That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately take the following steps to assist members and veterans of the Canadian Forces and their families:
1. amend Section 31 (1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that second spouses of CF members and veterans have access to pension rights upon the death of the Canadian Forces member or veteran;
2. extend the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death;
3. increase the Survivor’s Pension Amount upon death of Canadian Forces retiree to 66% from the current amount of 50%;
4. eliminate the unfair reduction of Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP) long term disability benefits from medically released members of the Canadian Forces; and
5. eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled CF members.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure to rise today in the House of Commons on behalf of our leader and our party from coast to coast to coast to have a full day of respectful discussion in this House. There may be some disagreement, but we will have a respectful discussion on veterans and their families. It has been a long time coming for the House to dedicate a whole day to the discussion of those brave men and women who served our country with great distinction, courage and pride over the many years that we have been a country.
I first want to give a brief background on why this is so important to me and to my colleagues within this party and, I am sure, to many colleagues in the House of Commons.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, I was born in Holland. My parents and oldest brother were liberated by the Canadian military and its allies, the Americans, the British and the Poles, during the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944-45 in World War II.
Shortly after that, my dad was liberated from a work detail camp and came across a Canadian soldier. That Canadian soldier could have been from anywhere in the country. My dad asked him, in his best English, “Why did you come over and help us? Why did Canada do so much to help us?” The young Canadian soldier said, with typical Canadian modesty, “Sir, we had a job to do”. And he walked on.
In 1956, 11 years later, the Dutch government made the decision for the closure of the coal mines where my father had been working in the south of Holland in the province of Limburg over a four to five year period. The only answer in those days for thousands of people and their families was out-migration or, as we say in Dutch, “off you go”, not to another part of the country but to another part of the world.
The choices we had were Rhodesia, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and Canada. As my father said to my mother, remembering the military fellow from Canada he met many years before, if Canada has a military like that, imagine what kind of country they have.
So in 1956, at the age of nine months, I, with five brothers and sisters and my mum and dad, came through Pier 21 in Halifax on September 18, 1956. We immediately took a train and settled in the area near Vancouver, British Columbia.
My father taught me right from the get-go about the sacrifices made by Canadians and their allies and by their families who stayed home. It is indeed an honour on behalf of my late father and my mother, who is still with us, and my brothers and sisters and all citizens of the world who were liberated by the Canadians to bring this motion so effectively forward today in the House of Commons.
I encourage all members of Parliament to support the initiatives of this motion. If they have disagreements of any kind on the technicalities, that is fine. Let us bring it to a committee where we can discuss it further so we can improve the lives of veterans and their families.
Of course, the number one item that we wish to talk about briefly is what we call “the clause of marriage past 60”. When we have the privilege of being married to someone for many years, that is a wonderful thing, but sometimes a spouse passes away or the marriage ends in divorce or whatever. If those individuals remarry at 58 or 59, when they pass on later their second spouse is entitled to their pension benefits, but if they remarry at age 60 or beyond, they and their children are not entitled to any benefits. That has to change.
Changing this is something that is supported unanimously by the Royal Canadian Legion, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association and the National Council of Veterans Associations. I would like to give a tip of the hat to Jack Frost of the Royal Canadian Legion, Mr. Lorne McCartney of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Association, and Cliff Chadderton, a decorated war hero of World War II and a tireless fighter on behalf of all veterans and their families.
The other item is one that should seem very familiar to my Conservative colleagues because their leader, the , actually made this promise. It is the extension of VIP services for all widows and widowers of veterans, regardless of the time of a veteran's death.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you or the people who are listening have had a chance to see the Clint Eastwood movie called Flags of our Fathers. There is a very poignant scene at the beginning of the movie when an elderly war veteran is shaking in his bed, having a nightmare, and shouting out, “Where's Iggy, where's Iggy?” And here I do not mean the current candidate for the Liberal leadership. He is shouting for his friend, who was left on the beaches of Iwo Jima.
The person comforting that veteran is his wife who is elderly. She looks after him in the home and is the primary caregiver of this individual. When the veteran passes on we should not abandon or forget about the caregiver and the spouse who looked after our dedicated heroes.
The extension to the VIP allows individuals to stay in their homes even longer, and that is caring for someone with respect and dignity. In the end, if we want to talk about fiscal arguments, it actually saves the government money. The least we can do is provide housekeeping and groundskeeping services for all veterans and their widows, regardless of the time of death of the individual.
We would also like to talk about the elimination of the SISIP LTD services, the service income security insurance plan, long term disability. When veterans receive this, there is actually a deduction from another form of income. We do not believe that disability payments for our veterans should be taxable. Those should be given to veterans for the service they have done for our country.
The other day the defence ombudsman came out with a report that was very damaging to the government. It basically said that for the Medak Pocket and those who served in Kuwait, veterans' medical records were missing, changed or not there at all. When military personnel serve their country, in sound spirit and body, they need to know that if they return with an injury, either physical or mental, that the government, and especially this Parliament, will look after their needs and the needs of their families. That is extremely important.
What I would like to focus on the most in terms of my discussion is the elimination of the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled veterans. In 1966, when the Canada pension plan was introduced, the pension programs of all federal and provincial public servants, with the exception of members of Parliament and Senators, were blended. They paid a portion of CPP and a portion of superannuation and when they reached the age of 65 they received their superannuation of, for argument's sake, $2,500 a month from the Canadian Forces. They then would receive their Canada pension plan at age 65. However, the amount they received from CPP, which, for argument's sake, we will say was $700, was deducted from their superannuation. We believe that needs to change.
The arguments we get from governments, the previous one and the current one, is that they never paid enough into their programs to qualify for both. That is simply not correct. The reality is that these veterans in 1966 and 1967 never had an opportunity to even debate this. This was done without consultation with them. What cost do we put into people who serve our country with courage and distinction?
Veterans pay into the superannuation, the Canada pension plan, and the EI program and yet at age 65 they end up collecting just one. We are saying that if at age 65 they can collect their superannuation and a reduced CPP, because everyone can collect CPP at age 60, they already lose one-third of their CPP benefits. Therefore, if their superannuation pension is, for argument's sake, $2,500 a month and their Canada pension is $500 a month, they get to collect them both. There is no deduction. The deduction happens at age 65 which is when they need the money the most. These are elderly men and women. They do not need to be clawed back as we say or the official term is a benefit reduction.
I personally want to thank the following three individuals from my riding who came to me a year and a half ago on this very same issue: Mr. John Labelle, Mr. Roger Boutin and Mr. Mel Pittman, three ex-servicemen who served their country with distinction. They asked me if there was anything that could be done to raise this issue in the House of Commons, such as introducing a private member's bill or something to address this issue. We have done that in the form of Bill . Their website has over 82,000 individual names of ex-servicemen and current service personnel, who are serving or have served, who support the initiative.
We would also like to see this to eventually include all RCMP officers who not only serve our country mostly at home but also overseas sometimes. They serve with great pride and distinction and we should not ignore the services of our RCMP officers as well.
The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association and the Royal Canadian Legion have supported this endorsement. We are looking at hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country who want this issue revisited. They want it addressed and they would like it done now.
On a more personal note, a good friend of mine, Mr. Reid Myers of Fall River, Nova Scotia, was a liberator of the Netherlands. He is now 83 or 84 years old and his wonderful, beautiful wife, Marion, is his prime caregiver. I would like everyone in the House to look at veterans, or maybe someone in their own family, in terms of their sunset years, as we call them, their golden years, look at them straight in the face and say that we cannot do any of these things.
We should ask these veterans about their younger days when they joined the services and went overseas to fight for peace, freedom and democracy. Did they question how much it cost? Did they question the technicalities of legislation in the House of Commons? No, they did not. At that time they went overseas for King and country. They knew they had a job to do and they did it voluntarily. These veterans are our greatest heroes and Canada's greatest volunteers.
As Rick Mercer once said, if we are going to take the very best of Canada and move them into the worst parts of the world in war and conflict, we might as well give them the gold card. It is the least that they deserve.
As well, when they come back and they suffer through various disabilities, mental challenges or old age, we should be looking after them. That is the time to ensure that all services and all support programs adequately meet their needs, and there should not be any hesitation on that. We have the fiscal capacity to do it and it is time to restore economic dignity to the men and women of our services and the men and women who look after our brave veterans. We believe that is the minimum we should do.
We will all soon be gathered at cenotaphs and monuments around the country and, in many cases, around the world. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we will be bowing our heads in respect, honour and dignity of those who have passed on. Over 117,000 Canadian men and women, who are buried in over 70 countries around the world, have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We call that day Remembrance Day.
I remind the House of the parents of Nathan Smith, of Braun Woodfield and of Paul Davis. Those are just 3 of the recent 42 Canadian service personnel who were killed in Afghanistan. For their parents, their brothers and sisters, their other relatives and their friends and family, Remembrance Day is every day for them. They live with that every day and the least we can do in the House of Commons for those young men and women who gave us the greatest gift of all, an unfinished life, is to give them the respect and dignity they deserve for their ultimate sacrifice. Their sacrifice allowed us, you and I, Mr. Speaker, and my colleagues in the House of Commons, to come here in a democratic way and discuss our differences in a parliamentary fashion .
Our freedoms do not come cheap. These brave young men and women know that. They have the ultimate liability when they sign on the dotted line. We, as members of Parliament, should have the ultimate responsibility and not just to the time when they wear the uniform. Our responsibility carries on all the way through their natural lives, including that of their families.
I will give the previous government and the current government credit, along with other members of Parliament from all parties who have passed along the new veterans charter that was enacted in April of this year. The charter will go a long way in addressing some of the issues that some veterans have, along with their families.
However, as in all legislation, it does not go far enough. The five points that my party has addressed today would go a long way in addressing many of the issues that have been brought to the attention of all members in the House of Commons. I do not believe there is one member of Parliament in the House who has not had a veteran, a current armed forces personnel, the spouse of a veteran or the children of a veteran come to them with an issue regarding the military or veterans affairs.
Everyone in the House supports the troops. What the motion asks is that we support them even longer, right to the end of their natural lives, including that of their spouses. If we do this, we will be truly saying on Remembrance Day that we honour them and we respect them. We know for sure that this House can work in a cooperative fashion in doing something that we should all agree with without hesitation.
The fact is that these are our bravest Canadians. They are the ones who lost their lives so we could live in peace, freedom and democracy. Just maybe there is a little kid somewhere in another country who looks up at a Canadian soldier and says the same thing that my father said in 1944, “if they have a military like that, imagine what kind of country they come from”.
This is the type of image that our Canadian military men and women have around the world. This is the image of our veterans when we see them standing in the cold at the cenotaphs and memorials on November 11 from coast to coast to coast or when we see them in the hospitals if they have become shut-ins and cannot make it out.
I know many veterans who stay at home, put their medals on and then watch the ceremonies that take place here in Ottawa on TV. We all know that the men and women of the military and the veterans wear their medals with pride and distinction. They wear their medals because of service to their country but, most important, they wear them because of their friends and comrades who never had the chance to wear theirs.
When we see these veterans and the current armed forces personnel and their families, we should shake their hands, give them a hug and say thanks or merci beaucoup for the services they have provided.
We know all too well what happened to many veterans when they returned from the wars. We know exactly what happened with our aboriginal veterans. Many of them were not treated with the greatest of respect. We know that these things are slowly changing but we are hoping this particular resolution will move things even faster with the cooperation of members of the House of Commons.
I may be a little emotional on this but it is because everything I have, everything my parents were able to do and everything my brothers and sisters have has been because we moved to Canada. Canada gave us everything. God has blessed my mom and dad and my family and they have blessed this country. Canada has been blessed with Canadian soldiers, Canadian airmen, Canadian merchant mariners and Canadian navy personnel and their families who gave us and still give us the greatest gift of all. The least we can do in this House of Commons is to honour them and look after them in their final years. We need to ensure that when they become injured in any capacity that Canada will look after them. We must not argue about technicalities, legislative concerns or whatever. This is the minimum we can do.
I know some members in this House have served in our services and for that I respect and honour them. I know everyone in this House of Commons will stand proud with our veterans on Remembrance Day but we must remember that for them Remembrance Day is every day.
The NDP is proud of the five points that we have filed in our motion today on behalf of all veterans and service personnel. We believe it is fair, respectful and balanced. As we say in various cenotaphs throughout the country on November 11, at the going down of the sun we will remember them.
Mr. Speaker, my first duty in responding to the hon. member is to thank him because we share a passion for veterans. The Government of Canada deeply appreciates the opportunity to share information about the important work that is being done on behalf of Canada's veterans and serving members.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Our history books proudly recount the generations of brave men and women who have risked life and limb, both at home and abroad, to safeguard freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Today, as the world continues to look to Canada for leadership and courage against oppression, we turn to our Canadian Forces, the best-trained soldiers in the world, and rely on their discipline and expertise to carry on Canada's proud military tradition.
In a very real and powerful sense, each and every member of this House owes veterans a debt of gratitude. For without their sacrifices and achievements, would we have the right to come together today to debate issues that hold importance to all Canadians?
In raising this motion for discussion, I cannot help but think that a great tribute has been made to the remarkable success of the veterans independence program.
VIP, as it is commonly known, is one of the most innovative and popular programs offered by Veterans Affairs Canada. By the way, Canada is the only country in the world that has a veterans independence program. We are very proud of this program.
As many will know, the goal of VIP is to help veterans remain healthy and independent in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. This is a worthy and noble goal.
Like most members of this House, I have the privilege of representing many veterans who value their independence. Many have lived in their communities most of their lives. They have friends who visit them, maybe family close by, and precious memories to share. They expect and deserve a high quality of life in their later years. VIP helps make this possible.
Since being introduced in 1981, the program has grown in both stature and numbers of clients. In fact, it is now available to more clients than ever before.
Today, about 94,500 Canadians across the country receive VIP. About 70,500 are veterans. This includes war service veterans and younger Canadian Forces veterans. Another 24,000 primary caregivers benefit from the program. Caregivers are provided with housekeeping and/or groundskeeping services, depending on what the veteran was receiving at the time of death. These programs are available for as long as they are needed.
I do not know how one measures the real value of independence, but in dollars and cents, the cost to provide VIP to these thousands of Canadians is $270 million a year. It is an investment we are happy to make. For example, veterans who qualify for the program may receive home care, housekeeping, groundskeeping, meals on wheels and home adaptations, among other things. The exact services depend on the veteran's needs.
In fact, one of the most unique things about VIP is that it offers the customized plan for each client based on a needs assessment. This assessment is done with support from Veterans Affairs staff and is self-managed by recipients in cooperation with provincial and regional health authorities.
Today, the program has become a model for home care, both in Canada and throughout the world. It is applauded for its ability to help senior citizens live independent lives in their homes and their communities until long term care becomes an absolute necessity. Its goal is achieving nothing less than healthy living within the community, an emphasis that was all but unique in North America in 1981 when the program began.
In addition to VIP, Veterans Affairs provides a wide range of support to veterans. If any veterans, or their primary caregivers, feel that they have a need that is not being met and for which they are eligible, we will work with them to assist them to receive the care they need.
The government remains committed to ensuring its programs and services meet the changing needs of its clientele. In its continuing effort to achieve this goal, Veterans Affairs is currently conducting a comprehensive review of its health care programs and services. This review will include a thorough examination of access to VIP services. The impact of the review will undoubtedly lead to a transformation no less profound than the one we have achieved through the consultations and planning that brought us the new veterans charter.
Let me be clear. Canada's government is committed to veterans and their families. The government stands by our military. Our record of achievement speaks for itself.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the issue of benefits for our Canadian Forces members and veterans. This issue is very important to me because I believe that as Canadians we all owe a great deal to our men and women in uniform.
Our government is firmly committed to ensuring that the people who sacrificed so much receive appropriate compensation and care.
Let there be no doubt that the government will ensure their pension plan, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, fulfills their needs and the needs of their families.
Canadian Forces men and women have more than demanding careers. They undergo significant stress. The jobs are dangerous. The physical demands are great. They deal with long separations from their homes and families.
The pension plan developed for our men and women in uniform reflects the reality of their jobs. It acknowledges the service that Canadian Forces members provide. The fact is military careers, robust careers lasting decades, can end while members are still relatively young. We do not want our veterans worrying about the future of their spouses or their children.
This is an excellent pension plan with many features that average Canadians do not have access to within their own pension plans. The plan contains a solid basic pension formula, generous early retirement provisions, benefits payable to survivors, spouses and children, and it is fully indexed to the cost of living.
In this motion, my hon. colleague wants the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act to be amended to allow second spouses of Canadian Forces veterans to access pension rights upon the death of a Canadian Forces member or veteran. We are examining how we can best meet the needs of all Canadians. We need to take into consideration several critical factors, including cost, precedence and existing provisions.
We need, for example, to consider what the typical Canadian private pension plan provides. I feel, perhaps, the hon. member may have overlooked the act's comparatively generous terms. Most private pension plans do not make significant allowances for their members' spouses. If a person marries after his or her job comes to an end, in the eyes of a typical pension plan, that person's spouse or children just do not exist. They get nothing.
The idea is that an employer's responsibility under a pension plan should be to the family that existed during the employee's career. Average Canadians, working for typical Canadian companies, cannot claim benefits for families they acquired 15 years or 20 years after they have left their jobs. Still, we recognize that Canadian Forces members are not average Canadians and their work is far from average.
The job descriptions of Canadian Forces members include sacrifice and risk. It takes a lot out of their youth. Because of that, Canadian Forces members tend to retire at a much earlier age than average. The provisions of the pension plan are responsive, no matter what age a Canadian Forces member retires. We have made generous allowances.
Normal benefits are payable to surviving spouses and any children provided that the marriage takes place before the age of 60. If members marry after the age of 60, they may still ensure their survivors receive a benefit. They may accept a small reduction in their own benefits to make this happen. This choice to provide for survivors is not available to the majority of Canadian pension plans.
Even so, I note that Conservative MPs have recognized this matter as an issue worthy of deeper consideration. For instance, our former colleague Werner Schmidt, the member for Kelowna, introduced a private member's bill, Bill , in the previous Parliament. Mr. Schmidt felt that the decision of some forces members to marry later in life should not penalize their spouses in terms of receiving benefits. He felt that the age 60 cutoff was arbitrary.
Indeed, his private member's bill was inspired by the real life case of a veteran and constituent of Mr. Schmidt, Gordon Read. Mr. Read's story is compelling. Mr. Read served 24 years in the RCAF and fought to defend civilization in the Battle of Britain.
That private member's bill was taken up in this Parliament by another Conservative colleague, the member for . His bill, Bill , also seeks to eliminate section 31-1 of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act to remove what many believe is an injustice in the system. However, before we can act we must pause to consider what we are doing, how we should be doing it and how much it is going to cost.
This new government has demonstrated its strong, unwavering support for our soldiers, sailors and aviators.
We have nothing but respect and gratitude for our veterans. We want to meet their needs and their families' needs. Our responsibility to Canadians is to consider the possible repercussions before making changes to an exhaustive and extremely generous plan.
The government is not ignoring this issue. There is a certain reality to the work that our Canadian Forces members do, one that earns them special consideration. The poppies that we wear every year, the yellow ribbons on the backs of our cars, the rallies that have been held across the country have tremendous significance.
During this year, as parliamentary secretary, I have learned a lot about our men and women in uniform and what they endure and what their families sacrifice. I have had the opportunity to cross the country and visit various military bases. The most vivid memory I have, from all my base visits, was my visit to Canadian Forces Base Edmonton when some of our troops returned home from Afghanistan. I saw smiles and tears that expressed a wealth of emotion. I watched as families were reunited. I actually saw fathers meeting their newborn children for the very first time. What struck me was the absolutely unwaivering and unconditional support those families gave to our troops. I will not forget that.
If the very families who suffer heartbreak when troops are deployed can support our men and women in uniform with such determination, then we should certainly be able to do so. We have heard the concerns voiced by our veterans, by Canadian Forces members and by their families. We know the sacrifices they have made, and we are listening to their concerns.
Our government is considering this issue carefully. We want to help our families. We are reviewing the alternatives to find the best options and then we will act.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today and join in this very important debate. It is a very timely debate as we quickly approach Veterans' Week here in Canada.
I am going to take a bit of a risk at first and share a quote with the House, not a Canadian quote but a quote from a past U.S. president. The reason I use it is more for the fact that it frames the debate we are having today. It was George Washington who said that a nation will be measured by how in fact that nation shows honour and respect for its war veterans. I think that is what today's debate is about. It is about respect for those who have served the country, those who have answered the call. We enter into that debate today.
As well, I want to recognize my colleague from and the work that he has done with veterans over a number of years and certainly throughout his time here in the House. I listened with great interest to his presentation to the House earlier when he presented the motion and I fully recognize the emotion expressed during his remarks.
My colleague from is another member of this House who stands on a very similar piece of real estate, whose parents also came from Holland in very similar circumstances, so I know that story very well. As Canadians, many of us understand the sacrifice and understand what a tremendous country we live in, but for those who were impacted, who started their lives here and were provided with opportunity in this great country as a result of Canadian Forces sacrificing so much on foreign soil, it even goes deeper into the understanding of those who have actually lived with it and whose parents have been the benefactors of those actions.
I think the House is united on one thing and that is respect for all veterans and all those who served our country. Last year here in this House, the former minister of defence, in his comments prior to Remembrance Day services, was very poignant in reflecting on the passing of Ernest “Smokey” Smith, Canada's last Victoria Cross recipient. It was very emotional and it was a very important and significant benchmark for veterans in this country. What was identified there certainly came home to me. In my hometown of Glace Bay, we had a Victoria Cross recipient as well, John Bernard Croak. Our Legion in Glace Bay carries the name of John Bernard Croak .
In his comments to the chamber, the former minister spoke about the common thread of “service and heroism” shared by each and every member who steps forward to represent their country and to serve in the Canadian Forces. They share that common thread, and I think each of us here in this chamber can identify those veterans in our communities who, as young people, probably went through the same emotions as Smokey Smith and John Bernard Croak and other heroes. As for what motivated them to answer that call, I think that thread runs through each and every community and every municipality in this country.
The great Canadian tradition of service and heroism continues to be emulated by many young soldiers, the young men and women who continue to serve in our armed forces. There is an inordinate number of people from eastern Canada and the Atlantic provinces who answer that call. We have a disproportionate number of Atlantic Canadians who enlist in the Canadian Forces. I think it goes well beyond economic need. I think it is a true sense of duty, a true sense of wanting to serve this great nation. Certainly Canadians from the Atlantic provinces respond very willingly.
If any member were to read any management book or any coaching book, it would be recognized that what is a prime motivator is neither fame nor fortune. It is not money. It is respect. This is what Bill is about. That is what today's motion is about. It is about respect. It is about respect for our veterans who have served this great nation.
The NDP motion itself is so broad and far-reaching that we could have a day of debate on each aspect of the motion. A number of these aspects are very complex and impact on other issues. The pension issues are very involved and complex.
However, I was buoyed by my conversations with the member for in that the intent of the motion today is to make sure that these issues are brought forward and put in front of the government for further study, and to make sure that if recommendations are made, they are acted on. It is important that the issues do not die, do not slip onto the back burner. The issues raised in the motion are important to our veterans and to Canadians. Through this motion and the debate in the House today, these issues will be brought forward.
I want to look at each aspect of the motion. I will jump the queue and look at the second point first because it is an issue that is close and personal to me in light of the fact that a champion of the veterans independence program is a constituent of mine. Many members of the House know Joyce Carter's name. I have spoken of Joyce's work and her commitment to the extension of VIP benefits to many Canadians.
As the member said, what we want to see when our veterans retire and get on in years is that they are able to live their lives in comfort and dignity. That really is the essence of the veterans independence program. It allows for some aspects of home care and maintenance, some transportation needs, nutritional services and health support services. Those are the aspects of the VIP that are essential to our veterans.
During the last election campaign, the current , who was then leader of the opposition, went on record to say--and it was part of the Conservative campaign platform--that the veterans independence program would be extended to all veterans of all wars, to Korean veterans, and their spouses, and that there would be a full and immediate extension to cover all these veterans. I want to quote that letter to make sure that it is on the record.
Here is what the said in a piece of correspondence that went to Joyce Carter, this lady from St. Peters in my constituency:
--a Conservative government would immediately--
Let me repeat those words so that all members know:
--a Conservative government would immediately extend Veterans Independence Program services to widows of all Second World War and Korean War veterans regardless of when the veteran died....
That is in writing. That letter was received by Joyce Carter from the member's office. This is something that we had in testimony the other day from veterans from the Korean war. They are advocating this. The Canadian Legion is advocating this. Certainly this is something that we would hope the government will move on. We hope the government will honour its commitment to those veterans. The government extended the promise and put forward the promise and we would hope that the government will do this and do it immediately.
The second aspect would be to amend section 31(1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that the second spouses of Canadian Forces members and veterans have access to pension rights upon the death of Canadian Forces members or veterans.
This is typically referred to as the “gold diggers clause”. Certainly, it is one that has been discussed on a number of occasions. In past governments, concerns were raised about it. However, I think we are being somewhat hypocritical if we do not support this provision in the motion because MPs or other civil servants are not treated the same as the veterans in this particular situation. We have to weigh that into our decision and ensure that we discuss this important aspect.
An important other aspect to this particular issue, as well, is that it does not affect a whole lot of people. According to DND records, there are only about 141 retirees who have made the choice to remarry and reduce their own monthly pensions so that their spouses can get survivor allowances. So, it is not a great deal of money to the treasury, but it seems to be a great injustice.
I know some throw around the Anna Nicole Smith aspect and ask about what happens if a 92-year-old veteran marries an 18-year-old and we have to pay. All the more power to him if a 92-year-old veteran can marry an 18-year-old; he has something going for him. However, I do not think we can dismiss this aspect of the motion by citing those types of examples. This motion will allow it to come back to committee, so that this can be discussed and we can hang realistic numbers off it and then make the decision from there.
As things change in the military and as the demands on our military change, over the last number of years especially, we are seeing a greater responsibility and a different type of forces. However, in this particular case, when we are looking at the change warranted through this motion, I want to bring to the attention of members a court case that is being waged by Reg Warkentin and his lawyer David Baker. They are arguing that the provision contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Now, this was being pursued under the court challenges program. We know that the court challenges program was just cut and taken away in the last round of cuts made by this government, so probably this court challenge will die, which is truly unfortunate. Nonetheless, it is an important aspect of this motion. Hopefully, each member, when they come to vote on this motion, will entertain this somewhat of an injustice.
I want to go on record with regard to the fifth portion of the motion which deals with the elimination of the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled Canadian Forces members and the clawback. We would need a roomful of actuaries and pension specialists. We can try to boil it down into some simplistic terms, but I do not think it is that simplistic.
We have been understanding for a number of years now that there is an integration between the two programs, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the CPP, and in fact there is not a clawback.
Hopefully, this will come out over the course of the debate today to indicate to me why that is not so. I recognize that there is a difference. It appears in some cases that the benefit of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act combined with the CPP benefit is slightly less than the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act benefit for the veteran after he became eligible for CPP. Hopefully, that will come out in the debate today.
There are aspects of this motion that make a great deal of sense. I know that we are united in the House in our support for veterans, and what we should be doing and what we can be doing. I know the parliamentary secretary has long been a hard-working and passionate advocate for veterans issues.
Hopefully, in supporting the motion this will further enable a committee and the government to take greater strides, and provide greater support for our veterans and certainly give them the respect and support that they so greatly warrant.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to mention that I am pleased to be sharing my time with my colleague from .
Next, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for , whom I met when he was a vital member of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, since the two committees were joined at the time.
I know that my colleague from has always been an ardent defender of veterans. He made a tremendous contribution to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.
I would also like to say that the Bloc Québécois, as a whole, will certainly support the member's motion. We also agree with the division of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs into two committees, which occurred at the beginning of the Conservative government's term. Despite my colleague's past efforts, it seems to me that veterans, at the time, were the poor relation of that committee. There was also a certain degree of incongruity, since the committee fell under the responsibility or the will of two different ministers. I therefore find the situation much improved today.
I know that my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs can now devote themselves and their efforts solely to defending our veterans, who are very much in need. These people risked their lives trying to preserve important, democratic values.
We must be careful not to send regrettable messages to people who were wounded along the way, after their active service was complete. I use the term “wounded”, but this concept goes beyond physical wounds and also includes psychological wounds. I believe that more people now return from these theatres of operation psychologically wounded than physically wounded. It is important nonetheless to have a committee to look after their interests. We will support the hon. member's motion because there is still a long way to go.
Some progress has been made. For one thing, at the time, we had passed Bill, which was mainly for veterans, by providing them with a charter. We may have had good intentions in doing that, but the charter left a few things out. And my colleague is proposing important measures to improve it. Certainly there will be others, but four good measures is at least a step in the right direction. That is the reason why the Bloc Québécois will be supporting the motion by my colleague from .
I said that there was still work left to do. For example, just yesterday, we heard the ombudsman for the armed forces saying that the people who served in Kuwait or in Afghanistan not so long ago—four or five years ago—are having major problems.
Sometimes there are things that are hard to explain, agent orange being another example. That happened in the Gagetown area. When we are told in committee that the list of people who spent time there during the period when it was being sprayed in large volumes has been lost, we have some doubts. We conclude that the government often wants to scrimp and save on the backs of people who truly left part of their lives, whether psychologically or physically, in the theatre of operations.
The government has a tendency to move quickly. I have to say that I notice that as soon as a major problem arises and someone has left the forces, National Defence decides that it is no longer its problem, it is now a Veterans Affairs problem. I have said that to committees and I say it again here publicly.
As well, National Defence should be putting much more effort into prevention. Not to say that we are going to leave less up to Veterans Affairs, but because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Other armies—the American and British, for instance—pay special attention to individuals leaving the armed forces who are not allowed to remain for medical reasons. Here, this is unfortunately not how we think. In fact, National Defence tells veterans that their service is finished for medical reasons, and that now, because they were deployed in the theatre of operations, they are the responsibility of Veterans Affairs Canada, and they are sent there, and National Defence is no longer concerned with them. Something has to be done about this.
The first aspect of the motion deals with the fact that veterans might get married after age 60 and have a new wife, and the new wife was no longer entitled to compensation after her husband died.
We consider this to be truly discriminatory. In my opinion, the motion fixes this problem.
Another aspect of the motion that is important to us is the Veterans Independence Program, the VIP. This is not something new; we discussed it in 2002 and in 2003. The previous government had announced, with much fanfare, that it was now going to be looking after veterans’ widows, because they were entitled to home help, whether it be for housework or for yard work, so that they could keep their homes as long as possible. This is important for them.
Let us not forget that the veterans' wives also fought, perhaps not as hard as the men since they were not on the front line, but they participated in the war effort. My mother married a soldier. She married my father during the Second World War. I assure you that to hear her stories she was very worried about her husband who was overseas. This too was valuable. It is all well and good to say that people went to battle, but let us not forget the work of the women who stayed behind and kept the war economy going. An army needs bullets for its guns in the theatre of operations and since all the men were deployed to the other side of the ocean, the women did their part to keep this industry operating. We must not forget them.
The former government said it would recognize 10,000 women who would be entitled to the allowance when their husbands died. Upon further investigation, it became apparent that 23,000 women had been forgotten. At the time, we fought with our colleagues in the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and we won the fight. We did not want to let specific dates be an impediment. If a woman lost her husband before June 17, 2002, she could have the pension. If she lost him after June 17, 2002, she could not. We thought that did not make sense. Why have a date? Why not recognize that the effort was shared by everyone and that all should be entitled? We absolutely agree with our colleague's proposal in the second item.
There are a number of other items, but I see that time is running out so I will make my closing statements. As I was saying, the Department of National Defence absolutely needs to be convinced to put an end to this division. It is all well and good to say there are two committees, but in fact and in practice, DND does not do enough to address the fallout of tragic events that people are currently experiencing.
I spoke about agent orange but I could also have spoken about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Several groups are currently pressuring the government because they are not receiving any services from National Defence or Veterans Affairs. Who is providing these services? The provincial health services. When a soldier is injured and goes to a public hospital in Quebec, the bill is sent to the Department of National Defence. When a soldier is injured but is no longer an employee of the department, he is covered by the provincial health authority. In my opinion, the Department of National Defence needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I believe that my colleague, the member for knows it and is applying pressure in this regard.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will need an ombudsman. We do not need an ombudsman for National Defence as there already is one, ho is doing both jobs. We need another one just for Veterans Affairs. Above all—and I believe my colleague will insist on this point this afternoon— the ombudsman must be independent of the minister.
It makes no sense for an ombudsman to report to the minister because the minister can exercise some control. If the ombudsman gave the minister a report and the minister did not agree, the minister could recommend to the governor in council— that is, the cabinet—that the ombudsman's contract not be renewed. That does not make sense.
The ombudsman for the armed forces and the future ombudsman for veterans must report to Parliament which, in its wisdom, will decide on how to follow up on the ombudsman's report.
I thank my colleagues for their attention and I am ready to answer questions.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to pick up where the member for , a proponent of defence, left off, because he is a longstanding member of this House. I also want to thank the member for for his good advice on veterans affairs, because I am new to this issue.
The Bloc Québécois and I support the motion by the member for . Veterans are too often neglected by the government, which seems to care about them only once a year, in November. In fact, Veterans Week is almost upon us. The steps proposed in this motion would improve the lives of veterans and their families.
We believe that other steps should be taken to further improve the lives of veterans. Although it was recently enhanced, the current system is still unfair in many respects. Hon. members will recall that in May 2005, Bill was adopted after being fast-tracked. It instituted the new Veterans Charter, which took effect that year. Despite this improvement, there is still much to be done.
The federal government is dragging its feet when it comes to veterans. We have only to think of Gagetown, for example, the inadequate treatment of post-traumatic stress and the ombudsman's repeated requests. This clearly illustrates the government's inaction on this issue. The federal government must act and close the gaps in the current system.
The first mesure proposed by the NDP reads as follows:
1. amend Section 31 (1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that second spouses of CF members and veterans have access to pension rights upon the death of the Canadian Forces member or veteran;
This section of the act is absurd. In other words, someone who marries a retired veteran over the age of 60 can never receive the benefits available to other military widows. This rule is nothing but discriminatory and is unwarranted. We believe that it should be eliminated, in order to place all spouses on an equal footing. It is important to remember that life expectancy in Canada is around 80 years. A marriage at 60 therefore should not last more than 20 years. In comparison, life expectancy in Caesar's Rome was only 20 years.
The second mesure reads as follows:
2. extend the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death;
This measure would broaden the eligibility criteria for the Veterans Independence Program. Basically, this program offers home care services to disabled veterans and, after death, to family members who need it and who provided a significant level of care to the veteran.
We think that expanding the program could be a good idea. This proposal goes much farther than the motion put forward by the Standing Committee on National Defence and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, which included some details. It was very long, so I will not read it. I think everyone is familiar with it. However, before helping all widows of veterans, we think it makes sense to extend the measure to all veterans themselves. The current proposal raises a paradox: widows of veterans will benefit from more services than spouses of veterans. Furthermore, they will get more help after their spouses die. This inconsistency must be corrected because widows would receive more services than they did when their spouses were alive.
I will now read the third measure:
3. increase the Survivor’s Pension Amount upon death of Canadian Forces retiree to 66% from the current amount of 50%;
We agree with this one. This measure seems fair. Upon the death of a veteran, his survivor should not be forced to move to maintain her quality of life. I think this is a very good idea. Currently, some expenses, such as housing, travel and furnishings, can be shared.
Here is the fourth measure:
4. eliminate the unfair reduction of Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP) long term disability benefits from medically released members of the Canadian Forces;
On October 30, 2003, in a report entitled Unfair Deductions from SISIP Payments to Former CF Members, the ombudsman asked the government to correct this major systemic problem. Two years later, he reiterated this request in a letter to the minister on October 26, 2005. Here is what he wrote in the conclusion of his 2003 report:
The SISIP long term disability insurance plan is supposed to ensure that members who are medically released because of service-related illness or injury receive a reasonable amount of income while they are unable to work. These former members, who are forced to depend on their long term disability insurance benefits for income, should not lose the financial benefit of the disability pension they are awarded under the Pension Act as compensation for their illness or injury, especially when their injured colleagues who are able to continue serving can collect their disability pensions through VAC and still receive their pay cheques. I hope that the Minister will take the necessary actions to obtain Treasury Board approval so that the SISIP long term disability insurance policy can be amended to rectify this unfair situation and that those who have lost the financial benefit of their disability pension, while their serving colleagues continued to receive it, can be reimbursed.
I will now read the fifth measure:
5. eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled CF members.
It is unacceptable that the disabled person receiving a benefit to compensate for a disability has his pension reduced. This situation is similar to the preceding one. The government wants to save taxpayer money. However, there are limits. Benefits paid to the disabled do not represent, in our opinion, a source of income; they are used to pay for additional daily expenses arising from the disability. These benefits are used, for example, for special transportation or to modify a residence. Other veterans do not incur such costs.
There are other considerations as well. These measures are but a step in the right direction. Other problems are also important, perhaps even more so than those to be addressed by this motion.
The purpose of this motion is to improve the system for those already using it. But what about those excluded, those whose sacrifices we refuse to acknowledge? What about those soldiers exposed to defoliants in Gagetown, and soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome left to cope on their own? The government should be aware that early treatment of these illnesses can greatly diminish their symptoms.
What is even more disquieting is the fact that no just yesterday, November 1, the ombudsman for the Canadian armed forces, Mr. Côté, said that when the report was submitted on the dangers to soldiers from exposure to a polluted environment, the army was not even able to list the soldiers who had been posted to Kuwait during the Gulf war. He said too that the army would also be unable to follow-up on the soldiers who had gone to Afghanistan. This kind of list is essential, however, for managing certain risks related to the contamination of places where soldiers frequently go. The departments responsible for the welfare of our soldiers still have their work cut out for them.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that the Department of Veterans Affairs should not just work during Veterans' Week. It should not just work with a view to getting re-elected. It should work for the welfare of our veterans, who defended us in the past and are still defending us today.
We have been working for a few months on the creation of an ombudsman position reporting to the House of Commons. This person’s mandate would come from the House of Commons, not the department. As a result, there would not be any conflicts of interest and he could comment on certain things without risking the ire of the department. He would report directly to the House of Commons.
Yesterday we met Mr. Marin, the Ontario ombudsman, who handles 25,000 complaints a year. Of all these complaints, about 25% are settled through discussions. Mr. Marin says that he does not have any problems, but he reports to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
He concluded yesterday by saying that we were the last ray of hope for our veterans, many of whom had simply lost faith in the government. He also said that the Department of Veterans Affairs has long been vehemently opposed to an ombudsman keeping an eye on it. Now this department is being told that an ombudsman will be appointed despite its philosophical objections. It is therefore up to the parliamentary committee to help the government and support this initiative so that our veterans have an ally fighting on their behalf against administrative injustice. He also told us not to inadvertently allow ourselves to be persuaded to create what could just be a facade and not a real ombudsman’s office.
I hope on behalf of our veterans that the government sets up a system that gives them an ombudsman to restore their hopes. This problem must be dealt with as quickly as possible before our veterans disappear.
Let us try to solve this problem as quickly as possible in fact and not just wait for these army veterans to disappear.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for . I know my hon. colleague has been working many long years for fairness and justice for working families in his riding and across this country. By bringing forward this motion, which I urge all members of this House to support, we can make sure that Canadian Forces retirees, veterans and their families are treated fairly with respect to their pensions.
This is an important issue across this country and especially in my riding of where in the Comox Valley is one of the largest military bases in the country, CFB Comox. I have heard from many of my constituents about this issue, so it is with respect to them and for them that I speak to this motion today.
CFB Comox has brought many military families to the area, and I have had the pleasure of getting to know many of them and getting to know their families. While they were in the service in this area many made a decision to come back when they retired and live in this spectacular area with its natural beauty and mild climate. The Comox Valley is the southernmost part of my riding. We boast that one can ski all morning on Mount Washington, golf in the afternoon at one of the many world class golf courses, and go for a sail in the evening to enjoy one of our beautiful west coast sunsets.
Because of this natural beauty and the availability of so many outdoor activities, as well as thriving urban areas, many military families have chosen to retire in this area. Just think: there is little or no snow to shovel in the winter and there is no need for air conditioners in the summer because of the cool ocean breezes. Some people might call it paradise. What a wonderful place to retire.
This very important motion seeks to improve the lives of veterans and retired military personnel in five ways:
First, it seeks to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that second spouses of Canadian Forces members and veterans have access to pensions upon the death of the member or veteran. I believe the practice of disallowing the second spouse access to the pension is affectionately known, or maybe not so affectionately known, as the “gold digger clause”. It has a long history dating back to the Boer War. My great-grandfather was in that war and many things have changed since then. This practice of disallowing the second spouse access to a pension is insulting and discriminatory. It supposes that anyone marrying a retired Canadian Forces member is only doing it for the money.
The practice of disallowing a survivor pension to women or men who marry retired Canadian Forces members after the age of 60 unfairly penalizes the surviving spouse. Not only does the survivor lose pension benefits, but also health and dental benefits are stripped at a time when they are most needed.
Second, this motion seeks to extend the veterans independence program to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death. This national home care program is so important to maintaining the health and independence of veterans and their spouses. It could be seen as independent living which is something that many people in their senior years require to stay out of hospitals and institutions.
Widows whose husbands have died before 1981 are not eligible, nor are those whose husbands did not receive VIP benefits prior to their death. Again, this is a discriminatory practice. Many of these women have cared for their partners in their homes for many years, assisting them with day to day living, with their daily personal care, saving the health care system thousands of precious dollars while sacrificing their very own lives. I do not think it is too much to ask that when they become eligible for VIP services that they receive them.
Third, this motion seeks to increase the survivor's pension amount upon death of a Canadian Forces retiree to 66% from the current 50%. Why is it, I ask, that survivors of Canadian Forces retirees receive only 50% of superannuation when survivors of other public service workers receive 66%?
This is a sad way to say thank you to the many years of service our military commit to this country. I know that everyone in the House supports our military when they are serving this country so bravely, so why not after they retire? I know that they would want their surviving spouses to be taken care of with respect and dignity and with economic dignity.
This is another example of an outdated, unfair, discriminatory practice whose time has come to an end. It is time to stop treating retired military families as second class citizens. Spouses of Canadian Forces personnel deserve fair access to pension benefits and spousal benefits.
Fourth, this motion put forward by my hon. colleague from asks the government to eliminate the unfair reduction of the service income security insurance plan long term disability benefits for medically released members of the Canadian Forces. Under the SISIP LTD, Canadian Forces members are guaranteed 75% of their previous salaries for up to two years if they are disabled in service, but when a former Canadian Forces member receives disability payments from Veterans Affairs or any other money under the Pension Act, SISIP LTD is clawed back. This is another unfairness.
This unfairness places a financial hardship on the disabled member. The Veterans Affairs disability pension should not be considered as income. Disability benefits are to compensate for injuries suffered in the line of duty. I know that disabled members in my riding are finding it hard to make ends meet because of this punitive policy. In the new veterans charter this policy has been eliminated, but those who became disabled prior to the veterans charter still face an offset in their SISIP LTD.
Last, the motion seeks to eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled Canadian Forces members. This clawback of military and RCMP pension when they receive CPP or CPP disability creates a real financial hardship at a time when they need the most support. Everyone in this House knows that as we age, our health care needs increase.
My colleague has introduced other private members' bills in the past, specifically Bill That is what we are talking about here today.
Veterans groups across the country have been calling on the government to eliminate this clawback of their pensions. I have received many letters from military retirees and members still serving telling me how they feel about this important issue. I would like to share some of those with the House now.
As one member told me:
There is no better Canadian than the men and women who serve and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in their golden years, and not be penalized at a time when their country feels they can make a quick buck on their backs. At a time when they are living on a fixed income and at a time when they should feel the support of their country not to feel as though they have been wronged by a government who can easily forget their past deeds and services.
This is from another serviceman:
Why are we treated as second class citizens. After 40 years serving Canada in the Military I am denied what I invested in.
The frustration and hurt felt by those people is apparent. They have served this country bravely. They have contributed to our communities during their working lives. They have endured dangerous conditions and long separations from their families. The stresses of these jobs are enormous. These things take a toll on one's physical and mental health.
It is just one more way of showing support for the men and women who serve to make sure they are taken care of in their retirement.
I urge all members of Parliament to support this crucial motion that will do so much for retired military members and their families.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be discussing this issue. I wear my poppy with both humility and pride, humility for being the recipient of the generous gift of freedom and democracy. Over generations, many people fought for this nation. I have pride for a country that is often found to do the right thing when it comes to world safety and security. In many respects, it has often been the leader of building a better world. Although we may sometimes disagree with some of the directions our country takes, there can be no doubt that Canada has played a significant role across the globe. It is my hope we will continue to do so in a progressive way.
I come from the riding of , which has a long established military history. The member for has come to Windsor West to see that history. In fact, the first organization of military units in a formal context was in 1701, given our relationship with the United States and the proximity there. Following that, we have participated in the War of 1812, World War I, World War II, Korea, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan and as peacekeepers across the globe.
Also, we have a very spirited revelry with regard to our veterans. We even have ceremonies commemorating the Canadian veterans of the Vietnam war. These Canadians went abroad and served in the American military. In all our ceremonies, whether it be for the Battle of the Atlantic, the Cenotaph service for November 11, or other types of initiatives such as Veterans Week, we commemorate and celebrate those who continue to contribute in our society.
I can speak from first-hand experiences. My grandfather, John Clifford Addison, died when the HMCS Scorpion sank in the fall of Burma. I did not know my grandfather. I do not know what music he liked or what food he liked. I do not how he lived much of his life when my mother was an infant. All I have is some soccer medals, some war medals and a few photographs of John's life. His body was never recovered. I was fortunate, though, that my grandmother remarried. She married Fred Attwood, who then served in the merchant navy and the Royal Navy as well.
It was at the kitchen table that I learned the lessons of our veterans and their contributions to not only Canada, but to the United Kingdom and across the globe as well. I heard about my grandfather and how he served in East Asia where they shipped materiel to different areas, everything from combat missions and merchant expeditions from Halifax to the United Kingdom. I head about the degree of commitment and the cost of one's life. It was fortunate that Fred and Irene came to Canada after the second world war and settled in Windsor where my family remains to this date.
Our area has provided significant contributions to the military operations of Canada, not only in the past, but the current and will in future as well. We have great reservations when we hear the daily news about what could potentially happen to some of our men and women in the service, who we all support wherever they are. We need to do everything possible to ensure their lives are protected abroad. More important, when they return, we need to provide support to them and their families, professionally and appropriately. The motion is all about that. It is about setting a series of rights in a system that has some wrongs.
The motion can be criticized in some respects for not being a complete picture. We know for a fact that we must improve things. We did that with the veterans charter. It has a series of issues that need to be corrected, but it was a profound step. I am very proud that my leader, the member for , took this initiative and presented it to the other leaders, when they were travelling back from veterans ceremonies in Europe. We established something of which we can be proud. Passing this motion would be a bold step forward in improving some of the injustices of our system.
I want to ensure I do this in a non-partisan way. I want to congratulate the for supporting an initiative with the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment. Last summer we returned to Dieppe. Many Windsor and Essex County veterans contributed to our country's attempt to invade Europe to liberate France, but it was a disaster. We have learned lessons from that. There was a lot of debate about the mission and its background, but what cannot be debated is the cost paid in human life.
Also, a Windsor regiment in my riding celebrated its 70th year, once again dating back to the founding of our country. It contributed to the safety of our country in a number of different war efforts. It was a tank battalion a number of times. The black insignia, which it had for a number of years, has been adopted by the entire department now. It is something of which we are very proud.
We also have the HMCS Hunter, which is naval operations. It has conducted training for sea cadets, servicemen and women for many years.
The motion in front of us are very important and it contains various recommendations.
The first is to:
amend Section 31(1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that second spouses of CF members and veterans have access to pension rights upon the death of the Canadian Forces member or veteran;
That is a social justice issue, in my opinion. It is about righting a wrong and ensuring that their surviving spouses will be in a better situation.
The second is to:
extend the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death;
As an aging population, these supports are important. People are healthier and are able to stay in their homes longer. We certainly can contribute to something like that.
We also want to increase the survivor's pension to 66% from the current 50%. A number of different people come to our office in Windsor West for support. Often the number one issue is pensions. We believe this modest improvement is one that is reasonable. It would ensure that people do not slip into poverty.
The fourth is to:
eliminate the unfair reduction of Service Income Security Insurance Plan...long term disability benefits from medically released members of the Canadian Forces;...
This is very important because of stress and other types of issues. When people re-emerge into society, their convergence back has to be done in a way that can be productive for them. It is incumbent upon us to provide the proper supports and environment for people to be successful.
As someone who has worked on behalf of persons with disabilities and as someone who has been in this field in the past for a number of years, I cannot understand why we do not do more to assist individuals to become contributors and to ensure there is fairness and justice, especially after we have asked them to perform a service in the name of our country.
The fifth is to:
eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled CF members.
It is important as well to put a human face on this. One of my heroes is Earl Scofield. He was a senator with the Métis nation of Ontario. He and his six brothers served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He flew 17 missions, on behalf of our country, for our democracy. Earl, as well, is a founding member of the NDP and attended our convention recently. I was so proud to see Earl stand and talk about issues of democracy and also to provide the leadership that is necessary for younger people coming through the system. They need to understand the important contributions our veterans have made for our democracy and the lessons that should be learned from that.
We have seen this in a number of different situations. When our veterans have returned from overseas, they have not always been treated fairly, and that is a shame. However, this is something we can change. The motion before us offers a simple, practical solution to right some wrongs to ensure that our veterans are properly respected.
It is nice for all of us to stand here and say that we support our troops and veterans, but what are we going to do about it? It is my hope the government takes this to heart. If the motion passes in this chamber, I hope it will respect the will of Parliament and make these things happen, not note and file it like it often does on notices of motions.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to have the opportunity today to speak to this motion. I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I would like to respond to the motion by stating that the federal government and all Canadians recognize the dangerous demands imposed on the members of the Canadian Forces. We want to recognize the commitment and certainly the responsibility and the contribution that these veterans have made and continue to make to our great country and around the world.
That is why, in recognition of their unique needs, a comprehensive program of pensions and benefits is provided to ensure a generous level of protection to the members of the Canadian Forces and their families. These benefits include life insurance, disability, pension plan benefits in their retirement or in the event of disability or death.
The President of the Treasury Board is the minister responsible for the financing and the funding of the Canadian Forces pension plan as well as other federal public sector pensions, including those of the public service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In light of that, he wishes to reassure the Canadian Forces, RCMP and all federal public service employees and pensioners that they benefit from a complete package of pensions and benefits for themselves and their survivors.
Even though the federal public service offers comprehensive pensions and benefits to all employees and pensioners, there are always demands for improvement to these benefits, as is the case of today's motion proposed by the hon. member for .
SISIP, the service income security insurance plan, provides an income replacement benefit regardless of whether a member is injured in the line of duty or not. In the past, SISIP benefits were reduced to offset the benefit paid under the Pension Act. This changed on April 1, 2006 when the new veterans charter came into effect. The Pension Act benefit is now paid as a lump sum amount which is no longer deducted from the SISIP benefit.
I would like to comment briefly on the pension plan that is available to members of the Canadian Forces as well as other federal public service employees, including members of the public service and the RCMP. The federal public service pension plan contains many features which are comparable with or superior to other employer sponsored pension plans within this great country of Canada.
Members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP further enjoy early retirement provisions in order to recognize the fact that they often have shorter careers due to the more dangerous and physically demanding nature of their jobs.
It is important to remember also that the pension benefits for federal public service employees and pensioners are not at risk since the federal public service pension plans are defined benefit plans. This means that in exchange for their contributions, federal public service members acquire the right to a defined amount of pension at retirement.
This differs from defined contribution pension schemes where the final entitlement is directly dependent on employee contributions, employer contributions and investment returns. In other words, federal employees and retirees can continue to rely on receiving what their public service pension plans have promised: a defined, guaranteed, fully indexed retirement income.
In addressing today's motion to change the Canadian Forces pensions and benefits, it is important to fully understand the existing provisions of these programs. One particular provision of the public service pension plans which may not be well understood is the coordination feature with the Canada pension plan. In other words, the reduction to the Canadian Forces or RCMP pensions at age 65.
In 1966, when the Canada pension plan was introduced, the federal government of the day decided to coordinate the new CPP with the federal public service pension plans. Like most other Canadian public sector pension plans which were coordinated with the CPP, the federal government was concerned that some of their employees would be forced to contribute too much to their retirement savings if they had to contribute to the Canada pension plan in addition to the contributions already made to their employer sponsored pension plan.
This means that while federal public service employees of the public service, Canadian Forces and the RCMP pension plans are working, they are making contributions to their public service pension plans and to the CPP.
Typically, at age 65, public service pension plan members will be entitled to an unreduced Canada pension and, as a result, their public pension will be reduced to take into account the payment of the Canada pension. The amount of the reduction to the public service pension is approximately equal or equivalent to the amount the plan member receives from the CPP.
In other words, the total pension amount available to plan members after age 65 is essentially unchanged. It is simply received from two sources, from the Canada pension plan and the public service pension plan. This is a very common design feature in most Canada employer sponsored plans.
The federal public service pension also provides survivor benefits which are generous by industry standards. Although survivor benefits under the federal public service pension plans are generally described as being 50%, this does not provide the full picture. The benefit formula in the federal public service plans provides for a surviving spouse's allowance equal to 50% of the unreduced pension available to the member, as opposed to the 60% of a pension that may have been reduced to take into account a survivor's benefit.
As well, there are many instances where a member has chosen to retire early and has opted to receive a reduced pension. In such cases, the survivor's allowance will be more than what the plan member was entitled to receive. The 50% of an unreduced pension is often more generous than 60% of a reduced pension.
When considering the benefits payable to survivors under the federal public service plans, it should also be noted that these allowances are indexed to fully reflect increases in the cost of living since the member's retirement.
Therefore, all factors considered, survivor benefits currently provided under the federal public service plans are already, in a number of ways, more generous than benefits provided under many other Canadian employer sponsored pension plans, both in the public and the private sector.
Improvements to the survivor benefit provisions in the federal public service pension plans have been made in response to complaints involving spouses who marry after age 60. This has been referred to earlier. In 1992, both Canadian Forces and RCMP plans were amended to give pension plan members flexibility in their ability to provide protection for their spouses who they marry after age 60.
Pensioners under both plans now have an opportunity to elect to reduce the amount of their benefit in order to provide a pension for a surviving spouse who would not otherwise be entitled to a survivor's allowance.
We must remember that when determining pension arrangements for its employees, it is reasonable and responsible for an employer to consider the costs involved. This is especially true for the federal government as the employer, given that it is the taxpayers of Canada who must fund the plan.
Today's proposed changes to the Canadian Forces plans would not only increase the costs, but further place the burden of those additional costs on taxpayers. Other public service plans, namely the public service and the RCMP plans, contain similar provisions to the Canadian Forces plan so there would be significant pressure also to amend these plans.
In considering any changes to the public service pension plans, the federal government as an employer must always be mindful of the long term sustainability of the plans as well to remain fair to both the federal public service employees, including the RCMP and veterans, and to all Canadians as taxpayers.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all the members taking part in this debate.
Each of us here should feel a sense of honour when we realize how privileged we are to be able to assume public office, to live in a country where freedom and democracy are fundamental values, and the supremacy of law is valued and respected. It is a way of life which I enjoy—which all Canadians and Quebeckers enjoy—thanks to veterans.
I have the privilege of being able to talk about a great country free of tyranny and oppression. A country devoted to values dear to all Canadians: freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Freedom is not free of cost, however. It never has been. We acquired freedom at the expense of huge sacrifice on the part of our veterans, their families and their companions.
Surveys conducted in recent years have revealed that Canadians of all ages, especially young ones, are not very familiar with our military history and heritage. Many of them do not know that over 116,000 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice in the past century to protect our values and way of life.
What can we do to raise the young Canadians’ awareness of the importance of the times that have marked the history of our country? How can we help them better grasp the great courage of these volunteers, who risked their all for their compatriots? How do we explain to them the acts of extraordinary courage performed in terrible circumstances? The challenge is a big one.
All commemorative activities of Veterans Affairs Canada are designed chiefly to encourage young people to discover the military history of their country. The young representatives who have taken part in overseas activities have told their stories in some particularly touching accounts and reports they have written.
After her experience attending the ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of D Day, Catherine MacNeil, from Cape Breton, wrote: “I always try to make the best of the travel times by sitting with the veterans and I am amazed how quickly I have made friends with them. During these short rides, some of them have told their stories to me, piece by piece.” She concluded as follows: “I understand the importance of these stories, and I realize that the veterans themselves will not always be around to tell their stories themselves. That is why it is important for the youth, like myself, to pay careful attention to these stories, to learn as much as we can and then to pass it on to others we know to keep their memories alive”.
Canadians have also gathered veterans' stories, stories of young Canadians from previous generations who left their loved ones, stories of their courage under enemy fire, of their determination in the face of insurmountable obstacles, and of their fallen friends. These stories bear witness to their extraordinary valour and perseverance.
On the front lines of two great wars, in Korea and in troublespots around the world, our soldiers have prevailed—shoulder to shoulder—against such threats.
The Canadian way of life has prevailed because these men and women refused to be defeated by such evil. They remained committed to our ideals, and a better vision of the world.
Still today, liberty does not come without its price. I am referring to the loss of our young soldiers, those heroic Canadians, who are making a tremendous sacrifice and risking their lives to protect our way of life.
The Prime Minister talked about that vision recently when he spoke to the nation about the need to confront the menace of terror. As he said, “the horrors of the world will not go away if we turn a blind eye to them, no matter how far off they may be”.
Of course, we can also take comfort from knowing we are prepared to meet these challenges. We have the best-trained soldiers in the world, the most professional and disciplined soldiers in the world, and they commit themselves to their missions 100%.
What is new is simply this: we now have a government that is equally committed to supporting them in return.
We make sure that our soldiers, men and women, also have the equipment and resources they need. As well, our government is prepared to support them and their families when tragedy strikes. That is the least we can do for them. We owe our veterans our profound gratitude for their sacrifices and their deeds. We owe them our unflagging support.
That is why I am proud to be part of a government that not only acknowledges this debt, but also is committed to honouring its obligations to veterans. For example, I know that health care is a matter of particular importance to veterans. The government is committed to ensuring that they will never have to worry about access to the health care that they need and they deserve. We want to be sure that the new veterans’ charter continues to measure up to its commitment to providing the essential support and services for the courageous young Canadian men and women who are serving their country today.
As well, there will be a fair resolution of the issue of agent orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick. We will also be preparing a bill of veterans rights and we will appoint a veterans ombudsman, two measures that will ensure that no veteran will be denied the respectful and dignified treatment he or she deserves.
I want to be sure that no Canadian ever forgets the actions taken by our veterans to deserve that respect and dignity. I want to thank them for the legacy of freedom that they have bequeathed to us.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in this debate today. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to thank the member for for his work not just on this motion but generally on behalf of veterans. He gave some very moving comments this morning about his family's experience in Holland and their gratitude for the work that our armed forces did at that time.
On a personal note, I can certainly say that my years of experience of working with our armed forces personnel have allowed me to observe their dedication and their willingness to serve wherever and whenever they are asked by the government to do so.
A month ago, on October 5, I spoke in support of a bill to honour our soldiers by designating a peacekeepers day. It was a symbol of our gratitude, of our recognition of the service of soldiers who have risked their lives, and continue to do so, in the service of our country, of peace and of democracy.
Today, through this motion, we can do more than offer a token of gratitude. We can actually rectify a number of unjust situations that veterans and their families continue to face.
I will focus in particular on two aspects of this motion that several of my constituents have either spoken or written to me about. I will begin with clause 2 of the motion that proposes to extend the veterans independence program to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death.
The veterans independence program is a national home care program provided by Veterans Affairs Canada. It depends on the person's circumstances, health and needs, but it includes housekeeping, ground maintenance, personal care services, health support services and access to nutrition. The program was established to help clients remain healthy and independent in their own homes or communities. Widows whose husbands died prior to 1981 are not eligible for the program, nor are those widows whose husbands did not receive VIP benefits prior to their death.
The interesting thing about this part of the motion is that it would actually save money for the government by allowing seniors to stay in their homes longer. Many of the women cared for their husbands in their homes for years, assisting them with daily living and other caregiving duties. Some of these women are now facing declining health and need these services. Access to these services would give special recognition of their supportive work and allow many of them, as I said, to remain healthy and independent in their homes.
This is no simple program gap. It is a serious omission with real life consequences for Canadians every day.
Just this spring a local Royal Canadian Legion brought to my attention a case of a veteran from my riding who passed away in November 2005. Before he died, the Department of Veterans Affairs had installed a chairlift in his home. His wife, who is also not well, has difficulty with her mobility and is not able to get around in the house without the aid of the chairlift, yet they came to this veteran's home in late March of this year, a few months after his death, to remove the chairlift. They did not phone the veteran's wife or family to inquire about an opportune time to remove the lift, nor whether the lift was still required by the veteran's spouse.
The legion pointed out that this veteran's widow deserves to be able to use the chairlift. After all, she was the one who raised their children on her own while her husband was away serving our country in a theatre of war.
Her family is trying to give their aged mother the dignity of remaining in her own home for as long as possible, and it is not possible without the chairlift. I agree that it is the very least we can do to honour this woman for her sacrifice and the sacrifice of her husband to allow this device to stay for as long as she needs it. This chairlift I am happy to report is still in the home, but only because this couple's son stood strong and refused to let MEDIchair remove it.
It should not fall to the families of Canadian veterans to defend their parents' right to live with dignity. That should be a given from the government that waxes poetic about its commitment to our troops, yet somehow has continued to let the troops and their families fall through the cracks in their later years.
Now is the time to do more than talk about honouring our soldiers. The Conservatives can keep the promise the Prime Minister made while in opposition and help the spouses and the families of our veterans.
A second way to do that is to eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled Canadian Forces members. The service pensions of retired Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel are reduced significantly when the pensioner receives CPP or CPP disability benefits. This reduction formula is especially punishing for the military personnel and the RCMP now disabled and in receipt of CPP disability benefits.
Eliminating this clawback would assist in recognizing their special contributions to our country. During their working years they face dangerous conditions, extended family separations, hazards to health and safety, long stretches of overtime, and have to re-establish family life with new postings many times over their career.
One of my constituents recently wrote me to tell his story. When he became a pensioner on February 22, a portion of his Canadian Forces annuity, equal to about 70¢ per dollar of CPP disability pension, was clawed back. He wrote:
I have contributed to both the Canadian Forces Superannuation Plan and the Canada Pension Plan for all of my working life. I know that CF and RCMP members were SUPPOSED to have contributed to CPP at a lower rate than others; however, my records show that I have contributed the maximum allowable amount every year from 1974 to 2005. Both the CFSA and the CPP are pension plans, to which one contributes with the understanding that when one retires, one collects the benefits of that pension plan at the rate to which one has become entitled.
These two issues are in addition to three others that the Royal Canadian Legion has brought to our attention. This motion seeks to allow a veteran's spouse to receive pension benefits upon the veteran's death, removing this desperately antiquated clause that unfairly penalizes older women.
This motion would push to increase the inadequate survivors pension amount from 50% to 60% to give our veterans and their families comparable treatment from superannuation and survivor benefits to those received by individuals in public or private pension plans.
These five points are no-brainers in my opinion in recognizing the exceptional contribution and sacrifice of our Canadian Forces veterans and their families. Our inaction is a disservice to those who have served us very well. There are surely more issues than these to address, but let these five points be a beginning.
I would briefly like to mention the next immediate step to take after this and that is to reconsider the discontinuance of danger pay to our injured soldiers in Afghanistan. This is another issue that cuts to the heart of how we recognize the contribution of military families. Their family member comes home from a theatre of war with an injury and we dock his or her pay for getting injured. I agree with a constituent of mine who wrote, “I am in awe that Ottawa can't see the harm that is being caused to the morale of our troops over a relatively small amount of money”.
When a government makes that most solemn decision to send the men and women of our Canadian Forces to war, those men and women respond with wholehearted courage and commitment. Once our veterans have served Canada, it is time for Canada to serve our veterans.
Mr. Speaker, I want to rise today to speak in support of this New Democrat opposition day motion as the defence critic for my party and also in support of the veterans in my riding in New Westminster, in Coquitlam and in Port Moody.
I also want to take a moment to pay tribute to my colleague from who has worked so hard on veterans issues over so many years, understands them thoroughly and has actually done the research that brings this motion forward today for debate.
My grandfather volunteered to serve in the first world war as a young boy of 15. He was accepted and went overseas as a 15 year old. My father served in the second world war.
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to travel to Vimy Ridge, tour the monuments to the Canadian war dead from the first world war and go through the tunnels that the young Canadian soldiers were in during the night before they were told to go out over the top and attack the enemy lines.
When I was in Vimy Ridge and in that tunnel and was being given what I must say was a magnificent tour by a young Canadian university student, I saw carved into the wall of the tunnel a maple leaf. That maple leaf had been carved there by a young person who had been sent over to fight in the first world war. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought about that young person who spent that night in those tunnels before being sent out to fight in that terrible, terrible war, and I wondered about him and his family and whether he survived.
I also took the opportunity with my family to travel to Beaumont-Hamel, where there is a wonderful park that has been given to Canadians by the French government, as Vimy has, and is maintained. There is also a museum there that speaks to the Newfoundland Regiment, which had a higher percentage of soldiers killed than any other Commonwealth country. So many from Newfoundland were killed on that July 1 day.
This summer, my family and I travelled to Juno Beach, to Normandy, and saw the new museum there. While we were there on the beach, I came across a family from Victoria. These people were there with their father, a veteran of the landings at Juno Beach. I was struck in talking to this veteran by his modesty, his sense that he was only doing what he had to do, that he was not doing any more than the country expected of him when he put his life in danger that day, and when he lost friends and comrades in the landings at Juno Beach. His sense of modesty really touched my heart when he talked about his contributions of valour and bravery. He thought it was just the right thing to do.
These are the people we are talking about today. They are the very kind of people we are talking about. They are the sons and daughters of working class people who put their lives on hold, who put their youth on hold, and went to fight in Canada's wars. These are the people who deserve dignity and respect and the support they should be getting in their older years.
There are five components to the motion we have before us.
One of them would eliminate what is called the gold digger clause and would allow veterans' spouses to have the pension benefits upon their death. The root of this goes back to 1901 and the Militia Pension Act, which had the intent of preventing young women from marrying Boer war veterans for the purpose of collecting their pensions.
The clock has moved forward. The calendar has moved forward. This is a ridiculous kind of provision to have now. It also disqualifies spouses from receiving dental or health benefits. It is insulting to assume that spouses, women or men, would marry for some small amount of pension benefits. It is time for the government to eliminate this clause and to get with it and get into this century, particularly in terms of how women are treated by pension legislation.
We are also asking that the veterans independence program be extended to all widows regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether he was in receipt of the VIP services prior to his death.
All widows, based on need, should be eligible for VIP services. These services depend upon one's circumstances and health needs, but they include the very kinds of services that allow widows to stay in their homes, be independent and not be a burden on the health care system in Canada and, as my colleague from Victoria said, would actually save us money in many respects.
Many widows came to Canada as war brides after the second world war. One of those women is a person in my riding named Yetty Foulds. She lives in Maillardville in Coquitlam. She is the president of the Greater Vancouver War Brides Association and the secretary of our local legion in the city of Coquitlam. She is the poppy chairperson. She organizes special candlelight services every October which gives veterans the opportunity to pass a candle on to the young people in our community. It is a way of passing the torch to remember and to instil in the young people in our community a sense of our history and the sacrifice that our veterans have made over the years.
The third point in this opposition day motion would increase the survivor's pension amount upon the death of a Canadian Forces retiree. It asks that the pension amount be increased from the current 50% to 66%, which is much more in line with other private and public pensions in Canada.
If this change were made it would recognize the contribution of the Canadian Forces personnel and their families. We feel they should receive the same fair and equitable treatment from their superannuation benefits that others do from public or private pension plans. I want to reiterate that all spouses should have fair access to the pensions of their partners.
The fourth point in our motion calls for the elimination of the unfair reduction in the SISIP, the long term disability benefits for medically released members of the Canadian Forces. This plan does not necessarily pay the whole 75% that it can pay. It takes into account other sources of income that a former member may receive and that is offset from the SISIP paid directly. This offset includes the Veterans Affairs Canada disability pension. It offsets the amount from a veterans affairs disability pension from the SISIP long term disability plan.
The veterans disability pension should not be considered income but disability benefits to compensate for injuries sustained in the line of duty. This is an unfair policy and it places an incredible financial hardship on disabled Canadian Forces personnel. We are asking the government to eliminate this unfair policy. It is something the Conservatives talked about doing while they were in opposition and therefore I urge them now to act while they are in government and have the power to do this.
The last part of the motion calls for the elimination of the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled Canadian Forces members. I know my colleague from has a private member's bill on this. Members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP have roles and a lifestyle distinct from those of us in the House of Commons and from the community at large. They face dangerous conditions, family separations and conditions that are hazardous to their health and safety. They need to re-establish family life many times with new postings.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that veterans and their families should be accorded the utmost respect in Canada. This respect must include ensuring they and their families have the support they need to remain healthy and independent. I call upon the government and all members of the House to support this opposition day motion in advance of Remembrance Day.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for .
I would like to commend my colleague from the other corner of this chamber, the member for , for bringing forward a very important to-do list for Parliament in relation to the needs of our veterans.
As we enter upon the remembrance period, with Veterans Week about to begin, the timing of this is very appropriate. My colleague has asked the House to consider five very important measures, each of which will have importance to our veterans.
Before I get into the particulars, I would like to not only commend our legions from coast to coast, but commend the 15 legions in my own riding of that have carried the torch of remembrance on behalf of those who did not come home from wars and peacekeeping missions, past and present, and on behalf of those who came home injured and those who, thankfully, came home in better health. Regardless of how they returned from the wars, peacekeeping or peace time service, they all deserve our absolute and utmost respect now. They have provided and do provide a special service to our country and, without question, as we support our troops now we must support our retired troops, whether they were air, land or sea.
One of the things that I have learned in my years as a member of Parliament is that most of our veterans, when they first entered the service, were very young. Many of them were in their teens, even some in the early teens, but certainly late teens. If any of us remember back to our teen years, the last thing we thought about was what we would do when we retired from whatever our life's work would be. It was the last thing on our minds.
I am thinking of Tom Morrissette in Massey, Ontario, who turned 80 this past August. He injured a knee within a few weeks of basic training, which, for his whole life, has caused him difficulty. However, because he was only a teenager, he was afraid to go to the higher ups to report his injury. He was concerned that he would be picked out as being weaker than the rest, which he certainly was not. His injury was genuine and it happened during basic training. He was one of tens of thousands of young people who entered the service with a certain degree of naiveté. They were happy and honoured to serve their country and not really concerned about the long term. They left it up to the powers that be to ensure things would be there for them.
It is not just like taking a job at the local factory. Entering the military service for our country is a special undertaking. We owe it to our veterans to bring our minds back as much as possible to 50 and 60 years ago, and more if necessary for some of our older veterans, back to the days before Korea. Just a few years ago, before the conflicts in which our troops are now engaged, we could imagine what young people were concerned about. Most of them were concerned about what would happen to them if they got injured. That is our job.
I really appreciate the member for bringing forward this list of important measures that we are debating today. I will be supporting the motion when it comes to a vote because I think the veterans affairs committee, on behalf of the House, needs to and should do a very thorough study of every one of these measures. Some of the measures, as proposed in the motion, are easier to grapple than others but every one of them, regardless of that, needs to be grappled.
I have no dispute with the notion that the second wife of a veteran should qualify for a pension. Current measures are simply an anachronism. Who would not wish anything but a happy life for a veteran who decides to remarry? We simply need to do the analysis and get that right.
When it comes to the veterans independence program, we simply need go no further than to refer to the current 's promise made during a campaign, and I think the word “immediately” was used, that a new Conservative government--which is what the Conservatives claim they are; I am not sure they are new, but they are a Conservative government--would immediately implement the VIP for all widows regardless of the date of death of a veteran.
We are ready to go. I urge my colleagues across the way to encourage the in caucus to get on this. The finance minister will be reporting his economic statement to the House I believe in the third week of November, after the recess week following Remembrance Day. I hope during that economic update he will introduce measures to immediately implement the VIP for all widows of veterans.
Indeed, there are a number of measures that he needs to institute to make up for the disaster of the income trust announcement a couple of days ago. It would be a good start, along with other measures he could announce and confirm toward making things better for senior veterans.
Who are our veterans? They are people who live among us and who deliberately put their lives at risk for us. Most of us here will never have to suffer the ravages of war. We really depend on them to carry that torch to make sure we never forget and we thank them. We thank our legions and veterans.
My good friend, the member for , who is a great advocate for veterans, always talks about one of his constituents, Mrs. Joyce Carter. She has been a constant reminder to all of us of the importance of getting on with the veterans independence program.
Our legions are not only local institutions which provide services to the community at large but individual veterans are among the greatest volunteers communities can have. The activities in my riding throughout the year, and I am sure all members in the House can relate to similar stories, whether they are remembrance activities or events in the community sponsored by the legion, are far too numerous to count. Their continued efforts on behalf of all of us are efforts for which we must be very grateful.
They not only gave their lives and put their lives in danger but they continue to do that in service to the country today. Many of them are very frail. Those of us who thought a few years ago that the legion and remembrance movement would diminish over time as our veterans passed away have thankfully been proven wrong. It has been my experience that the remembrance movement in northern Ontario, particularly in my riding and elsewhere, is extremely strong and is getting stronger. There are more events.
I was at a Korea vets dinner a couple of weeks ago in Elliot Lake. I will be at the legion branch dinner Saturday night. I will be at the remembrance ceremony in Kapuskasing on November 11 and then on to Hearst. I will get to many events across my riding. In fact, there are so many events I cannot get to them all, but thankfully our veterans are doing that for us.
But they are frail and they do need our attention, whether it is by increasing the survivors pension from 50% to 66% or dealing with the service income security insurance plan. We need to look at why there is a compromise to the benefits. We certainly need to look at the integration of the superannuation with the CPP, which occurred back in the 1960s. Let us review that. Let us make sure we have it right. Any clawback is not appropriate considering the special honour and special thanks we owe to our veterans.
We see the torch being passed on. I thank my colleagues and we thank our veterans.
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise in the House today to participate in this extremely important and timely topic. It is timely because we are in process of starting Veterans Week next week and it ends on Remembrance Day, November 11. Every member of Parliament participates fully in the thousands and thousands of Remembrance Day ceremonies that take place across our great country.
In my riding of we have the main ceremony at the Cenotaph on Grafton Street. It is followed by a reception at the Daniel J. MacDonald Building, which is the headquarters of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Then there are other ceremonies at the legion and other places, for a full day and a good day.
There is one very unfortunate trend I have noticed in my last six years as the member of Parliament. The fortunate trend is that the crowds are getting larger and larger every year. We are getting two or three hundred more people at this ceremony, which is tremendous. It shows the importance that the Canadian public attributes to this day and to this event.
However, there is an unfortunate trend, and I guess it is a fact of life. The number of World War II veterans on parade have become less and less each and every year. Six or seven years ago we would see hundreds of them on parade and that is down substantially, which is unfortunate.
I mentioned my riding of . It is very proud to be the location of the headquarters of the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 1,200 workers in that department. There is also another office in Ottawa. These people do a tremendous job and I am proud of each and every one of them. I deal with them, represent them and talk to them. I get a lot of the veterans issues not only in November during Veterans Week, but each and every day of the year.
One tremendous event has happened in the past year. That is the passage of the Veterans Charter, which came into effect on April 1 last year. I believe every member of this House can take some credit for that. It was an opportunity where all parties put aside their partisan differences. It did not take days, it took hours to pass that tremendous legislation. The honour bestowed to veterans is a great credit to the House. The charter sets out a new way to deal with the injured veteran and it will pay dividends in the years to come.
I will be supporting the motion before the House. It is an omnibus motion. It contains five separate issues all relating to veterans but not relating to each other. Some of them are simple. It is a matter of just doing it. I do not understand why we do not just do it this afternoon, and I will speak to that. Some are not simple. The adjustment of the pensions for veterans when they turn 65 years of age is not a simple matter. I am not going to say this is a simple matter and that the can do this with the stroke of a pen.
I will support the motion to send it to committee so the matter can be studied, analyzed and reviewed. We have heard some costs of $200 million. I heard one recently of $20 billion, so let us get the figures and see what we can do to improve the pensions for veterans. That is my objective.
One thing I will not call it is a clawback because it is not. Anyone who calls it a clawback, really does not understand how that pension was calculated. It is a blending of the Canada Pension Plan and that is the way it has been calculated. It has been done like that for years. It is the same as other federal, provincial and municipal civil service pensions, but, again, it is a matter to refer to committee.
However, let us talk about some simple issues. The first one is the veterans independence program. At one time until about three years ago, it was available for the surviving spouse of deceased veterans for a period only of 12 years after the death of the veteran.
Through lobbying of a lot members on both sides of the House, that was changed to allow the surviving spouse to get it for his or her remaining years, and in most cases it was a her. That was a tremendous development, and it is one for which I believe every member in the House deserves some credit. However, in doing that, we did not go all the way. Right now there are surviving spouses whose husbands perhaps were entitled to the benefits of the program, but died before the program initially came into existence, and I believe that was 1991.
I lobbied hard, as did other members, to get it extended to all surviving spouses. When I campaigned during the 2004 election campaign, I ran across three or four surviving spouses. They told me what they thought. They asked me why they could not get the benefit of the veterans independence program. I did not have an answer for them. It was very unfortunate.
We as parliamentarians have to correct this and we have to correct it immediately. The husbands of two of those surviving spouses were amputees. I would surmise and speculate that the reason they died prior to the earlier date was because they suffered a premature death due to respiratory and circulatory issues. As a result, these surviving spouses are not eligible for this very small benefit.
The party in government made a simple promise. It promised to immediately rectify this issue. Immediate in my background means doing it right away, and already nine months have passed. Is there anyone in the House who can explain to me why we cannot do it right away, and by right away, I mean today?
We had a very unfortunate incident yesterday where the party in power broke a promise. I think for generations to come, November 1 will be known as “black Wednesday”. Maybe we can follow “black Wednesday” with “white Thursday”, do the right thing and pass this provision, which I do not think is a big budgetary item. Members know where I stand on this issue.
The first step deals with section 31(1) of the act, dealing with the provision that the new spouse of a veteran who gets married later in life is not eligible as a survivor under his pension. I do not think it is appropriate, but it has been referred to as the “gold digger clause”. That goes back to an earlier era of situations like the dowry where the wife was a chattel of the husband. We have moved on from that. That is a very sexist issue.
We should just move on and pass this and not wait another day. We should get it done right now.