House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was businesses.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 11 petitions.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in relation to Bill C-40, an act respecting the Rouge national urban park. The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House without amendment.

Latin-American Heritage Day ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-634, An Act to establish Latin-American Heritage Day.

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of introducing a bill to establish Latin-American Heritage Day. As my colleagues know, I was born in South America. Latin America, in its strictest sense, refers to the parts of the Americas that were colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese. However, in a broader sense, it also covers the Caribbean, including Haiti.

Why a Latin-American heritage day? Through my work and as an immigrant, I have come to realize that the Latin-American community is a close-knit one where everyone is connected. Then there is our telltale accent.

Our presence in Canada is relatively recent. It does not go as far back as the 19th century, more like the 1960s. Although the community has not been here for three centuries, it is well integrated into Canadian society on the economic, political—I am proof of that—and cultural fronts. There are great scientists, men and women, who have worked hard in academia. These people have integrated very well into the country.

People wonder where the Latin Americans are. We are everywhere because we fully invest in our choices. We love Canada, but we also hold on to our culture and our cultural attributes. It is for all those who have given their heart to this country that I want to establish a Latin-American heritage day.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, presented on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, be concurred in.

This being Veterans' Week, I am very pleased to be the first to speak to this debate and to take the time to honour the memory of all of our Canadian veterans who made sacrifices to keep us safe and protect our values and our ideals.

This year, Remembrance Day will be especially significant for Canadians. The shocking events that took place just two weeks ago remind us of what our soldiers are ready to do, what our veterans are prepared to sacrifice to protect us. This year, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo and their families will be in the thoughts of all Canadians.

Following those incidents, veterans across Canada decided to guard their local memorials. With great pride, they once again answered the call to protect these sacred memorials. I would like to thank them all. Canadians are extremely proud of them.

I was also amazed by Canadians' great generosity following these incidents. In just one week, the Stand on Guard fund for the Cirillo and Vincent families raised over $700,000 to help these families. I would like to thank all of the generous Canadians who gave to help these families overcome these utterly inexplicable tragedies.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Scarborough Southwest on the bill he introduced this week to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday for all Canadians as of next year. I would also like to thank all of my House colleagues, who almost unanimously supported this bill. We will never forget.

We are here this morning to concur in the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs' report on the new charter. On June 3 of this year, the committee presented its unanimous report on enhancing the new veterans charter. The committee held 14 meetings and heard from 54 witnesses. Naturally, the witnesses included many groups of veterans' representatives, veterans' health care research experts, and compensation experts. We heard from experts in all veterans-related sectors so that we could carry out a comprehensive study of ways to improve the new veterans charter.

From the beginning of the study, all the witnesses and veterans' groups testified to the urgency of the situation and the importance of improving the new veterans charter as soon as possible. Many also sent a clear message that the problems with the new veterans charter were known and had been identified much earlier in many reports and that the minister already had plenty of reports to support acting quickly to improve the charter.

Financial support, including the lump sum payment, the earnings loss benefit and the permanent impairment allowance; fairness for reservists; family, transition and employability were all among the most recurring themes raised by the witnesses during the study.

Of course the committee members really wanted to come up with a unanimous report because they did not want any ambiguity and they wanted to be able to act quickly to address the most critical and most obvious shortcomings in the new charter.

We therefore concentrated our efforts on the main priorities to show the government and the minister that certain points in the new charter had to be addressed immediately. Veterans have been waiting for these improvements to the new charter for eight years—eight years during which they have submitted various reports to our committee or the Senate committee and the ombudsman has also submitted reports.

Over the past eight years, since no changes were taking place and veterans' groups were increasingly dissatisfied, many tried launching class action suits. They felt the only way to get justice was to sue the government. Of course the government had every opportunity to improve the quality of life of our veterans, but it chose to make them wait.

The minister wants to wait. He says he supports the report, but the changes will have to wait because he needs more time. It is totally ridiculous. As I said, the witnesses were practically unanimous. The minister has all the information he needs to act quickly, but more than six months after the report was tabled, we are still waiting for the minister to do his part, make the changes to this new charter and improve veterans' quality of life.

We are extremely disappointed that the minister is saying that he needs more time. The report was unanimous. I had hoped that the minister and the government would listen to reason and act quickly.

The government has decided to adopt a two-phase approach.

First, the minister will study the non-budgetary recommendations and those that might be covered by Veterans Affairs' current budget. If the minister thinks we can improve the charter and the quality of life of our veterans without significant additional funding, then he is sadly mistaken. Veterans should not have to pay the price for the Conservatives' political choices and suffer because of the government's austerity measures. They made sacrifices for their country and deserve to get proper compensation befitting those sacrifices.

As far as the second phase is concerned, the fact that the government has not provided any timeframe worries me greatly. The way things are going, veterans might have to wait until 2016 to get tangible results when it comes to the lump sum payment or the earnings loss benefit.

If the government does not introduce financial improvements until the next budget, the election may very well be called shortly afterward and the budget bill could die on the order paper, which means we would have to wait for another bill along with the studies that go with it. Veterans might still have to wait for years. This is totally unacceptable. We need a bill right away. We must improve the quality of life of our veterans now—we needed to yesterday—not tomorrow, not in the next budget, which could die on the order paper given that the election will be held in October. We need the minister to act on this immediately.

I am not the only one to say this. In fact, the Royal Canadian Legion made largely the same comments in a press release.

Here are some excerpts from a press release issued shortly after the minister's response was tabled:

The Royal Canadian Legion is disappointed with the current government’s lack of progress...

...it is the belief of the Legion that the government has had more than enough time, and certainly enough input from subject experts, to be able to take solid action on improving the [New Veterans Charter]...

The lives of these Veterans and their families’ cannot become an election or budget issue.

Like other veterans' groups, the Legion is also asking the minister to take immediate action and allocate the legislative and financial resources to ensure the well-being of our veterans and their families. They just cannot wait any longer.

The Veterans Ombudsman issued this statement:

...I am concerned with the timetable of the phased approach...

Budget for these four substantive recommendations must be included in the Government’s 2015 budget or change will not happen for several more years.

The Legion and the ombudsman agree with us. They are also worried about the possibility that the key measures will die on the order paper. Our veterans cannot wait any longer. It is imperative that we take action right now. I cannot say it enough: the situation is urgent.

The minister had everything he needed to take action last month and the month before that, but we are still waiting for proposals to improve the new charter. That is completely unacceptable.

I will now talk about the main problems with the charter and about how the Conservatives and the minister have failed to take action on certain issues. These needs are urgent and I will explain why.

The committee studied the government's obligations and duties towards veterans. The veterans' group Equitas Society filed a class action lawsuit against the government, since it felt that the new charter was completely unfair and that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over the course of this lawsuit, the government's counsel argued that the Canadian government had no sacred duty towards veterans and that there was no difference between veterans and other Canadians.

Most veterans' groups were quite rightly outraged by the counsel's statement. What is most shocking is that after these veterans' groups said they were outraged by the comments, the minister chose not to call in his counsel and instruct him not to make such comments, since that sacred duty has existed for more than 100 years.

No government before this one has dared question the sacred duty of all Canadians to take care of veterans wounded because of the nature of their duties.

The committee therefore decided to add a few amendments to the preamble of the Pension Act. The government responded that it would introduce a bill to amend the charter by incorporating this recognition of the government's duty to our veterans. However, it took months for the minister and the government to recognize this duty.

I am very pleased that the government is finally coming to its senses and acknowledging the existence of this sacred duty and of the pact between the government, Canadian citizens and our veterans.

Furthermore, the lump sum payment is another problem raised by most of the witnesses. Right now, the maximum lump sum payment to compensate for service-related disabilities is $300,000. If we compare that to the compensation provided by civil courts, the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, for example, offers maximum compensation of $350,000. That is a difference of $50,000.

Can we compare the injuries of a civilian employee with the injuries of a soldier? Obviously, they work in very different work environments. Directly comparing these two different kinds of compensation does not take into account the fact that soldiers face immeasurable risks to their safety and their lives. When soldiers are ordered to do something that puts their lives or their safety at risk, they cannot refuse. However, when employers ask civilian employees to do anything at all, they have the right to refuse if they feel that it puts their safety at risk. That is one of the key differences between military and civilian employees, so the two cannot really be compared.

The allowances disadvantage soldiers, and yet they cannot refuse an order even if it puts their life in danger. They deserve to be generously compensated, just like civilian workers. I think most Canadians would agree.

When the minister said that a veteran can get nearly $800,000, or something like that, there was a catch. He mentioned that a few months ago. I want to try to explain this a little. When the minister said that, he was adding up all the veterans' allowances and the benefits under the service income security insurance plan, which is something that soldiers pay into from their salary. Military personnel pay for their own insurance, while the government sends them into danger and they have no right to refuse. The minister should therefore stop considering this insurance as some form of benefit for veterans and active military personnel.

There is also another problem with how the amount paid out is determined. The amount is paid based on the table of disabilities. Sum X is paid depending on the type and degree of disability. Getting the maximum amount would require a total and permanent disability. A number of injustices were brought to our attention.

I am thinking about a veteran named Bruce Moncur, who is a striking example. He got a serious head injury and underwent several surgeries to save his life. He lost 5% of his brain in the process. Then he had to courageously face the side effects and the necessary rehabilitation.

After those surgeries to deal with the injury, he was awarded $22,000 in compensation from the government. That is right. This veteran received $22,000 for a major brain injury that greatly affected his quality of life. Obviously, that is nowhere near enough. This veteran, in his early thirties, will have to live the rest of his life with the scars and with unreasonably low compensation.

The government cannot continue to award lump-sum payments that do not adequately represent the degree of disability, as in the case I just mentioned. Veterans have to be awarded an amount that demonstrates the appreciation Canada has for those who have sacrificed their physical and psychological well-being, especially in light of a deployment to Iraq. The government needs to resolve these issues quickly, so that our soldiers serving overseas can have peace of mind knowing that they will be adequately compensated. Should they get seriously injured, they should not have to be concerned about their financial security afterwards, as is the case for far too many veterans.

One of the other priorities presented to the committee was the amount for the earnings loss benefit. It is set at 75% of the soldier's gross income. In comparison, injured federal public servants receive 85% of their net income as compensation, as stipulated in the Government Employees Compensation Act.

I could go on for much longer. I will quickly conclude my remarks. As I mentioned, the earnings loss benefit was one of the key elements. An amount equivalent to 85% was proposed, the same amount paid to federal public servants. Our veterans and military personnel deserve the same compensation as other government employees. That is not the case, as they receive 10% less. We must quickly fix this.

Another problem brought to the attention of the committee concerns everything surrounding the earnings loss benefit. The ombudsman pointed out that 48% of veterans with a total and permanent incapacity are not receiving the benefit or the supplement, while those eligible for the benefit qualify for the minimum amount.

Therefore, nearly half of all veterans are not eligible for the earnings loss benefit. The few veterans who do qualify—less than half—fall in the third category, which pays the least. We definitely have to address this problem.

A huge number of problems were raised in committee. I will conclude by saying that the minister has known about these problems for a long time. He must act quickly and introduce in the House substantial improvements to the new veterans charter that will address all the problems raised by this committee.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the veterans committee has come up with a working document on the veterans charter that is of great benefit not only to our veterans but to Canada as a whole. As we recognized the many deficiencies in government policy, a series of recommendations was brought forward. This was done in part because of the hard work of committees, which clearly shows how beneficial it is to have our committees meeting.

Even though the veterans affairs committee has met a few times since the beginning of September, it has missed committee meetings. Other committees have not met since June. I am asking the member if he recognizes the valuable work of committees and whether it would be a mistake to have the veterans committee or any other committee not meet because of procedural plays by any irresponsible political entity in the House?

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Based on the number of rulings that have come from the Chair, I am going to rule that irrelevant and move on to questions and comments.

The hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for that decision. We are fed up with the lack of respect for the House of Commons.

My colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant just delivered a passionate statement about veterans. A report was presented, and I would like him to comment on the government's reaction to that report. Just a few weeks ago, I was outside the House of Commons on Wellington Street, and I saw veterans selling t-shirts to raise money for their prescription drugs.

This government has ignored veterans, and that is disgusting. We saw the government's response. Can the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant tell us more about the government's response to the report?

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster for his comments and his question.

As I said, the report was presented on June 5. During the committee's study, most veterans' groups made the same kind of comments. The minister has received quite a few reports over the past eight years.

I have to say that the new veterans charter was brought in by a minority government in 2005-06. Veterans were promised that, even though the study of the new charter was not exhaustive, the plan was to improve it significantly as problems cropped up and were reported, whether in committee or in the ombudsman's report.

However, in the past eight years just one minor improvement was made, and that was in 2011, despite the many reports that had already been presented by then. I mentioned the ombudsman's reports, many of which pointed to all of the flaws we discussed and others he observed. Committees have also presented numerous reports. Many studies have been presented over the past eight years.

As I said, these veterans groups told us in committee that they were exasperated. They could not wait any longer. They said that the minister had received enough reports, and they wondered why a new one was needed. That is the question we heard countless times during this review in committee. For years, studies have shown all the flaws in the new veterans charter.

The minister is turning a deaf ear. He claims he still needs more time to study the recommendations. That is totally unacceptable. He knew the problems. He had the tools to act quickly, but he chose to wait for budget surpluses. That is totally unacceptable. The government is running a surplus on the backs of our veterans. It is deplorable and unacceptable.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for his speech.

We have been in politics for years now and we have seen this problem persist, insofar as we are unable to be consistent. People are prepared to make major sacrifices for us. When they are active in the army, we support them. However, as soon as they leave the system and they become veterans, suddenly everything becomes difficult, as if in return for their full commitment, we are giving them only a partial and inadequate commitment. It is absolutely deplorable.

I know that my colleague had 20 minutes to talk, but he also told us that he did not have enough time to explain the entire dynamic of this issue. I would like to give him the opportunity to tell us about one or two items he did not have time to address and that would help paint a more complete picture of veterans' needs.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I did not have time to talk about several issues that were raised at committee and in the ombudsman's reports.

I began speaking about the permanent impairment allowance, which has three categories. Veterans do not qualify because the criteria are too restrictive. The ombudsman and the committee have pointed this out many times.

Less than 50% of our most seriously injured veterans, those with permanent injuries that prevent them from working, can access the permanent impairment allowance. Furthermore, when they are placed into one of the three categories of allowance, one of which pays out less, almost no veterans are eligible for the $1,700 category because the criteria are too stringent. However, some of them should qualify for it. These criteria should be relaxed in order to allow more of our most seriously injured veterans to access this benefit.

We are also talking about taking care of the families. Several witnesses said that there was no support for the families. For example, the women who have to quit their jobs to look after seriously injured veterans should be recognized as caregivers. The wives and children of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder have very complex and difficult lives. However, they do not automatically have access to psychological services. These families have been severely affected and should receive better psychological support.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a veteran, I am delighted to be here to speak on behalf of veterans today, and I am delighted that the parliamentary committee produced the unanimous report we are discussing today. The report, “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”, charts a common path forward for veterans' programming in Canada. It represents an incredibly important and significant achievement, and I am proud to have been able to contribute my insights as a veteran, and I thank members of all three parties for producing such a thorough report. Unfortunately, what surprises me is that so much of it seems to be forgotten in what I have been listening to today. If I may, I would like to take a few moments to confirm some of the basic facts for the rest of this debate.

For example, Canadians should know that if any of our men and women in uniform are injured in the line of duty, they are eligible for an upfront disability award worth as much as $301,000, tax free. As well, these same individuals may receive ongoing disability benefits and other supports that can climb to as much as $10,000 per month. It is also important to note that under the new veterans charter, ill and injured veterans and still-serving members now have access to comprehensive rehabilitation programs. This includes full physical, psychosocial, and vocational rehabilitation services, as well as health care benefits and one-on-one case management services for those who require such help.

These are just some of the highlights of the new veterans charter that was implemented by our government in 2006 with the unanimous support of Canada's Parliament the year before. It is this comprehensive and modern nature of the new veterans charter that convinced the members of this House's Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to clearly restate support for it. It is the right way to go with veterans' programming in Canada.

However, the care and support Canada provides to its veterans and their families goes well beyond the new veterans charter. For example, more than 100,000 veterans, survivors, and caregivers are receiving our help with everything from year-round housekeeping services to the shovelling of their driveways in the winter and the cutting of their grass in the summer. In fact, the list of services available to veterans and their families is astonishingly long. I have heard some call it cradle-to-grave care that extends from benefits and supports for young families to long-term care and funeral and burial programs. What is more, we have been consistently enhancing these programs. We have been improving the benefits, services, and programs that are so essential to the men and women and the families we serve. Simply put, I believe I can rightly claim that no other government in our modern history has done more to meet the needs of our veterans and their families.

In fact, since 2006, we have invested almost $4.7 billion in new funding to enhance our veterans programming. While this increased funding is significant by itself, it is even more remarkable when we consider the uncertain global economy we have been operating in for well over the last half-dozen years. We have been increasing our spending on veterans even as we have been engaged in some of the most difficult belt-tightening exercises.

Canadians saw that in our 2014 economic action plan. It included, for example, another $108 million over three years to ensure that modern-day veterans of modest means have access to a dignified funeral and burial. It also allocated $2.1 million to enhance our delivery of vital services through our online My VAC Account, so that veterans and their families can conduct a variety of transactions with Veterans Affairs when it is most convenient for them. Just this past spring, the Minister of Veterans Affairs also announced a $500,000 pilot project to study the use of psychiatric service dogs to assist in the treatment of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our list of accomplishments in support of veterans is not just lengthy but very wide ranging. Among other things, we currently have legislation before the House to give veterans greater access to good jobs in the federal public service. We want to move qualified veterans to the front of the hiring line when they are released from the Canadian Armed Forces due to service-related injury or illness. We are also working closely with other employers to do the same.

At the same time, we are continuing to recognize and honour all veterans and currently serving members for their service and sacrifice. That is why we held a National Day of Honour on May 9. It was so that all Canadians could express their pride and gratitude for the more than 40,000 men and women who served during the 12-year Afghanistan mission, and to pay tribute to the 158 brave Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice for our shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and balanced justice.

That is why we also helped approximately 100 Canadian veterans return to France this past June for international ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. It is why we launched the World Wars Commemoration period, with ceremonies and events on August 4 and September 10 to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of Canada's engagement in the Second World War respectively. Our veterans have contributed so much to our history, and we truly need to know where we have been to understand where we are going.

Between now and 2020, we will commemorate the many milestone anniversaries of Canada's extraordinary role in Allied victories of the First and Second World Wars. This includes a new national tribute we have unveiled for living veterans of the Second World War. Eligible veterans will receive a commemorative lapel pin and personalized certificate of recognition signed by the Prime Minister.

In short, we are striking an appropriate balance between commemoration and ensuring that veterans and their families receive the full support that they deserve.

As the Minister of Veterans Affairs has said, there is no better way to recognize and honour our veterans' service and sacrifice than to ensure that they are receiving the benefits and supports that they have earned. However, our government also readily recognizes that even the best programming needs to evolve if it is to keep pace with the constantly changing needs of those it was designed to serve. This is a message the committee heard many times in listening to the testimony of more than four dozen witnesses from all walks of life, including veterans and their various representatives, academics, and individual Canadians.

If there is one conclusion Canadians can take from the report, it should be our central finding on the effectiveness of the new veterans charter. I would like to read a paragraph from the report that expresses this point very well:

The Committee members unanimously agree that the principles of the NVC should be upheld and that these principles foster an approach that is well suited to today’s veterans. This does not mean that improvements cannot be made. However, the legitimate criticisms of various aspects of the NVC should not overshadow the fact that it is a solid foundation on which to help veterans transition to civilian life when a service-related medical condition prevents them from continuing their military career.

That is what all members of our committee concluded: that the new veterans charter is a solid foundation.

Canadians can be proud of the work that the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs did. Members of Parliament from all three federal parties rolled up their sleeves to work collaboratively. We invited Canadians from across the country to weigh in and, as the Minister of Veterans Affairs has said, our government supports the spirit and intent of the vast majority of the committee's 14 recommendations. He has promised that our government will leave no stone unturned as we find innovative ways to build upon the substantial new funding we have already invested in our veterans programming since 2006.

In the short term, we will immediately adopt a number of measures. This means, for example, that we will be improving family access to psychological counselling services and developing a new training program to better assist the caregivers of our injured and ill veterans. We are going to help families care for their loved ones with the kind of insight and support they need and deserve. We are also going to work with our key partners and stakeholders to find the right policies and programs to meet the more complex issues and challenges facing veterans and their families.

We value the ongoing input and advice of the Veterans Ombudsman and veterans' organizations and we want to make sure that Canada's brave men and women in uniform, past and present, can always count on the services and support they need. Our government's formal response to the committee's report delivers that today and beyond.

When I was on the defence committee, we had a study on the care of the ill and injured. Many of these issues came up at that time as well, and our obligation to support our veterans in every way we possibly can struck me profoundly as a member of that committee.

Times change, wars change, conditions change. This government is committed to being flexible in ensuring that the needs of our veterans today, tomorrow, and beyond are going to be met.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it curious that the member and the government have been saying for about a year that there is $4.7 billion in new spending for Veterans Affairs. I would like to put this idea finally to rest. Through access to information, I have the actual figures: in fact, $4.7 billion has never been spent in any year for Veterans Affairs, much less as an addition or a top-up to what is spent.

Here are the numbers: in 2006, the allotment was $3.2 billion, with $3 billion spent. It was $3.6 billion as of last year, so when the member says $4.7 billion in new funding, it seems to me it is about $400,000 over the last seven years.

I would like to know where the member finds there is $4.7 billion in new funding, unless maybe a couple of months ago in 2014 $4.7 billion extra, on top of this, was suddenly and miraculously spent.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for his question, but that is absolutely preposterous. This government has invested over $4.7 billion in veterans over the years, as well as all the other monies that I talked about. There was $108 million for the burial program alone. This government is absolutely committed to our veterans. It is absolutely committed to investing in our veterans.

As I said in my speech, we have endured some of the most difficult belt-tightening in recent years, yet this government continues to invest in our veterans because it is our veterans who have preserved the foundations of our democracy.

In that speech I also mentioned freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and balanced justice. It is our veterans who provided that framework for the rest of us to live in. This government will always invest in our veterans, now and in the future.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it was a pleasure to serve with the member for Etobicoke Centre on the defence committee for a number of years, and I know we all thank him for his long service as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

He mentioned the veterans charter briefly in his speech. There seems to be a myth propagated by the NDP members from time to time that somehow they have always been opposed to the new veterans charter, when in fact they, along with all members of the House in 2006, unanimously supported it at all stages. There was no debate in the House. It was so critical to pass the new veterans charter for our veterans that it was passed unanimously at all stages.

I wonder if the member could talk about the history of the new veterans charter and how it was supported by all sides of the House when it was brought in.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. When the House brought in the veterans charter in 2005, all parties supported this measure unanimously, because regardless of the direction that debate may sometimes take in the House, all members of the House care about our veterans in Canada. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the NDP members, the Liberals, and the Independents all believe that our veterans are a national treasure and that all of us believe they deserve the best care.

We also unanimously agreed at committee to adopt 14 new points. Once again all members of that committee agreed unanimously to upgrade the veterans charter with 14 key critical points that are needed to enhance it because we all recognized that times have changed, veterans have changed, and generations have changed. The way people live today compared to the way they lived at the end of the Korean War, at the end of the First World War, or at the end of the Second World War is different, so we need to evolve our programs to be able to serve our veterans to the best of our ability.

It may not always be easy to do that, but as members of the House, we have to collectively and together ensure that our veterans get the best care possible. The new veterans charter and the new committee report supporting all 14 new points will help us address those issues.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the statistical unpacking of the financial supports that back up the veterans budget.

I met a veteran coming back through upstate New York because he could not afford to travel through Canada on his way to Alberta to work. He told the story of a young 19-year-old who had fallen off scaffolding in the oil patch and was getting more compensation after working six months of his life on a job site than he was getting after serving 24 years in the military and encountering an explosion in Afghanistan that resulted in hearing loss, a disability in his arm, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said that after 24 years of serving his country, he could barely get a meeting with veterans affairs, and when he did, he barely got enough compensation. He said he had to go and work in Alberta to save the family farm in Nova Scotia.

How does the member opposite reconcile that life with the statements he just made? How does he reconcile that suffering with the supposed generosity of the government, especially when it is backdropped against the scores and scores of veterans who have protested the inadequacy of the government response to the very real life conditions they are facing on a daily and yearly basis?

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government understands that sometimes mistakes have been made and that issues can arise with individual veterans.

However, the government is working very hard at cutting the red tape to ensure that veterans get the help and services they need from Veterans Affairs Canada as quickly as they need it. That is part of the 14-point plan. That is part of the mission of our Minister of Veterans Affairs. He has listened to veterans through veterans committee testimony and through testimony at the defence committee about the care of the ill and injured, and these things are being addressed.

All veterans have an option to access the veterans ombudsman when they feel they are not getting the kind of services they deserve.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the member called my figures “preposterous”. In fact, I have the figures all way from 2006. This information is on a form signed by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

I am not sure why the member thinks my figures are preposterous. Perhaps he thinks the minister is preposterous. I do not know.

I would like the member to explain how he comes up $4.7 billion in new spending, as he said in his part of the debate.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member does deeply support and revere our veterans. However, he is wrong.

Throughout the economic action plan, all the figures are very clearly laid out as to what has been allocated to veterans affairs. Our hard-working and dedicated Minister of Veterans Affairs has worked very hard on this file to ensure that our veterans in Canada receive all the care and all the support they need. The 14 points that have been agreed to by all parties on the committee are going to address that.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the member will agree that perhaps the NDP does not like to add up the additions to the veterans affairs budget year over year to come up with a figure like $4.7 billion.

I have a quote from another member of the NDP, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who frequently gets up in his place and castigates the new veterans charter. What he said in a news article was this:

The reality is, if you compare our veterans care for them and their families compared to the other countries in the world, I think we're right at the very top of that list.

I wonder if the hon. member for Etobicoke Centre agrees with the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore that Canada's care for veterans and their families is at the top of the list in the world.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 6th, 2014 / 10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member, and we are at the top of the list. If we compare the care that other nations provide to their veterans, we will quickly find that Canada is absolutely at the top of the list.

We continue to invest. I have some quick figures. We have invested $2.1 million through the 2014 action plan for the delivery of programs and $108 million to increase the burial benefit to over $7,300, and there is much more. Since I am out of time, I will leave it at that.

In response to my hon. member's comment, I would say absolutely that the way this country treats its veterans is among the top in the world.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure to rise today to speak to an important issue, the veterans.

Like the previous speaker, I had the privilege and honour of serving as a member of the Canadian Forces prior to getting involved in politics. I have had the opportunity to attend many functions with today's veterans and with veterans who served in the past. I want to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.

In the last week or so, there has been a great deal of interest, love, and passion expressed to members of our forces by Canadians all across Canada, particularly because of a couple of incidents that occurred recently in Quebec and at the National War Memorial. It is important to put this in the context of our Canadian Forces.

I would like to repeat some of the things said yesterday in the House with regard to our veterans. My colleague from Guelph, the Liberal Party critic for veterans affairs, said it quite well. I would like to quote what he said:

In less than a week, thousands of Canadians will gather at the National War Memorial, just feet from where Corporal Nathan Cirillo stood when he was slain standing guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Hundreds of thousands more Canadians will join them at cenotaphs, Legion halls, and other memorials remembering his sacrifice and that of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. These two men were murdered just days apart by individuals who would have us be afraid.

There was a lot of response to what took place. I would like to quote the leader of the Liberal Party. This is what the leader of the Liberal party had to say with regard to the incident that occurred two weeks ago:

They want us to forget ourselves. Instead, we should remember. We should remember who we are. We are a proud democracy, a welcoming and peaceful nation, and a country of open arms and open hearts. We are a nation of fairness, justice and the rule of law.

What our leader said is what we are talking about.

It is worth noting the contributions our veterans have made since Confederation and prior to that. I am going again to quote the words of the member for Guelph from yesterday:

From its beginning a century ago, 625,825 Canadians fought in the First World War. A total of 61,082 never returned home, and 154,361 were wounded. In the Second World War, although the First World War was to be the war to end all wars, 1,086,343 served Canada; 42,042 died and 54,414 were wounded. In Korea, 27,751 Canadians served, and 516 gave the ultimate sacrifice, while 1,072 suffered injuries.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have served Canada as peacekeepers and have worn the blue beret, a lasting symbol of Canada's contribution to peace and order around the world. One hundred and twenty-one people have died for these values, and many more have been injured.

There is so much more one can make reference to, whether it is countries like Afghanistan, the Middle East, or other areas of the world where Canada has contributed by having members of the Canadian Forces participate.

It is important to recognize the essence of the report that has been provided and what it is actually attempting to do. It is somewhat dated in that the report talks about the importance of understanding the background of the new veterans charter today.

This is from the report:

The Veterans Affairs Canada—Canadian Forces Advisory Council was established by Veterans Affairs Canada in July 2000 to offer expert, arms-length advice, within the scope of that department's mandate, on how to address challenges facing members and veterans of the Canadian Forces and their families. The advisory council has been meeting twice yearly in pursuit of that objective. During its October 2002 meeting, the council concluded that, despite numerous improvements in a range of services and benefits now available to these very deserving Canadians, the time had come for comprehensive reform.

Again, this is something that was created back in 2000. Members can get more information on the timelines by going directly to the report I am quoting.

On May 4, 2004, in response to the Veterans Affairs Canada—Canadian Forces Advisory Council report, the Minister of Veterans Affairs [who now sits as the Liberal critic for citizenship and immigration] announced that the government was planning to “undertake the most fundamental reforms of Veterans' programs since the Second World War. This announcement also launched a wave of consultations on the five key components of this reform.

The advisory committee, established in 2000, when Jean Chrétien was our prime minister, followed up with recommendations. My colleague, who is now the immigration and citizenship critic, announced five key components.

One component was “disability awards and wellness programs to replace today's pension system for new applicants”.

We had a question today regarding someone in the workforce who fell from scaffolding and received significant benefits that were more than one would receive for an equal type of injury in a different situation. They would have more benefits, even though they might have been working for a short six-month stint. We need to do more regarding that particular point.

Another key component was “physical and psychological rehabilitation services, including vocational training and education”.

We asked our soldiers to go over to Afghanistan on behalf of all Canadians. They are coming back and quite often being put directly back into civilian life or onto a military base.

It is not as simple as retracting the deployment and life going on. There are many types of injury that occur when we have military personnel engaged. Many injuries that were sustained were of a psychological nature. There are some mental illness issues as a direct result of that deployment.

We need to seriously look at the physical and psychological rehabilitation services being provided today. How many psychologist positions within the forces are vacant today? I have heard, through questions and answers during question period, that the government is not filling the positions that are vacant. It is important that we do that.

“Earnings loss support for veterans undergoing rehabilitation, as well as longer-term support for veterans who can no longer work because of a service-related illness or injury” was another recommendation.

That is an area where we have seen improvements, but have we really gone far enough? Again, when I say that we have seen improvements, this is something that was actually stated back in 2004.

I would argue that there are more things we could and should be doing. I will provide some comment on that shortly.

“Job placement assistance” and “More extensive health benefits to meet the needs of veterans and their families” were the final components.

One of the things we often overlook is the impact on families. Many of the injuries sustained by members of our forces, both physically and mentally, have serious ramifications for families.

We have members who have returned who have committed suicide. Arguably, if there were adequate resources to meet some of those needs, maybe some of those suicides could have been prevented.

We have physical injuries that members are finding very hard to overcome. There have even been issues regarding their ability to collect pensions in time because of the time limits for qualifying for a pension. If they come back injured, that could lead to a discharge, which could potentially disqualify them from receiving a pension.

There are disturbances within families, whether it is a parent and a child or the breakdown of a marriage.

These are the realities when we have members of the Canadian Forces being engaged abroad and even on occasion here in Canada.

I think there is more that we could be doing. When we think of the veterans bill of rights and to whom it all applies, appendix E encapsulates it quite well. The bill of rights applies to all clients of Veterans Affairs and then it indicates who that is: veterans with war service, and veterans and serving members of the Canadian Forces.

A good number of people do not necessarily recognize the wonderful role that our reserves play in our modern-day force. Today our reserves are an absolutely critical element to any form of deployment or providing support. These are individuals who often have another life in terms of employment, and they take time away from that life in order to continue to contribute in our forces through our reserves. We need to ensure that we recognize those reservists and the efforts they put in. One only needs to look at Afghanistan to get a sense of the degree to which our reserves were involved.

When we think about who these clients are, it is not only veterans who are serving members of the Canadian Forces who are regular full-timers, but it also includes our reservists in many ways.

Members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also have some affiliation as clients of Veterans Affairs. When I was in service during the eighties, I would often run into members of our RCMP, and there was a sense of bondage there. I have flown in the back of a few C-130s, which is a transport-type of aircraft, where there would be a member of the RCMP. There is a wonderful relationship there.

When we think about the clients of Veterans Affairs, we also need to recognize that spouses, both through marriage or common law, are eligible. Survivors and primary caregivers are also part of the stakeholders. There are eligible dependents and family members, and there are even more clients than that. We need to understand and appreciate what their rights are and what their expectations are. First and foremost, we need to recognize the importance of them being treated with respect, dignity, fairness and courtesy.

These are not just my thoughts and words, these come right from the report. I would encourage people to go over it.

There is so much more that could be said. I would highly recommend to members that they take the time to review the report that was brought forward. There are many aspects, virtually all of them, where I believe one could get good solid consensus. Support is there for our Canadian Forces.

I applaud and recognize the valuable contribution that our standing committees make when they meet and contribute to reports of this nature. I would suggest it was time well spent. I look forward to seeing a continuation of the dialogue on this and other reports.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague on the issue of veterans and the obligation that we have, as parliamentarians, to the people who put their lives on the line for us.

What I hear from veterans in my region all the time is that they are frustrated with the lump sum payments. There is a sense that the government has actually gone into court against veterans who have brought their class action lawsuit, veterans who have been in Afghanistan, and the government's lawyers claimed that there was no such thing as a social contract with veterans.

I find that a shocking statement. If they put the uniform on and risk their lives for our country, that contract is a lifelong contract. It cannot be written off with a single payment. When they are older, if they need help, it should be there.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague, in particular, about the complaints that we have heard from veterans' advocates who say the entrenched culture within the bureaucracy is that they simply do not want to pay for benefits and they make it very difficult for people who have a right, having served this country, to receive those benefits. I would like to hear how my colleague feels about this.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the reasons why I highlighted the issue of the right of entitlement. It is in appendix E of the report, and it is that they be treated with respect, dignity, fairness, and courtesy. We will find that many of the vets we talk to feel that the government is not responding with that sense of respect, that there is more that the government could be doing.

The best example that I came come up with offhand is the decision by the government to cut service offices in Canada. There were a number of veterans' offices that were closed. Many of those offices are the front line for providing services to our veterans. By not allowing that service to be there or to remain, in essence, the government is sending a message that if veterans want something, they have to pick up the phone and call a 1-800 phone number. I believe that the government was wrong in closing down those offices, the service office in Brandon, Manitoba, being one of them.

The issue of compensation for our veterans, injured veterans, is something that is of great concern. My leader has talked about it. The Liberal Party critic has talked at great length about this. The government needs to be far more proactive at meeting the needs of our veterans.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I have to say one of my great disappointments since being elected to the House is coming in here every day and seeing how our veterans have become a political partisan wedge issue, where there seems to be a willingness to try to assert that one party or another does not care for our veterans. I just think it is really unfortunate, in the political climate that we live in, that people would accuse others of that.

My grandfather joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the end of the Second World War. My other grandfather was in the Royal Canadian Navy in the 1950s. I have a cousin who served with the 3 PPCLI in Kabul, Afghanistan.

We all have veterans in our families. We all have veterans in our constituencies. We all care for Canada's veterans. I think that is why it was refreshing to see a unanimous report where that partisan wedge issue was put to the side and there was some agreement there.

I want to address, though, a specific part of the member's speech, where he talked about the Canadian Forces, and the way he put it, that it is willfully leaving open mental health care professional positions, that it is somehow not filling these positions.

That is simply outrageous. The Minister of National Defence is here. Every single person who comes forward who wants to work with the Canadian Forces, in terms of a mental health professional, if they are qualified, I bet he would sign them up today.

There is a shortage of mental health professionals right across Canada in all fields in the public health care system. I have had meetings in my riding through the #308conversations campaign with the Mental Health Commission. Mental health professional shortages are not just a phenomenon in the Canadian Forces. They are a phenomenon right across our society. It is very unfortunate.

I would ask the member to perhaps address that, to perhaps address the fact that we have the most mental health care professionals per capita in the Canadian Forces than any of our allies, and perhaps he could just correct the record, in that he would not want to leave the impression that somehow those positions are being left vacant on purpose.