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. The Standing Orders provide for a response from the Government to the views and recommendations expressed in each of its reports.
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 Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation 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, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her 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. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, 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 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 analyst works 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 in 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 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 concerning 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) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
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.