Mr. Speaker, in accordance with Standing Order 52, I rise today to request an emergency debating on matter demand urgent attention by the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the House as a whole.
Veterans Affairs Canada is in crisis. Information published by the department clearly demonstrates that it lacks adequate staffing to deliver the services necessary to meet the needs of veterans and their families and, quite clearly, Veterans Affairs Canada is missing the leadership necessary to serve the men and women who have served Canada.
In his message introducing Veterans Affairs Canada's 2014-15 report on plans and priorities, the minister wrote of the complex and changing needs of our veterans and that the department's processes must change for veterans in order for them to better access benefits and services.
The same report highlights that the first risk to the department is that “the modernization of VAC's service delivery model will not be achieved as expected, and will not meet the needs of Veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members, and their families.”
Worryingly, data from the Treasury Board on the population of the federal public service shows that as of September 2014, 949 full-time equivalents have been cut since 2008, approximately 25% of the Veterans Affairs Canada workforce, leaving the department at its lowest staffing levels since 2000.
Confronted with this information, the Prime Ministerstated, last Wednesday:
We have taken resources out of backroom administration, from bureaucracy. We have put it into services.
In stark contrast to that assertion, information from analysis of the departmental performance review shows that backroom administration suffered the fewest cuts, while programs like disability and death compensation and the health care program and re-establishment services, all frontline services, have suffered the most significant cuts.
To illustrate my point, the frontline program that oversees the disability pensions program and the disability awards program was cut by 341 positions, or a 33% reduction, since 2009.
The frontline program that oversees rehabilitation, career transition services, health care benefits, and the veterans independence program, among others, has seen a 20% reduction in staff over the same period of time.
Veterans Affairs Canada internal services, on the other hand, the backroom administration to which the Prime minister referred, only saw a 10% reduction.
The government has answered that despite these cuts and despite letting $1.13 billion in funding lapse since 2006, it has increased funding for veterans programs overall.
Now that we are aware that the department has been cutting staff in great measure, it becomes clearer why that money has lapsed: Veterans are coming forward and applying to these programs, but there are not enough staff to help them get the benefits they need and deserve in a timely way.
A benefit delayed is a benefit denied, and it appears that the government is in the business of denying benefits.
The Auditor General pointed out in his fall 2014 report that one veteran in five is forced to wait up to eight months for help from the current government and that Veterans Affairs Canada is largely unconcerned with “...how well veterans are being served and whether programs are making a difference in their lives.”
Standing Order 52 provides that the House can adjourn to hear an emergency debate provided that the subject of the proposed debate meets the conditions set out in subsections 52(5) and (6) of the Standing Orders, which state that you, Mr. Speaker, must grant an emergency debate if the subject of the proposed debate is within the scope of the government's administrative responsibilities and is within the scope of ministerial action; will not be brought before the House in reasonable time by other means; and relates to a matter of genuine emergency, requiring immediate and urgent consideration.
Veterans Affairs Canada's responsibilities to veterans and their families is very much within the government's administrative responsibilities. In fact, we would argue that its responsibility is tied to the sacred obligation established by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden during the First World War to care for those Canadians who fought for their country.
Much of what has occurred to date is a direct result of ministerial action.
Given recent response to our questions in question period, and the lack of opportunity to question the minister or departmental staff at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and in light of Parliament being headed toward recess for the holiday season, a season in which those veterans who suffer from PTSD and left unattended are at greatest risk, I believe this to be a truly urgent situation, deserving of the immediate attention of the House.
The men and women of this House and all Canadians owe a great deal to the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces who are willing to accept unlimited liability and sacrifice everything, including their lives. We owe a great deal to the memory of those who did lose their lives. We owe a great deal to their families. Canadians deserve answers and we, their representatives, must have an opportunity to ask questions relating to this crisis.