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House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was riding.

Topics

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, as you know, I just had the pleasure of tabling the first report of the Library of Parliament. If the House gives its consent, I would move that the first report of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament presented to the House today be concurred in.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have not been made aware of this particular item. Could we perhaps put it on hold momentarily while I inform myself about the subject in question? I apologize for this in advance.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, presented on Friday, October 10, be concurred in.

The main reason we have initiated debate on this topic is because we know we are approaching the next break time, which will be November 7. After hearing the answers given by members opposite as to what will happen after November 7, we feel we cannot leave any important business on the Order Paper. One of the issues concerns veterans' pensions.

The sixth report tabled by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs suggested through a motion that reads:

That the committee supports the decision of Veterans Affairs Canada to extend from one year to a lifetime the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) benefits provided to surviving spouses of Veterans who were in receipt of such benefits at the time of their death.

That is laudable as far as it goes. The motion continues:

However, the members of the committee unanimously agree that the Government should take all possible means to provide lifetime VIP benefits to all qualified surviving spouses, of Veterans receiving such benefits at the time of their death, not just to those now eligible for such benefits following the amendments made in June 2003 to the Veterans Health Care Regulations.

What we are doing here is setting up two classes of veterans' widows. We have one class of widows who will receive, forever and a day, benefits that their husbands were receiving prior to their death, while another class of widows are being told that they cannot receive these benefits if their husbands died prior to May 12, 2003.

Therefore if a war veteran died on May 11, 2003, his widow would only receive VIP benefits for one year. If he lived one more day, she would receive the VIP benefits for the rest of her life. This is entirely unfair.

The minister has been asked questions day after day in the House and he has avoided answering them. He has tried to camouflage what he is trying to perpetrate on the widows across the country by defusing the situation and saying that the government will provide benefits. It is providing benefits to widows whose husbands died after May 12, 2003.

I, and I am sure all members of the House, oppose any program that distinguishes between veterans' widows on the basis of time. The program should be fairly distributed to all widows on the basis of need.

I know the Minister of Veterans Affairs has said that his heart is in the right place and that if Veterans Affairs Canada had the resources it needed the benefits would be extended to all widows who were otherwise eligible.

The real question is this: Where is the finance minister's heart? Why will he not give the money? Why will he not answer the questions on this issue during question period? The government just keeps passing the buck instead of handing over the bucks that are necessary.

By most estimates, roughly 23,000 widows will be affected by this double standard. The benefits on average are worth between $1,000 and $2,000 annually. Is that a lot of money? Let me give some examples of how much that is in relation to some government decisions that have been made in recent days.

We are talking about a gap in funding between $23 million and $46 million. That is less than 5% of what the government spent on the gun registry and it cannot find the money to look after the widows of people who went to war and gave their lives or put themselves in the position, undoubtedly, to weaken themselves, and left behind widows who must try to make a living in society.

That amount is also less than 5% of what the government spent on the billion dollar boondoggle in HRDC and less than 10% of what the government paid just to cancel the EH-101 helicopter contract.

The government has already spent billions of dollars on its mistakes. Why will it not spend a fraction of that to fix one for a change?

Decisions like this are why Canadians do not trust governments. Decisions like this, cold calculations that ignore human suffering, are why so few Canadians vote. This is not taking care of those who have taken care of our national heroes.

Consequently, we ask the minister to please go to the Minister of Finance, on bended need if he has to, which, undoubtedly, is what members over there have to do, and get the money that is necessary.

Not only does this policy impose a great injustice on these war heroes, it dishonours their memory by mistreating their loved ones. More important, the vast majority of these brave women are war heroes in their own right. They were the backbone of the war effort here at home. They were the ones who helped fill our military arsenals. They were the ones who cared for husbands, many of whom were injured for life, when they came home from the war.

All this, just to save $23 million a year. All the anger and frustration just to skim a little off the government books.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident but it is not. I wish I could report to the House that the treatment of our war heroes is without injustice and unfairness but I cannot. The truth is that the government has repeatedly forced our most honourable citizens to fight for benefits that they earned more than 60 years ago.

I have the honour and privilege in the House to sit next to the member for Saint John, a member who, over the years, has fought and gained many of the benefits that our war veterans have to today. Without the fight of her and other hon. members on this side, very few of the benefits that our war veterans have would have been achieved.

I am reminded of the merchant navy veterans who had to come here on a hunger strike before they were heard.

I am reminded of the poor veterans, like Mr. Authorson, who had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court for the money they were cheated out of, and are still waiting for.

I am reminded of the brave soldiers who were used to test mustard gas and other chemical weapons so our scientists could prove what we already knew.

I am reminded of those veterans who now sit in veterans' long term care homes that are not up to code, and the countless others who are still on waiting lists.

This is how we treat our veterans. We should be ashamed.

I am reminded of the countless veterans who are carried or wheeled into the legion halls, the legion halls they built when they returned from war, the legion halls that are falling down around their ears, and the government ignores the veterans' pleas for help to rebuild them. Veterans' hospitals should be monuments to sacrifice, perfect in every way.

Those who were cheated out of money by the government should be given it back, in full. Those who were subjected to tests that caused them pain should be compensated.

I am proud of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, a committee that has always put politics aside when it comes to our veterans, for unanimously calling upon the government to correct the injustice.

I am proud that my colleague, the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain, has demanded that this double standard be fixed before Remembrance Day. I add my voice to that.

We have heard that the Prime Minister is preparing to address the problem. We have all heard that the government caucus was told it would be taken care of. If so, when? Why not now? Why make these widows suffer from further uncertainty? Why leave them guessing as they make their future plans?

For many widows, receiving or not receiving these benefits will be the deciding factor in whether they can remain in their own homes or whether they will be forced to move. The government knows this, it knows the cost, it knows it is wrong and it knows its time is running out.

For anyone listening, the committee is not a committee of opposition members. All committees are controlled by the government. The numbers on the committee always favour government, and yet we have a unanimous report, a report supported by government members, because it is the right thing to do.

How can any government deny benefits? How can any government tell one group of widows they will receive lifetime benefits provided their husbands died on or after May 12? How can they tell other widows whose husbands died the day, the week, the year before or any time in the past, that they do not deserve these benefits?

Everyone knows this is wrong, but only one person can correct it. The Prime Minister must give the order to his minister to go to the Minister of Finance to get the money needed. This could be done by just eliminating some of the waste we have seen. Five per cent of the gun registry would cover the whole bill.

We ask government to do the right thing. We also ask it to allow its members on the committee to stand and express in the House and to the country where they stand and why they gave us such an unanimous report.

We ask the people on this side of the House who sit on that committee and who have concerns, who not only have constituents who are affected by this outrageous decision, but who have family members who are affected by this outrageous decision, to stand and debate, point fingers and put pressure on the government to make the right decision.

However what we will probably see is the parliamentary secretary stand next and ask that we cut off debate. This is what government has done.

We must listen to the people. There is wisdom in the crowds. The government has not listened in the past and it is not listening now but, I assure everyone, it will learn in very short duration.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to see a big headline in the newspaper, as early as tomorrow, reading “Canada fulfills its obligations”. In this case it is an obligation. Abraham Lincoln once said that nobody has the right to do the wrong thing. What the government is doing now is the wrong thing.

This can be changed by regulation. It does not require legislation.

Everyone in the House should know that many of these widows will be standing teary-eyed on November 11 at the site of the memorial knowing that they have been thoroughly discriminated against by this government. During the two minutes of silence, in which we are supposed to honour our veterans, their minds will go back to the government that brought dishonour upon widows who served this country equally as their husbands did who bore arms to go overseas.

We cannot wait and wait. We must move now before November 11 of this year. I plead with the government not to carry on this discrimination further, bring this to floor and announce this change so that it will be effective, as I have said previously in the House many times, by November 11. Let us pay tribute to our war widows. Let us not ignore them or discriminate against them.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Madam Speaker, if you were watching the proceedings earlier, you would have noticed that when I presented the report of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament I had asked for concurrence in the report pursuant to Standing Order 118(1), but the government House leader was not aware of that.

I would like to say that it has been cleared with him now, and I therefore move for concurrence in that report.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it agreed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, what can I say? I think the hon. member has put it in a clear perspective.

He drew attention to the fact that we were only a couple of weeks away from Remembrance Day. Every Remembrance Day as all of us stand around memorials in our ridings, we think of those who paid the sacrifice. We see the few remaining veterans, and in the words of that great song the Band Played Waltzing Matilda written by Eric Bogle, every year their numbers get fewer and some day no one will answer at all.

Even though we have very few veterans, it seems we have more veterans widows because many of the people who went to war did not return and many who did return were so weakened that their deaths came prematurely. These people stand at the memorials thinking and remembering at a time in their life when most of them have very little on which to live. The small benefits that these widows receive makes a lot of difference to them, yet we are going to discriminate against one because her husband died before someone else's husband died.

This should have nothing to do with time. This should be based upon need and fairness. I agree totally with the comments made by the hon. member.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, I also concur. I want my hon. colleague to know that all members of our veterans committee voted in favour of what was brought before us, but we also all voted in favour of an amendment. We put forward a motion indicating that we wanted every widow across the country treated equally.

I have received a letter that I would like to read to the House. It states:

I am writing concerning the VIP Program for Widow's. My husband was Neil Alexander Beaton..., he was a D-Day soldier with the 3rd Division R.C.A.S.C. He saw a whole lot of action. He returned home in 1945 and spent two years in the hospital and was discharged with a 60% disability.

We were parents of five children. My husband could not pass a medical for the purpose of getting a job with any amount of wages [whatsoever]. He could not get life insurance either because of his disability...

My husband was hospitalized many times over the years as a result of his disability, for as long as six months at a time. Life was not easy.

I cared for my husband at home the last four years of his life. In the end the days seemed 40 hours long as he had developed dementia. There was little wonder he developed this dreadful disease after all the surgery, medication and suffering he had endured.

He was on the VIP Program when he passed away April 27, 1990. I feel he earned everything he ever received from Veterans Affairs. I feel as does everyone I've spoken to, that I have earned the VIP Program by caring for my husband for over 45 years.

This is the worst case of discrimination anyone has ever heard of in Canada.

She has asked that the minister and the Prime Minister to think again. No veteran I have ever known has been discriminated against more than Mrs. Beaton and her husband.

That is why every member of this Parliament feels that it is an honour to have veterans like Mr. Beaton and also an honour to have wives like Mrs. Beaton. We cannot tell these wives that we will not give them the VIP benefits but we will give it to everyone after the June date. I cannot believe this has happened in the House of Commons and that this is what we as elected people would allow to take place.

What does my hon. colleague think will happen in the future to Mrs. Beaton?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I recognized earlier the efforts by the hon. member for Saint John on behalf of veterans and their widows over the years. Many of the benefits they have obtained, they obtained simply because of the hard work she has put into this, and they recognize that fact.

The example my colleague gave is one of many. It is an example similar to those many members have received from people who are going through a terrible time simply because they have been forgotten by the government.

I find it very hard to understand, when the issue was addressed and when government developed this program to help widows, why it included a cut off date. How can we say to one group that we will provide them with pensions and then say to another group, whose husbands fought side by side, that they do not count any more? I am sure it was an oversight, whether it was in the bureaucracy or whatever, but the minister should have picked up on it.

Lack of money is not an excuse as it is only 5% of the gun registry or 10% of the amount that would be paid just to cancel a contract. That should not be the excuse. It is not an acceptable excuse.

What will happen those people? With the efforts of members collectively in the House, let us make the government change its mind to look after those widows as well as the others who now fit under the program.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

There is one minute left. The hon. member for Saint-Jean.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be brief, so that my hon. colleague can reply. With regard to this program, which could be extended and could apply to the 23,000 widows who have been ignored, I would like him to explain to the House how that could have an impact on the quality of life of these women, that is, being able to keep their homes because of the amounts provided for household and garden upkeep. It seems to me that this is as important a concept as the widows' quality of life.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, very briefly, the member is correct. Many of these people are living on very little income anyway. Even though we are talking about a few thousand dollars, a few thousand dollars to a person who is already living on only a few thousand dollars makes a tremendous amount of difference. A thousand, or two thousand or three thousand dollars in rural Canada, or even in urban Canada, could make the difference between someone having comfort in their home or not having comfort.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

moved:

That the House do now proceed to the orders of the day.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

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

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen: