start of the second world war, the German navy had planned a campaign to attack allied merchant marine ships en route from North America. The destruction of the merchant marine ships, which were neither well armed nor well armoured, became the prime objective of the Nazi warships, planes and submarines.

Packs of 10 or 12 German submarines roamed the Atlantic to hit and sink the supply ships. German aircraft bombarded them as they approached the coast of Europe. German warships disguised as cargo ships used their hidden deck guns to attack the merchant marine fleet at sea. Alone or in convoy, these ships faced the risk of attack at any point.

As the orders of the German high command indicate, the merchant seamen were at the heart of the Battle of the Atlantic. As the merchant ships were constant targets for enemy ships, the allied warships were unable to detect or combat German submarines. Until 1942, the mere sight of a submarine periscope was enough to put convoys to flight. Slower replenishment vessels trailed behind and were torpedoed. Merchant ships were not equipped for serious fighting.

While they were required to carry anti-aircraft guns as well as gas and fire protection equipment, merchant ships were seldom able to defend themselves against torpedoes, bombs and shells launched by heavily armed enemy ships. This was what the merchant marine was up against during the war.

In other cases, the most valuable cargo was placed in the middle of the convoy, the surrounding ships acting as buffers. The ships on the outside were the easiest targets. When under attack and heavily damaged, they were left to their own devices. If the ship sank, seamen then faced the perils of freezing water, icy gusts of wind and 10-foot waves. They knew they were likely to die. The German submarine commanders had received the order to take no prisoners. Fortunately, some did anyway.

It was not until 47 years after the second world war that legislation was finally introduced in this respect.

In 1992, the government passed a bill to correct these anomalies, namely the Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-related Benefits Act. This act provided wartime merchant seamen with the same rights to all the benefits that were currently available to the armed forces, but not retroactively, and without recognizing the merchant navy as a paramilitary force.

Bill C-61 introduces some technical changes by which merchant navy veterans will be covered by the major pieces of legislation that apply to veterans, but once again without retroactivity.

At the present time, benefits to merchant mariners fall under the legislation applicable to civilians. This denigrates the efforts of these veterans, yet they plied the same waters as the navy, faced the same enemy aircraft as the airforce, had to dodge the same bullets as the army. Canada did not, however, consider them veterans. In all other allied countries, they would have been entitled to the same benefits and the same war service status as other veterans.

In short, this omnibus bill makes it possible to amend a number of acts at one time with a very specific objective in mind. Primarily, these changes will make it possible for the programs available to veterans to be extended to merchant navy veterans.

I repeat, the Bloc Quebecois is in agreement with these principles of equality, of recognition, of equity, and of support for all those who risked their lives, or lost their lives, in the cause of peace. Our greatest regret, moreover, is that this government was so long in acknowledging the role played by the merchant mariners in the two world wars and in Korea, and most especially the fact that it refuses to grant retroactivity for benefits merchant mariners did not receive, while army, air force and navy veterans did.

The major features of this bill are as follows: inclusion in the definition “member of the forces”; payment of a veterans allowance under the provisions of the War Veterans Allowance Act; a prisoner of war allowance; assessment increases for survivors of disability pensioners; deadline extension for termination of war veterans allowance payments; regulations assigning funeral and burial programs to a non-government body, such as the Last Post Fund; continuation of pension payments for those blinded during the 1917 Halifax explosion and provision for the board to review earlier decisions.

Recently, three former members of the merchant marine staged a hunger strike on the steps of the Parliament Buildings in order to obtain compensation for something that should have been sorted out right after the war ended.

As Bloc Quebecois critic, I recognize that merchant mariners have suffered for too long at the hands of government bureaucracy.

Former members of Canada's merchant marine have been fighting for a very long time for recognition of their courageous actions before, during and after World War II. Members of the merchant marine were the first to enter the war and the last to come back to peace. They transported our troops and supplies to Europe throughout the war, and brought them back afterwards.

It is true that merchant mariners working on board the Park Steamship Company's vessels formed a union in 1944 in order to improve their working conditions, obtain mattresses, drinking water, food, blankets and better wages, and that they were reluctantly recognized by the government, although they had promised not to strike.

Nonetheless, a special V-Day commemorative ceremony was organized in February 1944 in Montreal to honour merchant marine veterans and their contribution to the war effort. Newspapers ran headlines reading “Merchant marine veterans demand soldier status”. And throughout the war, they were constantly referred to as Canada's “fourth armed force” by many of the politicians of the day, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King, C.D. Howe, the Hon. J.T. Michaud, Minister of Transport, and many others. The idea was taken up by the media and the House of Commons, but dropped when the war ended.

After the war, merchant seamen were no longer needed. The fleet was privatized. It was estimated that less than 4,000 jobs would be available to the 12,000 seamen, who were very badly treated, even though they asked to be considered as veterans in order to get the related benefits.

When we ask the minister why he will not retroactively give merchant navy seamen what soldiers got, he says that merchant seamen are entitled to the same benefits as other veterans. What he does not say, however, is that they do not get equal treatment when it comes to retroactivity. In my opinion, without equal access to retroactivity, there can be no equal treatment in terms of the benefits involved. This is why Bill C-61 is not complete.

After World War II, merchant navy veterans were deprived of all the benefits that other veterans enjoyed. These seamen were paramilitaries. Yet, they were ignored by the government for several decades and this is why I plan to move an amendment to the bill, so that they can be entitled to tax-free retroactive compensation. This retroactivity would compensate merchant seamen for lost opportunities, while also ending the discrimination practiced by previous governments.

Where these people discriminated against because they formed a union so as to be treated like human beings, or because the fleet was privatized?

Let me give you some examples of discrimination. The governments denied that merchant seamen were the “fourth arm of the fighting services” or the “fourth arm of the armed forces” as they were called during the war.

They denied that merchant seamen were bound by their enlistment contracts. They could not leave at any time they wished; they were assigned to their post by order in council and by ship's articles. They were thrown in prison, if they were absent without permission.

The authorities denied that they had suffered the highest losses of all the services, even though this fact was admitted during the war. They were easy prey in the submarine war.

The authorities denied that they had criss-crossed dangerous waters for the six long years of the war. The war went on in their theatre longer than was the case for any other service.

The authorities denied that they had sailed under admiralty orders.

They denied that the merchant mariners were badly paid. They were not as well paid as their counterparts in the navy, although government files indicate otherwise.

The authorities denied that they were subject to disciplinary measures, although they reported to the judge advocate general of the navy, and were part of the structure of the military operations groups and could be incarcerated by the military police and the RCMP.

The authorities denied they paid income tax.

After the war, they could build houses for their military comrades if they worked in construction, but they could not get one of their own.

There were not given the employment preference reserved for the military in the public service. The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires was not open to the merchant marine until 1989.

They had no say in the drafting of Bill C-84 in 1992.

In 1946, briefs were submitted to the special veterans affairs committee of the House of Commons calling for their inclusion in the veterans rehabilitation programs. Most of the demands made at that time have never been dealt with.

They were denied representation at official Remembrance Day ceremonies, although they had been represented during the second world war.

And then there is the whole miserable history of the Hal Banks period. In 1963, after nearly a year of investigation, the industrial inquiry commission on the disruption of shipping, under British Columbia Justice Norris, brought down a report that strongly denounced Banks, his methods and his associates.

In it, Banks was compared to Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini because of his dictatorial tendencies. Justice Norris described the outcome of his acts as “industrial death”. Sailors were deprived of the opportunity to work at sea and labelled as communists and thus unemployable on land.

They were subjected to brutal treatment. One of the most favoured means of dissuasion was to put a sailor's legs up over the curb of a sidewalk and then to jump on them in order to break them. These acts of brutality were not reserved for sailors alone; even captains were attacked for something as minor as delaying a sailing.

Since the merchant mariners' average age is 77, and that of the prisoners 87, the following retroactive benefits are being demanded: a public apology by the federal government; reimbursement of income tax with compound interest; reimbursement of forced savings and unclaimed wages; compensation and benefits retroactive to the date of death or injury for medicare and the veterans independence program, benefits under this having been refused since its inception; a tax-exempt lump sum payment for merchant mariners with wartime service, with an additional amount for merchant mariners who were POWs for more than 36 months; exemption from income tax for the rest of their lives; and inclusion of unionized merchant mariners in the programs available to their comrades.

Government can afford to rectify the situation since there are millions of dollars in unspent funds available, according to Public Accounts of Canada, Volume II, part 1.

To conclude, given that neither Bill C-61 in 1961 nor Bill C-84 in 1992 rectified the situation, I hope this government will not make the same mistake today with Bill C-61.

While the minister was seen on a number of occasions, at memorial services in Europe, crying his heart out for those who died 50 years ago, he remains ice-cold today, apparently unmoved by the representations of their surviving brothers in arms, who are suffering physically and mentally.

I think this circus has been going on long enough. I ask that this government take action and rectify once and for all the situation of merchant seamen and retroactively grant them these benefits.

War Veterans Allowance ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

I will recognize the hon. member for Halifax West now. With your agreement, I would like to proceed to Statements by Members but I recognize you now so that you will have the floor when we come back and you will have one second less than you would ordinarily have.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, approved by parliament in 1988, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act aims at protecting the health of Canadians by preventing pollution through national standards and their enforcement.

The act follows the traditional pattern of federal-provincial relations in which the federal government takes the lead role. A province can implement the act but it must do so at an equal or higher standard.

The act is now being revised in committee. It has become clear that the federal government is best situated to set national standards and to enforce them. We live in times of greater internationalization of environmental policies. We therefore need a strong federal role in standards setting so as to better protect the public from toxic substances and their effects on human health.

Home InvasionsStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, sometimes judges make questionable rulings and sometimes they make inappropriate comments. Occasionally we hear from a judge with a finger on the pulse of the community. This week a B.C. judge imposed a 14-year sentence on a parasite for his part in a home invasion.

Home invasions have become epidemic in British Columbia. Primary targets are the elderly but entire families have also been terrorized. At least one murder has resulted. Charities are suffering because people are afraid to open their doors. Community crime prevention meetings are packed.

This judge has delivered a clear message by using what in his words is “the only remedy the law now provides a trial judge”. He also said “courts can do their part to preserve a citizen's right to live in security by imposing progressively severer sentences on those offenders who commit this type of crime”.

We can only hope that his colleagues at the appeal court level will show the same commitment to their communities.

Perth—MiddlesexStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


John Richardson Liberal Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my pride in the riding of Perth—Middlesex. My riding has one of the best unemployment rates in the country, standing at 3.6%. This rate has been constant for quite some time but hides an interesting fact.

Thousands of new jobs have been created in the area through private and public sector initiatives. The unemployment rate remains the same only because thousands of people have renewed hope and have returned to the work market.

Perth—Middlesex is a microcosm of all Canada. Government policies and the private sector initiative have given Canadians a renewed hope and a bright outlook for the future.

Volunteer OrganizationsStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, February is Big Sisters month in Canada. One of my joys as a member of parliament has been to support the work of this excellent organization that provides mentoring to young Canadians, one of our best resources and a key to our future.

Volunteer members of our communities help young people. The relationships that develop are a positive demonstration of the best sense of community: people looking out for other people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Big Sisters and Big Brothers have a proud history in Canada. The nature of their work has changed over the past few years but like the children they mentor the organization has proven itself adaptable.

I am pleased that the federal government is providing funding for two innovative projects being launched under Health Canada's population health fund. An amount of $164,000 will be used to develop tests and programs to enhance and strengthen the self-esteem and self-image of adolescents.

Under the leadership of Michael McKnight, Big Brothers and Sisters of Canada continue to play a critical role in the lives of young Canadians. I am pleased the government financially supports programs to improve the lives of young Canadians.

NunavutStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, Monday, February 15, is election day in Nunavut. There are 71 candidates competing for 19 positions as members of the first legislative assembly of Nunavut.

The government of Nunavut will be responsive to the unique needs of the residents of Nunavut. The Nunavut election is not party based. In fact the new government will be a consensus one.

I am sure the voter turnout will be very high, an indication of how excited Nunavut residents are about this historic vote. I wish good luck to all candidates on Monday and I will be listening as the results come in.

Maple Leaf GardensStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, February 13, will be the end of an era. Canada's hockey shrine on Carleton Street, the Maple Leaf Gardens, will host its last hockey game for all to see on Hockey Night in Canada .

Nothing is as intrinsically Canadian as hockey. Nothing captures the souls of Canadians like hockey, and Maple Leaf Gardens has been the stage for many defining moments in our history.

There was nothing quite like the feeling of attending a game at the Gardens. It is like stepping back in time: the ghosts of battles won and lost, the memorabilia of the glory days of the original six, and the haunting voices of Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan. That was hockey. Con Smythe, Foster Hewitt, Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler, Lanny MacDonald, Punch Imlach, Wendel Clark and oh, yes, Harold Ballard, are just a few of the names that will live on in the legacy of the Gardens and the Canadian dream.

For generations of Canadians the home of hockey will always be the house that Smythe built.

Citizenship WeekStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Mark Assad Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is Citizenship Week, and we are preparing for Flag Day and Heritage Day. These events represent an opportunity to recognize the values that we, as Canadians, share and the enduring traditions that have formed the fabric of our nation.

Canadians know that our nation's diversity is our nation's strength. Just the very word heritage must in this diverse Chamber instantly evoke different personal thoughts and memories. Our heritage is a binding force that unites all Canadians.

I encourage all parliamentarians to pay tribute to the individuals and organizations that have been participating in the program of special events in their communities

Let us take this opportunity to further strengthen the vibrant, positive community bonds that exist throughout the country.

HousingStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Carolyn Parrish Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank a very generous Toronto resident who made a $525,000 donation today to the United Way.

This anonymous donor's only request was that the money be directed to projects serving the homeless. Some of the money will support a project known as 30 St. Lawrence. This new construction project of 10 townhouses will house 40 people from the emergency shelter network. The city of Toronto has contributed the project site and $400,000 in cash equity.

Another project that will benefit from the donation is Dixon Hall, an established community agency. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has stepped in to provide a zero interest project development fund loan for this group to build housing as well as mortgage insurance for a loan of over $1 million. Human Resources Development Canada has also pledged $150,000 in equity toward the project.

As a result of this partnership between the Canadian government, the non-profit sector and one very generous individual, this project will operate on a break even basis from the rents collected as the shelter component of welfare.

Nicolas FontaineStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the last competition of the season for the free-style skiing world cup was held last Wednesday, in Altenmarkt, Austria. For the third consecutive year, Nicolas Fontaine, a 28-year-old man from the Sherbrooke area, won the prestigious title of world cup champion.

This third consecutive title is all the more prestigious since it is the first time a male athlete has ever accomplished such a feat in that discipline. Once again, an athlete from the Eastern Townships has achieved world fame, bringing honour to all the people of our region. Nicolas' fighting spirit and determination have helped him reach a level of performance that is unprecedented in Canada.

On behalf of all the people of the riding of Sherbrooke, I want to congratulate Nicolas Fontaine and wish him every success in future competitions, especially in the upcoming free-style skiing world championships to be held next month.

Again, congratulations, Nicolas.

Western CanadaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, while the Prime Minister was swooshing down the slopes at Whistler his minions in Ottawa were putting the finishing touches on a frontier fact finding mission. A 10 member Liberal task force will be dispatched to what they consider Canada's nether regions. The mission is to find out why western Canadians continuously reject Liberal overtures.

My constituents can hardly wait to speak to members of this delegation. They are primed to tell them that it was the Liberals who started the country down the slippery slope to debt and deficit. They want to tell them that they cannot be bought with their own money. They want to show them how high taxes are hurting small business. They will also show them photos of their sons and daughters who were educated in this country and driven south by the insatiable Liberal appetite for taxes. They will also tell them that they are tired of having their grain held up by 20 or 30 strikers.

If members of this group want the facts they will hear them, but will they accept them? Aye, there's the rub.

Flag DayStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, next Monday is flag day.

On February 15, 1965, Canadians watched with pride as our new maple leaf flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill. Thirty-four years later we are still proud as the flag has become an important symbol for all Canadians.

Throughout our history, the maple leaf has always been a solemn symbol of the values that unite Canadians. The flag pays tribute to all Canadian men and women, irrespective of race, language, beliefs or opinions, who have built this magnificent country of ours.

As a first generation Canadian, the flag has always represented to me the opportunity that is available to all Canadians including the privilege of being elected to the House where the flag was first conceived.

Hiv-AidsStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, communities across the country are working hard to stop the spread of AIDS, yet the federal government has not increased the level of funding for the AIDS strategy in eight years.

The AIDS strategy funding does not take into account the increased need for services or the money needed to support new programs, prevention, support services and new clients. The result is that many existing programs are actually receiving less money than they have in the past.

In Windsor, Ontario, the Aids Committee of Windsor had its funding cut by $100,000 this year even though Windsor has the fourth highest HIV rate in the province. That means people living with aids and their families may not receive the important information and support they need. Despite the rising HIV rate in Ontario only 20 out of 36 agencies that needed funding actually received it.

We cannot afford to let these urgent needs go unmet. I call on the government to address this serious problem and join communities across Canada in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Parks CanadaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that yesterday an important step was taken to protect and promote the grave sites of our former prime ministers.

Through Parks Canada these 14 locations will have Canadian flags and information panels installed. As well maintenance and preservation work where necessary will be carried out. Additionally a website will be developed to inform Canadians about where the sites are and to provide information about the lives of these important individuals.

The maintenance of these sites for today and the future is an acknowledgement of their significance in contributing to the life and development of our national heritage. Ceremonies at these 14 sites will be held during upcoming months to acknowledge their contributions to our country.

TaxationStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Charlie Power Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, since 1993 Canadians have been paying more in taxes and getting less back in services. The employment insurance program is a good example.

Despite the claims that the Liberals have been cutting taxes, payroll taxes have gone up steadily since 1993. The surplus in the EI program is still running about $6 billion per year with a total surplus of about $19 billion. That means that the government has taken $19 billion more from the workers and the employers than it gave back in benefits.

This situation is absolutely intolerable. In Newfoundland and Labrador the EI changes have directly contributed to our massive out-migration. Over 30,000 individuals in the last three years have left Newfoundland. Throughout St. John's West from Bay Bulls to Placentia our rural communities are being devastated.

This year in Newfoundland with an unemployment rate of 18% many individuals cannot receive EI benefits, even though Newfoundlanders this year paid $32 million in premiums more than they received in benefits. It is time to use the EI fund for the benefit of those who need it most, the unemployed.

Black History MonthStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Sheila Finestone Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, this month we as Canadian citizens have many important dates which allow us to express appreciation while recognizing our good fortune to live in peace and harmony in our multicultural, multiracial, bilingual nation.

Important days are flag day, heritage day and citizenship week, while also celebrating Black History Month. The cultural, racial and linguistic mix of Canada, its Constitution and charter of rights are unique in the world and express rights and freedoms and include values of caring, sharing and respect for differences that have brought us world renown.

Community and government support for the safe, sound and creative communities surrounding us is demonstrated by support for the Matthew Da Costa Foundation in Montreal. Supported by three levels of government, it is one of the models that was designed and created by the black community.

Within the context of Black History Month I salute the organization as well as many other black activist groups that promote fairness and equality for black Canadians in their day to day lives.

AgricultureStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, this past Wednesday night farmers in the Bengough area of Saskatchewan jammed a community hall to discuss the growing farm income crisis. This meeting attracted much media attention, a portion of which was aired last night on CBC As It Happens .

These proud prairie people are bending under an ever increasing load of provincial and federal taxes, particularly the hidden taxes on fuel, fertilizer and farm machinery, not to mention escalating property taxes. Family relations as well as community relations are approaching the end of their tolerance and patience. Many of the people in our communities have already given up and moved out.

Farmers told visiting politicians that they cannot survive under present conditions. They also expressed their feelings stating that the federal government and—

AgricultureStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Halifax West.

Black History MonthStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, as the first ever black member of parliament elected from Nova Scotia I am especially proud to celebrate Black History Month.

The history of Nova Scotia and all of Canada reflects the tremendous contributions by black Canadians from all walks of life and often against incredible odds.

Black History Month, also known as African Heritage Month, has been celebrated in North America since 1926. These celebrations mark the contributions made by black Canadians through exhibits, informative lectures, cultural events, political activities, recognition ceremonies for distinguished black Canadians and many other events.

I encourage as many people as possible to participate in black history and African heritage events whenever they occur throughout the country. There are over 160 events planned in the greater Halifax metropolitan area alone. I am especially proud the opening night for this year's celebrations in Halifax were held at Hammonds Plains Consolidated School in my riding.

I encourage all Canadians not only to honour this event but use it as an opportunity to—

Black History MonthStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for St. John's East.

Gulf Ferry ServiceStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the gulf ferry service connecting the island of Newfoundland with the mainland of Canada was guaranteed in our 1949 terms of union with Canada. However this is not to say that we are provided with the type of service we feel we deserve.

There have been many complaints over the years about service quality, vessel cleanliness, the rate structure and the constant threat of labour unrest at the start of our tourist season. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, regional development agencies and the local business community have all been addressing these concerns on an ongoing basis.

I call upon the Government of Canada to set up a federal-provincial committee to examine the gulf ferry service with a view to initiating improvements in that service. The gulf ferry service is not between Newfoundland and Canada, it is in Canada and, as such, should be a service that all Canadians can be proud of.