House of Commons Hansard #243 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand today to speak in support of Bill C-378, an act to amend the Department Of Veterans Affairs Act.

I want to make a short comment on the speech made prior to mine. The MP for London—Fanshawe is on the committee representing the NDP and I want to say what a pleasure it is to work with her. As the member for Barrie—Innisfil said, the work going on in that committee is significant and although at times it does become frustrating as we work from our various perspectives, the amount of work being done is significant, and it is a pleasure to serve there.

The new veterans charter, we must remember, was brought in by all parties within 48 hours through the Senate and back, with the unanimous consent of the House. Therefore, it definitely needs to be labelled a “living document” and there is a great deal more work to be done. I want to commend the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil for putting forward such a significant private member's bill that seeks to put into law Canada's sacred obligation to our veterans, their families, and dependants.

Specifically, the Canadian definition of “military covenant” that the member is seeking states that the military covenant “is a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.” This covenant recognizes that there is no equivalent profession to that of service in the Canadian Armed Forces and the uniqueness of military service extends to the experiences of military families.

I have no connections to the military myself. I have always seen myself as a Canadian who truly supports and cares for our military. Having had the privilege of being part of the Veterans Affairs committee and serving as deputy shadow minister, I can say that my depth of appreciation and awareness has only grown, and this statement regarding an equivalent profession not existing is very true.

The bill also recognizes the obligation of the people and the Government of Canada to provide dignity, care, and respect to those members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service and to their dependants in a timely manner. Since Prime Minister Robert Borden addressed the troops in 1917 who were preparing for the Battle of Vimy Ridge, stating, “you need have no fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service”, the terms “military covenant”, “sacred obligation”, or “sacred covenant” have been used off and on by governments and the government of today, and yet the term has not been entrenched in legislation as a form of respect to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Just yesterday, at the Veterans Affairs committee, the Minister of Veterans Affairs spoke about the investment made into developing our armed forces members into the best soldiers they can be and that the same level of commitment must be made in assisting them to integrate into civilian life when they choose not to, or can no longer, serve. The words that he spoke have been echoed in that committee over and over again over the course of the two years of the current government in leadership. This is not something new. It is something that we all agree to and our obligation expressed in Bill C-378 is seen as an absolute expectation by Canadians. It is a value that should be and can be documented for all to see. It should be formally entrenched in legislation as a form of respect to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

During the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil's time as shadow minister for Veterans Affairs, I had the pleasure of working on committee and travelling with him this past summer, as he mentioned, on a veterans tour. Having the opportunity to go to Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Brandon, and then on to Dundurn, Saskatoon, Regina, and Moose Jaw with my Saskatchewan colleague MP for Souris—Moose Mountain, we heard first-hand from so many veterans about the challenges that they face. Some of it was very heartwarming; other parts of it were very heartbreaking. There is no question that a great deal more needs to be done, and veterans hold us accountable to that. Quite honestly, after talking to them face to face and getting to know them, they really do not care who is in power. Whoever is in power is going to hear from them and those who are not in power are going to work with them to encourage the government to move on with the next steps that need to be taken.

I just want to share a few stories that I had an opportunity to hear.

I met a veteran in Edmonton who had served for many years. His father had served in World War II and was not well when he came home and desperately tried to get the care that he needed. The veteran was the eldest of eight children. His mom was at home trying to take care of them, while his dad took care of the family financially. The veteran's dad was very ill and clearly not getting better. Thinking he had to do something, he enlisted, and began to serve. Within a year of his enlisting, his dad passed away. He told me it became his responsibility to care for the family. He gave $25 of his paycheque from the armed forces to his mom, which I imagine was a considerable amount of money then, so she could take care of his siblings,

What he told me next, I cannot even fathom because I assume that most of the problems we hear about today are from our newer veterans, while this was some time ago. He said that when the chain of command learned that he was giving his mother $25 a month, they indicated that they would be reducing his pay by that same amount, as he clearly did not need it.

What we have here is a culture that has gone on for some time. This again expresses why we need to put this into law. We need this covenant there to hold us to another level of accountability.

As sad as that story is, there is another side to it that I think reflects what I heard everywhere we went. Yes, there were frustrations and circumstances that were unfair in many circumstances, as well as situations in which the government was providing poorly and not doing the best it could do. Despite that, the veteran continued that he never regretted a day of service and was proud to serve his country. He is now in his early eighties and works at Home Depot. To this day, he wakes up at 5:30, shines his shoes, creases his pants, and goes to work. This is the kind of person we want to put this covenant in place for to show them respect for everything that they, our service men and women, do.

We are probably wiser and better off as a result of much that we do not understand or comprehend. That is why I encourage this entire House to move this bill to committee. Let us make it happen.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs Québec


Marc Miller LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for proposing this bill. As a veteran myself and as a member of the government side that counts, I believe, nine veterans in its midst, including the member to my right for Winnipeg North, who served in the Armed Forces with pride, the Minister of National Defence, my colleague and friend from Kelowna—Lake Country, and my colleague in the Quebec caucus, who is the Minister of Transport, in the riding right beside me in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, we are all honoured to be part of this party, to be in this Parliament, and to have served our country with pride and glory.

A number of us, only by fate alone, have escaped the hardships of war. However, we stand together with the veterans who have faced it and have faced other adversity insofar as we were all prepared to lay down our lives for our country. It is something that unites us quite deeply and unites us with members who have served across the way, indeed the extended family of those people a few generations ago, including members of the Second World War, the First World War, and other wars in which Canadians have proudly served.

This bill focuses the attention of the House on Canada's brave men and women in uniform, for whose skill and sacrifice all Canadians owe a debt of gratitude and esteem. The bill's intentions are admirable. They are goals on which this government is currently delivering.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs talked about earlier, on November 2015, this government made a commitment to restore veterans' access to critical services and improve the long-term financial security and independence of veterans and RCMP members with illness or injury, and their families.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs was given a mandate that recognizes the obligation of this government to treat our veterans with the respect and gratitude that they deserve.

From its very first day in office, the government has been committed to offering veterans new career opportunities, making it easier for them to access services, improving mental health services, and doing more to support their families.

In addition, the minister was tasked to work with the Minister of National Defence to ensure a seamless transition for releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces into civilian life. Since then, this government has invested significant time and resources to ensure that men and women who have served our country in uniform receive the respect, support, care, and economic opportunities they deserve, all in a fair and equitable manner.

Budget 2016 provided funding that allowed Veterans Affairs Canada to reopen the nine offices across the country, which had been closed by the previous government, to open a new one in Surrey, British Columbia, and increase outreach to veterans in Canada's north. The department hired more than 400 new staff to deliver services to veterans, including more case managers.

In budget 2016, this government invested $5.6 billion in improved benefits to veterans and their families. We increased the value of the disability award, increased the earnings loss benefit to 90% of a veteran's pre-release salary, and indexed them, importantly, to inflation.

Additionally, updates to the career impact allowance now ensure that each individual veteran is compensated appropriately for the impact of a service-related impairment on his or her career.

We also increased the value of the Last Post Fund to appropriately commemorate the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and increased the estate exemption to make it easier for the families of veterans to provide a dignified burial for their loved ones. That was just the beginning.

The department continued investing in veterans for the next year. To help military members find a new career and put their skills to use in civilian life, we introduced the veterans' education and training benefit that would give veterans up to $80,000 to cover tuition and other costs depending on years of service.

Veterans Affairs is also overhauling the career transition services program so that more people can benefit from it, including survivors, spouses, and partners.

However, a successful transition is about more than just a new career. The department has introduced a series of new initiatives to address well-being, many of which involve family. Recognizing the vital support families provide to serving military personnel and veterans, the government has expanded access to the military family support program. Previously reserved for serving members, all 32 military family resource centres will be opened up to veterans with illness or injury, as well as their families.

A new veterans emergency fund was also introduced, which provides immediate financial relief to veterans and their families facing an unexpected or urgent financial need.

We are improving recognition and support for spouses, partners, and caregivers who provide support to our veterans with illness or injury every day. The family caregiver benefit will rise to $1,000 per month, tax-free, paid directly to the caregiver.

We are removing time limits for spouses and survivors to apply for rehabilitation services and vocational assistance so they can re-enter the workforce.

The department is looking for new ideas as well and is investing $14 million over four years in a new veteran and family well-being fund for research on issues and new initiatives that may further support or improve the lives of veterans. That is in addition to the centre for excellence on PTSD and related mental health conditions it is setting up.

Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence are doing everything possible to improve the coordination of pre-release services, another essential and critical component in successful transition.

We are aware that some medically released members of the Canadian Armed Forces experience delays in receiving benefits, and that is unacceptable. Under the seamless transition plan, both departments are taking substantial steps to ensure that all releasing members and veterans, and their families, have timely, easy access to the programs and services they deserve.

The vision we are collectively working toward will be to have all releasing military members have all the benefits in place before they are released. Not only is Veterans Affairs adding new services and benefits for veterans and their families and enhancing existing ones, the department has made an important change in the way it delivers them.

A veteran-centric approach addresses the individual needs of each veteran and their families.

As our colleague mentioned, following a comprehensive review of how services are delivered, the department's “Delivering Service Excellence” report made far-reaching recommendations to ensure that the programs are efficient and valued and meet the needs of our veterans. The department is taking action and will accomplish 90% of the recommended changes within the next three years.

The government is honouring the memory of our brave men and women in uniform and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in times of conflict and peace.

I do not think any of us will forget the power of the commemorations held in Canada, France, and Belgium to mark the centennials of the battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele during the First World War, and the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid during the Second World War, all events that have shaped our identity and our country. Nor will we forget the lnvictus Games for servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans with injuries or illness. They were a great success in promoting awareness, understanding, and respect for those who have served and continue to serve.

This government is committed to ensuring that all veterans and their families receive the care, compassion, and respect they have earned through their service. We have restored services and programs that were cut by the previous government and have invested in mental health care, services for families and caregivers, long-term financial security, and career opportunities, all with the utmost dignity, respect, and equality for former military and RCMP members.

As I go back to Montreal, I will be taking the VIA train. VIA has undertaken to hire veterans. I meet them every time I take the train, and I thank them for their service.

We will never cease striving to improve the lives of all our brave men and women in uniform.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

I just want to point out that the hon. member has about two minutes, and then we will have to adjourn.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege and honour to stand in my place here representing the residents of Winnipeg North. The bill we are debating today is of great significance. I believe all members on all sides of the House will recognize what the members of our Armed Forces provide day in and day out. We recognize the importance of our veterans.

My colleague gave a brilliant speech talking in terms of what the Government of Canada has done in a relatively short period of time. We are talking about less than two years. Initiatives have been through the Minister of Veterans Affairs, or Minister of National Defence, cabinet or caucus. We understand and appreciate the contributions that our veterans have made over the years.

One of the most touching moments I have had here is when we see veterans sitting opposite us and looking down. If not for them, we would not have this beautiful place that we call the centre of our democracy, the House of Commons.

When we had the official apology the other day, it was very touching when what appeared to be a veteran salute the Prime Minister in acknowledging what the government is doing on another front.

All in all, when we look at the sacrifices over the years, how can we ever repay? I would suggest that we cannot, but we can recognize the sacrifices that those have given so that we are who we are as a society today.

Department of Veterans Affairs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 2:22 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:22 p.m.)