Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to rise in the House to speak on issues related to veterans. I am very happy to follow my colleague from Saint-Jean, in particular because we share an affinity for Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean in his riding. We both reminded the House not long ago of the 1994 budget of the Liberals that kick-started the decade of darkness for the Canadian Forces, and which closed that fine school. I was very proud that a number of years ago our government reopened Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, and that my friend Michel Maisonneuve has done a great job of building that centre of excellence back up. We hope to see it continue to produce fine young men and women leaders for the Canadian Forces.
Speaking of leadership, we are talking today about Bill C-27 and the subject of the veterans hiring act. It is important for Canadians who may be listening to this debate, or groups that are unsure about the subject, to know that this is truly a group effort. A few members of the House have suggested that there are not going to be many veterans who would qualify for the public service, or that it is going to be a very small group or contingent. That might be true. This might be only for dozens or, over many years, 100 or 200 serving veterans to transition into other public sector positions. However, it is an example of our government playing an active role in the subject of hiring veterans and, more importantly, creating a culture in Canada where hiring a veteran becomes commonplace.
I would suggest that does not exist at the moment. However, there are a number of groups that I will refer to in my remarks that, over the last five to 10 years, have been trying to create a culture of hiring a veteran in Canada. Why is that a good culture to build? I suggest, altruistically, that it is good to hire veterans. These are men and women who have served our country with distinction, at times putting themselves into harm's way, whether overseas in Afghanistan or on missions here in Canada. Therefore, it is good for the government, and indeed the private sector, to hire veterans. However, it is more than just altruism; it is good business sense. It is actually accretive, to use a business term, to the bottom line, because businesses are getting men and women with demonstrated leadership.
Whether it is a master corporal or a major-general, these Canadians have received training that is unparalleled throughout NATO and the developed world in terms of an educated military, one that is trained in leadership ethics, managing people, leading under stressful situations, and with a culture that is inherently loyal. The regimental structure that the military is based upon is based on loyalty.
I have dealt with employers for many years, and one of their biggest challenges is retention. Somebody who is in high demand will go on to the next opportunity. Hiring a veteran helps to reduce costs over time, by retaining people who are inherently loyal. If employees show loyalty to employers with the opportunity of a job, they will return it, not just by meeting expectations but exceeding them. Therefore, the government is an important partner in the creation of a culture in Canada to hire veterans. I am pleased to be part of a government that has brought two bills before the House on this very subject. Whether 1,000 veterans are hired or one veteran is hired, it is a good step for Canada.
Bill C-11 was a priority hiring for injured veterans who were released as a result of injury, and Bill C-27, before us today, is on hiring veterans for the public service more broadly. This bill looks at Canadian Forces members who have given at least three years of service, and allows them an internal hiring opportunity in another part of government. Whenever I speak about veterans, I try to provide facts and educate others on this because there is too much rhetoric on this subject and not enough facts.
It might be news to some people in this House to learn that upwards of 4,000 to 5,000 people transition from the Canadian Forces each year. About 1,200 of those people leave for a variety of medical reasons, whether it is people with serious injury as a result of service, such as in Afghanistan, or those whose vision or hearing has become impaired and may lose their flight qualification, as I almost did in the air force when my hearing was damaged. We are looking at 4,000 to 5,000 men and women transitioning out of uniform each year. This bill would give those people one more avenue to explore as they plan their transition.
People who receive an honourable release from the Canadian Forces after a three-year service minimum have a level of priority within the civil service that would extend to five years. That number is important because it inherently recognizes that when they transition, veterans may receive additional training or get more education. The Canadian Forces can assist with that. In fact, there is matching of some payments for training programs and tuition payments, to allow people to continue their education while in uniform. In many cases, there is tuition assistance as they transition out. By building in a five-year period, we are acknowledging that people may release and decide to improve their skills or education. We want to ensure that opportunity in the civil service remains open to them.
As I said with respect to Bill C-11 earlier, if people release from the Canadian Forces as a result of a medical release, including an injury or a change in their medical category, they would be given the highest priority of hiring within the civil service. That is appropriate. It recognizes that the men and women who join the Canadian Forces give an unlimited liability to their country.
The most important decision that the members of this place make as parliamentarians is sending our men and women into harm's way. It is appropriate for us, in turn, to give these people the highest priority to find a position in the civil service.
I am glad to hear that many members, on all sides of this House, are here to support Bill C-27, the veterans hiring act. I am disappointed because it is certainly clear in listening to the debate that not a lot is known about the subject and how many people transition each year. Unfortunately, the politics in this area creeps in so often. However, it is refreshing to see that, in principle, most members of this House will be supporting Bill C-27.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about what I alluded to at the outset, which is building a culture of hiring a veteran in Canada. I said that with Bill C-27 and Bill C-11, our government has been an important partner. In many ways, we have helped to nudge the private sector and other individuals in Canada into doing more for hiring our veterans. However, as a parliamentarian who served in the Canadian Forces for 12 years, and after my release has worked on veterans issues for the last decade, I also want to salute some of the Canadians who have been doing this in a steadfast and dedicated way over the last decade. Government should not be the answer for everyone. A lot of veterans will want to go into the private sector. There have been some real trailblazers in that regard.
In fact, another thing that our government did was to create the Veteran Transition Advisory Council. I am very happy to say the minister, just last Friday, met with the Veteran Transition Advisory Council, VTAC, as it is called, in Toronto, to hear its latest update. This is a group of business leaders from across the country. The previous minister gave a mandate to them to help break down barriers within certain industry sectors and report back to the government on how it can facilitate more hiring of veterans. In a similar way that Helmets to Hardhats helped veterans break into the construction industry, VTAC was meant to do that.
I would like to thank Shaun Francis, the chair of the True Patriot Love Foundation, who was the first chair of VTAC, and the vice-chair, Joel Watson, someone I am happy to call a very good friend, like Shaun. Joel served as a dragoon officer before becoming a lawyer in Toronto, and has continually given back.
The entire board of the Veterans Transition Advisory Council, which has been advising the government, has each started veteran-friendly hiring initiatives within their own companies. In some cases. that might mean dealing with the human resources department to educate them, to let them know that looking at military experience as an important determinant on who to hire is something they should focus on.
In fact, one of my last major initiatives as one of the founders of the True Patriot Love Foundation was working on a conference with Canadian employers called “From Battlefields to Boardroom”. The goal was to bring senior human resources leaders from companies across Canada to a conference to hear from veterans, to hear from other companies that are hiring veterans, to show them that sometimes accommodating a veteran in the hiring process or considering their military service to be equal to some related civilian experience, will go a long way in getting them a great addition to their team.
The conference also had leaders from the Canadian Forces educating private sector employers on the difference between a corporal and a colonel. A lot of civilian organizations that do not have veterans may not know the different types of service or types of education and training that our men and women in the Canadian Forces have.
The battlefields to boardrooms conference was a big step in breaking down barriers to hiring veterans. I would like to thank all of the participants in that event.
There are also groups that have been doing this as part of their outreach to Canadians in working with veterans and with our wounded. I spent time this Saturday with Scott Maxwell and Phil Ralph from Wounded Warriors Canada, in Uxbridge, at a fantastic thanks to our troops tribute.
Wounded Warriors is part of their charitable efforts, allowing Canadians to support the men and women of the Canadian Forces. They have encountered companies and employers who want to do more than just help financially; they want to open their hiring process and open opportunities within their companies to veterans.
I salute the entire team at Wounded Warriors. I know they have an upcoming employer fair, in Alberta. They will be spreading their message that it is more than just the right thing to do. Some of the best hiring decisions they will make will be by hiring men and women who have served Canada.
Probably the most fascinating group I have ever encountered, and I am happy to belong to it as well, is a group called Treble Victor. It was begun a few years ago by Don Ludlow and Mark Walden, and is currently led by Tim Patriquin.
This is a networking group of veterans that started in Toronto. After they have transitioned into the private sector, they meet with their HR department. They meet with their senior leadership and ask them, “Why are we not hiring more veterans?” Or they ask, “Are there barriers to the hiring of veterans in our company that we can address?”
They have had tremendous success. I remember a number of years ago, before joining this House, Gord Nixon, the CEO of Royal Bank, when approached by Treble Victor members within the bank, talked about doing a bit of an audit, asking how many veterans they had. He was amazed at how many there were within the national organization. They were then empowered to create a network within the bank to help other veterans find employment.
Canada Company is another spectacular example of good charitable work leading to employment opportunities for veterans. It was started by Blake Goldring and a number of prominent business leaders. I was happy to attend a lot of their events when I was a lawyer in Toronto. It started as a program to raise funds for scholarships for the children of the fallen. However, it soon grew into an employment initiative, as senior business leaders wanted to do more than just support them financially. They have the military employment transition program, the MET program, and a website of tools run by an RMC classmate of mine, Walter Moniz, reaching out to employers and allowing transitioning veterans to plug into opportunities in the private sector.
There are also groups like Military Minds, started by a soldier suffering from operational stress injuries, creating a community for people to rally upon. Now there are opportunities for employment from that.
When I was in Windsor, I met with the leaders of Delta Company, a group of business leaders from the Windsor area helping find employment for members of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment.
Government is one part of building a culture here in Canada of hiring veterans. I wanted to salute some of the trailblazers, some of the people who have been at the vanguard of this subject.
I would also like the opportunity to thank a couple of members of this House. In fact, I would like to thank some members from the other side of the House, including my friends from Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Winnipeg North. Last week, they joined me in co-hosting the second annual celebration of service on the Hill, recognizing the parliamentarians and members of Parliament Hill staff who have served in uniform.
At the event this year, we also recognized some of the trail-blazing companies that have been implementing great hiring veteran programs for many years, such as General Electric, McDonald's, Thales, and TD Bank. The award for TD Bank was received by retired General Rick Hillier, who now works at TD Bank and helped the bank roll out a veteran hiring program throughout its national network of branches.
McDonald's started as a charitable sponsor of the True Patriot Love dinner and has now hired veterans throughout its organization. That is an organization where people can start small and go all the way to the top organically.
We wanted to recognize some of these trailblazers on Parliament Hill.
I have heard concern here about Veterans Affairs ads. I will tell the House that if any member of the House has worked on this issue, like I have for the last decade, an important part of those ads is the information. The information is very important, because most young veterans from Afghanistan try and access most of their services online. There are 15,000 who have signed up for a My VAC account.
More importantly, though, is the image of the former soldier straightening his tie, taking his daughter's hand, and going out of the house. That has been a message and an image that I, personally, have been trying to send for many years to show that taking the uniform off, our veterans are the men and women of Canada. We are thankful for their service. They are dads. They transition into amazing soccer coaches, parent council members, and private sector employees. Even more important than the valuable information on services and how to contact them is sending the message that veterans can transition from uniform and have a meaningful post-military career, be a great dad, a great community member, and a great role model.
I would suggest that websites, which have been mocked by some in this House, are the number one way that anybody thinking of transitioning out of the forces finds out about it. They go to Google and they google it. The employers, businesses, and charities that have worked on this for ten years are all there.
It seems that the MPs in the House seem to forget that we now not only serve veterans who are 80 years old and 90 years old, we serve Afghan veterans with multiple tours in their 20s. We have to make ads. We have to be online.
I would invite members to look at journalist Kevin Newman's blog on the subject. We need a better and more unified website that scores highly and that people will see.
I would like to finish by saying that it will take government and the private sector to build this hire a veteran culture. We have to show that it is not only the right thing to do, but that hiring a veteran will make a business a better place.