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House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before I put the question to the House, I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of the honourable veterans from the Canadian Armed Forces who are with us this evening. I would like to welcome them to the House of Commons.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #41

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend certain Acts that relate to the environment and to enact provisions respecting the enforcement of certain Acts that relate to the environment, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the second reading stage of Bill C-16. The question is on the motion.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find that this motion has unanimous support.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous support for this motion?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 6:01 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

moved that Bill C-201, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, in my almost 12 years as a member of Parliament, this has to be one of the proudest days on which I am able to speak as a member of Parliament in the hallowed chamber of comrades.

As many know, I was born in Holland. My parents were liberated by the Canadian military and her allies in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944-45. Some of those liberators are with us today, and we thank them very much for that.

Thousands of military personnel and veterans and their families from across the country, from coast to coast to coast, are watching CPAC today on this very important debate.

Four years ago, three gentlemen came to my office, Mr. John Labelle, Mr. Roger Boutin and Mr. Mel Pittman. These three men served their country with pride, distinction and honour. They came to talk to me about a problem they had for many years. They called it the clawback of their pensions at age 65 and the clawback of deductions of Canada pension disability. When a person is retired or released from the RCMP or military and they collect Canada pension disability, that amount of money is deducted from their force's pension.

The deduction stops today. There is no way we will keep that going.

These men and women are our greatest Canadians. They serve our country, either domestically or overseas. Those who have served in the military and in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have paid the ultimate sacrifice as have their families. They deserve to have the respect of the House of Commons. Unquestionably, they serve with honour, dignity and pride.

When they wear their medals, it is with the greatest of distinction. They wear them because many of their colleagues never had the chance since they had paid the ultimate sacrifice. They are here today in spirit to honour this concern. They are asking for financial dignity when they retire at age 65, or become permanently disabled, or can no longer work again.

This happened in 1965-66 with the invention of the Canada pension plan. The government came up with what was called a blended program, which meant the folks at that time were paying into superannuation. When CPP came along, the government indicated it did not want to up the deductions of military men and women as well as all federal and provincial public servants. The government blended the package and said that they would pay so much into the Canada pension plan and into superannuation.

The men and women of the military and the RCMP at that time had no idea this was happening to them. It was done without their consent and without much public debate at that time. They have been arguing since then to correct the deficiency.

There is no question that every federal and provincial public servant in the country suffers what we call the clawback of their pension, except for Senators, judges and the friendly members of Parliament. It is amazing how we managed to escape that in 1966. Members serve six years and can get a pension. These men and women now have to serve 25 years and pay the unlimited liability in order to get that pension when they sign up.

There are two members of the Conservative Party, one from Edmonton and one from the Ottawa area, who have both served their country with distinction, with over 30 years of service. I congratulate those two gentlemen for their great service to our country and thank the them very much for being in the House of Commons, as well.

What happened to these men and women is simply not right, and we want to change it. The government has asked why the bill does not include everyone. The men and women of the armed forces and the RCMP have a completely different public service role from all other public servants in the country. I have repeated this before: they have unlimited liability. That means when they sign on the bottom line, they are willing to risk their lives so we and our families can have a good night's sleep. We want to ensure that when they serve us, and after their service, we serve them. It is that simple.

The amount of service these men and women have put in is incredible. I spoke to some of them today who have moved over 20 times in their careers, across the country and around the world. What that meant was their spouses, in many cases, were unable to get a secure job. This meant they were unable to contribute to their own pension plan, which put them financially behind the eight ball.

Many of them could not secure the opportunity to buy a home, because they would be gone in another couple of years. Therefore, they lost the proper opportunity to build equity in their homes. They lost that financial ability, and they did it willingly. This was not a surprise to them. They did this knowing that this was part of their service. For that, we thank them because they did it without question. They followed the orders to the letter.

The number one role of government or opposition is to maintain the security and protection of its citizens within our borders. Our number one role is to ensure that when we say we support the troops, we support them long after their uniforms come off.

We heard today that it would require a royal recommendation in order to get this passed. I know we have the support of the opposition Liberals and the Bloc Québécois and my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, who has moved a motion on this very same bill and I thank him very much for that.

We believe, if the government is serious about supporting its troops long after their uniforms come off, then that royal recommendation should be automatic. However, if the government is concerned about the cost of this, I have broken it down. I have looked at this for over four years and I have discussed this with pension experts across the country.

There other thing the men and women pay into, which they do not get to collect afterwards, is the employment insurance program. These men and women pay for 20, 30 years into a plan that it is legislated but they cannot collect. Guess what? Members of Parliament do not pay into EI. Why? Because we do not get to collect it. The men and women of the armed forces and the RCMP have to pay into EI, but they do not get to collect it. That is going to stop today. It is unfortunate they have to keep doing that.

The financial solution is quite simple. The government is worried about the additional cost to the taxpayer. There would be no additional cost. If they are allowed to keep both of their moneys at age 65 or on disability, they would receive less OAS and GIS. Including OAS and GIS in the argument that they do not lose any money is simply incorrect. Those payments come from their general revenues, not from their defined benefit pension plans.

We know if they receive both CPP and their regular pension at age 65, they would get less OAS and GIS. The government would save there. There is nothing stopping the government from cancelling the EI deduction, taking that amount and putting it in the superannuation. That would cover it off.

These men and women have done yeoman's work, if I may use the military term, in serving their country. Again it is time for us to serve them. They deserve to know that our troops and the RCMP have the respect of this House of Commons. I know that individually, per person in the House, regardless of where one sits, there is not one person who does not support the troops.

For those who do not support the troops, if you cannot get behind them, try standing in front of them. That is a bumper sticker we have seen. They deserve financial dignity and respect when they turn 65.

I have asked of the government many times if they have received everything they have paid into and it has argued that they have. I have seen the various emails from various members of Parliament to their constituents. However, that is not true. They pay EI but cannot collect. Also, when they become disabled and collect Canada Pension Disability at an age in their 40s or 50s, that money is deducted right away. They are paying with life and limb, and psychologically in many cases, and they do not receive a benefit if they become permanently disabled and can no longer work.

No veteran and no RCMP officer or their family should ever have to dip into poverty after having served their country. We are going to put a stop to that today.

There is one question I ask bureaucratic officials time and time again and they have yet to answer this very simple question. They tell me there is no clawback, that it is a myth, that what I am doing is wrong. I have a question for them. Everybody in the country who has paid into CPP can take it early, at age 60 instead of age 65, but they automatically lose one-third. They know that.

For example, if RCMP or military personnel are receiving a pension of, say, $2,500 in superannuation and they take their CPP early, say they would get about $500, they would get them both. There is no deduction at age 60 from the superannuation. However, when they hit 65, the amount of money they could have collected is deducted from the superannuation.

I ask myself, I ask the government, and I ask everybody, if they did not pay enough in then to merit both of them, why is there no deduction at age 60, but there is at age 65? I still have not received the answer to that, and we are waiting for it, because I would love to hear the argument on that point.

This is the first hour of debate. There is no vote on it now. The bill will be returned to the order paper and then come back within 30 to 35 days.

Members of Parliament should not just take my word for it, they should visit their local Legion, visit the air force and peacekeeping organizations, visit the army, navy, air force, visit the hospitals where veterans are, visit their families, talk to them, and ask them what they want. They should come back in 30 days and tell me and the House what they heard. I am sure they will hear over and over again that the overwhelming majority of military and RCMP officials and their families want the clawback to stop, and stop now. If everybody goes out to their ridings afterwards in our two week break, they will hear very loudly and very clearly that this is what has to happen.

We have already outlined how it could be handled. We have outlined how it could be revenue neutral. We have outlined the respect it would give along with financial dignity, and how it would do that.

We do this to the men and women of the armed forces and the RCMP, but we do not do it to ourselves. It does not look good when members of Parliament, senators and judges can escape the clawback, and the men and women who sign on the bottom line to protect us, get the clawback. There is something very seriously wrong with that. We hope to change that very quickly.

I would like to focus on the RCMP, the men and women and what they have done. Anybody who read the book about the RCMP in the thirties, forties and fifties in this country knows that many of those officers served in isolated posts. They were not allowed to marry for the first five years. They were restricted from marriage. After they did get married, their wives, in most cases, were actually asked to perform an awful lot of duties unpaid: cook the prisoners' meals, take the phone calls, take the messages, stand guard in many cases, and never given a penny for their work. In fact, they can never collect it.

The pensions that many of them received from the widows and orphans fund, which is out there right now, was a mere pittance. Many of those wives went into desperate poverty after the death of their RCMP spouse. That was wrong. We want to change that because we know that the men and women who serve our country do not do it alone. They have a partner behind them. No, let me correct that, they have a partner beside them. When death comes to these individuals, we have to make sure that the spouses who looked after them, the spouses who were their partners, the spouses who allowed them to do their duties and responsibilities that we as a government, as an opposition party, and as a country, asked them to do are also well taken care of.

In November 2006 members of the House proudly stood up and voted for our veterans first motion, which had the five elements in it which would have supported veterans and their families in the RCMP. It was voted for by the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP. Unfortunately, the Conservatives at that time voted against it.

I have one minute left in my discussion. I just wanted to say in this regard, my parents were liberated by the men and women who wear the uniform. There are people being liberated today in Afghanistan, the Middle East and around the world, by brave men and women who wear the Canadian patch. Those people, who stand at ramp ceremonies, watching their fallen go by them will serve long careers in the military. We want to make sure that 30 or 40 years from now they do not have a clawback facing them.

If it were not for the men and women of the armed forces and the RCMP, we would not have a country today. I am asking for financial dignity for each and every one of them. We love every one of them and salute them, and God bless the memories of each and every one who served our country.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, no one respects and values the members of the Canadian Forces or the RCMP more than this government and I can appreciate that from both sides of that argument.

The member knows full well this requires a royal recommendation. He knows it is not votable. This is unfortunately largely for show. I do understand and appreciate the emotion behind it. It is very real. I will not bring up his voting record on veterans because that is shameful in itself.

Members contribute between one-quarter and one-third to their pensions and this proposes to increase benefits beyond what members have actually paid for. The hon. member has alluded to costs, but he does not give a specific number. Does he have a specific number for the one-time cost and the annual increase, and who does he expect will pay for that? Taxpayers, members, or whom?

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question and I will not say what I would like to say, but I will say that the men and women in the service already pay into employment insurance. We give out billions of dollars to various corporations and everything else, but we are saying to the men and women that we are worried about an additional amount. The average military person under our analysis would receive about $200 extra a month at age 65 or from the CPP disability. That cost is not very great for the government.

The member is correct about the royal recommendation, but I would hope that members of the Conservative Party would stand and support the troops. I know that they do and will understand very clearly and very honestly that the royal recommendation should come with absolutely no problems at all from the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to ask a question of my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, who I am very proud of on this particular initiative. He has been working on it so long. There is a gentleman in my riding, Lindsay Fraser, who is a retired Mountie. He and his friends meet every Monday at the Country Kitchen and trust me, I know about this issue from them first and foremost.

I am proud to support this bill. I am proud to support the initiative by my colleague and I would like him to add a few more comments about the push back from the bureaucratic machine he described earlier. I would like to hear a few more details on what kind of difficulties he has been facing from the bureaucracy itself.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, there is no question that the bureaucracy is really, for whatever reason, against all of this. I can only assume that many members of the bureaucracy, who are against this, never put a uniform on, or served their country in the red serge.

If the government or anyone else thinks I am wrong, then 110,000 members of the military and veterans who have signed the petition, including Major Lewis MacKenzie, Senator Roméo Dallaire, the Royal Canadian Legion, the army, navy, air force, and the peacekeepers associations, are also wrong. If they are all wrong, then fine, let us get it to committee and let us bring in the experts and have that honest and thorough debate. Bring in the bureaucrats to explain what happened in 1966. Why them and not us when it came to the clawback?

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore on introducing this bill in order to spark a substantive debate on this issue.

The Bloc will support this bill at second reading so that the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs can examine the bill in detail and do justice to veterans.

However, I would like to ask my learned friend whether the department has conducted a comparative study with other western countries to get a big picture of veterans' benefits.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the comparison with other countries is very different because our benefit packages for veterans and their families are different. The member knows very well that we have conducted studies with Britain and the United States on the various packages. Comparing apples to oranges in many cases. But I would hope if it gets to committee, that we can bring in those other examples to see where we can improve on this action.

I say this very clearly. Depending on which way we go on this, someone is going to have to tell Andre Daoust of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, who served his country, can no longer work again because of his injuries, and gets a Canada pension disability dollar for dollar clawed back from his forces pension. I would like someone to tell him why that happens.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe it would be helpful for those watching to clarify or correct a statement that was made that this bill is not votable. That, in fact, is not the case. It will be voted on at second reading, committee stage, report stage, and even up to third reading if a royal recommendation comes forward. We will see this voted on by this place. I will be supporting it and I know the Liberals will, too.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member has made his point, but it is not really a point of order.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Wild Rose.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise to address the House today on Bill C-201, which proposes to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act. I would like to focus my remarks today primarily on how the changes would affect the RCMP.

Let me begin by saying that I have a tremendous respect for the people who serve this country in uniform. In the House, on the public safety committee, in my riding of Wild Rose and, indeed, on every occasion that I can, I work hard to advocate for the people in law enforcement and to understand and address their needs and concerns. The record will certainly show this.

I fully support them in the great job that they do and join with all Canadians in giving them the respect and support they deserve. I have always been a vocal champion of the RCMP and nothing will ever change my steadfast support for the men and women who proudly wear the Mountie uniform in the service of Canada.

It is therefore important to note that Bill C-201 has nothing to do with how we value the work of the RCMP or that of our brave men and women of the Canadian armed forces. Bill C-201 simply proposes to eliminate the reduction in pensions to retired members of the RCMP and Canadian Forces once they begin receiving Canada pension plan benefits normally at the age of 65.

Some retirees argue that this is a clawback and that they are being denied benefits that they have paid for throughout their careers, but this is simply not the case.

I want to assure the House that retired RCMP officers are in fact receiving the full pension benefits to which they are entitled based on their plan design and the contributions they have made. No money is being clawed back. Statements that retired members paid full contributions to both the CPP and their employer-sponsored pension plan are factually incorrect.

This is a complicated issue, but the problem appears to lie in a basic misunderstanding of how the RCMP pension contributions and benefits are calculated.

When the Canada pension plan was introduced in 1966, most Canadian employers, including the federal government, decided to integrate their pension plans with the CPP rather than stacking the two plans. Integration ensures that retirees would have an acceptable level of retirement income without the burden of paying full contributions to both plans throughout their working lives.

For members of the RCMP, as well as Canadian Forces personnel and other federal employees, this means paying a reduced contribution rate on the portion of their salary that is subject to CPP contributions and with reduced contributions comes reduced benefits. It is that simple.

At age 65, the normal age at which CPP retirement pensions are payable, or earlier if CPP disability benefits are received, the bridge pension paid to former RCMP members from the time they retire to when they become eligible for the CPP is eliminated. In most cases, the total pension income available to a retiree after age 65 is essentially unchanged. The only difference is that the income is now received from two sources rather than the previous one source. It is coming now from the employer-sponsored pension plan and the CPP.

By proposing that the bridge pension be made a lifetime benefit, Bill C-201 would fundamentally change the design of the plan with prohibitive long-term financial implications. Adopting these proposed amendments for all RCMP pensioners would increase the past service liability for the RCMP pension plan by more than $1 billion and would result in additional ongoing costs of tens of millions of dollars per year.

I would remind all hon. members that the RCMP pension plan is the smallest of the three federal plans. The Canadian Forces pension plan would incur a one-time past service liability of several billion dollars if Bill C-201 becomes law and ongoing costs would certainly approach around $100 million per year. The legislation is silent on how this increase in liabilities would be paid.

These costs cannot be borne by the taxpayer alone, so the only other solution is to increase pension contribution rates for working members of the RCMP and Canadian Forces. Pension contributions would then jump by as much as 30% for current and future plan members. There is no evidence to suggest that current working members would agree to such an increase.

Again, the potential costs of such a measure are sobering. Converting the bridge benefit to a lifetime benefit for all members of the Public Service Pension Plan could cost the government three and a half times more than the cost of providing this change to both the RCMP and the Canadian Forces pension plans.

All members of the RCMP on their retirement are provided with an estimate of how much their RCMP pension will change when they turn 65 and start receiving CPP benefits. Moreover, the RCMP has gone to great lengths to make sure its employees are aware of how their pension plan is integrated with the CPP through written explanations and pension newsletters and bulletins, through information provided on websites and through the annual benefit statements sent to all pensioners and serving members.

The pensions paid to retired RCMP officers and military personnel are already generous by Canadian standards, and the level of taxpayer support for them is certainly substantial.

I have the utmost respect for the great work that our men and women in uniform perform on behalf of all Canadians. They are the people who keep our communities safe and secure, even at the risk of their own lives. Therefore, if there are other ways to recognize the contributions to Canadians and to Canada without taking on an enormous financial burden, I would be most pleased to consider them.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be the critic for veterans affairs and to have an opportunity to welcome the many men and women who are here to observe this debate this evening.

Speaking to Bill C-201 is an honour. It is an issue that is important to all of us, but we do have to make it very clear to the Canadian public what we are talking about. The bill has been put forward by my friend from Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has worked on this issue for a very long time. He has talked to a lot of us about it.

Bill C-201 would call for the elimination of the deduction from the annuity for retired and disabled CF members' pensions paid under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. They are adjusted at age 65 when the person becomes entitled to a pension under the Canada Pension Plan, as my colleagues have indicated in their comments. It is often referred to as a clawback. However, it is important to note that this adjustment is not a clawback. Rather, the reduction results from the fact that the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act is integrated with the Canada pension plan, a feature common to all federal public sector pension plans as well as many private sector plans. As my colleagues indicated, there was an agreement back in 1965 and 1966 to have an integrated plan rather than two separate plans. Bill C-201 attempts to change that.

I think all of us are certainly very much in favour of our veterans and to suggest that any of us would not want to see that they get the maximum amount of benefits possible would be dishonest. We all appreciate and care very much about what our veterans have done for each and every one of us. We want to make sure that we are fair and that they get the maximum amount of benefits to ensure their security, dignity and quality of life. This bill, however, is not a magic solution for our brave veterans, and I think it is important to be honest about it.

As indicated earlier, Bill C-201 in its current state will need a royal recommendation. At the moment, this is an intent. It is putting our issues and the fact that we care about them on the record, but let us be honest about the fact that this bill would be unlikely to get a royal recommendation. I do not want to mislead anyone into thinking that we are being dishonest here. This bill does not compel the government to do anything. It is an intent saying that we care about this issue. Let us look at it and see if we cannot clear up some of the disparities and issues and remedy the situation once and for all. Let us look at what we can do in the future.

It is important that we be honest with the veterans and with anyone who is watching who thinks that Bill C-201 would pass and suddenly everything would be fixed. It does not quite work that easily. We do not know if the specifics of this could be implemented in the tough economic times ahead of us. Everybody has to be concerned about that. That being said, I clearly support the intent of the bill and I will be voting along with many of my colleagues. It is a private member's bill, so we are free to vote as we see fit. I know that many of my colleagues will be voting in favour of Bill C-201 going to committee.

It needs a full costing so that we know what kinds of resources will be required to correct the situation. Hopefully, some of the questions can be answered during the committee process and we can get a better understanding of the agreements that were made back in 1965 and 1966, knowing what the implications are so that Parliament can make a full decision on this. If the choice is to make some corrections, let us do it the proper way. Let us do it through Parliament so that things are dealt with honestly and up front.

The Liberals for many years have been steadfast in support of our veterans. We would have liked to see the Conservatives demonstrate more support for veterans in their recent budget, but unfortunately, there was nothing there. The government has had no problem spending billions of dollars on military hardware but it has not seen the opportunity to provide extra resources to our veterans. Veterans across Canada need our help to ensure their dignity and quality of life, especially in the tough economic times that everybody is facing.

My colleagues and I are committed to working very hard on behalf of Canada's veterans and we will strive to protect their pensions and invest in their well-being. There is so much more that I and many in the House would love to do to increase the quality of life of those who fought for our lives. In the future a new Liberal government will take steps forward to protect the most vulnerable.

One of the priorities is the veterans independence program, a fabulous program. In fact, it would be great if we could offer it to all of our seniors. It is a national home care program established in 1981 by Veterans Affairs Canada. It provides clients a way to remain healthy and independent in their own homes or communities. The VIP, as it is referred to, complements other federal, provincial and municipal programs. Services included in the program are grounds maintenance, housekeeping, personal care services, access to nutrition services and health and support services. It is an ideal program to assist our veterans as they get older.

We are calling on the Conservative government to keep its promise to immediately extend the veterans independence program to the widows of all second world war and Korean war veterans regardless of when the veteran died. The Prime Minister made a commitment to do that during the election, but to date there has been no action on that file. I have raised this matter at the veterans affairs committee and will continue to do that.

Another issue that we need to address is post-traumatic stress disorder. The intensity of the compact operation is taking its toll on front line soldiers both in the field and on their return home. The government needs to be proactive in regard to the mental health of Canadian soldiers and veterans. More help is required for veterans making the transition to work outside the military as well as support for caregivers and other family members.

Follow-up with our veterans is needed following their service since post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries may manifest themselves many years after their period of brave combat service. We are very concerned about this issue and we will continue to work to ensure that proper services are made available to Canada's brave soldiers.

We will continue to demonstrate our support for our veterans in many ways. After all, it was a Liberal government that drafted the veterans charter which received all-party endorsement in this House. The veterans charter passed in April 2005 under the great leadership of our previous minister. It represents the most comprehensive modernization of programs and services for Canada's veterans since the second world war, and the Korean war veterans were helped to successfully complete their transition to civilian life.

In closing, even though this bill is short on specifics and costing, many of us will be supporting Bill C-201. We encourage our colleagues to do the same. Let us send it to committee. Let us be honest, do a true examination of it, see what the cost implications are, and if we cannot change it for the past, let us make sure we change it for the future.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-201, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity).

I would like to thank the veterans who are with us today in the House.

First of all, as the Bloc critic for veterans affairs, I would like to thank the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for introducing this bill.

I have had the pleasure of working with that colleague for several months and I know how committed he is to this cause. I must also mention my colleague from Montcalm, who has sat on the veterans affairs committee for some years and is also greatly committed and dedicated to improving the situation of our veterans.

As parliamentarians, we all have a responsibility to devote our time and effort to ensure that the services provided are top notch as well as tailored to the needs of veterans and their family members, in acknowledgment of their service, accomplishments and sacrifices. They deserve all our support and devotion, for having put their lives on the line to defend values that are important to our democracies.

Unfortunately, we sometimes find our veterans being neglected by the federal government, which seems to have a tendency to mainly think about them once a year, in November. But life goes on 12 months a year and they need our thoughts more often than just in November. It is too easy to give lip service to honouring our veterans and yet not provide them with the services they richly deserve.

The federal government is slow to act and to make decisions that can affect the various services provided. For example, in the 2009 budget the minister submitted to us in committee, the Conservatives have announced various measures, such as maintaining the $30 million annual investment set out in the 2007 budget, that is for the period 2007-12.

Yet the 2009 budget announces that it will be saving $24 million by rationalizing internal and administrative resources. What is more, we learned in committee that Saint Anne's hospital will have $2.3 million cut from its operating budget for the fiscal year 2009-10. Given the scope of the Afghanistan mission, we feel that the Conservative government's decision to downsize is inappropriate and ill suited to the current context.

When he appeared before the committee, the Minister of Veterans Affairs said that services to those who use them would not be affected. So, a hospital is being cut $2.3 million and they are saying that services to its clientele will not be affected. I worked in health care for 20 years, and I know what cuts mean. When money is cut, services are indirectly cut. As a former social worker at an CLSC, I was surprised to see the number of cases and the number of caseloads taken on by people who work with veterans. They have caseloads of approximately 600 clients. That is incredible. I worked in this field, and when we had a caseload of 40 or 50 clients, that was huge. We are talking about 600 clients here. These budgets are being cut, which will also affect our veterans' quality of life and the care they receive.

We know that hospital staff is worried at this time and we will therefore follow this file very closely—I am making it my priority—in order to ensure that veterans do not find it more difficult to obtain the services they so desperately need.

The Bloc Québécois has always defended the principle that we must not abandon our veterans when they return from difficult missions and we will continue to ensure that they have all the assistance and support they need.

The Bloc Québécois is concerned not only about the physical and psychological effects of their years of service, but also about how veterans' compensation is affected when they reach retirement age.

The bill we are studying today is designed to put an end to the reduction of pensions for retired members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP when they reach age 65.

Because it is always concerned about and sensitive to veterans affairs and wants to see veterans treated fairly, the Bloc Québécois will support the bill at second reading so that it is referred to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

That way, we will be able to hear from knowledgeable witnesses and look in more detail at the various aspects of this important bill we are studying today.

The testimony we hear will give us a good understanding of the provisions of this bill and allow us to look more closely at the problems facing veterans and possible solutions to those problems.

Lastly, the committee study will give us an opportunity to thoroughly examine the potential financial repercussions of this bill on the government.

As everyone in the House knows, the Bloc Québécois has always and will always act responsibly to ensure that the amendments in Bill C-201 meet the criteria for fairness and sound management of public funds.

A committee review of Bill C-201, as introduced by my colleague, would be a logical follow-up to the report adopted by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in May 2008.

After several weeks of consultations and hard work, the committee members drafted a report on medical and psychological care for veterans.

The committee's report did have a lot to say about medical and psychological care, but I think that it is important for members of Parliament to bear in mind the seventh recommendation:

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence must continue to enhance their work together to ensure as much as possible a seamless transition process from the military to civilian life when a member of the Canadian Forces leaves the military so that the individual, now a veteran, can have access without delay to the veterans benefits and services to which they are entitled.

This is important, but as far as I can tell from various meetings with the committee, it is not necessarily what is happening.

This recommendation suggests that nobody should have 600 names on their caseload.

We think that the committee should study Bill C-201 in light of this recommendation.

The goal of the bill we are considering today is in line with the seventh recommendation in the committee's report. As such, changes to pensions could be one way for Veterans Affairs and National Defence to ensure a seamless transition from the military to civilian life.

I believe that once we have conducted numerous consultations as part of the committee's review of this bill, we will be in a better position to understand the various issues veterans have to deal with. We will then be able to work with them more efficiently to ensure that they receive the kind of retirement they deserve because of the sacrifices made during their terms of service.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I proudly second the bill introduced by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, that would eliminate the Canada pension plan and Canada pension plan disability benefits clawbacks from the pensions of retired or disabled Canadian Forces and RCMP members.

I would like to commend my hon. colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who first introduced the bill in 2005. He has been a tireless advocate for the rights of veterans. He is an example for us all on what it means to really support our troops.

I think many Canadians would be shocked to find out that when retired Canadian Forces or RCMP members reach 65 years of age, their pensions are greatly reduced by CPP clawbacks.

Members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP put their lives at risk for us on a daily basis. They protect our communities and our country. They proudly serve, and we owe them a debt of gratitude when they complete their service or become disabled.

One way that we can show them how much we appreciate their service is to end the awful practice of the clawback of CPP and CPP disability amounts from their pensions. The service pensions of retired CF and RCMP personnel are reduced significantly when the pensioners receive the Canada pension plan at age 65, or when disabled CF or RCMP personnel receive Canada pension plan disability benefits.

In 1966, when the Canadian pension plan was introduced and integrated with the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, it included a reduction formula. That formula is still being used today and has not been reviewed in 40 years.

At the time these plans were integrated, members were not given options or choices as to how they wished to fund their contribution obligations. A unilateral decision was made to integrate the CFSA-CPP contributions, instead of stacking the plan or increasing their CFSA contributions. At the time, members were unaware of the reductions to their pensions in their retirement years.

Eliminating this clawback will serve to recognize the important contribution these people make to our country. Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel have had to play roles—and lead lives—that are different from those of the rest of the population.

In the course of their work, they had to face danger, go through long separations from their families, put their health and safety on the line, work long hours and begin their family life over again with each transfer, throughout their entire careers.

Because of frequent postings and transfers, the spouses of Canadian Forces members often have difficulty finding and keeping a job, and it is difficult for the spouses to pay into their own pension plan.

This significant reduction in the service pensions of retired Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel when the pensioners receive the Canada pension plan at age 65 or when disabled Canadian Forces or RCMP personnel receive Canada pension plan disability benefits should not be happening. It is shameful that, for years, both Liberal and Conservative governments have refused to end it.

This is not the message we want to send to the men and women who stand up for Canada and put their lives on the line every day. We want them to know that we are behind them and that their pension plans will no longer be nickeled and dimed.

Over 110,000 people from coast to coast to coast signed a petition supporting the initiative, including many retired colonels and generals. The petition was prepared by veterans of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.

Several veterans groups, including the Royal Canadian Legion, the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada Association and the Air Force Association of Canada, have unanimously adopted resolutions three years ago supporting this initiative.

As well, the national chairman of The Armed Forces Pensioners'/Annuitants' Association of Canada and Canada's Association for the 50Plus also support this initiative. Despite this, the Conservative government is still denying that this is even a problem. Over the past few years, both provincial and territorial governments have called on the federal government to end this awful practice of clawbacks to RCMP and Canadian Forces pensioners.

Wayne Wannamaker, a retired veteran from Whitehorse, encouraged MLAs in the Yukon Legislative Assembly to pass a motion recently urging the Government of Canada to recognize that the unilateral decision made in 1966 to integrate Canadian Forces and RCMP pension plans into the CPP was unfair and inequitable for retired members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, and to remedy this injustice.

In Nova Scotia, a resolution was passed in 2006 calling on the Government of Canada to investigate the issue immediately and put an end to the unfair practice of reducing the benefits paid to Canadian Forces and RCMP veterans.

Our veterans and retired RCMP members deserve to live out their golden years in financial dignity. I am asking all members of the House to stand up for the troops and members of the RCMP and support this bill.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, the bill before the House today touches upon an issue that is very important to our government: supporting our men and women in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.

My remarks today will focus on the Canadian Forces. Our military serves our country proudly and with honour. Many risk their lives daily, whether it is on a search and rescue operation, such as we saw off the coast of Newfoundland, or in the theatre of war in Afghanistan or in the skies above Canada. They are called upon to face situations and make sacrifices that most of us can only imagine. They do what the government asks of them, carrying out their duties with the utmost professionalism and skill.

Our government supports them. In return, we have a responsibility to take care of those who risk so much for us, a responsibility to support members of the Canadian Forces and their families at all stages of their careers. We have recognized the unique stress on military families and have pledged to do more.

The Canadian Forces family covenant unveiled last fall makes good use of this promise to enhance family services. We recently announced the establishment of joint personnel support units across the country. These units will give current and former Canadian Forces members a one-stop shop when accessing National Defence and Veterans Affairs programs and services, including pensions.

Our government has also rectified long-standing issues, including agent orange compensation and atomic veterans recognition. Our support is also reflected in the provisions of a generous pension plan offered to retirees, the Canadian Forces pension plan.

I will take a minute to look at that pension plan. This pension plan is tailored to the needs of the military forces and the military members it serves. For instance, the plan features low contribution rates for Canadian Forces members. Canadian Forces members contribute about one-quarter of the cost of the pension plan while the government covers the remaining 75%. The plan is available to reserve members, as well as regular forces members.

It also ensures a predictable and stable pension for the entire duration of retirement. It is a plan that accommodates the career patterns of our sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen. Members who often suffer long separations from their families, who are uprooted from their home towns and communities and whose jobs are demanding, both physically and emotionally, not surprisingly then, these military members often retire earlier than we on civilian street.

The Canadian Forces pension plan has features that recognize and facilitate early retirement. It is important to note that pensions are also indexed to the cost of living, maintaining their worth over the decades our veterans may rely on them. Provisions have been made that is a bridge benefit to cover the period from the time of retirement until the age of 65 when members normally begin to draw on their benefits from the Canadian pension plan.

Let us look at those bridge benefits. The bridge effect acts as a link to ensure our veterans receive a relatively stable income prior to the income of their CPP payments. It is not, however, intended to continue after the age of 65 when CPP generally begins. In effect, the CPP takes over from the bridge benefit. There is a transition from source of income, the Canadian Forces pension plan to the CPP and Canadian Forces pension plan.

In many cases, a veteran's pension income will remain essentially the same prior to and after the transition. However, there are two primary reasons why the pension amount could change when the retiree reaches 65.

First, the individual may have chosen to continue working after retiring from the Canadian Forces. This would actually result in higher pension benefits starting at age 65 because of the additional CPP contributions that had been made.

Second, the CPP allowance paid would be less if the retiree chose to draw on it at age 60 rather than at age 65. When the bridge benefit ends at age 65, the veteran who was already receiving a CPP allowance would notice a drop in income.

It is important to note that the decision to start drawing CPP early is a voluntary one on the part of the individual. Either way, Canadian Forces members can rest assured that they are receiving the full benefits that they are entitled to and that they have paid for. There is no deduction.

Veterans receive the generous pensions they deserve. The cessation of the bridge benefit is not unfair or unjust. Rather, it marks a change in the source of pension benefits from CP pension to CPP.

Let us turn for a minute to the government-assisted clarification pension issues. The government realizes that the provision laid out in the pension plan and its interaction with CPP are complex. That is why the government is being proactive in explaining pension provisions. Information about the pension plan and, in particular, the bridge benefit, is available to all members of the Canadian Forces.

For example, second career assisted network seminars are held on bases across the country. These seminars include information about pensions and are offered to the men and women of the Canadian Forces throughout their careers.