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House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labour.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague did raise the issue of long-term care. I wonder what he thinks about the need for a long-term care strategy and the fact that we are missing specialized services, for example, palliative care, rehabilitative services, dementia care, mental health, day programs and outreach.

One of the key concerns I have is timely access to appropriate dementia care options and long-term care facilities throughout many regions of the country, both urban and rural. This is very limited in rural areas, particularly for people with aggressive behaviours.

Many of our veterans have suffered from PTSD. There are people from the Korean War who are still being treated for PTSD and they develop dementia. We have a number of cases here now but we cannot get them the help they need. They are being put in facilities that are not equipped to deal with their special needs.

I wonder what recommendations the member might make to the minister.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Etobicoke North for her kind and thoughtful question. I also congratulate her as the Liberal official critic for veterans affairs. In the short time she has been critic, she has done remarkable outreach with the veterans.

On this particular question, it is not just for military personnel, veterans and their families. We have a problem throughout the entire country with civilians as well, and the hon. member knows that. Even if I were the minister, I could not say that we have all the people and facilities in place to help the veterans. We simply do not.

The government needs to start investing right away to get people up to speed, especially the DND ombudsman, the DVA ombudsman, the departments themselves, and everyone associated with military, RCMP and veterans communities. They need to get up to speed in order to facilitate and on principle understand the concerns, how to deal with the concerns, and how to assist with the concerns. I wish it could be much faster.

I will give the government credit, though. There has been some movement on this front, but it is ever so slow. We need to move much quicker, the hon. member is absolutely correct. We hope that in further discussions in our committee on other subjects we can move these important issues forward as well.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech and ask him a question.

In 2005, passage of the new veterans charter was fast-tracked. Today, we realize that the new veterans charter had some shortcomings, including the lump sum payment, which is being challenged by a number of veterans.

I believe it is important to take the time to study this bill and hear what certain witnesses have to say at committee meetings. I am not saying that we should simply mark time, but some target groups have some answers to our questions regarding this bill.

I feel the pressure being exerted by the Conservative government to fast-track passage of this bill. In fact, it is claiming that there will be an election. For its part, the Bloc Québécois believes that if the Conservatives do not want an election, three parties in this House can negotiate. The Bloc Québécois is interested in sales tax harmonization. The government should include sales tax harmonization in its budget, compensate Quebec for harmonizing its taxes, and then there will not be an election and we can take our time to properly study this bill. I believe that we must be vigilant and not adopt the bill too quickly. I am not saying that we should mark time, but the bill must be studied in committee, and certain witnesses must be heard—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I must give equal time to the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore to reply.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the answer is quite simple. If the government wishes to avoid an election, there are several things the government can do. One, it can adopt our new veterans charter, which was voted on twice. It could also look at the NDP's proposal with regard to the Canada pension plan. It could also look at the NDP's proposal regarding old age security. It could put the F-35 contract under a competitive bid. It could reintroduce our Bill C-311 on climate change introduced by my colleague from Ontario.

There are many more things. If the government wishes to avoid an election, it should take those great New Democratic Party ideas, incorporate them in the budget, and then we will have that conversation.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Greg Kerr ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I am certainly pleased to rise in support of Bill C-55. I am just trying to get over the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore's suggestion that he might possibly vote for a budget. It came as quite a shock. I was caught off guard here for a moment.

This is an important step forward in dealing with the very important issues that veterans have raised. As a matter of fact, those who attended the veterans affairs committee today heard the ombudsman encourage us all to move on and get this bill forward. The reason we want to move it forward is, although it does not answer all the questions, it brings these incredibly important issues forward and makes these payments available to those veterans as soon as possible. Therefore, I encourage all members to support the bill and get it through.

This new enhanced veterans charter act only fulfills a promise made by the Minister of Veterans Affairs to improve the financial benefits available to injured Canadian Forces members and veterans. However, it also reflects how this government listens to our veterans.

The measures I speak to today amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act proposed by the previous government, commonly known as the new veterans charter. The act received royal assent in 2005, passing unanimously through both this House and the other place.

At the time, it was a groundbreaking piece of legislation. It focused on giving our service men and women the tools to live healthy and productive lives once out in the civilian world. We are hearing that more and more, not about the payments on a regular basis but the support mechanisms, the compensation, and the initiatives that help these brave men and women get back into regular life and live a good, normal life for as long as they possibly can.

Experts agree with the approach. Various advisory councils agreed with this approach as well. We knew at the outset that developing new legislation for our new generation of veterans would not be without its challenges. Today we are five years into the new veterans charter and have gained valuable insight and experience.

We rarely acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns with the charter and we are responding to them in real and meaningful ways. Although it will not all be fixed at once, this definitely is a very important step forward. That is why we have introduced these changes that will benefit thousands of veterans over the coming five years. These improvements underscore our government's deep commitment to repay the growing debt we owe Canada's veterans and their families.

Following extensive discussions with veterans right across the country, we have proposed our first step in moving the veterans' concerns forward.

The bill contains three key financial benefits that will improve the life of thousands of new veterans.

First, it improves access to the permanent impairment allowance under the new veterans charter and the exceptional incapacity allowance under the Pension Act.

Second, it introduces a $1,000-a-month supplement for severely injured veterans who are unable to be gainfully employed and who are already receiving the permanent impairment allowance.

Finally, it gives Canadian Forces members and veterans a choice on payment options for the disability award.

One of the key features of the new veterans charter is the disability award, or lump sum payment as it is better known. Certainly, we have talked about this at length in the past few months.

For the record, I am not sure how much clearer I can be than to say that the disability award is for pain and suffering. I would like to say this in no uncertain terms. The disability award is not a pension. It is not a monetary pension set for that purpose. It is to recognize the pain and suffering these terrific people have gone through.

Each of these improvements is designed to address concerns we have heard from veterans and their families, other stakeholders, as well as through our own evaluations. They spoke and we have listened. Now we are acting, just like we said we would do all along.

Allow me to provide some detail on each of these important initiatives.

The permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance provide monthly support for veterans whose disabilities result in permanent and severe impairments. They also recognize that serious injuries such as amputation, loss of vision, hearing or speech, or severe and permanent psychiatric conditions are not only physically devastating but can result in diminished employment potential.

It takes very little imagination to see that they can affect a person's ability to earn a living. As we know, that inability to support one's self can be just as devastating to one's health as the physical injury.

These allowances were a progressive move but in retrospect access was too limited. Currently, only a handful of veterans receive it, and clearly it is not providing the support and financial independence it was supposed to provide. By adjusting the eligibility criteria for these allowances, thousands more veterans will be eligible to receive monthly financial support.

The permanent impairment allowance provides $536 to $1,609 per month to seriously injured veterans, depending on the extent of their injuries. Our determination to stand by our veterans and men and women in uniform does not end there. These new changes also offer up to $1,269 per month under the exceptional impairment allowance.

Many individuals with serious disabilities can and do continue to work with the help of rehabilitation and other supports. Some, however, simply cannot. Additional measures in Bill C-55 offer an extra $1,000 per month to veterans who receive the permanent impairment allowance and who cannot return to work at all at full potential due to the severity of their impairment.

While the new veterans charter in place today is a great foundation, we recognize the need for adjustments in legislation to address the shortcomings we have only come to realize through experience.

Through consultation with veterans and their advocates and with good research and study, we now know what can be adapted and adjusted to better fit the evolving needs of modern day veterans and their families. Veterans themselves have told us what we need to do and we are doing it.

A perfect example of that feedback is how we have made some changes in the regulations for the earnings loss benefit, another financial support under the new veterans charter.

Changes to our regulations will guarantee recipients of the monthly earnings loss benefit a minimum of $40,000 per year, no matter what their salary was when they were serving in the Canadian Forces. This important change will benefit veterans who were released early in their careers when they held a low rank in the military or for those veterans who were released years ago when military salaries were much lower.

Finally, this legislation would provide veterans with a choice of how they wish to receive their disability award.

This tax free disability award was established to recognize the pain and suffering caused by a service-related injury. As I mentioned earlier, it does not replace a pension. In fact, it was a completely new benefit in 2006. There was never recognition for the non-economic losses associated with an injury prior to the new veterans charter.

This new legislation would allow veterans to choose whether to receive their disability award as a lump sum, in annual payments, or a combination of each. Furthermore, at any time, veterans who so choose may change their minds and receive the remaining amount as a lump sum payment.

This action was taken because veterans themselves asked for it. The decision demonstrates our government's commitment to amend and improve elements of the new veterans charter. It is not about turning back the clock but instead responding to sound advice and recommendations, so that we have a strong array of programs geared to the needs of our modern day veterans.

This government's priority is to ensure that Canada's veterans and their families have the support they need when they need it. We are committed to extending these supports as soon as possible, and we urge the House to join us in giving veterans what they need to live their lives with honour and respect, comfort and dignity.

The minister has worked hard on bringing forward a lot of changes. We have heard a lot about the many changes over the past year. We heard the many concerns that were expressed and we are responding to those in a timely fashion. As well, changes are taking place within the department to better adapt to and respond to the needs of our veterans on a first case basis.

Along with what else is going on, we believe that this initiative today is not the end of the journey, but is a strong start in response to those important priorities veterans have brought before us over these past few months.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, we understand, appreciate and support the bill that is before us today. In listening to the debate, in particular to the New Democratic critic, a couple of thoughts came to mind. It is almost as if NDP members are trying to give the impression that they are encouraging the opposition to support the bill. I can assure everyone that the Liberal Party does not need to be led to do the right thing for veterans.

For many years I have had wonderful relationships with veterans and former ministers of Veterans Affairs. The Liberal Party cares just as much as any other political entity in the country about doing what is right for veterans. If members had listened to our most capable and able Liberal critic with regard to veterans affairs, they would have seen a very passionate, caring attitude to doing what is right for the veterans in our country.

Suffice it to say, Liberals do not need to be told about the importance of it by opposition parties, or even the government for that matter. We are glad to see that the bill is before us and we will give the necessary support to be respectful of both our veterans and the process.

Remember that it is the veterans who protected the integrity of our system and that they would surely want to ensure that there is a process for this to be done in a fair and appropriate fashion, making sure that if amendments can be made to the bill, they will be made in a proper fashion. It is very clear from the comments of the critic that we want this bill to pass, and we are going to go out of our way to make sure that happens.

I do not believe there are members who are greater champions per se than others who are passionate on this issue. There are a number of individuals within the chamber who would love to see this bill acted upon, to go through committee and, ultimately, receive royal assent before the budget is put before the chamber. I suspect that will in fact be the case.

I have had the opportunity to see bills pass through the Manitoba legislature and I must say that quite often when ministers want bills passed, they will go out of their way to work with members of the opposition and others to try to accommodate that speedy passage, to share with members what is happening within the department, and to provide briefings and so forth so there are no surprises. I would ask the government, in particular the minister responsible for this bill, to reflect on what types of actions he has taken to reach out to ensure that this bill will pass as quickly as it should. Suffice it to say, I would suggest that the minister could have done more.

Having said that, the Liberal Party sees the benefits and value of having this bill pass. For those on permanent impairment allowance for serious injuries, ensuring there is adequate compensation is something that Liberals are going to continue to fight for through passage of this particular bill. Moreover, as has been pointed out by the critic, this is not the end. This is a stepping stone—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member. He will have about 16 minutes remaining when this debate resumes.

The House resumed from February 3 consideration of Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 6:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the report stage of Bill C-42.

The question is on Motion No. 1.

Call in the members.

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

Vote #156

STRENGTHENING AVIATION SECURITY ACTGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions at report stage of Bill C-46.

The question is on Motion No. 1.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Madam Speaker, if you seek it I believe you will find agreement to apply the vote from the previous motion to the current motion, with the Conservatives voting no.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Does the hon. government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to proceed this way?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberals will be voting no.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, the members of the Bloc Québécois will vote yes.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, New Democrats are voting yes.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Independent

Helena Guergis Independent Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I vote no.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 6:55 p.m.

Independent

André Arthur Independent Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I vote no.

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

Vote #157

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I declare Motion No. 1 lost.

The question is on Motion No. 2.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Madam Speaker, if you seek it, I believe you will find agreement to apply the vote from the previous motion to the current motion with the Conservatives voting no.