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ACVA Committee Report

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In its May 1996 report, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada conducted an in-depth analysis of how health care is provided to veterans by Veterans Affairs Canada.[1] One of the report’s findings was that there was no “comprehensive plan to meet the future health care needs of its clients.”[2] Then, from 1996 to 2000, the Department conducted a Review of Veterans Care Needs. This analysis focused on the future of health care, particularly long-term care, to be provided to a steadily aging generation of veterans. However, it highlighted deeper questions about the very nature of the Department’s activities, as more and more veterans of that generation pass on, and as the Department’s clients become younger and relatively fewer in number. In light of these questions, the Veterans Affairs Canada — Canadian Forces Advisory Council was established to address the needs of this new generation of veterans.

The Veterans Affairs Canada — Canadian Forces Advisory Council was established by Veterans Affairs Canada in July 2000 to offer expert, arms-length advice, within the scope of that Department’s mandate, on how to address challenges facing members and veterans of the Canadian Forces and their families. The advisory council has been meeting twice yearly in pursuit of that objective. During its October 2002 meeting, the council concluded that, despite numerous improvements in the range of services and benefits now available to these very deserving Canadians, the time had come for comprehensive reform.[3]

The Advisory Council presented a rather bleak picture for medically released Canadian Forces (CF) members and their families. The range of programs to support the re-establishment of released military personnel following the Second World War and the Korean War gradually disappeared as these veterans grew older, and there was nothing comparable to support the re-establishment of the generations of veterans who enrolled after the Korean War. At the turn of the millennium, these veterans were eligible for financial benefits under the Pension Act and health care programs, but only on the strict condition that the care was related to the health problem for which the veteran was receiving a pension.

Six priorities were identified by the Advisory Council:

First, we urgently need a complete and thorough overhaul of the way the Canadian Forces members and veterans are compensated for injury.
Second, we need the development of a robust program of transition services and benefits. This must be easily accessible, responsive to client needs, timely and flexible.
Third, we need the development of policies that will enhance the support provided to spouses and children, most particularly in the areas of health care and structural economic inequalities.
Fourth, we need the expansion of existing health care benefits to reflect a more comprehensive mental health strategy and new approaches to rehabilitation, retraining and wellness.
Fifth, there should be acknowledgement of the government’s duty to accommodate disabled members of the Canadian Forces through an enhanced priority for employment in the public service.
Sixth, there should be the provision of equitable access to funeral and burial benefits for deceased Canadian Forces veterans.[4]

On 4 May 2004, in response to the Veterans Affairs Canada — Canadian Forces Advisory Council report, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable John McCallum, announced that the government was planning to “undertake the most fundamental reform of Veterans’ programs since the Second World War.”[5] This announcement also launched a wave of consultations on the five key components of this reform:

  • Disability awards and wellness programs to replace today’s pension system for new applicants;
  • Physical and psychological rehabilitation services, including vocational training and education;
  • Earnings loss support for veterans undergoing rehabilitation, as well as longer-term support for veterans who can no longer work because of a service-related illness or injury;
  • Job placement assistance;
  • More extensive health benefits to meet the needs of veterans and their families.[6]

On 20 April 2005, the Honourable Albina Guarnieri, Minister of Veterans Affairs at the time, introduced in the House of Commons Bill C-45, An Act to provide services, assistance and compensation to or in respect of Canadian Forces members and veterans and to make amendments to certain Acts (short title: Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act). On 10 May 2005, fearing that the minority government would be defeated and the bill would die on the Order Paper, the Minister, following consultations with the other political parties, proposed that exceptional measures be taken by unanimous consent to pass all stages of the bill on the same day: “I rise to advance an investment in future veterans, to advance the prospects of a better life for people who have served their country, and to advance a new veterans charter.”[7] That same day, a debate was conducted in the Senate following the speech of the bill’s sponsor in the Upper Chamber, the Honourable Roméo Dallaire. The bill was immediately adopted at second reading and referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, since the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence was travelling that week. The committee met the next evening, on 11 May 2005, and held a marathon four-and-a-half-hour session, during which the Minister said: “Times have changed, however, and veterans need a new social contract with Canadians. They need a new support system that keeps pace with their needs. They need a living veterans charter.”[8]

Despite overwhelming enthusiasm, there were a few dissenters,[9] although they did not persuade the senators to delay passage of the bill. Although the critics did acknowledge that there had indeed been very broad consultations on the program details to be implemented, no consultations had been held on the bill itself. To address some of these concerns, the Minister made a commitment to quickly address any shortcomings that might appear once the legislation came into force and during the process of developing the associated regulations. It is that commitment that made the NVC a “living document”: “What we are presenting here is what was negotiated and what was acceptable at this point in time. My attitude is that this is a living charter. It is malleable and open to improvements down the road.”[10]

On 12 May 2005 at 3:00 p.m. the report, recommending adoption of the bill without amendment, was adopted. The bill received Royal Assent on Friday, 13 May 2005.

[1]             Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report, May 1996, chapter 12.

[2]             Ibid., para. 12.2.

[3]             Peter Neary, Chair, Veterans Affairs Canada — Canadian Forces Advisory Council, Evidence, Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, 5 May 2004.

[4]             Ibid.

[5]             Hon. John McCallum, Minister of Veterans Affairs, “Minister McCallum Announces a Vision For A Modern-Day Veterans Charter”, 4 May 2004 press conference.

[6]             Ibid.

[7]             The Hon. Albina Guarnieri, Minister of Veterans Affairs, Hansard, 38th Parliament, 1st Session, 10 May 2005, 1110.

[8]             The Hon. Albina Guarnieri, Minister of Veterans Affairs, Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, Evidence, 11 May 2005, Issue No. 23, p. 10.

[9]             Of the 14 witnesses heard during the session, 3 asked that the bill be given further study: Captain (ret.) Sean Bruyea; Louise Richard, Lieutenant Navy; and Harold Leduc, Immediate Past National President, Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association.

[10]           The Hon. Albina Guarnieri, Minister of Veterans Affairs, Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, Evidence, 11 May 2005, Issue No. 23, p. 22.