- His favourite word was military.
Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for St. John's East (Newfoundland & Labrador)
Lost his last election, in 2015, with 45% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Correctional Service Canada June 18th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, Veronica Park died in April while serving a three-year sentence at the Nova Institution for Women a few days after complaining of respiratory problems. Instead of helping her family understand how she died, Correctional Service officials deliberately ignored media questions in an effort to suppress coverage, and even told her family they had to file an access to information request to find out the cause of death.
This callous behaviour is shameful and totally disrespectful to her family. Will the minister apologize?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 16th, 2015
With regard to the United Nations Chiefs of Defence Conference of March 26-27, 2015, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, and the absence of Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, General Thomas Lawson, from the Conference: (a) what was the reason for General Lawson’s absence; (b) which members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development were present at the Conference; and (c) what measures were taken to communicate Canada’s priorities and concerns with regard to international peacekeeping to those present at the Conference?
Ethics June 12th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, after promising to bring change to the Senate, the parliamentary secretary now clearly thinks it is not a priority. That is not acceptable to Canadians. When asked about the use of public funds to attend his brother-in-law's funeral, one senator replied that he brought “the dignity of the office”. The Auditor General is calling for transformational change, yet the Senate refuses even to confirm how much it is paying arbitrator Ian Binnie.
Why have the Conservatives abandoned their principles and refused to demand accountability from the Senate?
Ethics June 12th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, the Senate is a bastion of entitlement, yet the Conservatives have thrown up their hands and given up. The change is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary. Senators have invented a secret process for disputing the Auditor General's findings, and days after the Senate Speaker promised a new age of openness, he has gone to court to block the release of a potentially embarrassing internal report on residency.
Did anyone in the Prime Minister's office speak to anyone in the Senate about this latest attempt to cover up an embarrassing Senate report?
Newfoundland Military Service in World War II June 12th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I rise to mark the 75th anniversary of the deployment of some of Newfoundland and Labrador's finest and bravest in World War II.
Twenty-five hundred men and 500 women served in the Canadian armed forces. Others served in the Royal Navy and we fielded two royal artillery regiments in the British army.
The 57th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment, later becoming the 166th Newfoundland Field Regiment, fought in North Africa and Italy, and the 59th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment fought alongside Allied forces in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.
The exceptional valour and incredible skill of the Newfoundland artillerymen was widely recognized and celebrated. Sir Anthony Eden, then Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, said upon their arrival in England:
Newfoundland, whose sons have fought side by side with Englishmen since the days of the Tudors, responded at once to the call that echoed round the world last September. ... You may be sure that the spirit of Newfoundland...is not forgotten.
Committees of the House June 9th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, we did find that there were significant problems along the way, but one of the things that stood out, and still stands out, is the DND decision and recommendation made in 2002 of having the objective 447 mental health staff. That still has not been met. That was based on 2002 statistics, not the study that was done in 2012, the reports of which have not really been made public.
Every time this is raised in the House we hear comments about how much money is being spent. Absolute dollars do not necessarily matter if the need is actually greater than the dollars being spent. We are still not getting the full picture from the government as to how far it has gone to meet the internal recommendations that were made, based on objective study.
We think it is very troubling to find that we still have to make ongoing complaints about this, about the need for more services, about the need to make sure that people do not fall through the cracks, and again, despite the good intentions of transition from being a serving soldier to a veteran, we still see that the needs are not being met by the government.
Committees of the House June 9th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, we were quite concerned with the report, especially when so much time had been spent on it, which was about two years. Sometimes at the defence committee we spend a long time doing reports. We heard from a lot of witnesses who offered a tremendous amount of information to us, which was put into the report. Sometimes the reports are not strong enough, which is why we write a dissenting report, such as the one my colleague, the opposition House leader, referred to. We presented a 10-page report with 23 other recommendations in an effort to see significant steps taken to ensure actual, final and special results. We are disappointed that we did not have an opportunity to debate those recommendations in the House. Reports done in committee are sometimes put together as a result of a consensus but not always. This one was done in June of 2014, so it was as the House was closing. We just finished one last night at the defence committee on the defence of North America, so there will be no time to debate that one, which is unfortunate.
We still have situations that we are dealing with now. Ultimately, when a report is not debated and the recommendations do not sink in the government ends up being tone deaf to some of the problems that we talked about, such as transitioning from being a military personnel to a veteran. There is the case of Sergeant Nanson, an 18-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who was permanently injured as the result of an IED blast in Afghanistan. He now needs a wheelchair to get around. He will be medically released on June 30. His house will not be ready because of a delay in fixing up the house to allow for wheelchair accessibility yet he will be kicked out of his military housing on June 30 anyway. Therefore, despite the fact that recommendations are made and good intentions are shown, we do not see the follow through and debate in this House to bring these issues home, which may keep people alive to the issues and keep people like Sergeant Nanson from falling through the cracks.
Committees of the House June 9th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, we heard from witnesses at committee who brought service dogs with them. I have seen veterans or serving members with their service dogs in public as well. They have told me that the service dog enables them to go out in public and that they would not leave their house without the presence of a service dog. One of the consequences of some of the more serious forms of PTSD is a high level of anxiety, which is sometimes called hypervigilance, that is related to a person's experiences in a war zone where they have experienced trauma or explosions. This can have flashback effects and all of the things that go with it. I am not trying to diagnose anybody here but some of the symptoms are what people talk about and experience. A service dog can act as a companion animal. People are not supposed to pet them. Often there will be a sign that reads, “Please do not pet. This animal is at work.” The service dog is there to be a presence for the individual and can provide a great deal of assistance to enable them to live a more normal life.
Committees of the House June 9th, 2015
moved that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on National Defence presented on Thursday, June 12, 2014, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to bring this matter before the House today. This is the fourth report of the Standing Committee on National Defence, issued a year ago now. It is an ongoing situation with respect to the care and treatment of Canada's ill and injured military personnel and their families.
This report was a result of two years of study into the situation involving military veterans and soldiers who have been serving the country. We had a spike in serious injuries of soldiers in the period we were in Afghanistan. We had 12 years of participation in that war in Afghanistan, an unprecedented length of time for Canadian Forces to be serving, with multiple deployments of Canadian soldiers in a very dangerous situation.
We had an extraordinary experience. I do not think we were prepared for the consequences of soldiers being deployed for this long, this far away, or for the consequences to them.
The report made quite a few findings, one of which I think we are all very pleased with, which was that the response of the military medical personnel with respect to physical injuries and trauma, although they were obviously serious and tragic for the individuals involved, was very rapid, high level, and well-recognized for its professionalism; in fact, not only professionalism but an advanced state of ability to deal with traumatic injuries, of which we unfortunately had very many.
In terms of the provision of assistance to those who were injured in the course of the Afghanistan conflict, there was a high degree of responsiveness. In fact, the Canadian Forces medical team was recognized internationally for its efforts with high praise and awards.
The area that caused the most concern for the committee, and for returning soldiers and their families, was the consequences of the mental injuries people suffered, which have now been widely and universally recognized as post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
Back in the 1990s, I was involved in representing a large number of victims of sexual assault as children. I recall learning an awful lot about PTSD but also being told at the time by an American military psychiatrist that there was no such thing as PTSD. That was what was believed to be the case, but he did not in fact believe in that.
I found it quite surprising, but it is worth noting that acceptance of the situation with PTSD is not something that has been around forever, particularly within military circles.
In Canada, we took a while to recognize the extent and state of the situation. We have very little in the way of statistics on it. Studies that were done of the needs of mental health professionals and health professionals within the Canadian Forces were based on projections done in the Statistics Canada study in 2002. Those were the figures upon which we were relying.
The study was repeated in 2013, but by the time we prepared the report, the results had not been made public. We were operating with information that was available at the time. We know that there had been, within the Canadian Armed Forces, very little in the way of support for independent research. Internal research was being done. Unlike other forces, like those of the United States and the U.K., there has not been widespread support for independent research on military and veterans' health, injuries, and treatment. That has changed, but it has only changed in recent years.
I see a couple of my colleagues from the defence committee opposite. We heard evidence from Dr. Alice Aiken of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research which was established recently at Queen's University with support from some 25 universities across the country. CIMVHR is an independent institute made up of 25 Canadian universities undertaking research into the needs of Canadian military personnel, veterans and military families.
Dr. Aiken told the committee that in terms of funding and sustainability for independent research we actually did not have any. That has changed. There was a recommendation by our committee in our dissenting report that Canada contribute to a significant and independent research fund that would allow CIMVHR, through its partner institutions, to undertake self-directed research into the health issues affecting CAF personnel, veterans and their families. That was actually done. There was a recommendation made not for this year's budget, but last year's, to have the support of the $5 million fund which was contributed to CIMVHR from the last federal budget and was matched by the True Patriot Love Foundation. There is now a significant fund that is available for research across the country.
In fact, last week I attended a seminar at Memorial University in my riding of St. John's East. Researchers and those interested in military and veterans' health were gathered together to talk about ideas for research projects that are necessary to advance the cause of Canadian soldiers' and veterans' health issues.
We talked about PTSD and the need for more professionals to deal with that. The whole issue of the families of soldiers who are also affected by the fact that their spouse has PTSD became something that we were focused on during the committee's study, because while we did have a program and the military is directly responsible for the health care of soldiers, the issue of families arose with respect to jurisdiction. It was stated quite specifically that the military and the federal government do not have responsibility for the health care of families of military personnel for constitutional reasons, because health is a provincial matter.
The consequences of that for our military families was that a soldier who had been suffering from PTSD would return home and be in the community with their spouse and family, suffering from PTSD and the consequences of that PTSD were not known to the family. The family was experiencing them. In fact, there is significant evidence to support the fact that spouses themselves would suffer from PTSD as a result of the soldier's experiencing PTSD. That was something that was brought home to the committee by witnesses, by family members, by discussions with soldiers in nearby businesses, for example, in Petawawa. We were told by some of these individuals that despite much effort, it was very difficult for spouses to get any access to treatment or counselling, or even some education to understand what was happening to their soldier spouse.
That was very debilitating. It caused serious problems within families, serious problems within marriages, and a situation of people suffering from PTSD not being able to actually advance and help to solve their problems.
There is another thing we found out with respect to the support for families in this whole area where there is no direct responsibility for the health care needs of families. People are moving across the country. We know the situation in the military. They can be posted every two years. They go to a different community. These are families with children. There are quite a lot of young children in the families of Canadian Forces members. The figure that was given to me last week was that there are some 68,000 children of Canadian military personnel. These families with children are moving across the country. The first thing families have to do when they arrive in a new community is find a family doctor. That is one thing that is absolutely necessary for the health and well-being of individuals.
What happens in these situations, particularly in some of the rural and remote areas where military bases are located in this country, is there is significant pressure on the local medical system. There is a lack of quick access to family doctors particularly when there are special needs children, those who may have learning disabilities or other types of needs that need assessment. There are long waiting lists. The problems multiply as families move around.
One of the things that is absolutely necessary and has not been resolved is how we deal with military families' health needs when they are being moved across the country. Often, in the case of PTSD, they are dealing with a family consequence, not simply an individual soldier's consequence. How do we do that, I suppose, without trampling on the jurisdictional situation that exists?
There are ways of doing it. It can be done. When the military moves families from place to place, the infrastructure of a city, of a town, of a location, is often affected by the presence of the military. Let us face it. There are traffic needs, needs for transportation, bridges, housing, and all of that, and the military can influence those decisions. It can also provide support for clinics so that in an area where the military operates, money could be provided to ensure that an area is attractive to medical personnel so that they can go there and have access perhaps to a clinic that is already built and available that would provide for the needs of the local community as well as the military families. Some incentives could be offered. There are ways that the military, the Department of National Defence, can be proactive in ensuring that the opportunity for health care for the military families is present.
I know it has instituted programs now to involve spouses through the military family support centres and through programs that have been established. Recognizing that the health of the soldiers depends upon the health of the family, it is able to extend counselling and more services. We would like to hear an update from the government on how far along that is.
I know there is a need for more research in this field. There are a lot of different types of professionals, whether they be health professionals, social workers, researchers from a whole bunch of different academic disciplines, involved in this. I want to commend the work of Dr. Aiken,, who has done a tremendous amount in a very short time to promote the notion of independent research throughout the country. It has been pretty much in the last five years that this work has been done. It is a tremendous effort by Dr. Aiken and her team, with the support of True Patriot Love, which has come on board and is working very closely with her and the institute to build support across the country.
I know there were members from all sides of the House who promoted this idea. They received a very strong welcome from me and my colleague, the member for Vancouver East, who was our health critic at the time and was very interested in the work that was being done. We fully supported that work. It is one area where we would like to hear more.
Another area that kept coming up again and again had to do with the transition for people who were in the military and were going to be medically discharged for one reason for another, but were being pushed out of the military prior to receiving their 10 years of service that would qualify them for a pension. We heard excruciating testimony from individuals.
In particular, I remember Corporal Glen Kirkland from Manitoba who testified before our committee. He said that he was about to be medically discharged, but he was not ready to go. There was a large debate in this House about it. In fact, he was told by the then minister of defence that this would not happen to him. He did not accept that, because he believed that if he was being made an exception, the rule would still be there that people would be discharged before they had reached the opportunity to get the security of a pension.
A whole series of recommendations came out of this dilemma, that the military was looking for ways to separate from individuals who were not going to be able to fully meet the universality of service requirement and were about to be discharged prior to getting a full pension and income security.
This was the biggest fear of many people to even come forward to get treatment for PTSD, that it would be a career ender and would result in having no income security. They would not be able to stay in the military; they did not meet the universality of service requirement, and they would end up in a situation separated from their career with no prospects for the future. This was something that was very prevalent. It also prevented people from getting the treatment they needed to try to overcome the PTSD they were suffering.
These are some of the issues that the committee had to deal with. We put forward a number of serious recommendations. One recommendation followed from comments by the former ombudsman, Pierre Daigle, who talked about universality of service.
Universality of service means that anybody in the military has to be ready to deploy at any time for expeditionary operations within the domain of the Canadian Armed Forces. He said that there was a need to modernize that and modify it to the extent to allow people who may have certain disabilities as a result of PTSD or physical disabilities to be reintegrated into the force. We have some very prominent examples of how that has worked. There should be some modification to allow individuals to stay in the military even though they may not be able to be fully deployed in a battle situation.
These are some of the issues. There was a lot of work put into the report and a lot of recommendations. I think it is time we had a report on how these recommendations have actually been implemented, what progress has been made, and what are the steps forward on matters like universality of service and ensuring that people are able to transition with their health needs met from being a serving member to being a veteran.
National Defence June 8th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, so why are they lowering the targets?
Once again, Canadian Forces members are being left behind by the government. Those looking for help to get replacement IDs, service pins, or other records call the designated line only to be told that it is not staffed due to budget cuts. There is no use calling back. One reservist said that he has been trying to get help with his basic request for five months.
Our soldiers deserve so much better than having the books balanced on their backs. Why did the minister cut such basic services that the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces rely upon?