Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-44 this morning. This legislation will right a wrong that has been in place for many years, for 30 years many would argue. They would say 30 years because for colonels and above this lump sum payment coverage has been in place since 1972. It is indeed an embarrassment that it has taken this government this long to act on changing that.
I think one has to wonder where the government's priorities are. We get legislation coming forward in the House all the time that quite frankly does nothing positive at all, and in some cases just the opposite, and yet a change like this, which was desperately needed, has taken 30 years, or 10 years for those who served in the Balkans, where many were injured, including the person who was persistent enough on this issue such that the government could finally no longer resist, and that was Major Bruce Henwood.
In fact, this bill should be called the Bruce Henwood bill, because he has pursued this issue absolutely fruitlessly for 10 years until just recently when, with help from the opposition but mostly through his own efforts over the years, he finally forced the government to make this move. Why the government would resist for so long is almost impossible to understand, but finally he has been successful. Again I have to say that I think the bill should be called the Bruce Henwood bill, because it was through his courageous and persistent actions that it has come forward.
There are some problems with the bill. One is in the case of people feeling they are not receiving proper treatment. Under the bill, it is of course the minister who makes the decisions. If someone feels mistreated, there is an appeal, but who is the appeal to? To the minister. So we will have the minister appealing his own decision in cases where people feel they are being improperly treated. That simply has to be changed, and I hope it will be changed by the minister.
What we are proposing, in fact, is that there be an appeal to the military ombudsman. The military ombudsman would then make a recommendation to the minister. Should the minister support that recommendation, fine, it will go through, but should the minister refuse to support the military ombudsman's recommendation on an individual case, we are suggesting that the military ombudsman be given authority to make public both the minister's reasons for rejecting it and the ombudsman's reasons for supporting it. At least we would then have the court of public opinion to put pressure on the minister.
I am calling upon the government to do that. I would assume that the government can see it is improper to have the minister handling appeals for the minister. I hope clause 11 of the bill will be amended to deal with that.
As well, this legislation simply will not deal with cases of injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder. There is nothing in Bill C-44 to help deal with those types of cases. Also, there is probably nothing in the bill to deal with cases like that of Matt Stopford, who has been stonewalled by the government, and quite frankly by the military, for many years. He was severely injured, admittedly poisoned by his own troops when serving in the Balkans. This legislation does nothing to help him as far as I can tell, so there are some huge gaps in the legislation.
It is certainly going to be worthwhile legislation for the roughly 200 military personnel who will likely receive lump sum payments of up to $250,000, although many of the payments will be much less than that.
I commend the government for finally righting this wrong after 30 years, it could be argued, but certainly 10 years. It has taken 10 years, but I guess better late than never applies in this case. Let us move ahead with this and fix the things that have to be fixed, which I have pointed to. I would like to congratulate Major Bruce Henwood for the Bruce Henwood bill.