Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be part of this debate today.
The previous speakers have all been correct, including speakers on our side, that this was a unanimous report to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The response was disappointing but not disappointing in all aspects. There were 14 recommendations and the government has indicated that it is already working on the majority of them and that it will come to some resolution in the future, perhaps the near future for some of them. However, the minister is not prepared to act on some of the recommendations and they all have a commonality, which I will talk about in a second.
There are recommendations in our report, and I say our report because I am a member of the veterans affairs committee, that would require, in some cases, a substantial increase in financial and human resources. I do not believe the government is right when it says that it can do these changes and meet these challenges within the existing budgets of veterans affairs.
I am going to outline four recommendations that the government is not prepared to act on or at least it says it will have further study on. The thing that is the same among all of them is that they will cost money. That is the commonality. The other recommendations are simply ways to cut some red tape and ensure there is some smooth transition, all good recommendations. We are pleased that the minister thinks that these recommendations can be acted upon fairly quickly. It is interesting to note that the recommendations that are going to be further studied all involve money.
We heard this morning one member of the government say that there is $4.7 billion in extra spending. The member who just spoke talked about 800 million new dollars every year, which eventually comes to the $4.7 billion. That is how the government comes up with that figure. I do have real figures from the ministry and I will talk about those in a second, too.
I will read the recommendations. Members will see the ones that the government is not prepared to act upon right now and they will see that they all involve money.
First, recommendation 3 is that the most seriously disabled veterans receive financial benefits for life of which an appropriate portion should be transferrable to his or her spouse in the event of death. Witnesses at committee felt that this was critical. The government is going to further study this particular recommendation.
Second, recommendation 4 concerns the earnings lost benefit, that it be non-taxable. There is some confusion here and I hope it is going to be sorted out by the ministry.
Third, recommendation 5 is that all veterans with service-related disabilities and their families be entitled to the same benefits and support as part of their rehabilitation program whether they are former members of the reserve force or the regular force. This is an important recommendation that we put forward in committee and the minister is going to study it but will not act on it right away.
Fourth, recommendation 6 is that the Canadian Forces work with Veterans Affairs Canada to make military family resource centres available to veterans and their families in order to support them in their transition to civilian life. I am not sure why this one needs more study but I suppose there are some funding issues, so money will be spent again.
If we keep in mind the figures that were thrown around a bit earlier, $4.7 billion in new spending, and clarified further by the previous speaker as $800 million a year, which adds up to $4.7 billion. Here are the actual numbers, and I have two sets of numbers here.
Let me talk about the nine service branches that were closed. They were located in Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Sydney, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Kelowna, Prince George, Saskatoon and Brandon. I will not go through all the figures on how much those offices cost over the last number of years but it ranges for all of those offices altogether. Let me talk about Thunder Bay in particular and it will give members an idea.
The Thunder Bay branch comes in around the $650,000 range a year to run. Therefore, we are talking about a considerable amount of money for these offices if we extrapolate that amount with the others.
By the way, I do not have figures for Prince George, because those numbers were not specific and were sort of spread out over the province. However, I do have figures for the rest of them, which I will talk about. For example, in 2013, it took $156,000 to keep the Brandon office open. However, the most expensive one was just a little over $1 million, which was in Sydney.
There was considerable expense involved for these offices, but I was concerned when they were closed. Previous members mentioned that veterans now have 600 and some odd points of service instead, but I did have a question on training and I remain concerned about that.
We have a further list of allotments and expenditures for Veterans Affairs each year, from 2004 to the end of 2013. However, I had also asked what the amount and percentage of all lapsed spending was in the department, broken down over those years, which is very enlightening. While we are talking about these four recommendations that I outlined, which would all cost money to Veterans Affairs, it is interesting to see the money that was lapsed. I would like to go through the years, starting in 2006.
The total allotment in 2006 in Veterans Affairs was $3.2 billion. However, the actual expenditure in that fiscal year was $3 billion. In other words, 8.21% of the money allotted to Veterans Affairs was left unspent, which amounts to $270 million that was lapsed and given back to the government.
When we talk about closing offices and changing the way things are done in Veterans Affairs, I think it is curious to note how much money was lapsed and given back to the government in each of these years.
In 2007-08, the allotment was $3.4 billion for Veterans Affairs, and almost $3.2 billion was actually spent in that fiscal year. Therefore, $246 million lapsed in that year from Veterans Affairs. It was left unspent and ended up going back into the government kitty. In 2008-09, the allotment was $3.4 billion, and $3.3 billion was actually spent, of which $115 million was lapsed and given back to the government in that year.
In 2009-10, the allotment was $3.5 billion, and $3.4 billion was actually spent. There was a lapsed spending amount of $118 million in that fiscal year that was given back to the government. In 2010-11, the allotment was $3.5 billion. The expenditures were actually close to that amount and the lapsed spending amount in 2010-11 was $41 million, which was sent back to the government.
In 2011-12, the allotment was $3.6 billion. Almost $3.5 billion was actually spent with $171 million that was lapsed and given back to the government. In 2012-13, the allotment was $3.6 billion, and $3.48 billion was actually spent. In that year, which is the last year I have figures for as we do not have the new ones yet, the lapsed spending amount was $172 million.
If we extrapolate for this year, we can assume, particularly with the way the government has put lapsed money in all sorts of departments and put it back into the kitty to try to meet whatever its deadlines are to reduce the amount of money that Canadians owe, if we add these up, the lapsed spending since the government took power from Veterans Affairs is in excess of $1 billion.
Over that course of time there was a certain amount of money allotted each year to Veterans Affairs. Money was spent, and the money that was left over the course of the government's tenure so far is in excess of $1 billion given back to the government.
When we talk about closing offices and cutting corners in other areas, it seems pretty clear to me that the argument the government uses of trying to get down the deficit, and so on, is being done, in Veterans Affairs and perhaps in other departments, on the backs of some veterans and perhaps with money that needs to be spent on veterans.
The other thing I would point out is the allotments, and perhaps it is also important to talk about the expenditures for this year. The exact numbers, the actual allotment for 2006 and 2007 was $3,298,686,739. I would call that $3.3 billion, just as a round figure. There were some various increases each year, and these are the government figures, by the way. These figures are signed off by the parliamentary secretary and the minister. It is interesting that in 2013, the actual allotment was $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion.
We are looking at an increase, and we could be generous, if I do some quick calculating, of under $400 million, which has been the increase over these years. It is important to point out that there has been an increase over the years, but the increase is not nearly as much as the government members who have been speaking today seem to think it is. Therefore, we are looking at a little less than a $400 million increase from 2006-07 through 2012-13.
Let me remind the House and those who may be watching at home that today we have heard from government members that there is $4.7 billion in new funding. They will see that does not really make much sense, because the most that has ever been spent in the allotments was in 2011-12, when $3.5 billion was spent by Veterans Affairs. I fail to see where the $4.7 billion in new funding is. If the government is pretty clear on that number of $4.7 billion in new funding, we should be looking at this fiscal year of expenditures over the course of the years as somewhere in the neighbourhood of over $8 billion that Veterans Affairs has spent. The numbers do not bear that out.
The previous member who spoke talked about $800 million a year in extra funding. Let me just indicate what the ministry has sent me in terms of actual numbers. In 2006-07, $3.3 billion was the allotment. Less was spent. In 2007-08, $3.4 billion was allotted. Again, money was lapsed. In 2008-09, $3.4 billion was allotted. In 2009-10, $3.5 billion was the allotment. In 2010-11, $3.5 billion was the allotment. In 2011-12, $3.6 billion was the allotment, and 2012-13, it was $3.6 billion. Again, that was actually a little less than it was in the previous year of 2011-12.
There are two things in play here. One is that the numbers do not make any sense. In fact, there has never actually been, in any year, $4.7 billion in old funding, much less $4.7 billion in new funding in any given year. I stand to be corrected if the government can explain to this House and to Canadians where that $4.7 billion in new funding is.
I suppose that if I wanted to be generous, I could suggest that maybe it came from other departments and was not actually spent by Veterans Affairs. I think it would certainly be beneficial for all of us and for all Canadians to know exactly where that money came from if, in fact, that is the case when we talk about $4.7 billion.
I think it was important to stand to refute those numbers. Again I emphasize that the numbers I am using come directly from the Veterans Affairs ministry.
It is more important for the discussions here to be talking about recommendations put forward by the committee. Other speakers are absolutely right that it was a unanimous report, and all of us understand that the new veterans charter is a living document that we need to continue to improve. One of our mandates in Veterans Affairs will be to continue looking at the new veterans charter and ways to improve it.
However, when we look at those four recommendations that I outlined at the beginning of my speech, we see that they are all the ones that require financial commitments from the government. They are all recommendations that require the government to spend money.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. The lapsed spending in each of these years when the money went back into the government kitty from Veterans Affairs amounts to over $1 billion from 2006 to 2013. As I said, we do not know yet about 2014, but that will add to the total. I am sure that money has been lapsed again, unless the government thinks that it suddenly spent $4.7 billion in 2014. That remains to be seen. We shall see in due course whether that is correct.
Clearly it is unfair of the government to suggest that there is no money and that the recommendations that cost money require further study and another look before the money is spent. The reality is that money was left unspent every year in Veterans Affairs and went back into the general coffers.
I would urge the minister to look again at these recommendations in question. He perhaps could speak to his parliamentary secretary and others involved in the ministry and say, “Listen, it's pretty clear that we did give money back every year from Veterans Affairs and that it went into the general kitty. Surely we can work on these recommendations.”
These were unanimous recommendations, all-party recommendations, and when we are dealing with veterans and their families, it is obviously critical that these things not get delayed.
What we are left with is that the recommendations from the report will be looked at again and studied at a later date. We know that 2015 is just around the corner, so I have to ask when this will be done. When will decisions be made? Will it be before the next election?
We know the next election will be in October of 2015 and perhaps even sooner. Who knows? My fear is that these very valuable recommendations that we in the committee put forward and that all parties agreed upon unanimously will not be dealt with before the next election. I certainly hope they will be.