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House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was military.

Topics

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I have two quick points to make that I raised on November 23 in the debate on pensions. I have not heard back from the government, so I just want to make these points again.

The first one is that the public service superannuation plan used to be administered by the Yukon government for federal employees in the Yukon. They moved it to New Brunswick with disastrous results, with waits of four or five month sometimes. It is just not working, and I hope the government has moved on that since my request on November 23.

The second thing is that I wonder if the member has heard what I have heard from military members and reservists, that they wait months to have their requests to buy back pension time. They can buy back certain pension time in a particular role or job, but of course they need to know how much it is to be calculated. They are waiting months for that type of service.

Is that the type of administrative service our veterans should be getting? Does that show that the government is making the administration of benefits to veterans a priority?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague underscores what I am most concerned about, that there will only be five centres available for veterans if they need help and support. His point about the problems caused by services being moved to a distant area also underscores the situation we are facing.

Many of the veterans who come to talk to me about their situation are extremely fragile. They have depended on the military for most of their adult lives in their decision-making and they find it very difficult when things get complicated or complex. Many of their needs are significant. As we know, the pay received by the average Canadian Forces person is not significant, and he or she cannot wait months and months for a buyback or some kind of financial support. We can do far better. We promised this.

When I made my remarks, I talked about the covenant between our service personnel and RCMP and this country. We ask them to do terrifying and important things for their country. They have stood and done those things, and we owe them the respect and dignity due by making sure that whatever they need will be provided. Unfortunately, Bill C-55 does not do that, at least not in its present state, and I am hoping that we can amend it to make it stronger and make it work because we are far past the point where we can tolerate any more wasted time.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, when the minister made his presentation on the bill some time ago, he indicated the changes to be brought about by the bill but insisted that the lump sum provisions would be kept as an option. The NDP's argument has been that when we are dealing with injured people, particularly younger injured people, they have a great temptation to take a lump sum payment.

Not only has the federal government presented this option but also the Conservative government in Manitoba a number of years ago brought in the same option for workers' compensation. It was basically a way for it to walk away from the problem. If people signed off on a lump sum payment, the government avoided liability at a very low cost, because while the lump sum looks like very big amount of money, the reality is that disability lasts a lifetime. These are young people who are going to live many years.

The government is deluding itself if it feels that somehow it is solving the problem by offering lump sum payments because at the end of day, when all of that money is spent, and in a lot of cases it will be spent very quickly, the people who are disabled are going to feel shortchanged by the government and will come back and ask for more.

Therefore, I do not think we should be offering a lump sum, whether for workers' compensation or this situation here.

I would like to ask the member if she has any comments in that regard, because I sense that the Liberals and the government want to keep the option of a lump sum.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, the lump sum payment is certainly a significant issue. My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore and I have discussed this.

When it comes to older veterans, the lump sum may well make a good deal of sense, inasmuch as they may wish to retire soon or may have expenditures to make, such as paying off their mortgages or their children's educations. In these cases, the lump sum payment might make sense. If their health is good, that is an option that should be available.

However, as my colleague has pointed out, younger veterans have a whole lifetime ahead of them. They have families to support, they may have medical challenges to deal with and physiotherapy and expensive drugs to pay for, as the young master sergeant explained to me. For those people, the lump sum does not make sense: they need a secure pension. The former ombudsman, Mr. Stogran, pointed that out quite clearly.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the debate on Bill C-55.

From the outset, I want to point out that I support Bill C-55, as the son of a World War II veteran who served at D-Day and went through the battle of the Falaise Gap and Caen. My father came home with shrapnel in his legs and that was there until the day he died. He lost hearing in one ear. I know what it is like to live with a veteran who had to seek services from Veterans Affairs. I know what it is like for someone who, through no fault of his own, did not come back the same person as when he left for the war. Yet my father would say every day that he would do it again.

At the end of World War II, no country treated their veterans better than Canada, bar none.

As the vice-chair of the national defence committee and the vice-chair of the Afghan committee, I have had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan on three occasions and meet with our soldiers in the field. I have had the opportunity to meet with veterans here. As a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Richmond Hill, Branch 375, I have talked to veterans. All they want and deserve are services that will respond effectively to their needs.

When a veteran, in his eighties, needs a new pair of eyeglasses and it takes months to get a response, that is unacceptable. When a veteran needs a new hearing aid and it takes months, that is unacceptable.

Whether these amendments are made or not, the charter still does not deal with the issue of customer service. We need to respond more effectively and efficiently to the needs of veterans. As more and more people come home from Afghanistan, we will have a larger number of veterans. The defence committee last year did a post traumatic stress disorder study. We found that there was a discrepancy in the country between east and west in terms of the services available for veterans.

I wrote the Minister of Veterans Affairs on October 25 about the $4,100 currently paid for burial. That is about 70% less than a normal burial in our country and one-third of what it would be if one was killed in action in Afghanistan. That is unacceptable. Some families do not have the money to cover full burial costs and the government only provides $4,100. I hope the minister will respond effectively on that issue.

There is no question that the bill before the House tries to address some of the issues. We know that the Royal Canadian Legion, for example, is supportive of these changes. Our party has no intention of holding up the bill. We want to ensure we move forward as fast as possible.

The charter was passed in 2005, and this is a living document. It is too bad that it has taken four years to come to this point. We need to act quickly to deal with some of the issues that are before the House and get this done.

One of the issues the government did not deal with effectively was on the lump-sum payment. That is surprising, given the minister's departmental study found that 31% of veterans were unhappy with the lump-sum payment. Although the minister said that he would improve the system, under this legislation, all the minister has really done is divide up the payment differently. Veterans have not been asking for that. That is not what that study showed.

Clearly dealing with the issue of partial payments over a number of years for recipients or a single lump-sum payment still does not address the issue that many veterans have articulated. That should have been addressed in the legislation. Again, the minister has had four years and nothing has really been done to address it.

In fact, if we look at Australia, the Australian veterans receive an average of $329,000, whereas the British receive up to $1 million. We need to address this kind of issue for our veterans.

Pieces of the legislation address the concerns of a number of people and a number of associations, such as the proposed legislation dealing with $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, an improvement, and for those too injured to return to the workforce, a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary was when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit. Again, that is an important change.

These changes are necessary but, again, it is the ability of veterans to access these changes. It is the ability of veterans to get the services they need in a prompt and efficient manner.

A larger disability award is needed in line with what is provided in Australia, which is also provided to disabled civilian veterans who also receive assistance. Again, these are things we could do. I mentioned burial costs, again things we could address.

In the House we always say how important veterans are, yet when it comes to action, we have waited four years for changes, which, again, particularly because of pressure from all opposition parties, now almost at the eleventh we get this.

The new veterans charter advisory group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs have indicated, insistently, the need for changes and for those changes to happen quickly. Again, it is disappointing that we have waited.

On the issue of homeless veterans, it is absolutely shocking in our country that we have veterans who are homeless, who are on the streets, who have come back to a lack of support. Again, it is a national disgrace that we have homeless veterans.

Only now are the media, members of Parliament and others actually looking at this, not only as a social issue but also as a moral issue. We have a responsibility to deal with those individuals. Again, I find it very sad that we have what I call homeless heroes on the street who have no ability to deal effectively with finding work, health benefits, et cetera. We have to deal with that.

It is encouraging that many national veterans' organizations are in support of this. It is encouraging to note we are moving forward with the legislation. Some people are talking about an election. I guess that will up to the government. It only governs by the will of Parliament and hopefully maintains the confidence of Parliament. If the government is really serious, hopefully we will be able to address these issues, both now and in the upcoming budget, which the Minister of Finance has announced will be presented on March 22.

It is important that we not only respond in this way, but also that we provide more people in the field, in terms of caseworkers who deal with our veterans. We are going to see a significant increase in the numbers of veterans coming home, because of Afghanistan, and that is going to have an impact.

The number of psychiatrists and psychologists in the Canadian Forces is actually low. In fact, the services are much lower and much less effective in eastern Canada because many of those bases are further away from some of the major cities versus those in western Canada. We need to address that problem.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not something that is always discovered on a veteran's return home, or three months later or two years later; it can be up to five years later. Again, are we ready to respond to that?

From our studies at the defence committee, the answer is clearly no. We are not ready to respond to that. On that point, I plead to the government to put the resources in to ensure we can attract the professionals to help in that regard and to help the families of those individuals.

About 10 years we did a quality of life study at the defence committee. It really responded to many of the key issues on wages, housing conditions and benefits for people. It is time we started another review and respond in terms of updating the quality of life. We ask people to go overseas and put their lives on the line, while their families are here. Do the families have the right support while those people are away? Do those people have the right support when they come home?

The answer is we do not. We have fallen a long way since the end of the Second World War when we provided the best benefits to veterans coming home after that war.

I was part of a Parliament that addressed these issues and addressed them effectively for future generations. Although we talk a lot about our responsibility to veterans, I would hope that we really show it to them, not only financially but in the other ways that I have pointed out.

I trust we can move this legislation along very quickly. Although some people have reservations, the reality is not only do we have to act at least on those changes that have been made, but we have to keep pushing on the others as well. If we do not, it will be another four years before we see any action.

Our party has pledged to do that. We are party that brought in the charter. We are the party that said it was a living document. It is too bad that it sat on the shelf for four years. Ultimately we are all collectively responsible for ensuring our veterans have the best.

The House resumed from March 1 consideration of the motion.

Citizenship and ImmigrationCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Call in the members.

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

Vote #189

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, be read the third time and passed.

Strengthening Aviation Security ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to order made earlier today the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-42.

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

Vote #190

Strengthening Aviation Security ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from February 17 consideration of the motion.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 559 under private members' business in the name of Mr. Baird.

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

Vote #191

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from February 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Free Public Transit For Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-449 under private member's business.

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

Vote #192

Free Public Transit For Seniors ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from February 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-575, An Act respecting the accountability and enhanced financial transparency of elected officials of First Nations communities, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-575 under private members' business.

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

Vote #193

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)