Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was veterans.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Winnipeg North—St. Paul (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Transportation September 26th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious issue and I will bring it to the attention of the minister at once. I will take this question under advisement.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's speech and those of the members who spoke previously. I certainly value their insight. I would like to share that we were faced with the same heart-rending environment when I was with the leaders of the national veterans organizations. I thank colleagues for sharing their insights.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on some of the points that the member opposite raised.

On the issue of aboriginal veterans, following the first nations veterans grievance, last year in June we made the announcement of an offer of up to $20,000 for each veteran. There was a total of $39 million for all those first nations veterans who returned to the reserves shortly after the war.

That package has been accepted by the first nations veterans community. Applications have been received. and as of last month close to 1,000 applications had been processed.

Regarding the Métis grievance, to date we have reviewed some 120 files provided to us by the National Métis Veterans Association. I can tell the House that the Métis veterans did receive the same benefits as all other veterans.

This is not surprising because the Métis were not recognized as Métis and therefore they could only be recognized as veterans-at-large. However, we wanted to be assured and so we reviewed the files. In fact, the files showed that they too received the benefits.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I gave the assurance, when I met with the leadership of the National Métis Veterans Association, that I would continue to review files provided to us to add the greatest of certainty.

On the issue of regulatory changes alluded to that are not in the bill, by their nature changes to regulations are governed by another piece of legislation. Section 5 of the Veterans Benefit Act has made it possible for Parliament to delegate the authority to make regulatory changes to the governor in council.

With this process we were able to do the regulatory change to the veterans independence program extending benefits to spouses much sooner. Otherwise we would be engaging in debate and the benefits would not have started.

As to why we have not extended the benefits to other widows whose benefits had ended prior to the effectivity of this particular regulatory change, I can only say, we tried. We did not succeed. This issue will remain always in the heart of this minister.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a brief point of order to correct what I said. I said that 1988 was the beginning of the reference interpretation of the meaning of incarceration. I meant 1978. 1988 refers to the time scale itself.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I thought the member would pose a question to the minister but since he proceeded to debate I will make my comments and perhaps respond to some of the questions he included in his debate.

First, I want to thank him for acknowledging the importance of the education assistance program for children of deceased veterans killed in the line of duty.

Second, on the question of whether the time prisoners of war spend eluding capture after an escape is included in the calculation of the benefits given to them, I assure the member that has been the interpretation since 1988. If the member should come across any case where it could have been interpreted otherwise, I would ask him to please let me know and my department will look into it.

Lastly, I would reiterate that on the extension of benefits to the surviving spouses, I in fact raised that issue myself when we were discussing it with the leaders of the national veterans organizations. It was not an easy task when we could not include those whose benefits had ended.

We were in a dilemma. Should we delay proceeding with a package of initiatives, knowing the twilight years of our veterans, while we continued to search for sources of funding for the additional funding that we would need? Or, should we proceed since time was of the essence? With much difficulty and in our collective unanimity we decided to proceed.

I just wanted to convey to the House that it was not for lack of heart or lack of will. It was only the reality of the time.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

moved that Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed my honour and privilege to lead off second reading debate on Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.

Indeed, the bill provides us with a unique opportunity, one, to offer financial assistance to the children of veterans who die as a result of their military service; two, to clarify the requirements for the war veterans allowance program; and three, to enhance compensation for both shorter term and longer term former prisoners of war. Concurrent with the bill are regulatory changes, to be found in a separate form, which will help war era veterans and their spouses, including eligible overseas and allied veterans, live out their remaining years in comfort and dignity.

In fact, these objectives reflect the most pressing needs and longstanding concerns of our wartime veterans as identified by national veterans organizations. We therefore wanted to accomplish these goals as expeditiously as possible. So timely are the proposed statutory and regulatory amendments that we in the department have come to refer to them as our urgent needs legislation.

One might think the bill is largely a technical one, subtracting or adding sections to existing pieces of legislation. The amendments appear to be technical indeed, but their effects are substantial and profound.

The first amendment re-establishes the children of deceased veterans education assistance act, the act that provided authority for my department's education assistance program from its inception in 1953 until its discontinuance in February 1995. With the enactment of Bill C-50, we will be re-establishing the act and substantially improving upon the program for children of Canadian Forces members killed in the line of duty or who, at the time of death, were pensioned at the rate of 48% or greater.

The program will assist eligible children attending a post-secondary institution, such as a university, a college or a trade school, with their living expenses and tuition fees. A monthly living allowance of $300 will be sent directly to the students, over and above any amount payable to them as surviving children under the pension act. Reimbursement for tuition fees will be made directly to the educational institutions, to a maximum amount of $4,000 per year, adjusted yearly as a function of the consumer price index.

In addition, education assistance will be given to former students who completed their education after the education assistance program was discontinued in 1995. This will be of particular importance to children of Canadian Forces members who were killed in the line of duty during this time period. This coverage will preclude any unfairness. They will be eligible for the education assistance rates that were in effect as of January 2003.

Also under this program, children who did not attend a post-secondary institution after the education assistance program was discontinued and who now choose to attend are eligible to receive up to four years of assistance at the new rates established with the passage of the bill. Eligible students can qualify for assistance until their 30th birthday.

The next amendment clarifies the wartime service requirements for members of the Canadian Forces. It will establish that a member of the forces must have enlisted, served and been discharged from that service to be eligible for benefits under the War Veterans Allowance Act.

Members may recall that as a result of recent Federal Court rulings, some ambiguity resulted with respect to the definition that had to be applied for the purposes of the War Veterans Allowance Act to a member of the Canadian Forces who served during the first and second world wars. I believe it essential, and most certainly veterans do, that this change be undertaken so that the legislation makes it abundantly clear this aspect of wartime service is a fundamental consideration under this particular legislation.

The third amendment improves coverage and compensation for former prisoners of war, POWs. This amendment will do two things. One, it will modify the current POW compensation scale to benefit POWs who were imprisoned for shorter periods of time than now currently called for; and two, it will increase payments plus the current maximum timeframe covered.

Moreover, concomitant regulatory changes will provide veterans who are only in receipt of POW compensation and are totally disabled with access to veterans independence program, VIP, services and health care benefits, where these are not available to them from provincial programs.

POW veterans have always occupied a special place in the hearts and eyes of the government and fellow veterans, and in fact in the hearts and eyes of all Canadians.

Speaking further of regulatory changes related thematically to the bill before us but to be found in separate form, there are four. First, we are extending health programs to war service veterans with a pensioned disability between 48% and 77%. What that does is it recognizes that these veterans now have multiple and complex health needs. It acknowledges the difficulty of differentiating between health care needs related to the pensioned injury and those that are due to the infirmities of old age. Thus, we are covering both eventualities for those health care requirements not covered under provincial legislation.

Second, we are also providing VIP and health care benefits to overseas service veterans residing in Canada and living at home because they are unable to access a priority access bed in a long term care facility due to a wait list.

Third, we are offering as well long term care and health benefits to allied veterans who have lived in Canada for 10 years or longer since the end of the war. Eligible allied veterans will have access to long term care in community facilities when they are admitted to such facilities for the first time. In cases where the allied veteran needs care that can no longer be provided at a community residence, for example, palliative care and dementia care, the veteran becomes eligible to receive care in a facility where veterans affairs has access to a priority bed.

These changes to the regulations will come into effect this fall. They are part of a continuum of changes that we see as crucial to our ongoing efforts to better the lives of our heroes who are now in their twilight years.

The fourth on the regulatory front of the continuum, and the most significant in its reach and scope, is the one affecting the spouses and partners, the survivors, of war veterans who were in receipt of VIP benefits at the time of their passing. Of all the issues that veterans groups have talked to me about, they regard this as one of the most pressing.

As hon. members know, VIP has been one of my department's most popular programs for veterans and their survivors. Its provisions for housekeeping and grounds maintenance services have helped keep very senior veterans living at home rather than in care facilities, likely for years longer than might otherwise be anticipated and made possible, no doubt, by the caregiver assistance of their spouses.

We recognize that in these later years the caregiving which the spouses provide their veteran partners is priceless indeed, not just for the veterans in a personal sense, but it is priceless to the Canadian health care system and taxpayers in dollars saved in helping keep them healthy and independent at home.

We have also come to recognize the physical and emotional toll such care places on elderly caregivers. For years now caregiver survivors have benefited from the continuation of such services for one year after the death of their veteran spouse.

Starting May 1 of this year, VIP is being extended to eligible survivors then in receipt of this benefit, along with the spouses of veterans who die after the new amendment is approved, not for just a year but for as long as they need the grounds keeping and all housekeeping services of the program. In fact approval of this regulatory change was accelerated and took place last June.

About 10,000 surviving spouses will benefit from this change in the next five years at a cost of $65.9 million, nearly half of the total financial resources we had, some $134 million, for all the urgent needs we had to fund.

As I had earlier alluded to in the House, we wished we had the capability to include recipient survivors whose one year VIP extension had ended before last May's announcement. In fact we raised and discussed this very issue with the leadership of the veterans' organizations. We were in a dilemma. Time was of the essence. Should we proceed with the package, knowing we could not include survivors whose VIP had ended? It was our collective and unanimous decision to proceed as I proceeded to announce the package in the House. Thus, it was not for lack of heart, it was not for lack of will, it was simply the case of limited resources. It was simply the case of reality.

May I at this juncture seize this opportunity to reiterate my thanks to Mr. Allan Parks, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion; Mr. Robert Cassels, Dominion President of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association; and Mr. Clifford Chadderton, Chairman of the National Council of Veterans Association for their leadership and participation at every step of the process as we were developing this package of initiatives as reflected in Bill C-50 and in the concomitant regulatory changes, including the funding mechanism. Their advocacy on behalf of veterans and their families is laudable and their insights have been most valuable to me and to my department.

Let me say a word on funding mechanism before I conclude. Altogether, the statutory amendments along with their regulatory counterparts will mean millions of dollars of additional benefits will go to the neediest of veterans and their family members. However, they are not adding millions of extra dollars to my department's budget, nor adding to the taxpayer's burden. Rather, we are reallocating funds internally within the department to address the high priorities of those veterans and other clients in the greatest need.

This funding mechanism will involve clarifying the attendance allowance program policy to bring it more in line with its intended target. As originally envisioned in the legislation, attendance allowance is a monthly payment which may be awarded to a veteran who is receiving a disability pension and/or prisoner of war compensation. The individual must also be totally disabled and in need of attendance due to his or her physical or mental state.

In existence since 1919, the attendance allowance program is closely guarded by veterans' organizations, and rightly so. They support changes to the program provided that savings realized are used to fund programs that meet their urgent needs without detracting from any other program. I should at once say that existing clients will continue to receive their attendance allowance benefits at their current grade level.

I believe the statutory amendments before us in Bill C-50, combined with the regulatory changes, will make eminent sense in the life of our veterans, and in the sad instance of their passing, in the life of their surviving spouses or dependent children.

I look forward to hearing my colleague's views on this very important matter. I look forward to our collective wisdom in this House. A speedy enactment of this bill would be one more expression of our nation's unending gratitude to our veterans who offered themselves, most in the prime of their youth, in the service of our country.

Truly, we are further honouring our heroes with the speedy passage of Bill C-50.

Veterans Affairs September 24th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, before the House is Bill C-50 wherein we have introduced amendments precisely to address the urgent needs of veterans. I would like the member, instead of speaking away from the issue, to support the bill.

The government can take pride that it is taking care of veterans and their families.

Veterans Affairs September 22nd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, how could the member say we are not doing anything when we just announced last May that we are extending the VIP to 10,000 widows?

In terms of the expenses of people on government business, we know that people serving the country also spend money on behalf of their offices and those expenses are within Treasury Board guidelines. We must accept that those are necessary expenses.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, in answer to earlier questions raised, the member is right, expenses are for travel, accommodation and for meals, with the vast majority for travel.

Veterans Affairs September 22nd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I think we have to realize that there is not only one program for any department. All components of a program have to be attended to and in any given budget year we have only so much to spend. What we have done is consult with veterans' organizations and their leadership, and we have agreed on a consensus: that the way to proceed last May was the way I proceeded and made the announcement of at that time.

Veterans Affairs September 22nd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, let it not be misinterpreted that members of the appeal board are performing excellent duties for veterans of the country in trying to adjudicate their claims for disability benefits.

In terms of expenditures, of course they are spending on the basis of travel around the country. The members of the veterans appeal board travel about three weeks out of four, accessing veterans and hearing their complaints.

To the issue that we have not provided services to the widows of veterans, that we have done, although not to all of them. But to the best of our ability, we have been addressing other urgent needs of veterans as well.