House of Commons Hansard #194 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cmhc.


Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House proceeded to the consideration of 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, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

March 11th, 1999 / 10:20 a.m.

Vancouver South—Burnaby


Herb Dhaliwal for the Minister of Veterans Affairs

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Vancouver South—Burnaby


Herb Dhaliwal for the Minister of Veterans Affairs

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.



Bob Wood Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to third reading of Bill C-61 today. This omnibus legislation is designed to provide enhanced benefits for Canada's veterans and their survivors. It is a tangible expression of our gratitude to these men and women for their service and for their contribution to their country.

It is not often that members of the House agree on the need for swift passage of legislation. Let me at this point express my heartfelt gratitude to all members of the standing committee who saw the need and acted on the need by letting the bill pass through their deliberations with speed and dispatch. The fact they have done so is an indication of the high regard we all hold for our veterans.

The men and women who have served in our armed forces and in our merchant marines throughout the first half of this century have a number of things in common. They were young. They had high hopes for settling down, for starting families and for a bright future, and they loved their country. When war came they would surrender their youth and put their hopes, their families and their futures on hold for the love of their country. When called upon these young men and women, these ordinary men and women, they would come to do quite extraordinary things and in the process become quite extraordinary themselves.

When it was all over those who did not die on the field of battle came home to build a nation, and what a nation they built. We the generation that followed have known only peace and prosperity for the most of the second half of this century. As we are about to enter the new millennium we are the benefactors of the sacrifices of those brave men and women who served in two world wars and in Korea.

That is why the country made a pact with them which said “We will remember your sacrifices”, a pact which said “We will take care of you as you took care of us”. That is why over the years we have developed such a comprehensive set of programs that provide disability benefits for those whose injuries and illnesses from service continue to plague them; monetary allowances for those whose life circumstances have left them at the low end of the income scale; comprehensive medical and dental benefits as supplements to provincial plans; and a veterans independence program that allows veterans to stay in their own homes as long as possible and, when that is no longer possible, provides access to long term beds so that their care needs continue to be provided.

During second reading of the bill I spoke about the progress which has been made in building and improving upon a package of programs and services for veterans which ensures they are able to live as comfortably as possible and with the dignity they so rightly deserve. Our challenge now is to make sure that these programs and benefits continue to meet their needs which are changing with the passage of time. The bill will do just that.

Like most omnibus legislation, Bill C-61 is not about making great changes to policy. It will generate no great newspaper headlines. Rather, it concerns itself with the details that will affect, for the better, the day to day lives of many of our veterans. In short, the legislation is another step forward in providing top notch quality care to these men and women and their dependants.

What does Bill C-61 do for veterans? Very briefly, it brings the merchant navy under the same legislation as armed forces veterans and it puts an end to any uncertainty regarding their status as veterans. It also opens up the disability pension process so that more widows of veterans might be eligible for an increase in their pension payments. More than 35,000 widows fall in this category.

We are recognizing the special needs of former prisoners of war and affording them the opportunity to receive an attendance allowance to help with their day to day personal care.

Bill C-61 seeks to defer the deadline for termination of war veterans' allowance payments to allied veterans residing outside Canada. In so doing we will remove the possibility of any undue hardship which might be caused by requiring these individuals to return to Canada in order to continue to receive their payments.

We are also looking for changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs Act to allow for more orderly procedures regarding grave markers and financial assistance for funerals and burials.

There are proposed changes as well to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act to help smooth the process for the board's hearings and to make the scheduling of these hearings convenient for the board and, more importantly, for the appellant. Finally, through the bill we are providing continuing pension payments for those survivors of the terrible explosion in the Halifax harbour in 1917.

What is also noteworthy about these amendments is that they respond to priorities identified by the main veteran organizations. Bill C-61 demonstrates that we are listening and that we are prepared to act. Most importantly, it will provide direct improvements for the lives of these most cherished of our citizens.

I hope we can send another signal to veterans groups by demonstrating that we are prepared to act soon. I urge all members of the House to lend their support to this bill. We owe it to Canada's veterans by showing them that we care and that we have not forgotten them.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.


Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, today I wish to speak of Canada's unknown navy, the navy shamefully not found in many of our schools' history textbooks, the navy Canada's young know not of.

Canada's merchant navy of World War II developed into a force of 12,000 men and women who collectively sailed 25,000 merchant ship voyages. Canada's unsung soldiers moved vital war supplies through enemy lines not by mule, not by truck, but by ship at a horrendous cost.

Young men and women signed up for this service, just as they did for others. Restrictions on enlistment were lesser for the merchant navy, allowing the under-age and under-weight to still serve their country with dignity and pride. Dedication to service came at a high cost to these brave Canadians and Newfoundlanders. The first service causality of the war was with the merchant navy. On September 3, 1939, Hannah Baird of Quebec was killed aboard the unarmed vessel SS Athenia when a German submarine sank it.

To emphasize, as has never been done before in this Chamber, the real price of peace, the real sacrifice to merchant mariners, I would like to make mention of the lost ships. Canada's merchant navy was very small in the early days of the war. At that time it only consisted of 38 ocean-going vessels. By war's end, five years later, that fleet grew to 410 ships. Merchant crews were often unarmed and were forced to sail under rough sea conditions to supply the war effort. The crews did receive some training, but often that was done on the calm and safe inland waters such as the marine engineering instructional school located in Prescott on Lake Ontario.

By later 1940 the merchant fleet had grown from 38 vessels, but losses had already claimed eight vessels. In 1940 seven ships were lost: the Erik Boyle was torpedoed; the Magog was torpedoed and shelled; the Waterloo was bombed by German aircraft; the Thorold was bombed by German aircraft; the Kenordoc was attacked by submarine gunfire; the St. Malo was torpedoed; and the Trevisa was torpedoed.

We must remember that each ship also took the lives of many brave young Canadians to the ocean floor. Death was not often quick and painless. Badly burned, a person would swim until shocked to their death in the cold, oil-topped North Atlantic. Other ships in the convoy would do their best to help, but also had to consider their own safety.

Many veterans say, the worse the weather the better they slept. A calm, clear night with a full moon was cause for insomnia. A calm evening might end with the engine's monotony shattered by an attack that suddenly turned their world from peace into hell.

This was all too familiar in 1941 as 13 more ships were lost: the Maplecourt was torpedoed; the Canadian Cruiser was sunk by a raider; the A.D. Huff was sunk by a raider; the J.B. White was torpedoed; the Canadolite was captured by a raider; the Portadoc was torpedoed; the Europa was bombed by German aircraft; the Collingdoc was mined; the Lady Somers was torpedoed; the Vancouver Island was torpedoed; with the Proteus the loss was unknown; the Nereus was another unknown loss; and the Shinai was seized by the Japanese.

Canadians were not the only ones busy building for all-out war. In 1942 the German U-boat fleet grew from 91 to 212. This made the situation for the merchant ships deteriorate further. The addition of Canadian built, highly manoeuvrable Corvettes to Canadian convoys helped, but losses were still tragically high.

In 1942 alone 31 ships were lost: the Lady Hawkins was torpedoed; the Montrolite was torpedoed; the Empress of Asia was bombed by Japanese aircraft; the Vicolite was torpedoed and shelled; the George L. Torian was torpedoed; the Lennox was torpedoed; the Sarniadoc was torpedoed; the Robert W. Pomeroy was mined; the Vineland was torpedoed and shelled; the James E. Newsom was shelled; the Lady Drake was torpedoed; the Mildred Pauline was shelled; the Mont Louis was torpedoed; the Calgarolite was torpedoed; the Torondoc was torpedoed; the Troisdoc was torpedoed; the Frank B. Baird was shelled; the Liverpool Packet was torpedoed; the Mona Marie was shelled; the Lucille M. was shelled; the Prescodoc was torpedoed; the Princess Marguerite was torpedoed; the Donald Stewart was torpedoed; the Lord Strathcona was torpedoed; the John A. Holloway was torpedoed; the Oakton was torpedoed; the Norfolk was torpedoed; the Carolus was torpedoed; the Bic Island was torpedoed; the Rose Castle was torpedoed; and the Charles J. Kampmann was also torpedoed.

These were tremendous losses taken by the merchant navy with their ships sunk out from under them.

1942 was the year the ongoing battle of the Atlantic continued in earnest. German U-boats were infesting Canada's waters. Several ships were lost in the St. Lawrence River. Concern was at an all time high when even harbour anchorages did not put men's minds to rest. The wrath of the German U-boats was felt from the warm Caribbean seas all the way up to the chilly waters of Atlantic Canada.

As the war went on the Canadian contribution became so much more important. Supplies in continental Europe were quickly being depleted and supply lines into Britain were under constant attack. At one point it is said that a crisis developed when there existed less than 30 days of stocks and Canada was responsible for bringing the situation back to a manageable level.

Canada supplied to the war material as no other nation, save the United States, with 17,000 aircraft, 900,000 land vehicles and a million men and women in uniform. This truly was a war of material supply. Canada contributed raw materials like wood and foodstuffs, but also multitudes of manufactured materials like airplanes, vehicles, tanks, weapons and clothes. All of this material was transported by our merchant navy.

There was no such thing as a typical merchant navy ship. Ships of every description were utilized as the need for supplies across the ocean multiplied. Many of the vessels used had previous lives in industry before the war erupted. Some ships had sailed all the oceans, while others had never left Canadian waters before. Some were lakers recruited for war on the high seas. The same could be said for their crews.

Many seamen had high seas experience, but others had never left Atlantic Canada or even the Great Lakes. There were men who had sailed the west coast and had never dealt with the threat of icebergs before. Despite all of these obstacles, each one of these men was proudly Canadian and knew their lives were not safe on the seas, but they felt a duty to serve king and country.

Just as there was no typical ship, there was no typical seaman. Many of the people in the merchant navy had been working on their respective ships prior to 1939, so they were not the young teenage men we often picture. Many had families, children and grandchildren.

Just as the merchant navy was home to older, seasoned sailors, it was also home to our youngest seamen. With the adrenalin of the war effort, men and boys of all ages wanted to serve Canada overseas. With manpower in desperate need, many questions were not asked.

Just as the young could skirt the rules to enter the merchant navy, so could those with health problems and disabilities. Many barely missed the cutoff for the armed forces, but driven by patriotic pride they joined the war via the merchant navy.

We must remember that not all members of the merchant navy were men. There were also many women who participated. Of the 1,500 who died, eight of them were women.

Many young lives were lost in 1943 when three ships were lost, bringing the total to 54 vessels: The Angelus was shelled; the Jasper Park was torpedoed; and the Fort Athabasca was blown up.

As the war progressed many of the sailors had sustained injuries and many had lost a friend or two, if not their entire crew. Many wanted to return home to comfort grieving parents and some had not seen their wives for several years.

The tension of the battle of the Atlantic was several years old, but by 1943 the tide was turning to victory. However, losses in 1944 were still triple that of the previous year. Mines were taking a greater toll and the threat of enemy aircraft seemed worse, even as the RCAF and RAF began to gain air superiority.

In 1944 nine more ships came to rest at the ocean bottom: the Fort Bellingham was torpedoed; the Fort St. Nicholas was torpedoed; the Watuka was torpedoed; the Fort Missanabie was torpedoed; the Albert C. Field was torpedoed; the Fort Norfolk was mined; the Nipiwan Park was torpedoed; the Cornwallis was torpedoed; and the Fort Maisonneuve was mined.

The final year of the war was 1945, but the merchant navy continued its work long after the war's end, delivering humanitarian aid to the citizens of Germany. They still ferried supplies required for the rebuilding and restocking of Europe.

Merchant navy seamen were encouraged to continue on the ships by our government of the day. While a few were able to remain aboard the ships, most gradually lost their jobs when the ships were sold to other countries.

Merchant navy veterans were not entitled to the benefits of other veterans. They did not have the same access to education. They were disadvantaged as a result.

In early 1945 the merchant navy lost another six ships: the Point Pleasant Park was torpedoed; the Soreldoc was torpedoed; the Taber Park was mined; the Silver Star Park was lost in a collision; the Green Hill Park was blown up; and the Avondale Park was torpedoed.

We must also remember that the ships Watkins F. Nisbett and R.J. Cullen were also lost for unknown reasons on unknown dates. To this day their families are still wondering what happened and when.

The total of the merchant ships lost was 72. If a ship was lost, on average, only 50% of the crew survived.

I will reread some relevant comments I made in the House this past year in Statements by Members:

Canada's merchant navy of World War II is proud of its contribution to a free world and should remain the recipient of the enduring respect of all Canadians.

Canada's veterans of this global conflict are deserving of our undying gratitude for their service to our country.

Canadians must recognize fully that our existence and privileges enjoyed today are due not only to the efforts of our veterans, but also to the efforts of their missing comrades throughout the world.

Few finer examples of Canadian wartime success and magnificent effort can be found than in the annals of the battle of the Atlantic where merchant seamen sailed the enemy infested sea in keeping Allies supplied in World War II.

Many dedicated individuals have worked to have the merchant navy's concerns addressed. Their work will be remembered as part of the lengthy battle for equality.

I take a moment to pay a personal tribute to a man who has the utmost respect of all veterans and members on both sides of the House. Mr. Gordon Olmstead was forced to step back from the frontlines of this battle due to his health but he remains a respected voice among his peers. He was a prisoner of war and was instrumental in having this legislation drafted. No better tribute could be made than to call this bill the Gordon Olmstead act. I am pleased we can have this legislation passed without unreasonable delay.

Last year I was able to get the agreement of all merchant navy groups on these four points of outstanding concern: 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. This legislation will address three of these four points and for this I am very thankful.

The fourth point will be addressed in committee due to a motion which I successfully had all parties support in committee. For the first time we will examine the issue of merchant navy compensation claims. The committee is committed to deliver a report with corrective recommendations to the House before the summer recess. Finally we will be able to bring closure to this unfortunate chapter in Canadian history. For the first time a formal committee will study the compensation aspect of the years of denial of equality.

I look forward to bringing closure to this long outstanding issue this year. Recompense is the final concern which begs for settlement.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.


Maurice Godin Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-61. This bill amends the War Veterans Allowance Act and certain other acts in consequence thereof.

It is with respect and honour that I will pursue at third reading the same objective I pursued at second reading, which is to improve the services provided to veterans and their dependents, to ensure the recognition of a unique status for all those who participated in these wars, and to pursue the retroactivity claim for merchant navy veterans.

Even though the bill is very incomplete, the Bloc Quebecois supports it because it provides benefits to veterans and because, for the first time, those who served in the merchant navy are given the same status as other veterans. This legislation is governed by the same acts that recognize the critical role of merchant navy seamen in the victory of the nations that fought for freedom. This legislation also puts some order in the various acts that apply to veterans and it ensures a degree of fairness.

The bill meets the concerns of a number of associations. During the debate at second reading, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs announced that the House would respond positively to a key priority of the National Council of Veterans Associations, by allowing former prisoners of war to receive the special allowances. He indicated that, in passing these changes, the House would also respond positively to the number one veteran's priority of the Royal Canadian Legion, which is to increase pensions for survivors.

The merchant marine veterans presented two demands: recognition under the same laws and the benefits they did not receive for the past 50 years retroactively.

Why is the government denying today what it wanted yesterday? The Minister of Veterans Affairs said the following before a committee on April 29, 1998, and I quote:

I have personal knowledge of this. It was the fall of 1991. Three members of the opposition, including myself, took it upon ourselves to address what I personally had felt had been an injustice for many, many years, and the other members agreed with me.

In opposition, this member tried to repair the injustices. Now, in power, as the minister, he remembers nothing.

Why did this member, now Minister of Veterans Affairs, not include provision for retroactivity in his bill? Is he really serious as he cries over the fate of these veterans?

On the whole, this bill is intended to correct the anomalies of the past and to include financial compensation, which would repair the deeds of negligence of a previous government. That government passed a bill giving numerous benefits to armed forces veterans returning to Canada after World War II, but did not extend these benefits to merchant navy seamen, who volunteered to serve their country.

In 1992, legislation was tabled to give merchant navy seamen the same benefits to which army veterans are entitled, but not the same status.

It took 45 years for the role played by merchant navy seamen to be recognized and the same benefits, but not the same status, to be extended to them. Now they are being given the same status as members of the armed forces, but not the retroactive benefits of which they have been deprived all these years. Their demands are slowly being met. However, the average age of these veterans is 75.

Thus the bill is incomplete, since it does not accept retroactivity of the rights now recognized for merchant seamen back to the time they joined the battle. They have been deprived of 50 years of benefits. They have suffered all their lives because of this refusal.

Unlike other veterans, they never had the advantage of financial assistance for trade training or university. They never had priority for public service hiring, they never had access to land, housing or business funding.

At one of the committee hearings, a witness told us that most merchant seamen would discuss their post-war experiences amongst themselves, but hesitated to do so publicly, because they felt ashamed, although they were wrong to feel this way. They felt it was their fault that they could not support their families the way their fellow Canadians who had been in uniform could, with the help of government subsidies.

Yet they too were in the line of fire. In 1941, the monster Adolph Hitler issued the following order: “Attack the merchant marine, particularly on the return route, with all possible means. Sinking merchant marine vessels is more important than attacking enemy warships”.

The merchant seamen were exposed to dreadful working conditions and heavy loss of life. They sustained more losses than any other Canadian combat forces. During World War II, 13% of merchant seamen lost their lives, or one in seven. Personally, I would have preferred to be on board an armed ship and attack the enemy rather than on a defenceless cargo ship to be used as a human shield.

These brave Canadians, who plied the corridors of hell, played a vital role in our war effort, one as vital as that played by the regular forces, and one that is recognized throughout the world.

It would appear from the strong support the public gave the former merchant marines who organized a hunger strike on Parliament Hill, that they do not support the longstanding government negligence in this matter.

The government has fallen short of its responsibilities and of the justice required by the sacrifices these men have made, because from the outset, it could have included retroactivity in this bill.

It is hypocritical, even. It gives the impression of wanting to gain time and let history hide the facts, and when the hour has sounded for the last of these brave defenders of freedom, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, as has happened in Europe at certain commemorations, will weep warm tears over the fate of these defenders of democracy. However, he is untouched by their great suffering, especially their mental suffering.

At second reading of this bill, all the opposition parties called for either retroactivity or a lump sum payment to replace the benefits they did not receive after serving their country. Only the Liberal government remains intractable.

Great Britain gave full veteran status to the merchant marine seamen in 1940. In the United States, merchant navy veterans gained the same status as regular forces veterans in 1988, while Australia recognized full equality in 1995. Here in Canada, they had to wait until 1992 to get the same benefits, but not retroactively.

In 1993, the government decided to improve its image by inviting a few merchant navy veterans to participate in a pilgrimage to Liverpool, to commemorate the battle of the Atlantic. In 1994, the government made another symbolic gesture with the placement of a merchant navy book of remembrance in the memorial chamber. It lists the names of Canadian merchant mariners who lost their lives.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs said, at second reading of this bill, and I quote:

I want to assure members that merchant navy veterans are veterans in every sense of the word and this bill underscores that fact. 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.

If this intention and this assurance are real, why did the government not recognize the mistake made in this bill, apologize and make the whole thing retroactive?

Members will agree with me that Canadian merchant navy veterans can no longer wait: they have already been waiting for over 50 years. In addition to social benefits and disability pensions, they need a compensation package. Does the government have the necessary money?

An examination of the amounts not spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs over a 15-year period shows that it is not for lack of money that merchant navy seamen are not being compensated.

The Public Accounts of Canada lists the amounts not spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the years 1982 to 1997. They are as follows: in 1982-83, $22,903,618; in 1983-84, $56,128,372; in 1984-85, $70,082,937; in 1986-87, $33,631,696; in 1987-88, $56,647,600; in 1988-89, $56,050,578; in 1989-90, $40,103,973; in 1990-91, $35,262,562; in 1991-92, $20,073,856; in 1992-93; $50,489,052; in 1993-94, $154,747,329; in 1994-95, $113,023,778; in 1995-96, $83,742,347; and in 1996-97, $49,530,866.

A total of $887,960,424 was not spent. Merchant navy seamen are asking for approximately $40 million.

This bill could have restored this unspent money. For reasons unknown, the government put these funds into general revenue, as it does with the EI surpluses, cuts in provincial transfer payments, and unpaid commitments to Quebec.

In this regard, the following amounts are owed to Quebec: $435 million for Hydro-Québec towers after the ice storm; $58.7 million for the Palais des congrès de Montréal; $33.6 million for the Oka crisis; $70 million for day care centres; $86.7 million for young offenders; $351.4 million for social assistance. And I could go on and on. The total unpaid bill for Quebec is $3,807,400. The refusal of this government to pay retroactivity to the merchant seamen is just one of many similar acts.

Instead of solving problems, the government is concerned only with looking good, with enhancing its visibility. Such is the case, for example, with the millennium scholarships, although education is a provincial responsibility. Today the federal government is going to invest billions of dollars on window-dressing to create havoc and create duplication just to improve its image.

Nevertheless, in 1993, merchant marine veterans agreed to join with armed forces veterans in a visit to Liverpool to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic.

Last year, they were again part of the delegation to commemorate that battle, and were also along on the pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary of various World War II battles and campaigns

I was also there. The Army veterans' recognition and respect for the merchant seamen was obvious. The merchant seamen showed no bitterness. Why are they still being refused what they are entitled to, 50 years later?

The government is very good about these pilgrimages. They make it look good. But all this show does not, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, do much for the merchant marine veterans. As we saw last summer, right here in front of the Parliament Buildings, it just leads to hunger strikes and to despair.

Is it not this minister's mandate to provide veterans, civilians and their families with the benefits and services to which they are entitled, in order to ensure their well-being and self-sufficiency within the community and to ensure that all Canadians remember their accomplishments and their sacrifices?

Was it ensuring their well-being and self-sufficiency, was it fulfilling the governments' mandate in this respect to refuse the same benefits and services to which merchant seamen were entitled retroactively, right up until 1992? And what about that other responsibility, of ensuring that all Canadians remember that war? The people of Europe and Asia, who lived through it, already do remember.

What happens in these former theatres of war in Europe or in Asia when a whole contingent of youth and invited guests turns up? Most of the time, a handful of local people attend. I think these veterans should be allowed to return once in their life to a theatre of war accompanied by a relative. But at the moment, it is pretty much always the same people who go on these trips: the deputy minister and his team.

Why not establish a real national day of remembrance in Canada? It is Canadians we should be informing and involving. We should open Parliament the entire day to school children and veterans with their relatives, their MP and their minister and take the evening to remember those who were lost. In my opinion, providing documentaries to the media is a means of keeping alive the memory of their dedication. Having a real day of respect, of thanks and of commemoration. This first day could be devoted to the members of the merchant marine to compensate for the error of the past.

In committee, I introduced an amendment that was ruled out of order. However, included in the bill, it would have resolved the problem once and for all. It read as follows:

All payments of allowance or other benefits under the Pension Act or the War Veterans Allowance Act in respect of a merchant navy veteran of World War I or World War II or a Canadian merchant navy veteran of the Korean War are payable for a period beginning on the day on which that veteran would have otherwise first become entitled to the payment if the provisions of this Act had been in force on the date of commencement of World War I, World War II or the Korean War, as the case may be.

I once again call on the government so that the members of the merchant marine may obtain justice and the reparation of past errors through retroactive redress or a lump sum payment.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.


Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of my New Democratic colleagues in support of Bill C-61.

As veterans affairs spokesperson for the federal NDP, I am pleased that part of the stain on the record of how Canada treats its veterans has been removed. This bill should become law so that in word and from now on in deed merchant mariners will be treated as full equals to other Canadian veterans instead of being relegated to the margins of Canada's official military history.

These brave Canadians played a central role in Canada's war efforts. Many lost their lives and their health for our country. Families suffered. Communities suffered. As a result our country was poorer for the loss of so many merchant mariners, yet so much richer for the role they played in bringing victory to all of us.

While many of those whom we remember and honour today are those who served in the regular military, we must not forget the many others who served their country in a unique yet very important way, either as special construction battalions or merchant marines.

I am pleased to once again take the opportunity to commend the merchant marine veterans, their organizations, families, activists and supporters for bringing this bill into being. Without their tireless and for the most part thankless work, we would not be discussing this bill today.

What happened to the Canadian merchant mariners upon their return to Canada? In Britain they returned as full and equal veterans with equal access to post-war programs, services and benefits. In Canada they returned to virtually no support. They were denied upgrading courses at technical, vocational and high schools offered to regular forces veterans. They were denied health support and employment opportunities available to army, navy and air force personnel.

I am proud to support Bill C-61 which declares as law the equal status of merchant navy veterans with regular forces veterans.

I am not proud of this Liberal government's abject failure in providing just compensation for these Canadians. I mentioned at the outset of my comments that part of the stain on Canada's record of honouring and dealing with merchant mariners is to be scrubbed clean with this bill. The issue of compensation, one of paramount importance, remains a dark blotch on our record.

This government saw fit to provide an ex gratia payment of $23,940 each to Hong Kong veterans who were Japanese prisoners of war. This payment was promised last December. It strikes me as at least an effort to achieve a just settlement.

As mentioned earlier in my comments, it is a disgrace that this government has betrayed Canada's merchant mariners by refusing to compensate them for the discrimination that the merchant mariners faced upon their return home from serving Canada's war efforts. It has been estimated that merchant mariners are dying at the rate of about 12 per month.

On November 24, 1998 in response to a question I put to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the minister said concerning compensation negotiations for merchant mariners “I am there to listen”. I already mentioned earlier that debating Bill C-61 before this House signals a time to act. Justice delayed is justice denied, particularly when the death rate among these veterans who served Canada so nobly is so high.

The Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs is slated to explore this compensation issue after the passage of Bill C-61. Assuming that the committee comes forth with a recommendation, I worry a bit that the government will then take its time to respond and make an announcement. How many more honourable Canadian merchant mariners must die before the Liberal government does the right thing and provides just compensation?

Even today as I am speaking I am reminded of Mr. Gordon Olmstead who has fought long and hard on this issue and is currently in the hospital dying of cancer. It is just a matter of time probably, unless the good Lord sees otherwise. From where the New Democratic members sit, one more death before proper compensation is provided is one too many.

Further to this point, it is high time that the government supported improvements in the health care package available to all veterans, particularly those at a venerable and often vulnerable age.

I sincerely hope that the spirit of justice in Bill C-61 has an effect on the government's treatment of other Canadian veterans. What about Canada's aboriginal veterans? First nations men and women served their country well alongside non-native forces personnel despite the fact that when World War II ended, they were not allowed to vote or even own their own land.

Many first nations veterans were never told they were entitled to educational opportunities or that they were able to purchase land at a cheap price. Some even returned to Canada to learn that their reserve lands had been seized by the federal government to compensate non first nations veterans.

I also think in particular of the Canadian veterans who were wrongly sent as prisoners of war to the Buchenwald concentration camp by Hitler and the Nazis. This government disgraced those brave Canadians when they were sent cheques for $1,098 to compensate them for the horrors they faced in the concentration camp, horrors which are in some cases relived in the minds of these veterans over and over again.

Our Liberal government has failed miserably where so many other governments have succeeded. I hope the spirit of Bill C-61 has some effect on the government so that it moves to ensure the Buchenwald survivors find the justice they so richly deserve.

I am indeed pleased that this bill provides for the continuation of disability pensions for victims of the 1917 Halifax explosion. As the member of parliament for Halifax West, I am all too well aware of the horror of that tragedy and the pain, death and destruction it wreaked.

I am also pleased this bill clarifies which merchant navy veterans of the Korean War will be eligible for benefits.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my support to the third reading and passage of Bill C-61. This bill is something that many of our merchant navy veterans have been looking forward to for many years.

I have great feelings for those men and women who served in World War II, being the sister of two brothers who were overseas through the whole conflict of World War II. We were very fortunate that both my brothers came home safe and sound. I will never forget the day. I was only a little girl, about seven years old. I remember my uncle who was shot in the first world war, and we thank God that he lived through that, telling me, “Put on your very best dress, dear. We are going to the train station for the boys are coming home”.

The veterans are very dear to my heart. The first real legislation to deal with the Canadian merchant navy was brought in in 1992 by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, by the Hon. Gerald Merrithew who was the Minister of Veterans Affairs. At that time, omnibus Bill C-84 was brought in with an additional $100 million of funding to be allocated directly to the merchant navy and their claims. The bill brought in by my former colleagues was not perfect but it was a huge step in the right direction.

The reality of this legislation is that it took this administration six years to address the concerns of the veterans with the original legislation.

Bill C-61 will make changes to address some of the biases merchant navy veterans have faced when applying for benefits. By placing them under the coveted War Veterans Allowance Act, it puts an end to the cross-referencing each of the merchant navy veterans was subjected to when applying for benefits.

This I am sure will please many of the veterans as it now means that they will qualify for benefits they should have been receiving since World War II. Great Britain recognized the merchant navy men as the fourth arm of its services at the beginning of World War II and they received all the same benefits as other members of the armed forces.

It will also provide an additional $8 million to address the needs of those merchant navy veterans who were prisoners of war and be used to assist those who were widowed.

My heart goes out to all those across this nation who lost a loved one in the line of duty and to those who died later due to the complications of war related service, the soldiers who gave their lives, the air force men, the navy and our merchant navy men, so that all Canadians from Victoria to St. John's, Newfoundland could enjoy the freedom we have today. A large part of the war effort was filled by the bravery and tenacity of the Canadian merchant navy.

To all the merchant navy veterans who are listening today, many from across the country waiting to see what will happen with Bill C-61, I want to say thank you.

Is it enough for us to just say thank you, knowing what we know to be true and how the merchant navy was treated after World War II? How they must have felt, each and every one of them, as they watched their counterparts receive many benefits.

The counterparts should have received benefits, but they were benefits the merchant navy men never received. One of eight of every merchant navy men died at sea. This is the largest percentage of any of the armed forces groups.

Imagine serving your country well, with pride and dignity, and returning after the war you see your counterpart who was on the same boat with you given everything and you are given nothing. How would you feel? You would feel hurt. You would feel let down. I was not there. I can only imagine what these men must feel today.

Some of those men come into my office with tears in their eyes. Their wives, as well, get in touch with me. It has been 54 years that they have been fighting for equality.

The question remains whether we, as a country, owe these men something. I believe the answer we would hear from most Canadians is yes.

Why would people feel this way? People today are well informed. After the hunger strike held here by some of the merchant navy veterans last fall, Canadians from coast to coast took the time to become more informed.

Last year when those men were on a hunger strike people from Germany, Japan and China came to visit Ottawa. They came up on the Hill. They could not believe our merchant navy men were on a hunger strike. They signed a petition asking our government to please give them some compensation.

They know these veterans were not really paid a high premium for their service. A privy council document from 1941 showed that these men were not to be paid any higher than a sailor in the navy. This certainly dispels the myth that they were paid a higher wage and therefore should not receive any compensation.

The reality of the post-war era for merchant navy men was that they were the big losers after the war. A video has been made by Mr. Cliff Chadderton, president of the National Council of Veterans Associations in Canada, entitled Sail or Jail .

I have a copy in my office and when I watched the video it truly brought tears to my eyes. I do not know how Cliff was able to do this video but it shows when they were torpedoed. It shows when they were in the water and it shows them dying. It is there. I will share the video with any of my colleagues in the House if they want to see it. It quickly becomes apparent in watching Sail or Jail what the merchant navy lost. One of eight merchant navy men was lost at sea.

Regular forces veterans were given clothing allowances, and rightfully so. They were given rehabilitation grants, transportation costs to return home, re-establishment credit, employment reinstatement and out of work allowances for up to one year. They were also given education assistance, trades training, disability treatment, land grant opportunities and waiting returns allowances. I am pleased and proud that we gave these to them.

What was offered to merchant navy men? They were given hope as the government of the day talked about developing and maintaining the merchant navy. This is difficult to say but if we look at the history of the merchant navy, it appears that the government of the day did not want to pay benefits to these men so they were not given the opportunity to be part of the demobilization effort of the government. They were kept busy cleaning up the seaways.

After the troops were demobilized the boats they worked on were sold. The men were offered jobs on ships that were held in foreign registry and were paid wages in foreign currency. I know that may be attractive today but it certainly was not attractive in those days. After World War II the foreign currency being paid was not enough for people to survive on in Canada.

I had great concerns this week when I saw in the estimates tabled that $1 million was to be taken from the veterans independence program. I thank the parliamentary secretary for responding and telling us no, $1 million will not be taken from the veterans independence program because they need it.

Think about it, 54 years. Think of how old these men are today. They cannot go out and shovel. They cannot do the cleaning that has to be done. They cannot do the cleaning within the home. They need that part time service. We do not want them to be totally independent.

I am proud to be a Canadian. I do not think anyone would question that. When I think of how these men were treated after the war I get very angry inside and a bit ashamed. However, there is hope.

The Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs is about to begin to study the issue of compensation. The findings of this study will then be turned over to the government for a response. I want to make it perfectly clear. There are all kinds of rumours out there that the merchant navy is looking for a great big lump sum payment. According to Cliff Chadderton, some would get $5,000. Is that not a big lump sum payment? I think the maximum was perhaps $30,000, although for very few of them.

I am told that every month we lose probably six or more of our merchant navy men across this country. There may be around 2,000 still living today.

I feel very strongly when I look at the fact that we have had lapsed funds in our veterans affairs that have not been used. The money is there. We can do this. We can give these men back their dignity. We can show them that we love and respect what they did, that they took my brothers over there safely and they took over their needs, ammunition, food and clothing, so that they could fight for you and me and could come back safely.

Like many Canadians, I hope the response given is in favour of the Canadian merchant navy request for compensation. It would not justify the 54 years of neglect, as I have said. At least they would feel we have finally said we thank them for the work they have done.

It would not stop the years of pain felt by those widows who could not apply for benefits to help them along the way and it would not turn back the clock, but it would help ease the pain through the simple act of recognition of service to their country, not just through simple words of kindness but through a payment of some sort to say thank you for what you have done.

I know many of my colleagues on the government side agree with me. I thank today the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs for his assistance and his help. When we went to him when the men were on Parliament Hill on a hunger strike he said he would meet with them and he did. They appreciated it. He came to my riding. He sat down with them. That is what we need, that kind of dialogue to get the understanding we need. I thank him very much today.

I also thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the other committee members from all parties who have been working together to put this study in place and making Bill C-61 hopefully unanimous today when we vote.

It is our role and the role of all those on the government side to tell all of those merchant navy men today that we support them, to stand up for what is right and proceed forward with compensation after the study is referred back to the House.

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is the House ready for the question?

War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members


War Veterans Allowance Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?