Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the budget implementation act, such an important piece of legislation for veterans.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I am pleased to say that the Minister of Veterans Affairs tabled in this House Bill C-58, support for veterans and their families. The provisions contained in the bill are so important for veterans that they are contained within the budget implementation act itself.
The budget implementation act is a major step forward in our work for our Armed Forces members, for veterans, and for their families. With the bill, our government would address unintended gaps in the new veterans charter.
In addition, the bill would satisfy recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Last June, the committee issued a report with recommendations to improve the new veterans charter. That report was based on input from over 50 veterans and veterans organizations that appeared at the committee. The report was unanimously accepted by all members of all parties on that committee.
Here is the problem for the Liberal and NDP members of Parliament. The measures in the budget implementation act address recommendations presented by the Veterans Ombudsman, by the veterans affairs committee, and by veterans and veterans organizations, yet for some incomprehensible reason, the opposition is fighting these initiatives, initiatives that would benefit our veterans and their families, instead of helping to pass them into law.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs is serving veterans extremely well. He has held a high number of consultations. He has reached out to veterans and veterans organizations, and over the last number of months, he has announced many significant initiatives for which veterans have been asking.
Within the first few weeks, the minister laid out his priorities for Veterans Affairs: having a focus on caring, compassion, and respect; having a veteran-centred service attitude; ensuring a seamless transition from the Armed Forces into Veterans Affairs; and providing service excellence. It is these priorities that have borne tangible fruit. There have been major announcements to improve government services and benefits for serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, for veterans, and for their families.
I would like to briefly highlight some of those significant and important announcements, which are contained in the budget implementation act.
The retirement income security benefit would provide moderately and seriously injured veterans with continued assistance in the form of monthly income support payments, beginning at the age of 65. This was a direct response to the Veterans Ombudsman's recommendation. In fact, when the minister made this announcement, the Ombudsman said, “I encourage all Parliamentarians to pass this new pension benefit without delay”.
The minister also announced that the earnings loss benefit would now be calculated the same way for reserve force members as it is for regular force members. With this announcement, reservists would now receive earnings loss benefits equal to those of their regular force counterparts.
Alice Aiken, the director of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, said:
This really speaks loudly and clearly to the reservist veterans that the minister in fact does have their 'six', and is willing to go to bat for them, and take care of them.
This is another announcement that was supported by the Veterans Ombudsman.
Building on this momentum, the minister then announced that the eligibility criteria for the permanent impairment allowance would be expanded to allow more veterans to benefit. More seriously injured veterans would now be eligible for more financial support.
Another significant and important announcement the minister made that is also contained in the budget implementation act was the new family caregiver relief benefit. Our government recognizes the vital contribution of caregivers, often the spouse or another family member, to the health and well-being of seriously injured veterans. This new benefit would provide an annual tax-free grant of over $7,000 per year to allow caregivers to take a well-deserved break while ensuring that their loved ones continued to receive the support they needed.
So far, I have been speaking of benefits and initiatives that were a direct response to the recommendations made at the veterans affairs committee. In other words, they are benefits and initiatives that the Liberal and NDP members of Parliament should have no hesitation voting in favour of.
However, the Minister of Veterans Affairs took the opportunity to offer a new benefit that went beyond what the committee and others had asked for, and of course, I am speaking of the critical injury benefit. The critical injury benefit would provide $70,000, tax free, to the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans. This benefit is intended to address the immediate impact of severe and traumatic service-related injuries or diseases sustained by our Armed Forces members and veterans.
I think Mr. Phil Ralph, the program director of Wounded Warriors Canada, said it best when he said:
Any time you have a benefit that is going to add to the suite of benefits for veterans, it's a good thing. And the minister has done a good job at filling a whole bunch of gaps in the last couple of weeks.
These announcements are about respect for serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, respect for veterans, and respect for their families. Our government recognizes its obligation to our Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans and is determined to enact and implement these measures as soon as possible. The purpose of these measures, which is contained in the budget implementation act is:
...to recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs has made a commitment to veterans that these initiatives, benefits recommended in an all-party report from the veterans affairs committee, would pass through the House before the end of this session. To fulfill our obligation, we have included these new benefits in the budget implementation act to ensure that they pass and can be implemented as soon as possible. I certainly look forward to bringing them into force so that serving members and veterans can actually benefit from them.
However, it is most unfortunate that the Liberals and the NDP are playing political games with our armed forces members, veterans, and their families regarding these new benefits. Earlier this week, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore attempted to move a motion to send Bill C-58 to the committee, which would actually have disrupted the passage of the budget implementation act and the bringing into force of these important benefits I am speaking of this morning.
Here is the dilemma. There are real and significant financial benefits contained in this budget implementation act that would improve the lives of serving Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their families. They are benefits that the opposition has asked for and has said it supports, yet when it comes time to vote on them and actually move them into law and make them a reality, the Liberal and NDP members of Parliament say that they will not vote for them.
As I said, it is shameful that the NDP and Liberals are playing these political games to the detriment of our veterans and their families. It is important to highlight to those watching this debate that the NDP and Liberal MPs will not just stand by while we move these benefits into law but will actively vote against them. Think about that for a moment. Opposition MPs are going to actively try to defeat these initiatives for veterans that are contained within the budget implementation act. They would rather that veterans and their families get nothing at all than receive these new benefits. It makes no sense at all, and it would disadvantage our veterans for the opposition's own partisan purposes.
Men and women in uniform and veterans have confidence that our Conservative government would not only propose these key benefits but would also do everything possible to ensure that they are actually brought into effect. They know that they can count on us to bring this through to a successful conclusion.
In closing, I would say to my Liberal and NDP colleagues that veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and their families are watching closely. With this in mind, I would ask my opposition colleagues to reverse their current position and to instead vote in favour of the key new initiatives contained in the budget implementation act. They are initiatives that would benefit our serving members, veterans, and their families.