House of Commons Hansard #211 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was families.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Question No. 1133Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

With regard to Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) for each of the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and, if available, 2013: broken down by income groups of $0-$20,000, $20,000-$40,000, $40,000-$60,000, $60,000-$80,000, $80,000-$100,000, $100,000-$120,000, $120,000-$160,000, $160,000-$200,000 and over $200,000, (a) what is the (i) total number of TFSA holders, (ii) total number of TFSAs, (iii) average number of TFSAs per holder, (iv) total number of TFSA holders who contributed to a TFSA, (v) total number of TFSA holders who did not contribute to a TFSA, (vi) total number of TFSA holders who maximized contributions, (vii) total number of TFSA holders with withdrawals from a TFSA, (viii) total number of open TFSAs with no transactions during the year, (ix) total number of TFSAs opened during the year, (x) total number of TFSAs closed during the year, (xi) total number of TFSAs with deceased holders; and (b) what is the (i) total dollar value of contributions, (ii) number of contributions (transactions), (iii) average number of TFSA contributions (per individual), (iv) average dollar amount of TFSA contributions (per individual), (v) total dollar value of withdrawals, (vi) number of withdrawals (transactions), (vii) average number of TFSA withdrawals (per individual), (viii) average dollar amount of TFSA withdrawals (per individual), (ix) average unused TFSA contribution room, (x) total fair market value, and average fair market value (per individual)?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of SupplyRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that Wednesday, May 13, shall be the day appointed, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), for the consideration of all votes in the main estimates for 2015-16 related to Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing has four minutes left to conclude her speech.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives know in their heart of hearts that they have made life more difficult for veterans and hope that their cynical budget shell game will fool enough people into believing them, but it is too late.

They are worried because we have the courage of our convictions and a plan to end service pension clawbacks, reopen shuttered Veterans Affairs offices, and widen access to quality home care, long-term care, and mental health care services. Most of all, they are worried that veterans have actually been paying attention.

The government should remain worried, because veterans will not see through the ridiculous budget game the current government is playing. They know, more than anyone else, that this is an eleventh-hour attempt to drive a wedge and nothing more. What the government ought to do is back up its support of the veterans charter that it voted in favour of in 2005 and implement it as it was intended.

Veterans remember that all parties voted for the new veterans charter. They also know that after being elected a year later, the Conservatives implemented it in a way that denies the essential pension and support services that veterans deserve. How would most Canadians react if they were to sit down with veterans and hear about the way the Conservatives have been nickel-and-diming them and fighting them in the courts? I am sure they would be outraged.

Most people understand that the men and women who join the Canadian Forces do so with the knowledge they could be called upon to risk their lives on behalf of Canada and might be called upon to put themselves in harm's way in order to uphold peace, security, or human rights here at home and around the world. Most people also understand that in return for these sacrifices and the way these individuals accepted the condition of unlimited liability, we as a country have certain responsibilities. That is how we honour their service and show our gratitude for their personal sacrifices, including the sacrifices made by their families.

This is at the heart of the social covenant that was first established by Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1917. He had this to say about the country's responsibility to our soldiers:

The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.

That has been the working model ever since: a social covenant that acknowledges that our nation, its government, and its citizens will support these men and women in their missions, honour their service, and look after them and their families if they are injured or die in the service of their country.

Put another way, it is the arrangement that most Canadians would recognize as being fair and straightforward, the arrangement they might also assume is the way things are being done today because it is the way things were done many years ago.

If the government will not recognize these responsibilities, veterans know they can count on New Democrats to do so, and Canadians can know that too. New Democrats will recognize this covenant between the Canadian people and the government to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service, as well as to their dependents. Canadians who are wondering how it got to the point that record numbers of veterans are turning to food banks or wondering why the veterans' group Equitas is forced to fight for their due through the courts can count on New Democrats to have our veterans' backs and to fight for them, first and foremost and every time, and not just when it is politically expedient.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus on the issue of the veterans' offices that were closed not that long ago.

I would argue that governance is about establishing priorities. The removal and closure of veterans offices was at a great cost. In my home province of Manitoba, the Brandon service office was closed down, and that had a significant impact on our vets, yet that year, as we see this year, the government continued to waste money. The most obvious waste of tax dollars is likely in the area of partisan political advertising. The government spent almost three-quarters of a billion dollars in advertising, and in promoting this budget alone, it will spend $14 million or $15 million in highly biased and partisan advertising.

I am wondering if the member might want to provide some comment on the government's priorities.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us be very clear. Services to veterans have been cut back through the Liberals as well, so it is very problematic.

I did talk about veterans offices, but I think I can wrap it up with this. This is a comment from Colin Pick, War Pensioners of Canada, Manitoulin-North Shore Branch:

The public are not aware that veterans are still greatly in need. The government portrays to the public that all is well with the vets.

However, that is not the case. Access to services for veterans is actually a problem. I have another quote that I hope to share with the House, because it is quite an important quote, but I will wait until the next question.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech of the hon. member with interest. I would like to ask her how she accounts for the fact that, through Service Canada offices now, there are 600 more points of contact for veterans than there were before, especially in small towns where some of the older vets in particular would have to travel to larger centres to access these services.

Would she explain why 600 more points of access is not a good thing for veterans?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the problem is that these people are not the ones who have been on the front line. We need people who have actually lived it, who understand the issue, who are able to provide services. Some people have gone there and have basically been told that they do not know anything about how to help them.

This quote was sent to me by one of my constituents, Ed Pigeau. He talks about a young man who just took his life:

“Just to let you know Ed, and thanks for passing information along to try to help him, however, he has just been found dead in his apartment…..couldn’t feel worse…..” (name withheld)

I am filled with regret and remorse. Another Afghanistan veteran has committed suicide. Another soul lost.

So my question to you and your fellow colleagues is this: How many have to die before something is done. Do you and your colleagues not feel the loss, do you not understand the sacrifice they have made and that you and I and all our colleagues, have failed this soldier at his time of greatest need.

When you dine tonight and every night does your hand shake when you raise each fork to your lips? Do you sleep peacefully? Do you rise in the morning looking forward to another day?

How lucky are we to live our lives in peace, pursuing our goals, praying to our gods, all in the peace and comfort of our homes....

They did not hesitate nor did they falter when we needed them.

Do something now, before they are all gone.

Question on the Order PaperPrivilegeGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon on a question of privilege with respect to the response that was sent to my office to Question No. 1129, the order paper question I had submitted on the notice paper on March 23.

This question is of great importance because it concerns my ability to undertake my work as a parliamentarian on behalf of my constituents, but also because it falls directly within my critic portfolio as the ethics, accountability, and transparency critic for the official opposition, because these are questions of legitimate government practice.

At issue is the refusal of the government to answer a straightforward order paper question, which was sent to me, very strikingly, by the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, who claimed that it was not government policy to answer any questions that had anything to do with court proceedings.

As will be shown, this answer is not credible and raises deep concerns because the specific questions that are asked, as shall be shown, are not subject to any court investigation right now and, in fact, fall within the purview of parliamentarians in the House of Commons.

The decision to refuse to answer an order paper question is about the potential interference in my ability to do my work as a parliamentarian.

The question asks:

With respect to each Senate appointment made by [the] Prime Minister...: (a) did the government verify that each individual being appointed to the Senate met their constitutional residency requirement; (b) how did the government verify that each individual met their constitutional residency requirement; and (c) what are the details verifying that each individual met their constitutional residency requirement?

These are straightforward questions that have been routinely evaded in the House. We know from precedent that we are told it is question period and not answer period, so the government can say whatever it wants in evading straightforward questions about government practice, and yet if the current government has answered anything at all, it has been saying that the decisions regarding certain Senate appointments were done within the clear constitutional practice of 150 years.

If that were the case, then it should be fairly straightforward to answer what those constitutional requirements are.

What I think is important to point out—and this is where I will refer to the court proceedings—is that we learned two things from the court proceedings.

One is that the Crown attorney in the Mike Duffy trial has said, clearly, that the issue of residency and the eligibility to sit in the Senate is not a focus of the court proceedings. He made that clear on the first day.

However, from what we have learned from the court hearings—and this is why I will refer to the court once again—the issues of who decides residency, who decides the eligibility to sit in the Senate, which is a very arcane place and it has been very difficult to get straight answers, is the role of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council.

These are issues that are germane to the House of Commons: how decisions were made, why they were made, and whether or not there have been constitutional breaches by the appointments.

This is an issue that we must deal with, because we are talking about the constitutional requirements of this nation, which are the bedrock foundation of both legislative branches of government, and if there are issues being raised about the credibility of certain senators who may not be eligible to sit in the upper chamber, it will affect the credibility of all levels of government.

If the residency rules have been clear for 150 years, which says that all senators “shall be resident in the Province” or territory that they represent, then there should be a practice that could be explained to the House of Commons through the order paper question process as to how that verification happened. We know Senator Duffy was appointed as senator for Prince Edward Island, despite the fact that he had lived in Ontario since 1971, with an Ontario driver's licence, Ontario health card, Ontario tax payments, and passports claiming Ontario as his place of residence.

In vetting that appointment, did he meet the residency requirements? How was it done? What is the standard process? Those are questions that are not to be asked in the court hearing. They are not to be asked of the Senate, because it is not within its purview. They are to be asked of the Prime Minister's Office.

I will mention one other element from the trial, and it only needs to be mentioned because it raises my concern about why this answer was not given. What we heard from the court is that it is not investigating this because it is not within its purview, but that the Prime Minister's staff have identified a number of senators who may not meet the residency requirements, and that if those names have been identified—and they have been, apparently, from what we have seen of the emails and discussions about what problem that first gives—it raises the question once again whether or not the due diligence was done.

We know, for example, Senator Wallin, who is facing charges now, was considered a resident of Toronto, yet was appointed for Saskatchewan.

Senator Stewart-Olsen was appointed to represent New Brunswick, but there have been questions that she should be considered an Ottawa senator.

We learn from the RCMP that Nigel Wright wrote that Senator “Tkachuk's sub-committee is interviewing Zimmer and Patterson...why? I think they...have qualification residency issues”.

Nigel Wright also wrote that “I am gravely concerned that Sen. Duffy would be considered a resident of Ontario under this ITB. Possibly Sen. Patterson in BC too”, but Senator Patterson was chosen to represent Nunavut. As he continued: “If this were adopted as the Senate's view about whether the constitutional qualification were met, the consequences are obvious”.

We have learned that, so we should be learning from the government what due diligence it did to protect the integrity of our system. If red flags are being identified about senators, and it goes back to the choices of the Prime Minister here in choosing them, the Prime Minister's Office needs to be able to explain what process was undertaken.

This is not the place to argue the various arguments back and forth, but I want to clarify because the government has claimed that it was not the responsibility of the Prime Minister, but the constitutional experts told us otherwise.

We have seen throughout the RCMP investigation and what we have seen from the court that it has been brought back to the issue of the Prime Minister's Office.

Ensuring the integrity of that system becomes the job of members of Parliament because we have to find out what is happening in the Upper Chamber, if the Prime Minister is choosing to ignore the constitutional requirements, if his own staff had red-flagged a number of senators for possibly being in contravention of the Constitution of this country.

Therefore, on behalf of my constituents and for the benefit of all Canadians, I have used my parliamentary right to ask about that process that the Prime Minister has undertaken. If the basis of residency is so clear, then it should be a simple and easy definition for the government to be able to tell the Canadian public how the issues of residency are determined and who is eligible.

This brings me to the government's response to my question on May 8, which I will read in its entirety and which consists of nine words: “...the government does not comment on matters before the court”.

Not only is that answer completely insufficient, but it is completely incorrect, because the issue, as I said at the beginning, of his ability to sit in the Senate has been determined by the court not to be the issue. The issue is 31 charges of fraud and breach of trust, which we do not deal with in the House because that is a matter for the courts.

Neither does the House deal with the questions in terms of certain Senate expenses that belong within the duty of the Senate, and I certainly hope they will do their job in cleaning up that place, but that is within their house. Within our House, the question goes back to what the Prime Minister knew or did not know and whether the Prime Minister has a process in place for ensuring respect for the Constitution.

What I also find disturbing is that the answer to my question was signed by the member for Oak Ridges—Markham on behalf of the Prime Minister, a man who day after day treated the House of Commons like a mockery because of his refusal to answer those straightforward questions.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to find that the wholesale avoidance by the government to straightforward written Question No. 1129 and the misleading character of the answer constitutes a prima facie breach of my privileges as a member of the House. The responsibility of this matter lies solely with the Prime Minister, and the government needs to respect the rules that we have put in place for parliamentarians to do their job.

Written questions are essential tools for Canadians. As their elected representatives, we hold government to account, and none of the information that is in my questions seems to have been answered, found as somehow outside of our duties of Parliament.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, lays out the intended purpose of written questions as the following at page 517:

...written questions are placed after notice on the Order Paper with the intent of seeking from the Ministry detailed, lengthy or technical information relating to “public affairs”.

It has been acknowledge somewhat universally in different sources, but in the Auditor General's November 2004 report that is entitled “Process for Responding to Parliamentary Order Paper Questions”, it says, “The right to seek information...and the right to hold [government] accountable are recognized as...fundamental [to our system] of parliamentary government”. Any attempt to interfere with the opposition's legitimate to hold the government to account should be taken seriously, since this walks a very fine line of potentially contemptuous behaviour for the House.

I hearken back to the 21st edition of Erskine May Parliamentary Practice, which defines contempt as “an act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament...or any Member”, in the performance of their functions is to “be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent for the offence”. In this case, it is the word “omission” that stands out for me, and I believe this needs to be answered.

I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to look into this because I believe that if this precedent were allowed to stand for government to interfere in the responses to order paper questions and use the issue of not speaking before matters of the court, it would be a ridiculous undermining of parliamentary tradition.

Just this past week government members stood up over the Khadr incident that was before the courts and made it clear that they were more than willing to give their opinions when something was before the court. The Conservatives are not respecting the precedents they are setting, and they are using a court issue to deny us in the House of Commons our ability and our right to do our job.

Question on the Order PaperPrivilegeGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will just offer a few preliminary thoughts and will in all likelihood return perhaps with more to say.

The first point I would make is that the matter of this question of a response says that we will not comment on matters before the courts. That is actually simply a restatement of the sub judice convention, which does apply in this case. In the arguments that my friend just made, he made specific reference to Mr. Duffy in the question of his residence. As I think all of us are aware from media reports, the question of Mr. Duffy's residence has been said by the prosecutor in that matter to be central to the case that he is making. We also understand from those media reports that there has been evidence led in that regard, so there can be no question but that it is an issue that is before the court in a criminal proceeding.

O'Brien and Bosc House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 504, sub judice convention is summarized as follows:

Over the years, a practice has developed in the House whereby Members are expected to refrain from discussing matters before the courts, or under judicial consideration, in order to protect those involved in a court action or judicial inquiry against any undue influence through the discussion of the case. This practice is referred to as the sub judice convention and it applies to debate, statements and Question Period. It is deemed improper for a Member, in posing a question, or a Minister in responding to a question, to comment on any matter that is sub judice.

There is a footnote to the reference of question period. Footnote 80 says “It also applies to written questions and their responses”. That is exactly the case here.

From that perspective, the response that has been provided to the question on the order paper is the proper response in the case of a matter like this. It is no secret what issue the member is getting at. He referred to Mr. Duffy, in fact, in the argument just made. That is exactly his concern.

Further, at page 505, O'Brien and Bosc says the following:

Although Members...customarily observe the convention during Question Period, the Speaker has ruled out of order questions concerning criminal cases, noting that the Chair has a duty to balance the legitimate right of the House with the rights and interests of an ordinary citizen undergoing a trial.

That states quite clearly and strongly that the convention would apply here.

I might also further go on to the question of the response, if he does not accept the sub judice convention, and I certainly think that is sufficient, and that is the question about the Speaker even reviewing such responses.

At page 522, O'Brien and Bosc says the following:

There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions. Nonetheless, on several occasions, Members have raised questions of privilege in the House regarding the accuracy of information contained in responses to written questions; in none of these cases was the matter found to be of a prima facie breach of privilege.

It goes on also to say:

The Speaker has ruled that it is not the role of the Chair to determine whether or not the contents of documents tabled in the House are accurate nor to “assess the likelihood of an Hon. Member knowing whether the facts contained in a document are correct”.

Furthermore, to heighten the explanation of that, on the role of the Speaker in reviewing the adequacy of answers, whether it be in question period or on order paper questions, at footnote 221, it indicates:

The Speaker has also suggested that if the Member is not satisfied with the response, the Member could resubmit the question for placement on the Order Paper...or ask that the question be transferred to debate under the Adjournment Proceedings...

Therefore, there are other avenues available to the hon. member. However, I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that we do not need to deal with that second set of questions because, very directly, the sub judice convention does apply. I may wish to come back for more submissions later.

Question on the Order PaperPrivilegeGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to both the government House leader and also to the very cogent arguments raised by the member for Timmins—James Bay.

First, there is no doubt that the question put forward, in what has become the infamous Question No. 1129 with respect to each Senate appointment made by the Prime Minister, is an issue of public policy. It states:

(a) did the government verify that each individual being appointed to the senate met their constitutional residency requirement; (b) how did the government verify that each individual met their constitutional residency requirement; and (c) what are the details verifying that each individual met their constitutional residency requirement?

This is something to which the government has to respond. For the government to try to pretend that any issue touched by the Duffy trial is something that it no longer has to answer as a matter of general public policy is simply absurd. It is an absurd conclusion for the government House leader to stand and say that the government can now define anything it wants as something that remotely or faintly may touch on some trial, that somehow it means the government is simply exempt from responding. It is something the member for Timmins—James Bay pointed out very effectively and very cogently in his argument, and the government House leader simply has not contradicted that.

Second, this goes back to the issue that was raised by Speaker Sauvé 35 years ago, saying that in terms of a prima facie question of privilege to be made there effectively is an argument that could be made when there is a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member, if it could be shown that such action amounted to improper interference with the hon. member's parliamentary work.

This is a very clear issue where the government is deliberately, because it is an embarrassing issue to it, trying to withhold what is a simple question of public policy, what is a simple constitutional process, and one that the government has responded to for decades. Now that we have the Conservatives entering this twilight zone where I assume they only have a few weeks in their mandate and are perhaps reacting to events in Alberta, they are trying shut down what should be an appropriate public policy response. They should have responded to the question raised in Question No. 1129 by the member for Timmins—James Bay. There is absolutely no reason for them not to. For them to try to throw out these outlandish reasons for why they cannot respond to a simple public policy question on the process that the Prime Minister's Office undertakes is something I think the public certainly sees through.

This is a question of privilege that I hope you will consider over the next little while, Mr. Speaker. If the government is going to respond, we will be responding in kind as well.

Question on the Order PaperPrivilegeGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I thank the member for Timmins—James Bay, the government House leader and the leader in the House for the official opposition for their interventions today. I expect we will hear from both sides once again, perhaps in a timely fashion, given the lateness of the agenda to which we are working.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2015 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke Centre.

I am proud to be a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I actually asked to be on this committee because I care very much about the well-being of our Canadian Armed Forces, and I care because I am an air force brat, travelling the world with my parents and siblings for 17 years, my father having had a distinguished 37-year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Both of my sisters and brother-in-law also served their country very well, again, in the Royal Canadian Air Force. My immediately family has over 100 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. I am the only one who did not have military service, so as a member of the veterans affairs committee, this is my way of giving back to armed forces and veterans to the very best of my ability. As a committee, we have recommended substantial improvements, many of which the government has adopted.

Canadians recently marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, as we call it. I know a number of our colleagues had the opportunity to be there and experience that. We all saw Canada's veterans being welcomed with open arms by grateful Dutch citizens. We saw friendships rekindled and happy reunions, along with very moving ceremonies.

We also know that things did not simply go back to normal for many of our brave Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen and women when they returned home after the war was over.

Certainly for Canadian Armed Forces members today, a homecoming may not be the easy return to the routine one might expect. Rather, for some, they return to a different world. A loving home, one hopes, but a jarring new reality shaped by severe and perhaps permanent injury or illness. Home may now be a place of stress, of uncertainty, of what may seem to be insurmountable challenges. That is as true for family members as it is for the full-time armed forces member, the reservist or the veteran.

This was painfully clear last week, as I attended the second annual Sam Sharpe breakfast, held in his honour to recognize the struggle of Canadian servicemen and women who suffer from operational stress injuries and to highlight individuals and organization dedicated to assisting Canadian Forces members, their families and veterans.

Many may not be aware, but Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Sharpe was first elected to the House of Commons in 1908 as the sitting member for Ontario North at the start of World War I. After suffering mental injuries on the front, he returned to Canada and took his own life on May 25, 1918, at a Montreal hospital.

During the breakfast, we heard two very emotional stories of how PTSD impacted the lives of two of our veterans and how, with the help of services provided through Veterans Affairs, they were managing their PTSD, although, and this message was very clear, they would never be the same.

The people in the Government of Canada have a duty to such brave men and women in need of immediate and perhaps lifelong assistance. They must know that we are here for them. They must never doubt the intensity or sincerity of our care, compassion and respect.

I know I speak for all members in this place when I say that while politics may differ or approaches, ultimately every member of Parliament, from the government and the opposition benches, supports our veterans and expects the highest level of assistance to those in need.

That said, I am concerned with the political undertones of the NDP motion. I am troubled that the New Democrats have proposed this language a month after our government tabled the largest improvement to veterans benefits and supports since forming government. While I agree with the spirit of the motion and the vast majority of what is said in it, I am disappointed with the New Democrats for their continued political manoeuvring, using the noble cause of supporting Canada's veterans.

Perhaps many know, last week our government tabled economic action plan 2015 act. In particular, there is a section that proposes a series of new benefits for veterans and families affected by injury and illness sustained during service to Canada.

This bill also presents a welcome statement of purpose for the new veterans charter, one that goes far beyond the motion being debated here today and that would be formally legislated and approved by both Houses of Parliament. It reads:

The purpose of this Act is to recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. This obligation includes providing services, assistance and compensation to members and veterans who have been injured or have died as a result of military service and extends to their spouses or common-law partners or survivors and orphans. This Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled.

I hope the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam will support this purpose clause contained in Bill C-58 when the time comes to vote for it in Parliament in the coming weeks.

I was proud to have played a part in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. So many of the recommendations have been adopted by the government, including adding a new retirement benefit so that veterans have stable, reliable monthly income after age 65.

I want to make something very clear in this debate. Our government has a tremendous obligation to provide assistance to members and veterans of our forces who have been injured as a result of military service. We have an obligation as well to the families of those injured while in service.

I would like to take a few moments to highlight the new retirement income security benefit, which is arguably the largest of the new benefits we have introduced as a government over the past few months. The new retirement income security benefit would directly address this issue for moderately to severely disabled veterans and survivors. Beginning at age 65, eligible veterans would continue to receive monthly benefits totalling at least 70% of Veterans Affairs Canada's financial benefits received before the age of 65. This benefit would be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account other sources of income beyond the age of 65.

The key word here is “security”. As per our government's veteran-centred approach, potential recipients in receipt of financial benefits administered by Veterans Affairs would be contacted before they reached the age of 65 to ensure a smooth transition to that security. For disabled Canadian Armed Forces veterans nearing 65, that would mean being better able to save for retirement and anticipate future earnings. Further, when that veteran passed on, his or her survivor would continue to receive approximately 50% of this lifelong monthly payment.

This was one of the key recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and I am so pleased that the government acted swiftly to include it. I look forward to the recommendations being put forward and passed by the government.

Lest we forget.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to raise the issue of monies that have not been spent by the government. I am sure the member, being on the veterans affairs committee, would be aware of that. There is a great deal of concern at a time of need for veterans. There are many issues they are having to face. It seems that every other week, if not every week, there are questions to the government on its commitment to providing for veterans who are in need. Yet since 2006, the government has actually clawed back expenditures of just over $1 billion.

I am wondering if the member might want to comment. It is one thing for us to be talking about supporting veterans, and it is another thing when the government does not spend allocated money and in essence claws back money that was voted on and allocated in budgets that was meant to go to veterans.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would point out that the Liberals and the NDP are providing misinformation with respect to this. For Veterans Affairs, the budget is established. It is a Conservative budget. It is established to ensure that there are enough funds for every veteran that requires service. During the course of the year, over those nine years, six times, maybe even nine times, we asked for additional fund authorizations throughout the year in the event that we needed service.

What happens a lot of times with a budget is that a service simply is not required. It is very difficult to predict exactly how much service is going to be required. It is those authorizations, which totalled almost the exact amount the member opposite referred to, that were, in fact, not required. Every single veteran that required service during that time period received service. There was never a situation where service was not received because of a lack of funds. That is a fallacy.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know whether my colleague understands that, regardless of anything else, the priority is what is actually happening. What is happening is that veterans are still coming to my office feeling desperate and discouraged. They do not know what else to do about their file, which is taking forever to process. They do not know where to turn for help. We often hear about veterans who have to go to food banks to survive.

Does my colleague think that we need to do more for these individuals? Does he think that there are others to whom we have an obligation, the obligation of recognizing how much they have sacrificed? Are there still people who need our help?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too, as a member of Parliament, have veterans come to my office. As a member of Parliament, I provide the direction they need and the assistance they need.

Through Veterans Affairs Canada, the programs and services are in place. As I mentioned in my comments, I had an opportunity to attend a breakfast the other morning where two veterans spoke. These are veterans who have achieved those services. They knew where to go, and they had assistance.

I think it is the role of all of us as members of Parliament to make sure that we are reaching out to our veterans. I do that through my office, and my staff does that. I am sure the member opposite does that. It is the role of a member of Parliament.

I reiterate that the services are there, and our new legislation, Bill C-58, would expand upon those services. It is a fantastic piece of legislation that would benefit our veterans. I would really like to thank our Minister of Veterans Affairs for bringing this bill forward and his predecessors for their work in bringing this forward. It was one of the recommendations brought forward by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, on which I am so proud to serve.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for his speech and for his family's combined service of over 100 years. Serving alongside him on the veterans affairs committee is an honour, because I know the member is seized with veterans, as many in the House are.

I would like to point out members in Veteran Affairs who are veterans, starting with our minister, who is an RMC grad and a veteran; our parliamentary secretary, who is an RMC grad and a veteran; and our deputy minister, who is an RMC grad, a veteran, and the former CDS. I myself am a former infanteer. We have a fighter pilot, and of course, there are members, like the member for Sault Ste. Marie, with a long family tradition. I am delighted to be serving along their side.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the motion. I am pleased to also lend my support to it, though I do share some concerns about the political undertones of the motion from the opposite side.

Our government places the highest priority on the health and well-being of all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. There are many veterans in the House, and as I said, some with recent service, me included. We are seized with ensuring that our veterans get the care and services they so rightly deserve from a grateful Canada. From the day they enrol, through basic training and their progression through the ranks, through deployments at home and abroad, through to when their service ends and they are back into civilian life, we want to ensure that our men and women in uniform, as well as their families, have everything they need.

We ask a great deal of those Canadians who serve in Canada's Armed Forces, both regular and reserve forces, those members who are so highly dedicated and serve concurrently with civilian occupations. We often forget that reservists make up 25% of Canada's missions abroad.

As part of the rigours of military life, they face a number of unique challenges unfamiliar to most of us. Military service and the needs of the nation require them to deploy when needed to locations near and far, as they are presently, as part of domestic and overseas missions.

While visiting Canadian Armed Forces members stationed in Kuwait last week, our Prime Minister said:

Your courage, like the courage of generations of service personnel before you, is the currency in which our freedom, our lifestyles, have been bought and paid.

For that, the Canadian people offer you our deepest admiration and our eternal gratitude.

These are words we can never forget, in particular as we have just observed the 70th anniversary of VE Day in which Canada played a major role in the Second World War.

Present day Canadian Armed Forces personnel often move their residence frequently throughout their careers as part of their service both inside and outside the country. This process is generally disruptive to family life. It means new neighbours, friends, schools, sports teams, and so many normal family-related activities that many of us who are settled take for granted. Their families are constantly moved. As the member for Sault Ste. Marie pointed out, for 17 years his family moved around the world.

They often work irregular hours and complete difficult tasks. Their job to defend and protect Canada's interests is inherently stressful, and of course, they may face great physical danger as part of the job. Sometimes they are in life-threatening situations.

Our Canadian Armed Forces members never fail to respond when they are needed, and we hear from around the world over and over the high regard our service members are held in for their professionalism and their skills. Because we demand so much from them, we have a moral imperative to ensure that there is a strong system to care for them when they become physically or mentally ill or injured.

Allow me to take a few moments to outline some of our existing services in several areas. In my time of service, I personally relied on the military health care system for many of my own injuries. It is a great system.

There are also our compensation and support services, our comprehensive mental health services, and our ongoing support to military families. Because of the comprehensiveness of our health care system, the vast majority of our military personnel are very well and very healthy indeed. However, for those who require ongoing physical and mental health care, we are committed to continuously improving the system.

The old maxim, “prevention is better than a cure”, is still a guide for military health care. In fact, prevention is a top priority, particularly when it comes to operational stress injuries. We address operational stress injuries through regular screening but also through fitness and safety programs. In addition, personnel are medically evaluated when they enrol and when they are taken on strength in the military.

They are medically evaluated before and after deployments, and they are medically evaluated on a routine basis throughout their careers. This is something that I have personally experienced.

Our military health care system is both comprehensive and collaborative. It supports our men and women in uniform in a wide variety of ways and through many different mechanisms, and it is highly adaptive.

As serving members' needs evolve mission to mission, our medical expertise has evolved, and we have responded by renewing and modernizing our services. For example, following an increase in the number of severe musculoskeletal and other combat injuries during our engagement in Afghanistan and indeed throughout a service career in terms of training, we established a Canadian Armed Forces physical rehabilitation program, creating seven centres of rehabilitation excellence across the country by partnering military health service units with pre-eminent civilian institutions.

Until recently, this has not had the attention that it really deserved. Weight, quite frankly, is weight, and in the past we have had load-bearing systems that were inadequate, which over time provided a lot of damage to bodies, backs, knees, ankles and to all kinds of things, especially for those people in the infantry who had to carry their homes, houses and all of their kit on their back. Nowadays, although the kit and equipment is much better, it is recognized much more through a study in science. It is being addressed and is no longer just anecdotal stories about injuries that soldiers sustained while on the job. We have also enhanced our post-deployment screening to ensure that any physical or psychological problems are quickly identified for early intervention.

The Canadian Armed Forces health care system is truly world class, and is committed to constant modernization and adaptation to best practice. It is far superior to anything that was provided decades ago, because it has been informed by modern medicine and disability management.

In partnership with Veterans Affairs, our presently serving members, veterans and all of their families benefit from a comprehensive system of support. However, more can and must be done to ensure that process, that seam that currently exists between these two huge entities, the military and Veterans Affairs, is as close together as we can make it in order to stop transitioning personnel from falling through the cracks. This work is occurring in earnest, and regular and constant improvements are being realized within this process.

We have strengthened and expanded our member and family supports in other areas. For example, financial assistance, often critical in times of illness or injury, is offered to military personnel and their families through the service income security insurance plan, which is commonly known as SISIP. This delivers life and disability insurance, vocational assistance and financial counselling through 18 offices across Canada.

In 2011, we introduced a new suite of benefits designed specifically to help severely injured personnel, by providing for home and vehicle accessibility modifications and monetary support to their spouses and caregivers. We also make on-base employment opportunities available to Canadian Armed Forces spouses and dependants throughout Canada and Europe, helping to improve the financial situation of our military families.

Indeed, whenever we reflect on the health of our military personnel, we know family support is absolutely vital to their well-being. In recognition of the fundamental role played by military families, we have worked hard to renew the military family services program by increasing its funding and expanding its services, especially through our 32 military family resource centres, which provide youth programs and activities; parenting support; daily emergency and respite child care; counselling and referral services; deployment and separation support; and education, training and employment assistance.

I wish that the NDP members were focused like us on delivering results rather than the games they have been playing in Parliament and elsewhere that only serves to confuse and misinform. Veterans should know that every MP on all sides of this House supports them. The political rhetoric that has been applied should become obsolete, because it is inaccurate and unfortunately it does mislead.

In that bipartisan light, I am pleased we are supporting this motion, largely because it was virtually copied from the text of our support for veterans and their families act, but also because I believe no one in this place should use our veterans as political talking points, as the other side does. I believe we should be striving to improve, because it is the right thing to do for all of our veterans, past, present and future. I hope that ultimately this is the case for the politically charged NDP motion.