Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to be speaking to Bill C-27 at report stage, which gives veterans hiring priority in the public service.
First of all, I would like to remind Canadians that it has been a long road for this bill. Bill C-11 was introduced over a year ago. However, the government left out certain details and made some mistakes. As a result, the bill was abandoned and the government came back with Bill C-27, which is being studied today.
This new bill was introduced in response to certain criticisms of a less-than-stellar record concerning our veterans' employment and return to civilian life.
According to certain statistics, between 2006 and 2011, 2,000 veterans took advantage of the hiring priority and 1,024 of them obtained a job in the public service. Of these 1,024 veterans, 739 were hired by National Defence, which makes it the largest employer of veterans. The Department of National Defence tries really hard to hire veterans. Unfortunately, it is the only department that is making a significant effort to hire veterans, since the Department of Veterans Affairs provides the majority of the jobs, or 72%.
At Veterans Affairs, which should be quite open to hiring veterans, the situation is more disastrous. During this same service period, from 2006 to 2011, only 24 veterans managed to be hired by Veterans Affairs, which represents less than 2% of all jobs.
The second largest employer of veterans is Correctional Service Canada, which, in the same five-year period, hired 54 veterans, or 5% of all veterans hired. Not far behind is Human Resources and Skills Development, with 44 veterans hired, or 4% of all hires.
When we look at these figures, we see that few departments are making an effort to hire veterans. Most of the other departments did not hire even one veteran, while a few hired less than 10.
This means that a major change in culture is needed within the public service. I am not sure that this bill will be able to reverse the trend and ensure that many more veterans are hired, especially since so many cuts have been made to the public service in recent years. I think it will be many years before this bill has any effect on the hiring of veterans in the public service.
True to form, the government has introduced a bill that I feel is incomplete. This superficial bill is primarily designed to give the impression that the government is taking the necessary measures to help our veterans transition to civilian life. However, that is not the case. This bill is incomplete because it would have a limited impact, as I mentioned.
We will still support this bill, since in the long term—but not in the short or medium term—this bill will still help our veterans find good jobs and seamlessly transition into civilian life.
In this bill, the government did the bare minimum of what it could have done for our veterans who have been injured in service and are looking to get back into the job market. It can be extremely hard for veterans with disabilities to find suitable jobs.
Not only do veterans have to deal with physical limitations, but some may also face a number of prejudices related to operational stress. They must face many challenges to find a good job once they return to civilian life.
A survey of private-sector employees indicated that it would be essential to improve co-operation with the private sector, since they have very little knowledge of veterans' skills.
Human resources staff do not know how to read the resumés of military applicants. This same survey indicated that, of the 850 employers surveyed, the majority had little or no understanding of veterans' skills. Only 16% of companies make a special effort to hire veterans. Nearly half of employers believe that a university degree is far more important than the skills acquired by military personnel during their time in service, and only 13% of them stated that their human resources departments knew how to interpret the resumés of military applicants.
Given this situation, the government needs to accommodate these veterans and make it easier for them to join the public service. However, it is clear that this alone is simply not enough. The government decided that not all veterans would have access to priority hiring in the public service.
According to this bill, only military personnel who are medically released will have that priority in the public service. That is far too restrictive. It in no way takes into account our veterans who are not granted a medical release, but who, after launching an appeal with the department or the veterans board, are then recognized as having a service-related injury or disability.
Many veterans with physical and psychological symptoms would not be given immediate medical release. They have to appeal to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to overturn those decisions and acknowledge the link between their injury and their military service. However, even once the board recognizes that, these people would unfortunately not receive hiring priority under this bill.
Unfortunately, the government chose not to include these people in this bill despite the fact that we proposed amendments to include them. The Conservative members of the committee simply decided to reject the amendment. To me, it was a no-brainer to grant hiring priority to that kind of veteran as well. The government just decided to turn its back on them.
Some injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, do not show up until years later and can have a major impact on veterans' work. The Conservatives think that all the veterans have to do is sign up for a transition program and hope to find work that is a good fit with their condition, which is not always easy, especially in the private sector. As I mentioned, too few civilian employers truly recognize veterans' skills. The government's decision not to include them is shameful.
The public service would have been a very appropriate environment for these kinds of veterans. Working conditions and the duty to accommodate would have really helped these veterans maintain suitable, stable, long-term employment in an environment where they could properly adjust to their situation.
Furthermore, the Conservatives changed the definition of “veteran” in the Public Service Employment Act, so as to exclude the spouses of veterans from the preference list for jobs in the public service. This preference for the spouses of veterans, who would come before other Canadian citizens, was offered to the spouses of our Second World War and Korean War veterans.
Why did the government decide to exclude those spouses from the preference list? We might have thought that it was simply an oversight, but the government also refused our amendment that would have corrected the situation. Once again, the Conservatives decided to ignore these entirely reasonable requests.
The government says it wants to help families, but excluding spouses from the preference list is certainly no way to help families. On the one hand, the government accepted the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding families, but on the other hand, its actions go against those principles.
Once again, the government has abandoned veterans. In my opinion, the Conservative members of the committee were never interested in discussing the amendments with other committee members. I will even quote something the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs said when the committee was examining the bill:
...right now obviously the intent is to get this bill through as quickly as possible. With regard to other suggestions and I think wonderful initiatives that you brought forward, we are happy to look at those, moving forward.
He will be happy to look into those suggestions, but he will do it later. He cannot be serious. Once this bill is passed, I doubt we are going to come back and amend it. What a joke. He just said that to get rid of us.
We also unanimously supported the report on the new charter, and we got the same type of response: later. The government said that it would examine the recommendations later, not now. That is nonsense. The Conservatives are not showing any real willingness to do anything that would actually help our veterans. The only amendment they made after the bill was examined in committee was to clarify who would be responsible for establishing the link between the injury and the military service. It is a good thing they did that because the bill was rather vague in that regard when it was introduced. That was also one of the ombudsman's major concerns.
The Conservatives were also unable to conduct a decent examination of this bill because the shooting in Parliament took place on the first day this bill was scheduled to be examined in committee, and the meeting had to be cancelled. Unfortunately, instead of adding another meeting when we returned to work, the Conservatives decided to hold only one committee meeting to examine this bill. We were therefore unable to hear from anyone other than representatives of Veterans Affairs Canada and the Treasury Board. We were unable to meet with veterans groups that could have also presented some amendments and spoken to certain aspects of the bill. In my opinion, the bill was not thoroughly examined.
Some veterans groups had reservations about the bill. A member of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping said:
I am uncomfortable about the distinction made between service-related and non-service-related causes, and to the lack of recognition for RCMP members.
RCMP officers therefore have the right to be treated in the same way as members of our military. Unfortunately, the government did not want to include them in the bill.
What is more, the veterans ombudsman said the following on his blog:
...all medically releasing [sic] Canadian Armed Forces members should be treated the same way, because there is an inherent service relationship for every Canadian Armed Forces member who is medically released because the individual can no longer serve in uniform.
The Union of National Defence Employees had this to say:
Disabled veterans, especially those with stress-related injuries, who return to the workforce, must have access to reintegration services. Bill C-27 includes no such provision
To come back to the study in committee, unfortunately we were unable to have a meaningful study because the government did not schedule at least one meeting to hear from people who may have also been able to recommend certain changes. As I was saying, no changes, except for one minor one, were approved in committee.
This is a joke. Veterans' representatives should have appeared before the committee as witnesses, but the Conservatives wanted to pass this bill as quickly as possible. I think they have proven time and again that they have nothing but contempt for the legislative process and for Parliament.
As I said at the start, they did the bare minimum. The bill excludes soldiers who have non-service related injuries. It excludes veterans whose injuries are recognized later and it excludes veterans' spouses from the preference list.
The bill also leaves out RCMP officers. Half measures like these are no way to properly honour our veterans.
Mr. Speaker, we are going to support this bill, but we are a bit disappointed with its final draft. As they did with the committee report on the new charter, the Conservatives made promises they did not keep. They take far too long to make good on those promises.