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.


Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the NDP has moved this motion to help our veterans.

I represent the riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, which is home to the Bagotville military base. I see as many veterans as soldiers. I recognize the crucial role the Government of Canada needs to play in helping these men and women. I am disappointed in the Conservative government's attitude towards veterans. My office staff often find themselves fighting on behalf of these veterans for financial compensation related to the degree of injury they suffered on their mission abroad.

I would ask my Conservative colleague why the government spends so much time in court fighting to avoid honouring the covenant between the federal government and veterans. Why does the government not simply give this money to veterans instead of spending it on legal fees? It seems as though these veterans would feel much more respected by their government.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I respect the fact that my hon. friend comes from a part of Quebec that has a military base nearby. The brave men and women of Quebec have made tremendous contributions over all of Canada's history in Canada's armed forces and many of the units in Quebec are absolutely storied units for their exploits on behalf of Canada.

That is why there are members of Parliament, so that when veterans or constituents come to us, we provide them with the guidance that they need to get through any particular system or issue and to gain the benefits that they so richly deserve, especially veterans. I do that. Veterans come to my office to ask me these questions and I guide them through it.

If the member was paying attention to the budget, he will notice that there is money for Veterans Affairs. He will notice that many of the points that have been made by the veterans affairs committee are absolutely being adopted. I have a whole litany of them here. This government is moving forward and looking after veterans.

By the time we are done, under the leadership of the Minister of Veterans Affairs, this is going to be a world-leading veterans charter. Many of our colleagues, fellow nations and allies around the world are experiencing many of the same issues and we are learning from that too. It is a lessons learned sort of thing.

As far as veterans go, I would also like to point out that the RCMP, with its contributions to Canada, has served us and veterans well.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP for bringing this motion forward, but the reality is that the Conservatives are not going to change much.

I am from a riding in Cape Breton, which, per capita, has made the largest contribution to any conflict in the last 100 years. There was a Veterans Affairs office in Cape Breton that served over 4,000 veterans. There were over 1,000 walk-ins in the last year and 3,000 clients. The government can do all it wants with its money, but the reality is that veterans are coming home, they need a place to go and somebody to take care of them. That is not happening.

I do not want an answer about Service Canada, because that is not working down in Cape Breton. It is the same with all the offices across the country. How can the member represent his government and the Conservative Party knowing that when all these offices were closed, it threw all these veterans out into the dark?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely proudly supporting this, supporting my government and supporting what we have done, and continue to do, for veterans. Whether the member likes it or not, that is the reality.

Many of these offices were within hundreds of metres, in some cases, of a Service Canada office. This has expanded the points of access to Veterans Affairs services to over 600 points of access. Many service members and veterans have called to tell me that the Service Canada offices are a godsend, especially for a lot of the older veterans who do not have to travel to larger centres. They can access service in their home towns and get the services they need very conveniently, very quickly and very cheaply. That is the whole point: to serve veterans, not to make it tougher on them.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, my grandfather was from Finland. He fought in World War II, and I remember that he received a pension. I remember as a kid thinking that was strange. I did not understand how that worked because it was a pension that came from Finland and he did not even live there any more. Kaarina and Tauno, my grandparents, immigrated from Finland to Canada and yet the Finnish government still supported my grandfather. Then, when he passed away, that pension went on to my grandmother, my mummo.

As a kid I remember that was the first time I ever thought about that obligation that a country has to its servicemen and women. It was the first time I really thought about what it was. I knew my grandfather had fought in the war, I understood that, but I did not understand what it meant to sign up for something different, to sign up and say, “I am going to fight for this country and I am going to put my own life on the line”.

As members know, I am the member of Parliament for Halifax. I have not served in Canada's military, unlike a couple of our previous speakers and other members of this House. However, as the member of Parliament for Halifax, which is home to Canadian Forces Base Halifax, I have learned a lot about our military and our veterans over the years, both as a representative and also as somebody who lives in the city.

It is difficult not to know at least a bit about the Canadian Forces if one lives in Halifax. CFB Halifax is Canada's east coast navy base and is home port to Maritime Forces Atlantic. It is the largest Canadian Forces base in terms of number of posted personnel. Anywhere people go around the Halifax harbour they will see evidence of the Canadian Forces.

As the MP for Halifax, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the work that is happening at HMC Dockyard Halifax, one of the oldest defence establishments in Canada. I have attended events at Stadacona, which is in the north end of Halifax. I have visited the Halifax military family resource centre on many occasions.

Shortly after my election in 2008, I had the opportunity to go on the inaugural sail of HMCS Halifax by her new captain, Captain Joseé Kurtz, the first woman to command a Canadian warship. That was an incredibly special event as Captain Kurtz took women from the community on her inaugural sail with her.

Before I go on, I do want to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for London—Fanshawe.

In this time, living in Halifax, and representing Halifax, I have learned two key things about the men and women who serve. The first thing that I have learned is that our military men and women are us. They are not separate from us, walled off on a base that is isolated and different. CFB Halifax is part of our city, and the men and women serving there are part of the Halifax community. They are our soccer coaches. They are the neighbours who offer a hand shovelling the driveway, and we certainly had a lot of that this winter. They are our volunteer firefighters. They are our community board volunteers. They are part of our communities, and our communities are part of them.

The second thing that I have learned is that while they are members of our community, they are different. Every day they go into work and they make an extraordinary personal commitment, a commitment much more extraordinary than that which members and I make. When I worked at Dalhousie Legal Aid in Halifax, I went to work in the morning, I served my clients, and came home at the end of the day.

My colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam quoted from the Equitas statement of claim. As members have heard, there is a court case going on right now. I would like to repeat this quote because I think it really sums up how our servicemen and women are different.

It states:

When members of the Canadian Forces put on the uniform of their country they make an extraordinary personal commitment to place the welfare of others ahead of their personal interests, to serve Canada before self and to put themselves at risk, as required, in the interests of the nation. A veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to “the Government of Canada,” for an amount of “up to and including their life.”

That blank cheque made payable to our country is not something that most of us have to write every day when we go to work, so while our servicemen and women are coaching our kids at soccer or helping raise money for the United Way in our communities, they are also unlike most of us in our community. That difference, that blank cheque of up to and including their life, is what creates our obligation and the obligation of our country and of our government to honour that commitment with a stand-alone covenant.

A moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation exists 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 injured or disabled or have died as a result of military service. The government is obligated to fulfill this covenant.

Canadian Armed Forces veterans and their families deserve our deepest gratitude and they deserve to be taken care of. Too many veterans and their families still cannot access adequate health care, pensions, and other vital supports, including the nine front-line Veterans Affairs offices that have been closed in this country.

I want to thank my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore for helping us lead the way on proposals to improve programs and services available for veterans and their families.

The NDP has 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 services.

I also want to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam for bringing forward this important motion and my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for seconding the motion. Thanks to their hard work, this issue gets the important debate it deserves.

Our country has a long history of standing up for the rights and freedoms that Canadians hold dear. The men and women who join the Canadian Forces know they may be called upon to risk their lives on behalf of Canada and to uphold peace, security, or human rights here at home and around the world. We honour the service of those who accept the condition of unlimited liability and we are grateful for their personal sacrifices, including the sacrifices made by their families.

Members may have heard the minister make reference earlier to what was a saying, although it is now quite an outdated saying. It was that if the military wanted us to have a family, it would issue us with one.

The first time I heard that saying was during a meeting with then Rear-Admiral Maddison at the Halifax dockyard. Of course, it is a totally outdated saying. It is not true today. Canadian Forces have put a lot of work into supporting military families and acknowledging the role that families play in supporting our military servicemen and women. I have had opportunities to see that kind of support first-hand in talking to military families and seeing the special work that the Halifax Military Family Resource Centre does to support families in the Halifax area. That is why the social covenant not only acknowledges our veterans but also acknowledges their families. It acknowledges that our nation and its government and citizens will support these men and women on their missions, honour their service, and look after them and their families if they are injured or die in the service of their country.

Recognizing this covenant between the Canadian people and our government with past and active members of the Canadian Forces is essential. This covenant honours their service and their personal sacrifices and includes the sacrifices made by their families.

To highlight that, I would like to read a quote from Dr. Stéphanie Bélanger from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research:

There is a social covenant and this is what started the research institute. It is being studied as well in military ethics studies. There is lots of evidence of that social covenant existing in every country where the government will task people with a clause of unlimited liability, and because of this clause there is an obligation to serve back.

That sums it up perfectly.

I am proud to stand today to speak to the motion. I will be proud to vote for it and I encourage my colleagues across the House to support this motion.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order, please.

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Employment; and the hon. member for Drummond, Regional Economic Development.

Questions and comments, the hon. Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Erin O'Toole Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend for her remarks. Certainly she knows that I served in the military in Halifax for a number of years before we met at Dalhousie law school. I am glad that she talked about the important role that the Military Family Resource Centre in Halifax plays, as well as the one at Shearwater as part of the larger Halifax Regional Municipality.

I was struck by her comments confirming what I have said many times, which is that the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces are, indeed, us. They are Canadians from all walks of life and all parts of the country who step forward to serve.

That is why the veterans charter was created. It was to move to a system that looked at rehabilitation, wellness, and family, and that allowed for supports not just for physical injuries but for mental injuries. That is why it was brought in by the Liberals in 2005. That is why it is still a good system with the fixes that we have in Bill C-58, with the retirement income security benefit, critical injury benefit, family caregiver benefit, and a number of modernizing updates to the veterans charter.

My question for her is twofold. First, as the deputy leader of her party, can she urge her leadership to get behind Bill C-58? Most of Bill C-58 was agreed upon unanimously by the standing committee, including her critic, so why do we not move this measure through the House? It represents benefits and improvements to families.

More importantly, I have said that we support the motion brought forward today, but the purpose clause in Bill C-58 that talks about the obligation actually goes further. It includes all veterans and our obligation to all veterans, not just those who are injured, and it directly states that it should be liberally construed, which is what the standing committee wanted. By getting behind Bill C-58, we go further than the motion brought forward today by the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

I would ask her to get her party to support it.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not have the wording of the bill in front of me, but the minister does know that there are parts of Bill C-58 that the NDP can support. However, the problem is that when Conservatives put everything plus the kitchen sink together, it forces those of us who want to support good parts of legislation to vote against the whole, because we cannot include these other egregious parts.

I do not understand why the government does not want to work with opposition parties to establish what can we agree on here. Is there some piece that we can pull out and work on together?

The minister had some very good words about the veterans charter. This motion actually talks about creating the fiduciary duty with this covenant. That fiduciary duty would give the government a chance to pause and have a second thought about how its actions are reflecting that fiduciary duty, especially when we look at the money, time, and energy that has been taken by the government to fight veterans in courts.

I would hope that having a fiduciary duty would give the government pause before it embarks on these kinds of lawsuits that are so wasteful of everybody's time and money.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quote directly from the bill's statement of its purpose and then ask for a response from the member. The bill states:

The purpose of this Act is to recognize and fulfil 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.

It is no doubt a wonderful platitude that is being expressed in the purpose of the legislation that the minister just made reference to, but I wonder if the member would provide some comment regarding the reality. Does she believe that the reality of the last few years reflects the actual purpose of Bill C-58 and what the minister is talking about?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and also for reading out the purpose, because that is what I could not find in front of me.

The member is right to point out the disconnect between the words and the reality. That is why I go back to this idea of creating a fiduciary duty so that we have this sense of duty that informs every single step we take as legislators.

That disconnect is very real. We have seen nine regional Veterans Affairs offices shut down across Canada. We have seen lay-offs at Veterans Affairs Canada. I am from Kirkland Lake, Ontario. There is a Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Kirkland Lake, and I have seen the impact it has had on my hometown. I have seen money left over at the end of the year being given back to Treasury Board when veterans are going to food banks and when veterans are unable to make ends meet

We are not alone in this. There are veterans across Canada who are standing behind what we are saying. Veterans have spoken out publicly to say they need help and are wondering where they can get this help.

That is the disconnect. Hopefully something like a social covenant will guide a government, no matter colour or party affiliation, in making those decisions.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this motion today, because Canadian veterans are our heroes, and they should be treated with the utmost respect and provided with all the support we can possible give.

Conservatives continuously remind us to support our troops—we hear it all the time—but fail to understand that support must continue once those Canadian Forces are no longer active and they become veterans. We owe them that much. We were, and are, a country engaged in modern-day conflicts in places like Somalia, Bosnia, Lebanon, Cyprus, East Timor, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.

Our troops have answered the call to assist communities jeopardized by floods, earthquakes, ice storms, forest fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes domestically and around the world. However, Veterans Affairs Canada has not adapted to the very real needs of the veterans of the modern day. This government has failed to support the obligations we owe veterans who served in the great wars, in Korea, and on peacekeeping missions.

In fact, because of the shortsightedness of the Conservative government, our relationship with our veterans has been damaged and diminished rather than enhanced. Older veterans were told to learn to use the Internet, for example, for continued service when local VAC offices faced service reductions and closures.

The Conservatives have cut—and this has been said a number of times—more than 900 jobs from Veterans Affairs since 2009. That is 23% of the workforce.

Compensation for funerals under the Last Post Fund has not kept up with the actual costs, leaving cash-strapped veterans and their families to pay the difference. Veterans requiring long-term care beds have been shuffled off to provincial jurisdictions because they have had the misfortune of outliving their life expectancy.

The ministry refuses to extend our obligation as a courtesy to them beyond the contracted dates. These are veterans with special needs who need special care as a result of their service to our country.

New Democrats have long advocated for the continuation of the veterans long term care program. The rates of homelessness and suicide among our veteran population are horrifying, but testimony to that fact and effects of post-traumatic stress are not being seriously addressed. Families are left without the supports they need to deal with younger veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, and injured veterans with obvious disabilities as a result of their service must suffer the delay and humiliation of proving to the department over and over again that they have been disabled, in order that they continue to receive support.

The current government's Bill C-58, as proposed, is a good start, but many veterans feel it just doesn't go far enough in enhancing programs and services for all veterans and their families under the new charter. New Democrats agree with these veterans and their families. That is part of why we have chosen to dedicate this opposition day to point out that financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been injured, disabled, or died as a result of military service, and to their dependents, must improve. We have a moral, social, and legal as well as fiduciary obligation to do that.

Dr. Pierre Morisset, a retired major general and the chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Veterans' Health, was a witness before the veterans affairs committee last year, and he said, “When a soldier leaves the forces and is officially known as a veteran, then he's treated in the civilian health sector”. Dr. Morisset went on to say that the civilian health care system is “not necessarily tuned to the reality of what kind of life the soldier may have had”.

Similarly, Dr. Ruth Stewart of Athabasca University argued that:

The Canadian Forces represent a distinct culture, containing distinct subcultures. They possess unique languages, norms, and customs, and are socially stratified to a degree completely foreign to most north American civilians.

Once a soldier leaves the military, he or she is left to the care of civilian doctors who will do their best, but they do not have the expertise to deal with the specific issues veterans face. Veterans are our national heroes and, as such, they are a federal responsibility and should be looked after by the federal government. They are not, as the government believes, a problem to be dismissed, undervalued, or offloaded to the provinces.

This Parliament's veterans affairs committee identified three core themes for the study resulting in the new veterans charter: care and support of the most seriously disabled, support for families, and improving how Veterans Affairs Canada delivers the programs, services, and benefits of the new charter.

The Conservatives' Bill C-58 would only partly address some of the 14 recommendations contained in that unanimous report. It would, for instance, only provide assistance to help 100 of the most seriously injured.

The NDP believes that we have the obligation, and capability, to help all veterans and their families.

New Democrats will push for the retirement income security benefits to be increased from 70%, as outlined in the bill, to 100% of what the veterans received in VAC financial benefits before age 65, to ensure that veterans have financial stability.

The critical injury benefit proposed under Bill C-58 would provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Forces members and veterans. However, under the proposed criteria for qualification, only two or three people per year would qualify. This is simply not good enough for our veterans. They have given their lives and their careers for this country.

We have also heard from veterans who are disappointed in the government for not addressing the disparities and unfairness related to lump-sum disability payments, as compared with civilian court awards for pain and suffering.

Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, said the new benefits under Bill C-58 would go to just 1% of all severely disabled vets and Sean Bruyea, veteran advocate, has expressed similar concerns.

Injured and disabled vets should not have to fight their own government in court for the compensation and care they deserve, but sadly, this has become all too common under the current government.

If the Conservatives are serious about improving the care of our veterans, they should stop fighting those veterans in court and recognize our historic covenant.

Today, New Democrats are calling upon the government to restore our country's relationship with the veterans to one that is based upon respect rather than neglect.

Instead of including provisions to assist veterans in an omnibus budget bill—a cynical attempt to force opposition parties that support the measures for veterans to vote against them—the Conservatives should recognize the historic covenant that we share with veterans and honour it with decisive action.

I would like to speak, now, about the proud history of military service in London, Ontario.

I cherish the relationship I have been able to foster with the veterans in my community who have served us so well over the years. Their participation in our community enriches all of us. They support hospitals, young athletes, the homeless, the wounded, and the forgotten. I feel very privileged to stand with our veterans in the community.

Perhaps members have heard of the proposed demolition of many buildings at Wolseley Barracks, including the historic officers' mess. Bob Marshall, president of the Duchess of Kent Legion, would like to see the officers' mess repurposed as the Legion's new home, rather than demolition.

This is a reasonable proposal, a win for the Legion, a win for Wolseley Barracks, and a win for the community. I am fully behind it. I hope that the Minister of Defence has had time to consider this proposal adequately and that he will support it.

I would also like to remind the House that, when in opposition, the Conservatives promised they would make significant veteran reforms. Sadly, after nearly a decade in office, they have done little to address the gaping holes in the services offered Canadian veterans and their families. In fact, they have gone so far as to challenge the existence of our sacred covenant with those veterans.

The Conservatives have forgotten our veterans and the contribution of modern-day Canadian Forces veterans and RCMP who served in peacekeeping around the world. That is absolutely unacceptable. Canadians are passionate and proud in our gratitude for our veterans.

During Remembrance Week and beyond, Canadians choose to honour the men and women who gave us a strong and free country. It is long past time for our federal government to likewise honour all veterans, both past and present, by serving their needs.

Monuments and parades are lovely, but they are cold comfort to the veterans and families who are suffering neglect.

It is time to mean what we say when we repeat the promise to remember. It must be accompanied by real action. That is what New Democrats are promising and proposing today with this motion

The NDP is the only party with a comprehensive veterans policy that we intend to implement when we become the government of this great country.

I am proud to support today's motion. I hope everyone in this House will do so also.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for my colleague from London—Fanshawe, and I would like to thank her for her eloquent speech.

I would really like to know what we should expect. When the Prime Minister talked about motions in the past, it was in respect for this House to implement them, but the challenges we have today are because of not implementing those motions. I think today is a good day to reinstate that philosophy of actually following through from the government to the opposition.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. We have heard a great deal in this House, and it goes back to our involvement in Afghanistan with the call to support our troops, making it very clear from the Prime Minister's Office that somehow support, or lack of support, for the troops was integral to the way the House would operate and do business. Therefore, there is a lot of talk, but very little action.

I would like to underscore some of the things about which I am very concerned. One is a lack of long-term care for our veterans.

If veterans were in World War II or Korea, yes, they would have long-term care, but for post-Korean veterans or veterans who suffered in the Golan Heights or gave all that there was to give in Afghanistan, they are not covered in terms of long-term care.

This is an affront to the men and women who put their lives on the line. Yet, we still see the Conservative government making excuses about why it cannot make sure that all veterans are provided with the services they absolutely need and deserve.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to base my question on a quote that the Liberal critic for veterans affairs gave earlier. In the shadow of the First World War, the then prime minister Sir Robert Borden made a covenant to those Canadians who fought. On the eve of Vimy Ridge, he told Canadians that:

You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government I give you this assurance: That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done.

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.

When we reflect on that covenant and look at what has taken place over the last couple of years and what we are hearing from veterans from all regions of Canada, does the member believe that the government has been in keeping with what was then quoted by then prime minister Borden?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that the covenant has been broken just in the last few years. Rather, I think it has been broken over the last many decades.

It is interesting that, when Borden made that covenant with the men and women who went to war, I think it was from a sense of real and profound gratitude. Canadians knew how those men and women suffered in the fields, from the gas attacks, the constant bombardment, the discomfort of the trenches, and the lack of any hope in some cases. There was a real understanding. Unfortunately, almost 100 years later, that recognition seems to have faded.

Canadians go to Remembrance Day ceremonies, and they are absolutely genuine in their gratitude. I just wish the government were as grateful. I wish that the covenant spoken 100 years ago were part and parcel of what the governments of the last few decades understood as their obligation. Sadly, it quite simply is not.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia


Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the motion put forward by the member of Parliament for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.

I urge the NDP to work with our government to improve the well-being of Canada's veterans and their families. We understand the need to provide those who have bravely served our nation in uniform with the support they need to transition to civilian life.

Our recently announced increased benefits and services are evidence of our commitment to ensuring that Canadian veterans and their families are treated with care, compassion, and respect. It is through these new measures, which are included in economic action plan 2015, that we are demonstrating the importance we place on being there for our brave men and women when they need us most.

These new benefits and services we are proposing take significant strides in improving the new veterans charter. We are moving to better support families and caregivers, those who play such a vital role in the transition process. We are respecting reservists. The purpose clause in Division 17 of Bill C-59, the economic action plan 2015 act, which my colleagues have discussed, demonstrates our government's duty and commitment to veterans. It is an ongoing commitment.

I encourage all colleagues to listen to the debate today and recognize that the measures our government is introducing would enhance the lives of those who have served our nation. It is not only about supporting those who have served, it is also about supporting their families.

We recognize the vital role the families play in the lives of the men and women in uniform and how veterans' health issues can impact those who stand by them. We understand the important role those who stand beside Canada's veterans play in their recovery and well-being.

I would like to highlight the action we have taken to support families and caregivers.

We recognize that the family caregivers of Canada's veterans play a large supporting role in providing those who have served with the care they need and deserve, which is why I am pleased to tell the House about a new benefit our government has introduced to help relieve some of the burden facing the families of those who are severely injured. A serious physical or mental injury causes not only immense challenges for the serviceman or woman but serious stress and strain on their families. Our government has proposed a new family caregiver relief benefit to provide an annual tax-free grant of $7,238. Family members who help with the care of the most seriously injured veterans can have the added flexibility of getting relief during times of added stress on the family or even help to recharge their batteries, if that is what needs to happen.

Today Veterans Affairs already pays for in-home medical care for the most severely injured veterans. This funding would be in addition to other VAC benefits already in place to support veterans' daily needs. It is a recognition of their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families. It tops things up just a bit and makes things a little easier.

This benefit is for caregivers in the home—spouses, common-law partners, parents, or adult children—who often try to juggle raising children or family duties alongside assisting their injured loved ones. Their own careers are often sidetracked or reduced, and often their own health and wellness can be impacted when there is an injured veteran at home. This new benefit recognizes their important work and would provide them with a little extra flexibility.

This funding could be used for relief options, such as covering the cost of having a professional caregiver come into the home or covering the cost of another family member or friend travelling to the veteran's home, and it would be provided in addition to other benefits already in place to support veterans' health care needs. It is a supplement. We believe that this would make a tremendous difference for these families.

This recently announced benefit is not the only action we have taken in support of veterans. Last year we announced an increase in the number of psychological counselling sessions for families of veterans from eight to 20 sessions.

We have also invested in research to help us gain a better understanding of the impact operational stress injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, have on the mental health of the spouses and children of Canadian veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental injuries have an effect on the whole family, not just on the injured veteran. Research such as this will help us get a better handle on the complex challenges facing today's veterans, their spouses, and their children when it comes to their mental health and their mental well-being. We want to identify possible next steps in this area.

We announced that we will develop and implement veteran-specific mental-health first aid training across the country for both veterans and their families. This will provide family members and caregivers of veterans with the training they need to support their loved ones in a time of crisis. It will do this by teaching them about mental-health conditions; training them in the signs and symptoms of common mental-health disorders; providing them with the opportunity to practise crisis first aid for those with mental-health conditions; ensuring that they know where, when, and how to get help; and providing education on what type of help has been shown to be effective in their situation and why.

Those are some of the actions our government has taken to honour our commitment not only to members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans but to their families as well. I am disappointed to see that once again the New Democrats are playing their political games when our government has been unprecedented in the investments we have made in improving the well-being of Canadian veterans and those family members and caregivers who stand by the side of those injured veterans.

I urge all members of this House to vote in favour of the new measures our government is introducing in support of veterans and their families. It is by taking action and passing these measures that we will demonstrate our commitment and our duty to provide those who have bravely served our nation, and their families, with the help they need.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know whether my colleague thinks that it is also extremely important to understand the reality on the ground in order to understand the situation of veterans and soldiers.

Many of them have said that it is very difficult to obtain services and that they often feel they have to fight to get them. They say that they have to go through a long process that sometimes causes them more psychological pain than the incident itself.

Given what they have gone through, should we not make their lives easier by taking into account what they are saying and improving the process they have to go through to get help?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree that we need to make sure that Veterans Affairs Canada makes the process for gaining benefits for veterans clear, simple, and easy to apply for. The minister has been very clear on the personal steps he has taken to make sure that every veteran in this country has the ability to access the benefits due to them.

We are not only expanding the breadth and seriousness of the benefits we are putting in place to support veterans, we are also making changes to make sure that any forms that have to be filled out, any phone calls veterans have to make, any online applications they endeavour to take part in are easy and that veterans have support in doing that. Not only do we need to make sure that our veterans have the ability to get this large number of benefits our government is providing for them but we are working to make sure that those veterans have the ease of application and that those benefits are readily available to them.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, what the government actually has done is close a number of offices in different regions of the country. They include, for example, Cornerbrook, Newfoundland and Labrador; Charlottetown, P.E.I.; Sydney, Nova Scotia; Windsor, Ontario; Thunder Bay, Ontario; Brandon, in my home province of Manitoba; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Kelowna, British Columbia; and Prince George, British Columbia.

I wonder if the member could comment on why the government found it necessary to close those Veterans Affairs offices, given that there is a big difference between talking on the telephone to someone and being able to meet face to face with an individual, which is something the employees in these offices did on a daily basis.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I answer the member's question, I would like to say that in 2005, when his party was in power, the budget of Veterans Affairs was about $2.8 billion. Since our government has taken power, we have continued to increase the budget. Ninety per cent of the benefits go to veterans, and now that budget has reached over $3.6 billion. We are standing up and supporting veterans far better than his party ever did when it was in power.

As far as offices being closed, in my riding of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, we did not have a Veterans Affairs office. Veterans in my riding had to drive all the way down to Halifax if they were in Colchester County. It was over an hour to get to a Veterans Affairs office. If they were in the northern part of the riding, they actually had to leave the province and drive all the way out to Moncton. That was the closest Veterans Affairs office to them. Now we have put trained staff in the Service Canada offices, so Veterans Affairs can provide services to veterans in my riding in both Amherst and Truro. Veterans can go into their hometown or close to their hometown and get service directly without having to travel hours and hours.

This is the same situation that takes place all across the country. We have 600 new points of service for veterans to go to. Veterans, especially older veterans who may have served in Korea or in the Second World War, have mobility issues. It is harder for them to travel like they used to. Now they can get those services at Service Canada offices close to home.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today to speak to our government's commitment and dedication to providing veterans and their families with the support they need and deserve. That is why we introduced the Support for Veterans and their Families Act and included these measures in our economic action plan 2015.

This important legislation will put new benefits and services in place to improve the health and well-being of those seriously injured during service. These are improvements the NDP members have pointed out the need for. These are advances the Veterans Ombudsman, veterans and their advocacy groups have called for. These measures also address the very recommendations the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs made in its report “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I can attest to the extensive consultations and review we undertook to ensure our recommendations were sound and addressed the very concerns of veterans, their families and the groups that represented them.

The legislation will not only improve the new veterans charter, but it explicitly outlines the government's commitment and dedication to providing veterans with the help they need to successfully transition to civilian life in a purpose statement.

This purpose statement will be included in the new veterans charter so that this existing and important legislation recognizes and fulfills the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada. I think we all agree this is very important and is obviously why we are having this debate today.

My colleagues on this side of the House have already spoken at length about some of the measures in the economic action plan, including the retirement income security benefit, family caregiver relief benefit and critical injury benefit. That is why in addition to the new measures introduced, we are putting more resources where they are needed to ensure service excellence.

Everyone knows case managers and the front-line service they offer are vitally important to veterans who need their services. That is why the minister announced last month that more than 100 permanent full-time case managers would be hired to improve one-on-one service. Veterans and their families experiencing complex mental health and transition needs will have them addressed more quickly and efficiently.

These additional resources, combined with a more balanced approach to managing the workload of the case managers, will help reduce the current ratio of 40 case-managed veterans to one case manager down to 30 case-managed veterans for each case manager. This will lead to better service and ultimately better outcomes for veterans. It also means veterans will be able to access the services they need quicker.

To ensure balanced caseloads, all case managers will have their caseload constantly assessed, adjusted and balanced so their time and attention is given appropriately to the needs of seriously ill or injured veterans.

It is absolutely critical that veterans as well as the Canadian Armed Forces members who are released right now from the military know they will continue to be well served and their needs met efficiently and with care, compassion and respect.

Our government has also committed the financial resources for the department to hire more than100 new disability benefits staff, both temporary and permanent. Hiring more employees whose job it will be to evaluate disability benefit claims means veterans and their families will have faster access to disability benefits, health care and mental health treatment.

Since becoming minister in January, the Minister of Veterans Affairs has consulted with veterans across the country to ensure we implement changes that will greatly benefit those who have served our country and their families. This has resulted in fundamental improvements required to the many systems, services, supports, benefits and programs provided or delivered so veterans can served better. Everything we do to support veterans is now “veteran-centric”, meaning everything we do centres around what is best for the veterans.

We are striving for service excellence and ensuring that veterans are treated with care, compassion and respect. That is why the minister has asked that options be examined to consolidate all Veterans Affairs benefits so they only have to access one single, clear and easy to understand benefit system. This action alone can have a dramatic impact on reducing stress on the injured soldier as he or she transitions to civilian life.

The improved way that veterans and their families are cared for and served did not only begin this year. Our government also took action last year in response to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs by announcing the addition of a new operational stress injury clinic in Halifax. We also announced that the OSI satellite clinics in St. John's, Chicoutimi, Pembroke, Brockville, Kelowna, Victoria and the Greater Toronto Area would be expanded to speed access to mental health services for those with mental health conditions. These clinics play a key role in providing specialized assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for veterans and their families living with operational stress injuries.

In fact, to support them by the end of the year, veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members will have access to an established network of 26 operational stress injury clinics. Access is also being expanded to seven military family resource centres across the country as part of a pilot project. Traditionally, the services and programs offered through the centres have only been available to still-serving members of the military. Up to 1,200 medically released veterans and their families may now take part over the course of the pilot, giving them access to a wide range of services to help smooth some of the challenges they face as they transition to civilian life.

A mental health first aid training course designed especially for veterans and their families will help them better understand the various kinds of mental health conditions and their impact. A veteran or his or her family member will then be able to respond earlier when someone they care about is in crisis. New research funding will ensure that we have the information we need to develop policies and programs grounded in good science and research to support better mental health treatments, faster recoveries and better outcomes for veterans, serving members and their families.

We are making real and significant progress. We will continue to work each and every day to improve the programs, benefits and services that Canada's veterans and their families need and deserve.

Instead of playing political games, I urge all members of the NDP and the House to support the measures included in the support for veterans and their families act and in the economic action plan. It is the right and honourable thing to do for veterans and their families.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and ask a question of my colleague because I think there is a great deal of support in the House for the NDP motion in support of veterans. I know in my community, in Parkdale—High Park, I regularly visit our two legions: the Royal Canadian Legion, Maple Leaf Branch, which includes the Swansea Branch 46; and the one on the Lakeshore, Branch 344, the Queen's Own Rifles. That is where my dad joined the navy in the war, so it holds a special place in my heart.

However, it is not only in the legions across the country that we find support for our veterans. Certainly, just chatting with neighbours, friends and family, there is tremendous support and respect for our veterans and the work they do. Because they are willing to make a huge sacrifice for the country and for us, we to ensure that we support them when they return.

There has been a lot of friction with the government of late because of the closure of veterans offices, the cutting of personnel and taking veterans to court to deny them the benefits they should be receiving. I know the hon. member personally supports veterans, but does he not see that the government is at odds with veterans because of the cutbacks it has made and challenging the benefits of veterans in courts? Could he answer that for me?

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also visit the long term care facility that is in the member's riding where many veterans spend their days now when they have to be cared for.

I would like to stress that I have a lot of respect for veterans and I always have. I remember my grandfather. I was very young when he passed away. I remember he was missing his right arm. He lost it in the first war. Where I grew up, every family was affected by the Second World War, like families in our country. We should all stress very strongly, especially for my generation and younger generations, for us born after the war, that we have to understand and admit that what we enjoy today, all our freedoms and our great country, we owe to those who went and fought. Someone from almost every family in Canada went to Europe and fought for the freedom that we, who were born after the war, enjoy today.

The hon. member mentioned that there were some service cuts, et cetera. Actually, our government restored some services that had been deeply cut in 1990s by the previous government and we enhanced many services.

The member also mentioned the closure of service centres. We should give the new system, the contact points that have been established at Service Canada, a chance to work, to see if they work for veterans. If they need improvement, we will improve them, but we have to move with life. Things change in life. Technology changes. The way people communicate changes. Therefore, delivery of services also changes. Let us give it a chance.

However, I think there is no disagreement on any side of the House that we have to support veterans because of their service to all of us and to our country.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2015 / 5:10 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the House that I will be splitting my time with the great member for the beautiful riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl.

Before I start speaking on today's motion, I want to give a plug for the Royal Canadian Dental Corps. It has supported the Canadian Armed Forces in every major combat, peacekeeping and peacemaking mission around the world for the last century, including World War I, World War II, Korea, the Balkans and Afghanistan. Its members have also worked with Kosovo refugees, trained mid-level providers for the Afghan National Army, provided oral health for Haitian earthquake victims and cared for under-served populations in the Pacific and Caribbean on U.S. navy missions.

These men and women have done a great service for our country, and today I would like to congratulate them on behalf of the entire House on the centennial of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps. As of May 13, it will have been in service for over 100 years. On behalf of all of us, I want to thank the Royal Canadian Dental Corps for its outstanding historic service, and for its many years to come.

We are here today to ask one simple question, which is what we do in opposition. We ask the government of the day a particular question. Ironically, this question has taken us all day, and we still have not gotten a confirmed answer. I myself have asked the following question probably 10 times to two different ministers, a prime minister and two different parliamentary secretaries, and even did a press conference on it with no response. We are asking the government a very simple question: Does it or does it not have a social, moral, legal and fiduciary responsibility to care for those it asked to put in harm's way?

It is funny, a former Conservative prime minister, Mr. Borden, once said that the government did. I wonder if the current Conservative Party does as well. However, we will find out soon enough from the votes here.

I will get back to the matter at hand regarding veterans' care.

First of all, I want to congratulate the new minister on his posting. There is no question that there is a different tone now from the previous minister. No offence to the previous minister, but it just was not his cup of tea I guess in this regard, to be completely frank, but it is not entirely his fault. The previous minister was following orders from the PMO and the PCO in how to run his department. However, the reality is, there is a different tone now and we see a different yard mark coming from the current minister.

The previous speaker is also on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. We did a report that was unanimous. In this House, getting a unanimous report from a committee is almost impossible these days, but we did it. There were 14 recommendations that we all agreed should be done immediately; not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, not piecemeal, but all 14 recommendations should be done immediately.

In fact, three-quarters of those recommendations are now approaching five years in recommendations; not one year, not five months, but five years. Some of these recommendations have come from the Royal Canadian Legion, the gerontological advisory board, the government's own advisory board on Veterans Affairs, ANAVETS and many other veterans and individuals who had come up with these recommendations many years ago. We formulated them into a report, and what do we do get six months to the day of that report?

Well, the previous minister said that we were going to do this in a piecemeal approach. The thing is, he was telling the truth, because Bill C-58 that the government talks about now is dealing with about three or four of those recommendations. We have not had Bill C-58 even come up for debate yet in the House let alone before the committee, let alone before the Senate, let alone before royal assent. The government is telling us to push it forward, but we have not even seen it again yet.

Now if the government is amiable to some alterations and amendments to the bill, I am sure we can get it passed like that, because there are some good elements in that legislation. However, in typical Conservative fashion, it falls woefully inadequate on the recommendations that were in our report.

I want to thank the current veterans ombudsman and the previous ombudsman for the work they have done in advising our committee on many of these things.

Let us go to the history of the Conservative Party. The current minister is the 11th minister we have had in my almost 18 years of service here. The problems with Veterans Affairs and the RCMP and their families did not start with the Conservative Party. They started long before with the Liberal Party. However, these problems have been exacerbated by the current Conservative Party.

Let me take everyone back to a meeting in New Brunswick in 2005 when the current Prime Minister was in opposition and Greg Thompson was a former minister of veterans affairs. When the Liberals were in power, they said in the Agent Orange or chemical spraying in Gagetown debate that they were only going to cover people for Agent Orange in 1966 and 1967, for the one month each time, when the Americans were there. They said that was what they were going to do. The Liberals said that.

Mr. Thompson was brilliant in his advocacy against that. He said there was no way the Liberals could allow that and that the Conservative Party, if it formed government, would never do that. In fact, the current Prime Minister, who was then in opposition, said the exact same thing. At a meeting, he said that all people affected by the chemical spraying in Gagetown from 1958 to 1984 would be looked after and there would be a public inquiry.

What happened in 2006? Those words were out the door. In fact, thousands and thousands of people have died because of the chemical spraying in Gagetown and very little in compensation was offered. I think around 7,000 people actually received what I call a $20,000 kiss-off. Many people, like Basil McAllister of Burton, New Brunswick, had to fight three VRAB decisions, two court cases over 10 years, to get further compensation for the chemicals that were sprayed on him.

Fortunately, though, people can rest assured that when the NDP forms government in October, we will have a national public inquiry into the chemical spraying in Gagetown. That is unacceptable and that is what we will do.

The money from the offices closed by the government went into advertising during the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Democrats will reverse that. We will not only reopen the offices but make them better than they were before and ensure that many more home visits happen for veterans who may wish to have someone come to their homes and fill out the forms properly. That is what we will do when we form government. In fact, there are many other things that we will do when we form government. Right now, we just have to wait and be patient. Soon it will be time for the Conservatives to find the exit door. I say that with great respect, of course, to my Conservative counterparts.

Let us go back to another promise the Prime Minister made to Joyce Carter of St. Peter's, Cape Breton. He told her in a letter, which he signed, not to worry because when Conservatives form government, as prime minister he would ensure that every single widow or widower of a deceased veteran would receive VIP service, not some of them, not a couple, not from New Brunswick, not from Nova Scotia, not from B.C., all would receive the VIP treatment. What happened? Almost four years after that date, some of them got the VIP treatment, not all of them.

That was another broken promise to the widow of a veteran. If someone can mislead the widow of a veteran, imagine what else that person could do to this country. That means nobody else is safe. It is unconscionable that the Prime Minister could have done that, absolutely unconscionable. She actually even had to come here to get that benefit. Unfortunately, not all of them received it even though it was promised to them.

Just today in the House of Commons the Minister of Veterans Affairs was asked a question. By the way, I should let every Conservative in the House know that every single time I have ever asked a question in the House of Commons, I have always provided the question in advance to the minister. Even though my own party completely dislikes that, I do it out of respect for the position of the minister.

The question was quite clearly about a 78-year-old veteran who served many years in the military, is injured, does not have much to live on, and wishes to enter into Camp Hill veterans hospital, run and administered by the Province of Nova Scotia, as World War II and Korean veterans do now. The province pays a small portion and the Government of Canada, through DVA, pays the rest. Twice now the minister asked whether I have lobbied the province to get him in there. I remind my Conservative colleagues that I have yet to see any legislation from anyone that says the care of veterans is a provincial responsibility. It is a federal responsibility.

On behalf of my party, I hope the Conservatives and other parties will join us in supporting this motion because it is critical that we do this. I want to say, in conclusion, that we should never regret growing old because it is a privilege denied to so many.

Lest we forget.

Opposition Motion—Care for VeteransBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that it was a pleasure getting my entertainment value from my colleague from the riding of Chicken Little. Every time I listen to this member speak, the sky is falling, things are a mess and nothing ever works.

I would like to ask my friend and colleague a question, because I do have a lot of respect for the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. He has been here a long time. He has sat here as an opposition member, which he will continue to do after the next election, and he is good at it. He is good at sitting as an opposition member, so why change the course?

He must agree that there have been some significant improvements and that things have gotten better for many veterans and caregivers. This government is trying. We are learning. We are not perfect, and we do hear situations where, sometimes, individuals fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, that is one of the things that frustrates me as a parliamentarian. Nothing is perfect around here, and individual situations do change.

I want to give the member an opportunity to stand now and talk about some of the improvements and benefits that have happened because of the good work of the veterans affairs committee. I want to give kudos for that. The veterans affairs committee members have worked really hard on some of these issues and the review of the veterans charter.

I would like to give the member an opportunity to talk about some of the positive things that have happened.