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SUB-COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL DEFENCE AND VETERANS AFFAIRS

SOUS-COMITÉ DES AFFAIRES DES ANCIENS COMBATTANTS DU COMITÉ PERMANENT DE LA DÉFENSE NATIONALE ET DES ANCIENS COMBATTANTS

EVIDENCE

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

• 1530

[English]

The Clerk of the Committee: Honourable members, I see a quorum. Your first item of business is to elect a chair. I am ready to receive motions to that effect.

Mr. Carmen Provenzano (Sault Ste. Marie, Lib.): I would like to move the nomination of Colleen Beaumier as chair of the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs. I'd like to acknowledge at this time that the subcommittee is the brainchild of Colleen.

(Motion agreed to)

Mrs. Elsie Wayne (Saint John, PC/DR): Madame Clerk, I'd like to say that as much as I have respect for Colleen, I have tremendous respect for Bob Wood, because Bob Wood was the parliamentary secretary who worked very closely with all of us at this table previously. He did a superb job the last time. As much as I like Colleen, I would have liked to have seen Bob take the chair because of his experience.

The Clerk: I declare Mrs. Beaumier duly elected chair of the subcommittee, and I invite her to take the chair.

Congratulations, Mrs. Beaumier.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear.

The Chair (Ms. Colleen Beaumier (Brampton West—Mississauga, Lib.)): Do we want to proceed with the other business, do we want to proceed in camera, or do we want to have a private meeting to discuss our direction? I have a couple of things that I've drawn up, but I don't believe I have copies. How do you want to proceed today?

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: I've explained that I have to leave at 4:00 p.m.

Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris—Moose Mountain, Canadian Alliance): Madam Chair, in the introduction Mr. Provenzano made, he indicated that this subcommittee was one of your dreams or one of your aspirations. I certainly would concur. By not having a subcommittee, the important business of veterans' affairs can sometimes get lost in the melee of the Department of National Defence. Let me be the first to say that I agree with you on that. Let me also express the hope that we will indeed be able to meet on a more regular basis to deal with these issues. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Bailey.

Mrs. Wayne, I hope I won't disappoint you, but I've been very active in veterans' affairs in my area. I'm one of the few members who has been. I've been involved in some of the health care issues at Sunnybrook, and I've been extremely, extremely frustrated by the lack of response that we have been getting on veterans' affairs. I have the Korean War Veterans Memorial in my riding, and I've worked very hard to help them to get funding to get it going. So I'm not without considerable knowledge in this area. I hope I don't disappoint you. If I do, I'm sure you will let me know, and perhaps we can resolve that by trying another.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: I'm sure, Madam Chair.

As you know, I also have a DVA hospital in mine. In fact, we had a huge DVA hospital that we should have kept, but your government unfortunately took it down, and now we only have a tiny one when we have so many veterans in need. We have a hundred veterans who need to go in the hospital, and they're putting 34 more rooms on for a hundred men. So we have a lot of work to do. We have a tremendous amount of work to do for our veterans.

The Chair: I concur.

[Translation]

Mr. Plamondon.

Mr. Louis Plamondon (Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, BQ): Madam Chair, I came in a little late.

[English]

The Chair: I want to understand so badly, and there are times when I think I do.

• 1535

Mr. Louis Plamondon: Is it just table talk?

[Translation]

I arrived late and I heard someone mention...

[English]

The Chair: Well, we haven't even called the meeting to order yet. We're basically discussing how we want to proceed today.

[Translation]

Mr. Louis Plamondon: I see. Can I say something at this time? All we are going to do is select the chair, isn't that right? You've already done that? Fine then.

I'm pleased with the decision to strike this sub-committee, but I do think we should consider matters from a certain perspective.

My riding is home to a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. Sadly, money is short. A house was donated to the legion and the city handles snow removal. However, taxes and insurance still need to be paid. Each year, members barely manage to scrape by. Some thirty veterans in my riding are members of this legion branch. Their numbers may be small, but there are also approximately 150 “associate” members.

It's very important for legion members to have a place of their own where they can reminisce about those who gave their lives defending freedom and democracy. However, no specific funds are budgeted to help some of the legion branches remain in operation. Legion branches located in some parts of Canada and Quebec have generous benefactors. They may be located in wealthy neighbourhoods and may receive donations. In my riding, the branch organizes bowling nights and all kinds of activities just to make ends meet.

When I attended the wreath laying ceremony sponsored by the legion, I made a promise to members that when the new sub-committee held hearings, I would try to convince my colleagues to do something. While there is no need to examine the status of every single legion branch, we could focus on those most in need and provide some funds for heating and taxes. A minimum amount could be allocated based on the financial situation of each branch.

I'm not sure exactly how many branches are located across Canada and whether any additional branches could still be established. However, I would like this committee to consider the financial hardship that some legion branches are experiencing.

Thank you.

[English]

The Chair: Mr. Price.

Mr. David Price (Compton—Stanstead, Lib.): I'll just comment on that, too. I think we're all living in the same situation, but it is truly a serious problem, as Mr. Plamandon said. The areas are limited. No new legions are being built, that's for sure. Unfortunately, many are closing down. Several in my area are just hanging on by their fingernails.

[Translation]

You mentioned taxes. The municipality I represented as mayor was home to a legion branch as well as to a branch of the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans of Canada. We provided assistance in the form of a tax rebate, but even then they still had trouble making ends meet. All of the legions have bars and rely on bar revenues. However, people do not drink as much as they once did and revenues have dropped off.

[English]

So it is a problem that we hear of. I'm sure everyone here—but also everyone in the House who has a legion anywhere near them—hears of this problem all the time, and it is something we probably should be looking at. I don't know just exactly what we can do, but the numbers are definitely dropping all the time.

Some of the legions have changed their charters so that individuals can become members—

Mr. Carmen Provenzano: Associate members.

Mr. David Price: Yes, associate members.

Some of them tried to get regular members, like people who have been in the reserves, such as myself—I'm a regular member, a voting member—but at this point, they now have to go to associate members. It's the only way they can survive. Even then, they're having a serious problem, so I think this is a subject that should be looked at for sure.

The Chair: Mrs. Wayne.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: On that subject, Madam Chair, I have seven legions. I am an honorary vice-chair of two, and an honorary member of another. The Provincial Command office is also in my riding.

• 1540

The biggest problem, as Mr. Price said, is the associate members. It's hard to get governments to come forward to say they're going to make concessions for them. Even though the veterans are still there—a lot of them are—a lot of people just buy a membership and stay as associate members, and this has created a bit of a problem. A letter was sent from Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion—I got a call on it today, I'm getting a copy of it, and I'll have it for our next meeting—and it has to do with issues Dominion Command is worried about.

The Chair: Yes, I would like for us to be able to produce a significant report. I think some of the issues that have become a crisis are care of veterans who are no longer able to care for themselves or who stay in homes; women veterans who have inadequate facilities; and peacekeepers who have returned and who have been psychologically damaged. And no one has ever dealt with the issue of rape in the military or how we handle that kind of issue.

Before the next meeting, I would like to send something around for everyone's perusal. It's something I've drawn up, and something on which I based my push for this committee. It's for everyone to consider, and I would like to invite the rest of you to provide some submissions as well. By next week at this time, hopefully we can then definitely decide the course we will take on the report we would like to produce. We owe the veterans a significant report. We have a small group who are all interested in what's best for our veterans, so I think we can probably put forth a pretty good report.

Mr. Price.

Mr. David Price: Madam Chair, we say “legion” all the time, but whenever we mention it, I think it's important that we include the Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans. Two different groups represent different—

An hon. member: Yes, and the Merchant Marine as well.

Mr. David Price: We tend to forget that a lot of the time.

An hon. member: They all have the same problems.

The Chair: Mr. Wood, would you like to add anything?

Mr. Bob Wood (Nipissing, Lib.): I think it's a great idea, actually. I think we should do it. As you mentioned, Madam Chair, there are also a number of other issues, such as the health issues at various hospitals and the fact that we're into a joint situation with the provinces. That obviously creates a bit of a problem in terms of making sure all the veterans get their proper health care. I think the only one that a province is not involved in is Ste. Anne's, just outside of Montreal. But we should be looking at all this stuff. It's something that should have been done a long time ago, so I think it's great.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: Just on that, Madam Chair, in the Ridgewood Veterans Wing at the Saint John Regional Hospital, they used to have a lady who would come in. Instead of just laying in a bed all day, the veterans would get up, some of them in their wheelchairs, and they would come down and they would do crafts with her. I used to go out every Christmas to buy some different things; they did a wonderful job, you know. With the cuts, they took away that one person who used to come in to do the crafts with them. That's sad.

The Chair: I think that's something that has been a regional decision, because we certainly have lots of crafts at Sunnybrook. Of course, things aren't perfect at Sunnybrook either. A lot of things need to be changed, like how we care for the elderly, perhaps.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: They had cuts. They were going to take away our chef, and fly in their bacon and eggs from Toronto.

The Chair: They did that for a while, but that was stopped.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: Well, they sure didn't do it in Saint John, because I was going to step down and be their chef. I told them I'd step down as the member of Parliament to cook the bacon and eggs for these veterans.

The Chair: We were getting toast from Winnipeg.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: You're right. Isn't that awful?

• 1545

Mr. Bob Wood: We might want to look at another thing, too, Madam Chair. I don't know how we would do it, but there has to be some way for this committee to get the word out to veterans that they should be coming forward for reassessment. A lot of people have had hearing loss and are at x percent. They've dealt with it over the years, but have never gone for a reassessment. In a lot of cases, when they do go for reassessment, they find out they are eligible for more money. For some reason—I guess it's communications—that message just doesn't get out.

In a lot of cases, with a lot of these people—as you know and everybody at this table knows—pride plays a big part in it. They're very proud men and women. A lot of them are too proud to come forward to say they need help, when they really do. So when we're looking at everything, we should try to get the word out that these people should come forward for reassessment, because they could be missing out on maybe a better quality of life.

The Chair: Mr. Bailey.

Mr. Roy Bailey: I just want to mention something following on September 11. Oddly enough, it was just two months after that for Remembrance Day, which was a Sunday this year.

I serve a huge rural area. Where once I probably had 60 legion branches, it's probably down to 13 or 14 now. I've worked very carefully with the Royal Canadian Legion, because we don't have any Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans in my constituency. The role the legion has taken—and I hope I've provided some leadership—to fit in for the demographic change has been the role the legion has played in activating the school programs at the same time. It is great to see that happening. I'm wondering if this committee can't be somewhat influential in getting behind the legion and into the school program, although I think it has to come from the legion first.

I've been in education all my life. I've fought with the provincial government over this for maybe as many years as some of you people are old. I went through some bad times in the sixties and the early seventies, when things weren't going well. It was during the sixties that it didn't go very well in the States for veterans either. We, too, took a hit here.

What I'm trying to say is that the time is ripe for us to move ahead and to supplant what was negative in our history, our curriculum, and so on. It's time now to put the push on and get behind this. So believe me, I think this committee has a role to play in that field.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Mr. Plamondon.

Mr. Louis Plamondon: One problem that is often cited in my riding is the distance veterans must travel to receive medical care. They used to be able to claim 12 cents per kilometre, but I think this has just been increased to 15 cents per kilometre.

For example, a Mr. Larocque informed me that he had to travel approximately 120 kilometres once a month for his treatment sessions. He used to get 12 cents per kilometre and now I believe he gets 15 cents. He was wondering why MPs could claim 42 cents per kilometres. He also wondered why public servants could claim 35 cents per kilometre, even though his vehicle maintenance costs were the same as everyone.

Some adjustments are warranted. Since several veterans hospitals have closed, and there aren't that many of them to begin with, veterans often must travel considerable distances. The amount they can claim is a mere... Moreover, the person I was referring to only has one arm and can't drive. Therefore, he gives the money claimed to the person who accompanies him - a neighbour - when his son is unable to bring him. Therefore, the veteran himself receives absolutely nothing for the inconvenience of having to travel a great distance for his medical care. Perhaps this is something we need to look at further.

I would like our committee to be practical and adopt concrete solutions to people's problems, and not talk about medals or launch into great philosophical discussions.

[English]

The Chair: I think that's what we will do, in a broader scope.

Are there any more comments? If not, we shall meet... oops. Go ahead, Mr. Price.

• 1550

Mr. David Price: I just want to follow up on what Mr. Bailey said. I think he brought up something really quite important that we could be doing.

As we look around, we're getting... It was the legion that used to go into all of the schools. Legionnaires were going in there. Now there are far less of them, so they're not getting into the schools like before. The point Mr. Bailey brought out is therefore really quite important. Who should we have going in there? Maybe it's a time when we could... It has a lot more impact if it's somebody with a uniform. Maybe we should be concentrating on our cadets in areas like that, particularly during that time of the year.

Mr. Roy Bailey: Or even the reserves.

Mr. David Price: Yes, the reserves. Absolutely.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: I think that's great.

Mr. David Price: Also, in terms of involving the reserves more, there has been a cutback in the reserves for Remembrance Day services. They don't attend all the different ones. I have seventeen in my riding, and with the cutbacks, they just don't have the moneys to get to all of them. That's probably the same in many ridings, so it's something we should be looking at.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: I don't have that problem.

Mr. David Price: But I do. Many of us do.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: Now, more than ever before, our men from the legion, our veterans, are going into the high schools and into the elementary schools—

An hon. member: Hear, hear.

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: —and everywhere else to talk to them.

The Chair: Exactly.

Mr. David Price: We don't have them...

[Editor's Note: Inaudible]

Mrs. Elsie Wayne: God help us, we do.

The Chair: Mr. Parliamentary Secretary, did you...

Mr. Carmen Provenzano: Madam Chair, I just have a couple of thoughts, based on what I've heard. In effect, we're going to operate like a steering committee in order to look at some items that we'll prioritize and pay a lot of attention to. When we're thinking of submitting these items, it might be a good idea to think about one particular consideration. It has been my experience that in dealing with the legion, in dealing with veterans, there's a sensitivity there, and a way in which they are required to be approached. Roy mentioned that it has to come from behind with the legion. That is important—and I'll give you an example of what I'm thinking of here.

Mr. Plamondon is talking about the financial plight of legions. For the longest time—if my understanding of history is correct—the legions really didn't want to accept funding from any other sources. They really haven't wanted government assistance, so we have to be sensitive to that aspect of it. If we're going to find a way, or think of any terms in which we can help legions, I think we need to think about how we're going to get some advice on that. Otherwise, we could commit some real faux pas. If we approach these problems in the wrong way, we'll ruffle more feathers and create more bad will than the goodwill that this committee can generate. Whatever thoughts we have as individuals on how we can achieve that sensitive approach... I think this is something we really need everyone's cooperation and thoughts on.

The Chair: I think those are the kinds of things we will examine.

And I know I didn't call this meeting to order, but I'm going to adjourn it anyway.

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