The mandate of this Committee is to examine all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as any issue referred to it by the House of Commons. As is the case for other committees of the House of Commons, the powers, membership, and activities of this Committee are governed by Chapter 13 of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Thus, the Committee is empowered to review the program and policy objectives of the department within its mandate, its success in meeting these objectives, its planned expenditures, and the law or laws that guide its activities.
Much of this review is done on a regular basis, for example, when the Main Estimates outlining departmental spending for each fiscal year are presented to Parliament. The Committee can also undertake studies on specific issues of interest to veterans and report its views to the House of Commons. Its opinions and recommendations are based on the information gathered during meetings with ministers, departmental officials, independent experts, and anyone else it wishes to invite. Pursuant to the Standing Orders, the government is required to respond to the opinions and recommendations presented in ACVA reports if so requested by the Committee.
The Committee can also examine and enquire into all matters referred to it by the House of Commons. Any bill creating or amending legislation related to the activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs and programs for veterans such as the Veterans Well-being Act, the Pension Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act can be referred to the Committee for review after it has been tabled in the House. The Committee can review the new legislation and report it back to the House of Commons with or without amendments. The Committee can also review Orders in Council appointing individuals to non-judicial posts related to the mandate of the department after they have been tabled in the House of Commons and referred to it.
For a long time, veterans’ issues had been examined by the Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Standing Committee of National Defence. On April 4, 2006, the second day of the 1st session of the 39th Parliament, the government House Leader, the Honourable Rob Nicholson, and the member for Sackville-Eastern Shore, Mr. Peter Stoffer, both introduced a motion asking for the creation of a standing committee on veterans’ affairs. On April 5, there was unanimous consent from the House to adopt the government leader’s motion. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs held its first meeting on May 9, 2006, and Mr. Rob Anders was elected as its first chair.
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, one or more analysts and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. These individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs their duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee, and as such, will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. They are also responsible for inviting witnesses and dealing with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ Website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts, who are subject-matter experts, provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the committee. They are part of the committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analysts work individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, parliamentary counsel (Legislation) are available to assist members who are not in Cabinet with the preparation of private members’ bills or of amendments to government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the committee stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the report stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides the name of the parliamentary counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee with any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of report stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) is an officer of Parliament created by the Parliament of Canada Act who supports Parliament by providing analysis, including analysis of macroeconomic and fiscal policy, for the purposes of raising the quality of parliamentary debate and promoting greater budget transparency and accountability.
The Parliament of Canada Act also provides the PBO with a mandate to, if requested by a committee, estimate the financial cost of any proposal over which Parliament has jurisdiction. Certain committees can also request research and analyses of the nation’s finances or economy, or of the estimates.
Further information on the PBO may be found at: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/
Apart from the regular analysis of the estimates, the Committee’s initial studies during the 39th Parliament concerned health care and the Veterans Independence Program, and the creation of a veterans’ ombudsman’s office. It also conducted a comparison study of veterans’ services in Canada and those in other G-8 countries. During the 40th Parliament, the Committee undertook a comprehensive study of the New Veterans Charter and tabled a report in June 2010. In March 2011, it studied and amended Bill C-55 to include a statutory review of its provisions by a parliamentary committee.
During the first session of the 41st Parliament, the Committee tabled reports on commemorative celebrations, the delivery of front-line health and wellbeing services for veterans, the Veterans’ Review and Appeal Board, and depleted uranium.
During the second session of the 41st Parliament, during the spring of 2014, the Committee undertook the statutory review of the provisions of Bill C-55 that came into force on October 3, 2011. In October 2014, it studied and adopted minor amendments to Bill C-27 enhancing hiring priorities to certain members and veterans of the Canadian Forces. In June 2015, it tabled a report without recommendations on the Continuum of transition services offered to releasing members of the Canadian Forces who are thereby becoming veterans.
During the 42nd Parliament, the Committee tabled reports on service delivery to veterans, in December 2016, and on mental health and suicide prevention among veterans, in June 2017. It then undertook a comparative study of services to veterans in other jurisdictions, tabling its report in December 2017. In May 2018, it tabled a report on the barriers to transition to civilian life and the measurable outcomes of a successful transition. Finally, in 2019, it tabled four reports: the first one, tabled in February, examined the needs and issues specific to Indigenous veterans, the second one, tabled in May, looked at homeless veterans, the third one, tabled in June, dealt with the use of cannabis for medical purposes by veterans, and the last one, also tabled in June, discussed the effects of mefloquine use among Canadian veterans.
During the 1st session of the 43rd Parliament, the Committee studied the backlog of disability benefit claims at Veterans Affairs Canada.