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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was conservatives.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 23% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Defence November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, after confirming the first Canadian air strikes in Iraq on Tuesday, Lieutenant-General Jonathan Vance revealed that an estimate of the costs of the military mission had been provided to the minister.

Not only did the minister hide from us the fact that he had an estimate of the costs, but he is also refusing to disclose those figures. Canadians want to know how much money will be spent on this mission.

When will the minister release the estimated cost of the military mission in Iraq?

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I did not have time to talk about several issues that were raised at committee and in the ombudsman's reports.

I began speaking about the permanent impairment allowance, which has three categories. Veterans do not qualify because the criteria are too restrictive. The ombudsman and the committee have pointed this out many times.

Less than 50% of our most seriously injured veterans, those with permanent injuries that prevent them from working, can access the permanent impairment allowance. Furthermore, when they are placed into one of the three categories of allowance, one of which pays out less, almost no veterans are eligible for the $1,700 category because the criteria are too stringent. However, some of them should qualify for it. These criteria should be relaxed in order to allow more of our most seriously injured veterans to access this benefit.

We are also talking about taking care of the families. Several witnesses said that there was no support for the families. For example, the women who have to quit their jobs to look after seriously injured veterans should be recognized as caregivers. The wives and children of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder have very complex and difficult lives. However, they do not automatically have access to psychological services. These families have been severely affected and should receive better psychological support.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster for his comments and his question.

As I said, the report was presented on June 5. During the committee's study, most veterans' groups made the same kind of comments. The minister has received quite a few reports over the past eight years.

I have to say that the new veterans charter was brought in by a minority government in 2005-06. Veterans were promised that, even though the study of the new charter was not exhaustive, the plan was to improve it significantly as problems cropped up and were reported, whether in committee or in the ombudsman's report.

However, in the past eight years just one minor improvement was made, and that was in 2011, despite the many reports that had already been presented by then. I mentioned the ombudsman's reports, many of which pointed to all of the flaws we discussed and others he observed. Committees have also presented numerous reports. Many studies have been presented over the past eight years.

As I said, these veterans groups told us in committee that they were exasperated. They could not wait any longer. They said that the minister had received enough reports, and they wondered why a new one was needed. That is the question we heard countless times during this review in committee. For years, studies have shown all the flaws in the new veterans charter.

The minister is turning a deaf ear. He claims he still needs more time to study the recommendations. That is totally unacceptable. He knew the problems. He had the tools to act quickly, but he chose to wait for budget surpluses. That is totally unacceptable. The government is running a surplus on the backs of our veterans. It is deplorable and unacceptable.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, presented on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, be concurred in.

This being Veterans' Week, I am very pleased to be the first to speak to this debate and to take the time to honour the memory of all of our Canadian veterans who made sacrifices to keep us safe and protect our values and our ideals.

This year, Remembrance Day will be especially significant for Canadians. The shocking events that took place just two weeks ago remind us of what our soldiers are ready to do, what our veterans are prepared to sacrifice to protect us. This year, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo and their families will be in the thoughts of all Canadians.

Following those incidents, veterans across Canada decided to guard their local memorials. With great pride, they once again answered the call to protect these sacred memorials. I would like to thank them all. Canadians are extremely proud of them.

I was also amazed by Canadians' great generosity following these incidents. In just one week, the Stand on Guard fund for the Cirillo and Vincent families raised over $700,000 to help these families. I would like to thank all of the generous Canadians who gave to help these families overcome these utterly inexplicable tragedies.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Scarborough Southwest on the bill he introduced this week to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday for all Canadians as of next year. I would also like to thank all of my House colleagues, who almost unanimously supported this bill. We will never forget.

We are here this morning to concur in the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs' report on the new charter. On June 3 of this year, the committee presented its unanimous report on enhancing the new veterans charter. The committee held 14 meetings and heard from 54 witnesses. Naturally, the witnesses included many groups of veterans' representatives, veterans' health care research experts, and compensation experts. We heard from experts in all veterans-related sectors so that we could carry out a comprehensive study of ways to improve the new veterans charter.

From the beginning of the study, all the witnesses and veterans' groups testified to the urgency of the situation and the importance of improving the new veterans charter as soon as possible. Many also sent a clear message that the problems with the new veterans charter were known and had been identified much earlier in many reports and that the minister already had plenty of reports to support acting quickly to improve the charter.

Financial support, including the lump sum payment, the earnings loss benefit and the permanent impairment allowance; fairness for reservists; family, transition and employability were all among the most recurring themes raised by the witnesses during the study.

Of course the committee members really wanted to come up with a unanimous report because they did not want any ambiguity and they wanted to be able to act quickly to address the most critical and most obvious shortcomings in the new charter.

We therefore concentrated our efforts on the main priorities to show the government and the minister that certain points in the new charter had to be addressed immediately. Veterans have been waiting for these improvements to the new charter for eight years—eight years during which they have submitted various reports to our committee or the Senate committee and the ombudsman has also submitted reports.

Over the past eight years, since no changes were taking place and veterans' groups were increasingly dissatisfied, many tried launching class action suits. They felt the only way to get justice was to sue the government. Of course the government had every opportunity to improve the quality of life of our veterans, but it chose to make them wait.

The minister wants to wait. He says he supports the report, but the changes will have to wait because he needs more time. It is totally ridiculous. As I said, the witnesses were practically unanimous. The minister has all the information he needs to act quickly, but more than six months after the report was tabled, we are still waiting for the minister to do his part, make the changes to this new charter and improve veterans' quality of life.

We are extremely disappointed that the minister is saying that he needs more time. The report was unanimous. I had hoped that the minister and the government would listen to reason and act quickly.

The government has decided to adopt a two-phase approach.

First, the minister will study the non-budgetary recommendations and those that might be covered by Veterans Affairs' current budget. If the minister thinks we can improve the charter and the quality of life of our veterans without significant additional funding, then he is sadly mistaken. Veterans should not have to pay the price for the Conservatives' political choices and suffer because of the government's austerity measures. They made sacrifices for their country and deserve to get proper compensation befitting those sacrifices.

As far as the second phase is concerned, the fact that the government has not provided any timeframe worries me greatly. The way things are going, veterans might have to wait until 2016 to get tangible results when it comes to the lump sum payment or the earnings loss benefit.

If the government does not introduce financial improvements until the next budget, the election may very well be called shortly afterward and the budget bill could die on the order paper, which means we would have to wait for another bill along with the studies that go with it. Veterans might still have to wait for years. This is totally unacceptable. We need a bill right away. We must improve the quality of life of our veterans now—we needed to yesterday—not tomorrow, not in the next budget, which could die on the order paper given that the election will be held in October. We need the minister to act on this immediately.

I am not the only one to say this. In fact, the Royal Canadian Legion made largely the same comments in a press release.

Here are some excerpts from a press release issued shortly after the minister's response was tabled:

The Royal Canadian Legion is disappointed with the current government’s lack of progress...

...it is the belief of the Legion that the government has had more than enough time, and certainly enough input from subject experts, to be able to take solid action on improving the [New Veterans Charter]...

The lives of these Veterans and their families’ cannot become an election or budget issue.

Like other veterans' groups, the Legion is also asking the minister to take immediate action and allocate the legislative and financial resources to ensure the well-being of our veterans and their families. They just cannot wait any longer.

The Veterans Ombudsman issued this statement:

...I am concerned with the timetable of the phased approach...

Budget for these four substantive recommendations must be included in the Government’s 2015 budget or change will not happen for several more years.

The Legion and the ombudsman agree with us. They are also worried about the possibility that the key measures will die on the order paper. Our veterans cannot wait any longer. It is imperative that we take action right now. I cannot say it enough: the situation is urgent.

The minister had everything he needed to take action last month and the month before that, but we are still waiting for proposals to improve the new charter. That is completely unacceptable.

I will now talk about the main problems with the charter and about how the Conservatives and the minister have failed to take action on certain issues. These needs are urgent and I will explain why.

The committee studied the government's obligations and duties towards veterans. The veterans' group Equitas Society filed a class action lawsuit against the government, since it felt that the new charter was completely unfair and that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over the course of this lawsuit, the government's counsel argued that the Canadian government had no sacred duty towards veterans and that there was no difference between veterans and other Canadians.

Most veterans' groups were quite rightly outraged by the counsel's statement. What is most shocking is that after these veterans' groups said they were outraged by the comments, the minister chose not to call in his counsel and instruct him not to make such comments, since that sacred duty has existed for more than 100 years.

No government before this one has dared question the sacred duty of all Canadians to take care of veterans wounded because of the nature of their duties.

The committee therefore decided to add a few amendments to the preamble of the Pension Act. The government responded that it would introduce a bill to amend the charter by incorporating this recognition of the government's duty to our veterans. However, it took months for the minister and the government to recognize this duty.

I am very pleased that the government is finally coming to its senses and acknowledging the existence of this sacred duty and of the pact between the government, Canadian citizens and our veterans.

Furthermore, the lump sum payment is another problem raised by most of the witnesses. Right now, the maximum lump sum payment to compensate for service-related disabilities is $300,000. If we compare that to the compensation provided by civil courts, the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, for example, offers maximum compensation of $350,000. That is a difference of $50,000.

Can we compare the injuries of a civilian employee with the injuries of a soldier? Obviously, they work in very different work environments. Directly comparing these two different kinds of compensation does not take into account the fact that soldiers face immeasurable risks to their safety and their lives. When soldiers are ordered to do something that puts their lives or their safety at risk, they cannot refuse. However, when employers ask civilian employees to do anything at all, they have the right to refuse if they feel that it puts their safety at risk. That is one of the key differences between military and civilian employees, so the two cannot really be compared.

The allowances disadvantage soldiers, and yet they cannot refuse an order even if it puts their life in danger. They deserve to be generously compensated, just like civilian workers. I think most Canadians would agree.

When the minister said that a veteran can get nearly $800,000, or something like that, there was a catch. He mentioned that a few months ago. I want to try to explain this a little. When the minister said that, he was adding up all the veterans' allowances and the benefits under the service income security insurance plan, which is something that soldiers pay into from their salary. Military personnel pay for their own insurance, while the government sends them into danger and they have no right to refuse. The minister should therefore stop considering this insurance as some form of benefit for veterans and active military personnel.

There is also another problem with how the amount paid out is determined. The amount is paid based on the table of disabilities. Sum X is paid depending on the type and degree of disability. Getting the maximum amount would require a total and permanent disability. A number of injustices were brought to our attention.

I am thinking about a veteran named Bruce Moncur, who is a striking example. He got a serious head injury and underwent several surgeries to save his life. He lost 5% of his brain in the process. Then he had to courageously face the side effects and the necessary rehabilitation.

After those surgeries to deal with the injury, he was awarded $22,000 in compensation from the government. That is right. This veteran received $22,000 for a major brain injury that greatly affected his quality of life. Obviously, that is nowhere near enough. This veteran, in his early thirties, will have to live the rest of his life with the scars and with unreasonably low compensation.

The government cannot continue to award lump-sum payments that do not adequately represent the degree of disability, as in the case I just mentioned. Veterans have to be awarded an amount that demonstrates the appreciation Canada has for those who have sacrificed their physical and psychological well-being, especially in light of a deployment to Iraq. The government needs to resolve these issues quickly, so that our soldiers serving overseas can have peace of mind knowing that they will be adequately compensated. Should they get seriously injured, they should not have to be concerned about their financial security afterwards, as is the case for far too many veterans.

One of the other priorities presented to the committee was the amount for the earnings loss benefit. It is set at 75% of the soldier's gross income. In comparison, injured federal public servants receive 85% of their net income as compensation, as stipulated in the Government Employees Compensation Act.

I could go on for much longer. I will quickly conclude my remarks. As I mentioned, the earnings loss benefit was one of the key elements. An amount equivalent to 85% was proposed, the same amount paid to federal public servants. Our veterans and military personnel deserve the same compensation as other government employees. That is not the case, as they receive 10% less. We must quickly fix this.

Another problem brought to the attention of the committee concerns everything surrounding the earnings loss benefit. The ombudsman pointed out that 48% of veterans with a total and permanent incapacity are not receiving the benefit or the supplement, while those eligible for the benefit qualify for the minimum amount.

Therefore, nearly half of all veterans are not eligible for the earnings loss benefit. The few veterans who do qualify—less than half—fall in the third category, which pays the least. We definitely have to address this problem.

A huge number of problems were raised in committee. I will conclude by saying that the minister has known about these problems for a long time. He must act quickly and introduce in the House substantial improvements to the new veterans charter that will address all the problems raised by this committee.

Marie-Klaudia Dubé October 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to highlight the significant contribution that Marie-Klaudia Dubé, my riding assistant, has made to her community. On Wednesday, October 15, during the Héritage Saint-Bernard benefit gala, Ms. Dubé was honoured for her involvement with Les amis et riverains de la rivière Châteauguay, an organization that fights to protect the Châteauguay River.

Every year, Héritage Saint-Bernard honours an individual for their dedication to improving our environment, highlighting their work. Marie-Klaudia founded the ARRC in 2008 and has been the president of the organization since then. Every year, she organizes a major shoreline cleanup, finds funding to plant trees to prevent shoreline erosion, carries out prevention and awareness activities for residents, and much more. She is also a dedicated employee in my office where she works every day to help citizens who need help. She is currently fighting cancer. We wish her a full and speedy recovery so that she can continue to help improve the lives of her fellow citizens.

Thank you and congratulations, Marie-Klaudia. The community is eager to have you back.

Care for Veterans October 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am clearly quite pleased to be speaking to the motion moved by the hon. member for Edmonton Centre. This motion calls on the government to ensure that a continuum of care is put in place to help our veterans.

Unfortunately, since they came to power, the Conservatives have not done very much to improve our veterans' quality of life. My colleague was very involved in the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs' study of the new charter. I want to thank him for his work. There was a unanimous report calling on the Minister of Veterans Affairs to make changes to improve life for our veterans. Certain concessions had to be made so that it would be unanimous.

During the study, which took place over the course of 14 meetings, 54 witnesses appeared. The vast majority of them said that they had had enough of all of the reports that kept piling up over the years but never amounted to anything. No improvements have been made to the new charter, which is supposed to be a living document. Since 2006, one single change—and a pretty minor one considering all of the problems that have cropped up—has been made. That is not good enough at all. Following the report, the minister waited as long as possible to respond, then said that he planned to study the issues again.

Veterans have had enough. They want us to take action now. They do not want to keep talking about all of these problems. People know what the problems are. They have been identified umpteen times already. We need a solution right now. Over the years, a budget shortfall developed and the government made many cuts to Veterans Affairs Canada to balance the budget. Now there is a budget surplus. It was unacceptable for the government to cut Veterans Affairs Canada's budget back then, and it is indecent to start accumulating a surplus at our veterans' expense now. People are calling on the minister to stop studying the issue and come up with real solutions to help these veterans, especially the seriously injured who are coping with all kinds of problems.

The minister responded favourably to the report's conclusions. Now it is time for him to take action and introduce legislation. We believe he is simply trying to stall for time. More time is being given to study this to see how this new charter can be appropriately improved. That is fine with me, but the problems have been well known for quite some time. We cannot wait any longer. Veterans can no longer wait for better care. The minister needs to come before the House with an action plan immediately. He must not wait until next year's budget before allocating new money to improve veterans' allowances. We are aware of the problems. They have been illustrated once again with this study, with all the situations the ombudsman has described and with the other reports. The minister needs to come up with a solution and with concrete improvements for this new charter, but now, not next year.

Anyone who paid attention to the news last week knows that we are heading into an election year. Is the minister waiting for the budget and then the election campaign? That appears to be the case. Will there be enough time for the budget to go through all the necessary stages and be implemented to improve the lives of our veterans? People should not have to wait any longer. The government cannot continue amassing surpluses on the backs of our veterans, as it has been doing for the past few days and weeks. We know what the problems are; now we need to come up with solutions.

I urge the minister to have a closer look at this issue and come up with a report to improve the new charter. That is my main message today.

Another thing I noted about the government response is that it proposes two phases.

This response suggests that the government is going to keep our veterans waiting for weeks, even months. If the election is called, the bill will not have gone through all the stages. We cannot let another day go by without helping our veterans, especially those who are seriously injured. They have to have better support from Veterans Affairs Canada, and simply adopting a motion is not going to cut it. I commend the hon. member for moving this motion, but if the minister implemented the recommendations that have been made, then we would have solutions that would help our veterans immensely. That would be preferable, since it is already too late in my books.

Here we are debating the motion by the hon. member for Edmonton Centre. I find it ironic, given the Conservative government's refusal to propose a solution to immediately address the most critical problems. It prefers to wait and stall for time. Worse yet, the government is going to vote in favour of this motion and will likely wait for weeks before doing anything with it. We do not need any more motions like this. We absolutely need a bill from the minister that will change the new veterans charter and implement the recommendations made in the report on the review of the charter.

I am pleased to say that we will support this motion because we think it is important to let the government know how important it is to improve care for veterans. After more than 20 years of Liberal and Conservative cuts to the budgets of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada, the NDP is the only party left with any credibility and the will to live up to the sacred obligation to improve the quality of life of our veterans.

The motion talks about a continuum of care for our veterans. The fact that our veterans feel abandoned by the Canadian Armed Forces after they leave the military is a major problem. That is why a continuum of care approach is important. The member for Edmonton Centre is absolutely right about the fact that the transfer of responsibility for veterans from the Canadian Armed Forces to Veterans Affairs Canada must be as smooth as possible. Our veterans should not feel abandoned after having given so much in service to our country. That is why the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs recommended that veterans not be released from the Canadian Armed Forces until arrangements have been made to get them all the help and care they need.

The Veterans Review and Appeal Board can also be a hindrance to obtaining care. The board sometimes errs when determining whether a veteran has a service-related disability. Those veterans are then unable to receive care until the board recognizes that they have such a disability.

I would also like to address the issue of families, who seem to be ignored, particularly in the new veterans charter. This charter does not really provide for family-centred care. That is obviously a problem. Families need all kinds of support. They are not entitled to full access to Veterans Affairs Canada programs without going through the veteran. Veterans have to request psychological help for their family members. Otherwise, they cannot get it.

Families also do not have access to military family resource centres. Many families feel abandoned when veterans make the transition to civilian life. Most families are exhausted, do not sleep enough and do not have time for personal activities. Not surprisingly, most of them indicated during the study of this issue that their health has been significantly affected. This has a major impact on interpersonal relationships and on the family.

Furthermore, RCMP veterans seem to have been left out of this motion when they should also have access to this continuum of care.

The member mentioned that he was not really open to this possibility. I think that is completely disgraceful.

Care for Veterans October 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Edmonton Centre for moving this motion. It is another opportunity to talk about our veterans, who feel strongly—feel certain even, because it is certain—that, at times, this government is abandoning them, especially those who are seriously injured.

I would also like to comment on something my colleague said. He mentioned that members of the opposition are playing political games. It is not so much playing games as critiquing the work of the minister, who is all too often slow to acknowledge that the new charter does not fulfill all of our veterans' needs.

Coming back to the motion, I would like to thank my colleague for moving it. I also want to thank him for his service in the Canadian Forces. Could the member talk about whether he considered including RCMP members in this motion, so that they, too, can have access to this continuum of care that he is proposing for our veterans?

Veterans October 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives want to get us involved in a new war even though they are having a hard time taking care of our veterans.

According to a unanimous parliamentary committee report, the new veterans charter needs to be improved to provide more resources to veterans and their families. However, the minister's evasive answers are not meeting veterans' expectations.

Veterans have been asking for help for nine years, we have a unanimous report, and the ombudsman has repeatedly been critical, so when will the Minister of Veterans Affairs take action?

Veterans Affairs October 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the government's response to the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs is disappointing to say the least. The minister has postponed the implementation of major recommendations to help veterans. Yesterday, the Veterans Ombudsman said that he, too, was very concerned about the timeline for implementing the recommendations.

Will the minister quickly find the money to address the plight of veterans or would he rather save a few dollars at veterans' expense?

Veterans Affairs October 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives want to involve us in another war even though they find it difficult to provide proper care for our injured soldiers and our veterans. That is completely irresponsible.

The government has finally recognized that its veterans charter does not meet the needs of our veterans, but it refuses to take action. The compensation is inadequate and the problem of our released soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome has not been resolved in any way.

Why is the minister once again trying to save money at the expense of our veterans?