That the House call on the Prime Minister to apologize to veterans for his insensitive comments at a recent town hall in Edmonton and show veterans the respect that they deserve by fulfilling his campaign promise to them, when he said on August 24, 2015, that “If I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned”.
He said: Mr. Speaker, we often find ourselves tasked with debating very complex and difficult subjects in this place. However, we should not complain. After all, what greater honour is there than to be sent here by our fellow citizens to speak on their behalf? We do not always rise to the occasion. We have all been guilty at some point of taking the easy road and reading talking points. We have all been guilty at some point of approaching an issue with partisan blinders on. We have all been guilty at some point of failing to acknowledge the value of an opposing view. As you have pointed out to me personally, Mr. Speaker, on more than one occasion, we have all been guilty of unnecessarily boisterous outbursts. I believe some call it heckling.
Today, we will be debating something far less complex and far more straightforward than what we often do. Today, we are debating whether the should do the honourable thing and apologize to veterans for breaking the promise he made to them.
The wording of the motion is unambiguous. It reads:
That the House call on the Prime Minister to apologize to veterans for his insensitive comments at a recent town hall in Edmonton and show veterans the respect that they deserve by fulfilling his campaign promise to them, when he said on August 24, 2015, that “If I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned”.
The facts are clear. The 's words were widely reported at the time. No one from the government side disputes that he said these words. In fact, they were repeated at rallies, on social media, and at doorsteps all over the land. It was an election, and promises had to be made. The Liberals might regret that the Prime Minister said these words. They might wish veterans would forget that the Prime Minister said these words. However, the Prime Minister did say these words, and veterans will not forget that he made that promise to them.
I have had the honour of giving voice to the aspirations of my riding of Brantford—Brant for nearly a decade now. Over the course of those years, if I have learned anything, it is that words matter. We should consider the oppressive regimes our valiant warriors have fought against. Nazis burned books, because words matter. The Taliban did the same. It closed schools and went about robbing young women of their ability to read, because words matter. North Korea continues to suppress free speech and the freedom of the press, because words matter.
Some may be thinking what I am doing. Surely I am not comparing the Liberals to Nazis. My hon. colleagues can rest assured that I am not. That might be how others prefer to slur their political opponents. However, that would be a gross injustice to those who suffered under that hideous regime, and I will not do that. I consider the members opposite to be honourable, and I know that they understand the importance of their own words. Canadians of all political persuasions have, for decades, willingly sacrificed everything to fight those oppressive regimes and defend the freedoms we enjoy.
Words matter. We call this place Parliament because it is where we gather as a nation to speak to one another. Canadians take people at their word because words matter. It is not just a quaint custom of a bygone era. Our word is our bond. “Honour” is a word, a word that those in uniform do not just throw around.
If the answers we have been getting during question period are any indication of what we will hear from MPs on the government side today, then, sadly, we can expect a failure to rise to this occasion. I predict that MPs on the government side will be tempted to rise and tell us that all is well. They will be tempted to tell us how grateful all veterans should be.
The Liberals will be tempted to inflate dollar figures and omit that those figures are costed but not funded. They will be tempted to use imaginary examples of veterans and boast about how much that avatar will receive. They will be tempted to rhyme off lists of benefits, some of which are just pre-existing benefits that have been repackaged and renamed. They will be tempted to tell us that the has kept his promise, despite veterans and veterans' advocates saying, very loudly, that they have been betrayed. They will be tempted to ignore the fact that access to benefits has almost ground to a halt. There are 29,000 disability claims in the current backlog.
Without question, the Liberals will be tempted to attack the Conservatives' record in government, and why not? It is easier than taking responsibility for the 's words. I hope I am wrong. I hope my hon. colleagues will resist the temptation to shift debate away from the subject at hand. I hope the first speaker on the government side simply rises in his or her place and states that the government supports the motion. I hope that the does not force government MPs to circle the wagons around him and just owns up to his words. We will see.
Again, the question today is a simple one. The question today is whether or not the should do the honourable thing and apologize to veterans for breaking his promise to them.
How did we get here? On August 24, 2015, at a campaign rally in Belleville, Ontario, the , flanked by smiling Liberal candidates, some of them veterans, some of them current government MPs, stated:
If I earn the right to serve this country as your prime minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned....
There were no caveats, no wiggle words, just a clear promise to veterans. The Liberal candidates who stood behind him that day clapped and smiled. Those in the audience also clapped. Some were heard cheering loudly. Why would they not? They, along with veterans across the country, were taking the at his word. The Prime Minister for his part paused with a smile and a twinkle of satisfaction in his eye, and basked in the glow of this adulation. It is clear from the videos online that he was quite pleased with himself, and it was clear which veterans he was referencing.
The Equitas Society had taken the previous government to court. That is a fact. There is no sense in pretending otherwise. What is also a fact is that the case was in abeyance when the spoke those words. The plaintiffs and the Conservative government were at the negotiating table and not fighting things out in court. It is also a fact that on May 16, 2016, the abeyance period expired without resolution when the wrote the B.C. Court of Appeal and stated that, in her view, and we can presume that this was the view of the government and the , the court was now free to deliver judgment.
In other words, the government decided that it would force these veterans to fight their own government. Clearly, this is a promise broken. It is quite simple really. What else could anyone conclude? The Liberals took this decision less than nine months after the made his promise to veterans and, I would add, only six months after being sworn in, making it one of the very first decision the Liberals made.
How sincere was the that day in Belleville? Only he knows. They were his words. It was his bond. All we know for certain is that he has broken his promise. However, here is something else we know. In late 2016, while this group of veterans was being forced to fight the government in court, another group of veterans was bringing forward its case. This new class action case was being brought forward by female veterans who were fighting the government for a safe environment, free from sexual harassment.
Let me repeat that. The Liberal government is currently fighting women who have unselfishly heeded their country's call to service, because these women had the audacity to claim that they deserved to serve their country in a safe environment, free from sexual harassment. To be fair, it was not the government that launched the case, but how did it respond? Did it tell these veterans that their arguments are concerning and invite them to discuss a solution? No. Government lawyers argued that the government is not obligated and does not owe these women, these veterans, a duty of care to provide them with a safe and harassment-free environment.
When this came to light, the was quick to say that he had put justice department lawyers on notice, stating that the argument was of concern to him. He also asked the , the same justice minister who killed the negotiations with the Equitas Society veterans, to follow up with those lawyers to make sure that they argued things that are consistent with the government's philosophy. Again, these veterans are not being offered an abeyance or negotiations. The is going to keep the case going. He intends to defeat them in court, forcing them to fight their own government. This is a broken promise.
What is the government's philosophy vis-à-vis veterans? Perhaps the 's comments to one of our disabled veterans at a recent town hall in Edmonton can shed some light on this.
Why is the government still fighting certain veterans' groups in court? According to the , they are asking for more than we can afford. However, it goes even deeper than that. Yesterday the voted against a private member's bill, sponsored by our colleague, the member for . The bill sought to ensure that veterans, their families, and survivors would be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. Is that really more than we can afford?
Veterans and their duties are unique among Canadians. We have an obligation to care for veterans because of the sacrifices made by them. That obligation extends to the experiences of their families. The care, treatment, and transition of Canadian Armed Forces to civil life should be dealt with in a timely manner. Is that really more than we can afford?
The former minister of veterans affairs, the Hon. George Hees, a decorated Second World War veteran himself, was once quoted as saying, “When I was appointed Minister, I told all employees to remember three words: speed, generosity, and courtesy.” That is not a complicated formula: speed, generosity, courtesy. To that list I would add honesty. I think if you ask most veterans they'll tell you that speed, generosity, courtesy, and honesty add up to respect.
Recently in Victoria, I was privileged to join my caucus colleagues and veterans at a veterans round table. These were people who had served and who now advocate for other veterans and assist them in their dealings with Veterans Affairs Canada. We had a fairly lengthy discussion about the issues that they were facing, but the word “respect” was repeated over and over again. At the very end when we were wrapping up, one of the veterans' wives reminded us of that word one more time when she said to us, “If you have heard anything, please remember one word, and that is respect.”
Perhaps it is time to start listening closer to the words of veterans and veterans' advocates. Their words matter.
Don Sorochan, lead counsel for the Equitas Society said, “The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don't have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament, on the election campaign”.
Mark Campbell, a veteran, a double amputee who lost his legs from the knee down in Afghanistan, and a member of the ' very own policy advisory group, said, “The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game.” Sean Bruyea, another veteran and veterans advocate, said that “the government merely resurrected ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodelled and repackaged programs that already exist.”
Another said, “It's fair to say the disappointment (with the new plan) has been immense because it just didn't do the trick.... If you're going to make a promise to provide lifetime pensions, then do it.” Those words were spoken by Brian Forbes, the executive director of War Amps Canada and chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations of Canada.
For four days now, Colin Saunders, a veteran, has been camped just outside this building to raise awareness for homeless veterans. Today, he has been joined by other veterans as they protest their treatment by Veterans Affairs. He describes his dealings with the current government as “combat”. Let that sink in. He says it is “combat” with a government led by a who promised them they would not have to fight their own government. These are not the words of partisans. These are not the government's political opponents. These are the words of veterans, veterans' spouses, and veterans' advocates. Their only purpose is to ensure veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned.
Let us try to remember that today this is not about comparing records. I ask the government to avoid the temptation to rise and tell us all is well. It is not. Prove me wrong. Resist the temptation to shift debate away from the subject at hand.
Today is about answering a simple question, and that is whether the should do the honourable thing and apologize to veterans for breaking the promise he made to them. On this side, we say he cannot afford not to do so.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to be here today to talk about something that is near and dear to me, our veterans.
The Government of Canada's support for Canadian Armed Forces members, for veterans, and for their families starts at recruitment, continues throughout their careers, and extends throughout their lives.
We owe an immeasurable debt to our veterans, to the fallen, and to the families who love them.
These words were from our , this November, who went on to say:
Just as our servicemen and women have taken care of us, we must also take care of them. It is our sacred duty as a country to be there for our heroes when they need us most.
Words count, but it is actions that matter most. Our did indeed make several promises to veterans, and to all Canadians, and we have been working hard to deliver on them. Since coming into office, our government has delivered on many commitments made in the campaign and given to the in his mandate letter.
We increased compensation for pain and suffering by increasing the disability award from a maximum of $310,000 to $360,000. We made retroactive payments to 67,000 veterans under the new veterans charter. We increased income replacement from 75% of a veteran's pre-release salary to 90%.
We reopened the nine Veterans Affairs Canada offices that had been closed, thereby restoring veterans' access to services in Corner Brook, Brandon, Sidney, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Charlottetown, Thunder Bay, Windsor, and Prince George. For example, the Kelowna office reopened in 2016, adding eight new front-line employees to improve access to Veterans Affairs Canada services for veterans and their families in the province. The new office serves some 3,500 veterans and enables approximately 100 veterans to meet with their case manager in person. We also opened a new office in Surrey. It serves about 7,500 veterans and enables some 206 veterans to meet with their case manager in person.
We created a brand new education benefit that will give up to $80,000 to Canadian Armed Forces members to go back to school once they have served a certain number of years. We are investing in families by expanding access to all 32 military family resource centres. I have had the great pleasure of visiting a dozen of them across this country.
As the proud mother of two Canadian Armed Forces members, I am grateful that these resources are there for them. In two years we have implemented many of the changes veterans asked for.
The member for said it best when he said, “The previous government had lost and had become disconnected with veterans, lost a lot of the trust.” He called it a fair criticism, and I will take him at his word.
This December, we announced one of our key promises. The was clear in his mandate letter to the :
Re-establish lifelong pensions as an option for our injured Veterans, while ensuring that every injured Veteran has access to financial advice and support so that they can determine the form of compensation that works best for them and their families.
We did this.
The pension for life is based on three pillars. The first is a monthly tax-free payment for life up to a maximum of $1,150 per month to recognize pain and suffering. Veterans experiencing severe barriers to returning to civilian life could be eligible for the second pillar, which is the additional pain and suffering compensation, to a maximum of $1,500 a month, tax free, for life. This equals $2,650, tax free, for life. The third pillar is income replacement, where we streamlined economic benefits, to make them more accessible, into a monthly payment of 90% of a veteran's pre-release salary.
We understand that this can sound complicated and abstract, but let us take, for example, a corporal who served six years in the Canadian Armed Forces and suffered a 100% disability. She would now be entitled to nearly $6,000 a month in benefits. This veteran could also be eligible for nearly $72,000 through the critical injury benefit, $40,000 to go back to school, and additional finances to modify her vehicle and home to meet her needs. On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, she would be eligible for vocational rehabilitation, career transition services to help her find a job and to help educate her employer about her needs, and a network of 4,000 registered mental health providers and a wellness system to help her find her new normal in civilian life.
With the income replacement benefit, veterans may also earn up to $20,000 a year before any reductions would be made, encouraging them to engage in activities meaningful to them.
It is also worth pointing out that this new plan takes survivors and dependent children into account as well. We understand that veterans need to know that their immediate family will be looked after financially.
With pension for life, in the event of a veteran's service-related death before the age of 65, the survivor and dependent children would receive the same income replacement benefit amount as the veteran would have until he or she reached the age of 65. The survivors and dependent children would then receive 70% of the benefit to which the veteran would have been entitled after 65, and this would continue for life.
Additionally, if a veteran is receiving the pain and suffering compensation at the time of her or his death, any outstanding amount would be cashed out to the survivors and dependent children. If a veteran was eligible for pain and suffering compensation but had not applied for this benefit, his or her survivors and/or dependent children may apply and receive a lump-sum amount.
While we understand that well-being is about more than dollars and cents, we also understand that financial stability is critical. That is why we are holding round tables with veterans and stakeholders across the country. That is why the six ministerial advisory groups were formed in the early days of this mandate. Throughout, we have maintained an open-door policy with veterans. We want to ensure veterans and their families fully understand the scope and impacts of changes we are introducing and to hear from them.
However, let me back up a bit.
The needs of Canada's veterans have changed significantly over the past century. Since the Pension Act was introduced in 1919, our programs and services have evolved to meet the changing needs of veterans.
By the 2000s, the Pension Act benefits were not meeting the financial security needs of many veterans. Yes, it was a monthly payment in recognition of pain and suffering but it did not always support veterans' getting back to work or to whatever gave them purpose in the years after their release from the Canadian Armed Forces. We also know that our service men and women who served in recent conflicts like Afghanistan had many different needs and that the Pension Act did not address those needs.
That is why the new veterans charter was brought in, with unanimous support of all parties, but even then it was supposed to be a living document. It was supposed to adapt to the emerging needs of our modern-day veterans and their families. Unfortunately, the previous government did not listen to those needs and it did not listen to the veterans who were asking for those changes to the new veterans charter.
In 2015, the same veteran whom we talked about earlier would have received a lump sum of $310,000. She could apply for five different income replacement benefits, each with their own eligibility criteria and application forms. Even then, instead of 90% of her pre-release salary, she would have only received 75%. She would receive $4,500 less in caregiver benefits. She would still have access to vocational rehabilitation but career transition would be a $1,000 grant to help write a resume instead of comprehensive assistance. Let us hope she did not live in one of those nine communities where a Veterans Affairs office was closed, because then she would have a hard time getting someone on the phone after the government cut front-line workers.
We were out there. I was out there, at the MFRCs in Val-Cartier, Oromocto, Winnipeg, Kingston, Nova Scotia, on base and off, talking to military members, veterans, and their families across our great land, those who were critically injured and those with varying degrees of illness and injury. We asked them what they needed with respect to financial supports and benefits and services to help them re-establish in post-military life. Every week my office and I speak to veterans, serving members, and their families. I hear some of their frustrations, their concerns, their questions. Those conversations are what drive me to continue to improve our benefits and services. It is what drives us all.
I also fully understand there are concerns about timelines, so I would like to elaborate.
There are two reasons why it will take until April 2019 to fully implement the new pension for life. The teacher in me would like to explain further.
First, we need to ensure that all Veterans Affairs Canada staff, systems, and processes are properly in place to efficiently deliver the new pension for life to the more than 74,000 veterans it will impact. Until it comes into effect, veterans will continue to receive the current benefits and services for which they are eligible.
Second, the pension for life changes need to be finalized through government legislation and, as we all know here, that takes time. That is unfortunately the one thing I have learned in my short time here on the Hill: change takes time. I know veterans and their families have been overly patient, and I thank them for their patience and I wish I could make things go faster.
Between now and the projected start date of April 1, 2019, the department will ensure that front-line staff are being trained to handle additional questions and to help guide veterans and their families through the process of transition to or applying for the pension for life. In the meantime, we are continuing to work in implementing many of the initiatives that we put forward in budget 2017, which come into effect this April.
We know that every veteran has a unique story and situation, which is why the pension for life is designed to allow veterans to decide what form of compensation works best for them and their families as they make that transition from the Canadian Armed Forces to their post-military life. The needs of one veteran and his or her family could be completely different from the veteran living on the other side of the country, or even the one living right next door. We need to ensure that they are all supported in every aspect of their lives, financially, professionally, emotionally, and physically based on their own needs and also understanding that these needs change throughout their lives.
That is why the programs, benefits, and services that veterans and their families asked for and that we are bring forward have to be nimble.
Let me give the example of a Canadian Armed Forces member who releases from the Canadian Armed Forces and a few years later realizes his knees are bad. He goes to the doctor and realizes that having jumped out of a helicopter for 20 years as a Canadian Armed Forces member, it is normal that his knees may be shot. He applies for benefits through Veterans Affairs Canada and starts receiving those benefits. A few years later he decides he would like to change his career path and comes back to Veterans Affairs Canada for the new training and education benefit so he can go back to school and start a new career. Unfortunately, some things like PTSD manifest years later, so if he presents with PTSD, he can come back and ask for more help. When he needs us, we will be there.
While the government is working through that legislative process to implement the new pension for life, the and I are already always meeting face-to-face with veterans and their families across the country to talk about the new programs, discuss some challenges and opportunities, and ensure veterans' questions and concerns are being addressed.
As I said earlier, I will always listen to veterans. I have learned so much from them over the past two years and I am so thankful for their willingness to reach out and share their stories. They, and their families, are what drive me to do better.
Veterans have been asking for years for changes and improvements in the new veterans charter and it will take time to implement those changes. In the two years since the election, we have essentially been flying the plane at the same time that we have been building it. We opened the VAC offices and hired more than 450 employees to serve our veterans and their families. Combined with over $6 billion in initiatives that we announced in budgets 2016 an 2017, we have invested an additional $3.6 billion into this flexible package of benefits and programs. Again, I wish it could be faster. We can always do better and we will continue to do better.
We need to better communicate with veterans to ensure they are aware of what they are aware of what they are eligible for and we need to truly treat the new veterans charter like a living document and adjust it to the realities of ill and injured members of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families. We need to get faster at providing responses to our veterans and address the backlog.
Veterans and their families have earned Canada's respect and gratitude. Our government is giving back to those who have given so much in services to all Canadians.
I want to explain to people why I decided to run for federal office.
As I have said, I have two sons serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. I will be honest that I was frustrated and angry, like many military families. I felt as if the government was not listening, and I could either stay quiet or I could get involved. I was worried that if one of my sons became ill or injured, would Canada be there for him?
As my two sons serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, and as my husband and father were firefighters, unfortunately PTSD has a chair at my kitchen table. I wish veterans did not need our services. I wish they never became ill or injured, but that is not reality. However, I want them to know that if they do, we will be there. I will be there.
Earlier today, veterans came to advocate on behalf of their comrades in arms, right outside here. I applaud them for that, and I will be outside to listen to them shortly.
We have a lot of work to do as a government and as a nation to rebuild the trust that was broken. Many veterans and their families are still hurting, and they are frustrated. I meet with them every chance I get. I speak with them, I listen, and I read their social media posts. I have met with our incredible veterans at Ste. Anne's Hospital in my home province, and I again thank them for reaching out. Their stories and, more important, their suggestions help me in making decisions every day.
In listening to the veterans who have reached out to all of us, one thing comes out loud and clear. Veterans and their families, and Canadians are really tired of the partisanship. So am I. While we can stand here and make claims of who treated veterans better, who did what or does what to help them, how does that achieve our objective to help veterans in need? It does not. It helps politicians. It helps for content and clips for social media sites to help fuel claims. I will not do it.
I ask members of the House to please stop this. Let us use our energies and come together for our common cause. Let us work together to get the timelines down. Let us collaborate on how to make that transition easier. Let us share those best practices. Let us focus our energies on what is really important: those brave men and women outside today, those who proudly wore that Canadian flag on their shoulders like my sons do.
We have come a long way in supporting our veterans, but there is still so much to do. We need to make that transition between the Canadian Armed Forces and civilian life seamless. However, all members in the House and any veterans or family members listening today should rest assured that I will never cease in my efforts to improve their lives.
I know veterans have heard it all before. Why should they believe me now? I stand in the House and I ask all veterans and Canadians listening today to let me show them. Let me give them a reason to believe.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for , who is a strong advocate for veterans. I want to thank her for her hard work on the veterans file. I also want to the thank the member for for tabling today's motion.
Before I get started, I want to recognize the veterans who are standing outside. Their voices are very important today. “Left out in the cold” is their theme today. It is about veterans falling through the cracks.
I want to thank my colleague from the Liberal Party who spoke previous to me for talking about imagining us not playing politics on this issue. I do not think any of us want to be playing politics or talking politics when it comes to our veterans. What veterans want is what was promised to them. They want the service they expect.
There are 29,000 veterans waiting right now for their disability claim to be processed. That is a 50% increase over the last eight months. When we talk about not being political and not playing political games, it is really tough when we hear, from the government side, its boisterous announcements and its boisterous rhetoric around how it is treating veterans, when veterans cannot get the service for the things it is announcing. If the veterans cannot get service, the benefits do not matter if they cannot access them.
New Democrats and Canadians love and respect our veterans. We thank them and their families for their selfless service and sacrifice. I really want to underscore their families, because they were really left out in the cold in the recent announcements and promises the government has made.
The events of the 's Edmonton town hall, the meeting of February 1, left many of us confused, bewildered, and angry. This is, after all, a Prime Minister who during the last election made two specific promises to Canada's veterans: to re-establish lifelong pensions, and to ensure that no veteran would ever be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they deserve.
What we know is that the Liberal leader, the has completely reneged on those commitments to Canada's veterans. What happened in Edmonton is that he was called out for breaking those promises by retired corporal Brock Blaszczyk, a brave gentleman who, as we know, has both the courage to fight and defend the interests of Canada in an armed war zone, and to confront our Prime Minister for failing him and his colleagues. We salute his courage on both accounts and we thank him very much.
I would like to read some of Mr. Blaszczyk's question and the 's response into the record. Mr. Blaszczyk said:
...on August 24, 2015, you made the promise, and I’ll quote it here: “No veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned”. Yet you are still currently in a legal battle with veterans regarding equal support and compensation to their peers. ...we have two standards of veterans...the ones prior to 2006 and the ones after...one under the old pension act and one under this new lump sum...option....
My question is what veterans were you talking about? ...honestly, Mr. Prime Minister, I was prepared to be injured in the line of duty when I joined the military.... I was prepared to be killed in action. What I wasn’t prepared for, Mr. Prime Minister, is Canada turning its back on me.
In response, the said:
Thank you for your passion and your strength, and for being here today to share this justifiable frustration and anger with me and all of us here.... First of all, why are we still fighting against certain veterans' groups in court? Because they are asking for more than we are able to give right now..... Hang on. You are asking for honest answers.
We know that the said this and veterans across our country had to hear this. This is when the government is spending lots of money, including an $8 million hockey rink outside that will not be used by most Canadians and certainly not most veterans. This is when CEOs on Bay Street are getting stock option loopholes that cost taxpayers almost $1 billion, and the Prime Minister is telling veterans that he cannot fulfill his election promise.
Here we are today. We have a who makes bold new promises to address a massive social injustice. The Canadians who desperately need this assistance buy into this and elect the Liberals to govern, take photos with the Liberal members while they are campaigning, and then once they are elected the Liberal government fundamentally changes its position and abandons its promises.
At one time, the love and respect felt by Canadians for our veterans and their families was clear and obvious in their treatment by the government. Lifelong pensions, the creation of Wartime Housing Limited, which my friend from talked about, and complete coverage for all disabilities incurred during service were some of the ways this love was shown to veterans by the government on behalf of Canadians.
Indeed, it is widely agreed that at one point in time the government firmly believed that it had a “sacred obligation” to care for our veterans and their families in exchange for their selfless sacrifice. We voted for this last night, in the bill tabled by my colleague from , but the Liberals voted against it. This obligation was a clear acknowledgement that when women or men entered into the service of our country and put their health and lives on the line for us, the government would be there to care for them for the rest of their lives. I say that we believed that “at one point in time”, because I am no longer sure this is the case.
The Harper Conservative government made an effort to modernize the rights, services, and benefits provided to Canada's veterans, but it inadvertently made life worse for many. The lump sum payment option for veterans was certainly one of the worst policies brought forward. In the interest of full disclosure, the NDP voted in support of the new veterans charter when it was brought before the House.
However, the difference between us and the Conservatives is that once problems became obvious, such as the lump sum payment option, we proposed to fix those issues. Unfortunately the Conservatives and their ministers of veterans affairs quite literally turned their backs on those in need by not supporting the need to reverse that.
Now, for his part, the made lofty goals, as we know, and raised expectations so high for so many people in need, including veterans. However, it is now obvious that those crisp and clear Liberal promises were designed for a quick headline and to trick Canadians into voting for a progressive agenda that the Liberals had no intention of implementing once in power.
The New Democrats will always work with other parties, and we are here to do that today, in the best interests of veterans. To do so, we must commit to remembering the past, not erasing it. We must never forget our collective failings as a society and government. It is all of our responsibility to take care of and look after veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, nuclear radiation, and other lethal and debilitating toxins and agents over the course of their service; the horrific sexual trauma that has been endured by many military personnel, particularly women, over the course of their military service; the serious psychiatric side-effects associated with the use of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine; the widespread prevalence of operational stress injury; post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychological challenges faced by active and retired armed forces personnel; and the unconscionable transition gap, which I alluded to earlier, which denies benefits to many veterans who transition from active duty to civilian life.
A particularly stark example of how the governments have changed the way they serve veterans is with housing.
Wartime Housing Limited was created after World War II to transfer 30,000 affordable homes to veterans. However, at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs this week, we heard that as many as 5,000 veterans were homeless and living on our streets today, like our friends Trevor Sanderson and Dick Groot, who are here visiting and have been camping out just a couple of blocks from here to raise awareness around this issue. In addition, there are the unintended and negative consequences experienced by veterans as a result of changes under the new veterans charter.
The Equitas lawsuit, which seeks to re-establish the old lifelong pension regime, began under the Harper Conservatives, whose defence in court was to argue that the Government of Canada had no sacred obligation to take care of our veterans who were injured while defending our country and interests. It was a shameful line of defence taken by the last government and former ministers of veterans affairs, who sit here today and complain that the Liberal government is treating veterans exactly the same way they did.
What is clear today is that the Liberal government, like the Conservative government before, has failed to live up to its promises to veterans. The New Democrats will not allow the Liberal to adopt the shameful legacy of the last Conservative prime minister without answering to our veterans and Canadians. We hope the Liberals will do that today, with a different tone. Instead of just this boisterous attitude of all these announcements, apologizing to veterans for the comments made by the would be the right thing to do. He owes that apology to retired Corporal Blaszcyk and all veterans. An apology is clearly needed, and that is why we will support the motion.
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for , our spokesperson on Veterans Affairs, for his passion and dedication to this issue. As we share a region, we know what veterans are experiencing in our area, and across Canada.
A great honour for me, in my role as member of parliament for North Island—Powell River, is the fact that I represent 19 Wing Comox. I have spent many times on the base, looking, learning, and listening to military members there. They do so much to protect people across our region, our country, and the world. Right now many people are overseas doing the important work the government has asked them to do. Their families are waiting for them to come home. Every day, they pray and hope they will come home safe and well, which is not always the case.
Another wonderful experience for me is in my role in the NATO parliamentary assembly. We travel to different countries and meet with other NATO countries. We talk about what is happening in the world. What I hear again and again is the deep respect that so many countries have for our men and women in uniform, and the work they do. It is quite amazing to travel and meet people who talk about how our military members are so brave. They say that they stand by them and fight every day for peace. They are so appreciative for what they have brought to their countries and how they have worked with their countries to support peace across the world.
When I think about what we are debating today, I am devastated that we are having this conversation.
The motion reads:
That the House call on the Prime Minister to apologize to veterans for his insensitive comments at a recent town hall in Edmonton and show veterans the respect that they deserve by fulfilling his campaign promise to them, when he said on August 24, 2015, that 'If I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned'.
In the last election, veterans across my riding clearly told me that they were devastated by the realities they faced. They felt immensely betrayed by the former government and what had happened in their relationship to veterans.
One of the most powerful moments for me during the election was coming across some signs in one of my communities. Veterans had built them and put them in front of the Conservative candidate signs. It outlined, in detail, the betrayal they had experienced. That is so important. When we were all out campaigning, we heard again and again from veterans who felt profoundly betrayed. They had faithfully gone and done exactly what our country had asked them to do. They came home and were treated terribly.
In the last few months, we have also seen something tragic in our riding office, with veterans coming through our doors, veterans who had a lot of hope. They had been waiting patiently to give the government a little time to set things up. They were facing some distance challenges being part of a rural riding, not having quite the level of services they needed to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and other health concerns. They were going to give the government some time, but expected to see some fundamental changes. They wanted that sense of value, having served the country. However, over the last several months, more and more veterans have come into the our offices. It is really sad for me, and for the people who work for me, to see how devastated a lot of those veterans are. They have waited, they have been patient, but they nothing has changed for them.
It is important remember that during the last election, the said, “We will also make new and significant investments to meet the sacred obligation that we have to our veterans.” That was part of the Liberal messaging.
Many veterans felt hopeful for that, and now my office hears regularly from veterans that they thought this was a sacred obligation, and things were going to change. They had hope, and now they are having to face reality. We have now heard that veterans will have to wait until April 2019 to choose between the existing lump sum and a new lifelong pension that, when all is said and done, will pay less than half of the pre-2006 pension. This is a very deep betrayal.
Three veterans came to me when they heard about this motion, and said they wanted me to share their stories. I am going to do that, because that is part of my obligation to my constituents. William Webb is one of those veterans in my riding, who served for 20 years before being medically released in 2016.
One challenge for him is that there are few supports for veterans released medically. There is another challenge that is important, and I hope the government hears this, case managers for veterans are always changing because they are on stress leave, and nobody is able to help the veterans navigate the very limited supports available. This is important.
We need to understand that services are falling apart because the people delivering those services leave because of their own stress. In February, his pension was cut significantly due to the pension transition funding. Mr. Webb has been fighting Veterans Affairs for two years, with a 10% success rate. He has PTSD, he tried to qualify for the disability tax credit, and he keeps getting rejected.
The other reality, which I have heard not only from Mr. Webb but other veterans as well, is that they have service dogs that support them with their post-traumatic stress disorder, and Veterans Affairs does not see service dogs as beneficial to veterans, so there is no financial support. It is important for the House to recognize that service dogs are extremely expensive. Getting service dogs is a great expense to veterans. One of the biggest challenges for William is that he cannot find housing. Now that he has a service dog, trying to find housing is increasingly hard. When is the government going to make sure that veterans receive the housing they need?
Then there is Don Choiniere. Don served the military for a fairly short period, but when he enlisted, he had no health issues. During his service, he came into contact with asbestos, and now has significant health issues because of it. He has been fighting Veterans Affairs since the 1980s with regard to the chemicals with which he came into contact. He wants some compensation for this, because the medical outcome, and what he endured for this country, has had a huge impact on him, and always will. Again, he is facing the challenges of so many veterans, whom have very limited supports, because they were medically released from duty.
Finally, there is Max Gaboriault. Max and I have had numerous conversations, and I have a deep respect for how strongly he is fighting for his rights every day. He was in the military, and went to Afghanistan. During his time in Afghanistan, a lot of people around him were lost, and it was really painful for him.
We have to recognize that when this country asks people to do this, we are asking them to risk their own lives, and watch others pass away in tragic circumstances. When he came home, his family and friends noticed a difference, but he felt sort of peaceful, because daily life was so much easier than what he experienced.
However, that peace turned into violence and aggression, and he still struggles with that. Today, he has PTSD, and has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Max continues to struggle. He wants his pension reinstated. He is at risk of being homeless by the end of this month, so when and how will his little boys visit him?
These are the realities. The needs to stand up and apologize, because what is happening across this country is not right, and I ask the Prime Minister to do the right thing.
Madam Speaker, it is with mixed emotions, quite frankly, that I rise on this subject today. There is an emotion that is clear and unequivocal.
This is a very simple motion that calls on the of Canada to apologize to veterans for the insensitive comments he made in Edmonton. The motion also calls on the Prime Minister to live up to the promises he made to veterans during the last election. There are veterans on the Hill today protesting not just the policies of the government but the inaction by the government, based on many of the promises it made.
To provide some historical context on this, I travelled across the country in my role as critic for veterans affairs. I was very proud to be in that role from October 2016 to August 2017. I met with lots of veterans. I met with stakeholders and their families. I met with organizations, and visited military bases. The one message I heard loud and clear was the role of Canada to have a sacred obligation with our veterans.
At that time, there was a lot of disappointment brewing because of what the , had said. When he stood up in Belleville in August 2015, and made that now famous campaign promise that he would immediately restore lifelong pensions to veterans and that no veteran should ever have to fight their government in court, he had not been fulfilled that promise at that point.
As I said in my question to the hon. member from the NDP, there was an expectation among veterans of what the promised. It was clear and unequivocal that he would restore lifelong pensions to the manner in which they were before the new veterans charter was introduced. The recent announcement in December falls short of that.
If members do not believe me, they can go among the veterans community and talk to them, find out how they feel about the recent pension announcement, notwithstanding the fact it was made two days before Christmas, at a time when veterans are extremely vulnerable. The minister made the announcement on behalf of the , because he knew it would fall short of what veterans were expecting, and perhaps it would get lost in the Christmas cycle.
The most telling part of that press conference, when I watched it, was Murray Brewster from the CBC. He asked a question of the that went like this: “Can you guarantee that veterans today, because of this announcement, will receive an equal or greater amount than they would have under the previous pension benefit?” The Minister of Veterans Affairs said, “No, I cannot guarantee that.”
Across the country, among the veterans community, one could almost feel the breath coming out of our veterans, because that is not what the promised in Belleville in August 2015. He promised he would immediately restore lifetime pensions to veterans. The understanding within the veterans community was that he was going to return those pensions, and he did not.
Then we get to Edmonton. Just a couple of weeks ago, when the veteran Brock Blaszczyk asked the question of the . The unconscionable response of the Prime Minister was that veterans are expecting more than he can give them right now. What veterans were expecting was exactly what the Prime Minister had promised, a return to lifelong pensions, and that no veteran should have to fight their government in court. One can imagine the response among the veterans community.
What we are doing today is asking the to apologize to veterans across the country for that insensitive comment.
The has no problem apologizing for many other things, in many cases with tears streaming down his face, but the level of disrespect that he showed our veterans is appalling. All we are asking for is that he apologize and that he live up to his promise.
The second part of that promise is the interesting one. He said that no veterans should ever have to fight their government in court. That was in direct relation to the Equitas lawsuit out of Vancouver. I guess the thought that somehow he was going to deal with this case, but the facts do not speak to that.
The previous veterans affairs minister, the hon. member for , had an abeyance agreement with the Equitas lawsuit, and I am sure the member will speak to that. They effectively had an agreement in that lawsuit. That was why it was held in abeyance. Unfortunately, because of the election, the minister of veterans affairs at the time, the hon. member for Durham, ran out of runway and he could not deal with this. That abeyance agreement was to be held in place but it expired in May 2016.
The fact is that the , through the minister of veterans affairs after the election, restarted the Equitas lawsuit. That was broken promise number two to our veterans. Number one is the pension. Number two is that the government is reinstating the court case against the Equitas veterans.
I guess when one is sitting as a member of the third party, as the was when going into the last election, it is easy to shoot for the stars, hoping to hit the moon on a lot of these promises. That is exactly what the Liberals did, and we have seen it with other promises, such as the promise on electoral reform.
The veterans issue has really come to light over the last couple of weeks and that wound to our veterans' community is deep as a result of those broken promises.
The did make many promises to everyone in this country, including our veterans, to try to get elected. The most appalling thing was when he stood in Belleville with veterans behind him as a backdrop, many of them wearing their medals, including members of his own caucus who were veterans at the time, and many of whom presented this platform to the Prime Minister. I can speculate how that conversation went, “If we promise them this, we will get their support.” He used them as pawns.
I do not believe that the had any intention of living up to that promise. I believe that he knowingly deceived our veterans in order to gain their support because of some transgressions that had gone on in the past.
As I sit in the House, I find it rich and funny some of the comments that come back on me, some of the things that I have said to veterans as I criss-crossed the country. I acknowledge there were problems in the past between veterans and the previous government. I showed some contrition, as did the former minister of veterans affairs, the member for . This contrition would start the conversation. It would give a sense of respect to veterans that things were not perhaps as great as they should have been under the previous government. However, in every meeting in every town and city across this country that I was in this past summer, the one thing I did not do was lie to veterans. We had open and honest discussions about what failed and what we could do better as a party in order to gain their trust again, a trust, as I said that the former minister of veterans affairs had started to build until he ran out of runway.
In all of the discussions I had, the one thing that veterans told me upset them the most is they feel they have lived through a generation of lies, a generation of deceit. I can say in all honesty that we are all guilty of that. All of us share that responsibility.
Members can imagine the feeling now when a prime minister, or member of Parliament hoping to be the prime minister, stands up and makes all of these promises. The reaction of veterans is, “Here we go again. Another one is standing up and telling us he is going to do something and he doesn't do it.” It is shameful.
Of the many meetings and stakeholder groups I met with, they all spoke about the sacred obligation. They all spoke about this military covenant. It goes back to when Sir Robert Borden stood before the troops just before the Battle of Vimy Ridge and gave this now famous quote:
The government and the country will consider it their first duty to prove to the returned men its just and due appreciation of the inestimable value of the services rendered to the country and Empire; and that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.
Those are powerful words from a former prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, just before the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is that inestimable value that I think all of us need to consider, and not just now but as we go forward in how we deal with our veterans.
Again, I have talked with many veterans since that pension announcement, and over the course of the last several years, and the shameful part is that there is a growing perception, real or otherwise, and I say it is real, that there is an inherent amount of value in the government of putting money into pet projects of the . It is abdicating our responsibility at home to our veterans by putting millions and millions into other countries, billions in some cases, for international development efforts. Our veterans, seniors, and many other Canadians are asking, “What about us?”
When someone says to a veteran in Edmonton, “You are asking for more than I can give right now”, do members not think those veterans and seniors are not seeing the amount of money that is flowing out of the government, the debt and deficit situation it is creating with $500 million going to an infrastructure bank in China that is going to develop infrastructure outside of this country? Do members not think it is right that people are asking these questions? They are being told that they are asking for more than what the government can give, yet the government is giving to its global pet projects, to curry favour with the United Nations. The government is giving to things that are not directly impacting Canadians, that are not directly impacting our veterans.
Members can imagine if the government made a $100-million announcement to give that money to some country somewhere else. What is wrong with saying that our first priority is to look after our veterans? How are we going to spend that $100 million here to help our veterans, to help our seniors, to help the marginalized? Let us talk about this as a priority of government. When the says that the veterans are asking for more than the government can give right now, maybe the Prime Minister should stop giving to some of his global pet projects and prioritize our veterans and seniors here in this country. At least, at a minimum, that could help him live up to the promises that he made.
Last night we talked about the sacred obligation. I have been working on a bill since October. Actually, I have been working on it a lot longer than that. I call it the military covenant bill, or the sacred obligation bill. It is one thing that veterans have told me right across the country that they would like to see from the government, this Parliament, and Canadians: a sacred obligation. Last night at a vote, that bill did not pass.
The bill proposed amendments to the Veterans Affairs Act, and talked about the fairness principles, how we treat veterans, how we treat our families, and dealing with things in a timely manner. I would have thought, after the had made those unbelievably insensitive comments to our veterans community, that at a minimum the Liberals would have supported that bill to at least go to committee to deal with some of the questions that were raised throughout the debate on the bill in the House of Commons.
What did the Liberals do? In an unbelievable display of further disrespect to our veterans, every single member of the Liberal caucus stood up and voted against that private member's bill. Every single veteran in the Liberal caucus, every single one of them who wears medals they have earned, stood up and voted against that bill.
I was really surprised, quite frankly, to see the member for stand up and vote against that bill. This is a person, a now member of Parliament, who has been the strongest supporter of the Equitas group that I have heard of. He has been there with them. He has been to their fundraisers. He understands the issue, and yet, when we talk about this sacred obligation, the member for South Surrey—White Rock stood up, because he was whipped by his government, and did not support a bill that would establish these fairness principles, this military covenant and a sacred obligation into legislation. That is absolutely unconscionable and shameful.
When the government talks about all of these programs and all of these things that it has created, it is multi-layered. There is a lot of confusion within the veterans community. However, one thing veterans are not confused about is that the did not live up to his promise. He did not live up to his promise to restore lifelong pensions.
If that was the case and the veterans were happy about what they have seen and heard, they would not be protesting outside on Parliament Hill today. There would not be a movement, a backlash, across this country on social media.
We can look at the reaction and some of the comments by those who were advocating for the lifelong pension, who actually thought that the meant what he said when he stood up in Belleville, that he was going to return to lifelong pensions.
Sean Bruyea, who is a veteran and veterans advocate, said:
[T]he government merely resurrected ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodeled and repackaged programs that already exist.
Here is another:
It's fair to say the disappointment (with the new plan) has been immense because it just didn't do the trick.
If you're going to make a promise to provide lifetime pensions, then do it.
As said in the quote, “Do it.” Unfortunately, the failed to live up to that promise. We are asking again that he apologize to veterans. This has created a lot of animosity across this country. It has created a deep wound within the veterans community. I can speak to that clearly because I have heard from veterans how disappointed and upset they are that they were lied to and that they were disrespected.
To conclude, one of the issues, as I said, that came up across the country as I travelled is the issue of the sacred obligation, this covenant, this agreement between veterans and the government and its people. For the inestimable value of what they provide, the sacrifices and the services that not only our veterans provide but their families provide, we owe them no less, certainly no less than what was promised, certainly no less than an apology for those extremely insensitive remarks that the made.
I often say this, and I said it the other night as I finished up with a rebuttal for my private member's bill, that it is an incredible privilege to be able to sit in this place. There have been so many people who have sacrificed so much through times of war, families who have been decimated, lives that have been lost, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, blood that has been split. Oftentimes I will go up to the Memorial Chamber and look through the Book of Remembrance. I was there the day that my wife's Uncle Jackie's page was turned. He was killed over Poland as he flew a Lancaster bomber.
I think of those sacrifices that allow us the privilege to sit in our symbol of democracy. The owes those veterans an apology.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Thousands of dedicated women and men in the military leave the comfort of civilian life every day to put their skills and talents to good use across Canada and around the world.
These courageous individuals willingly put their lives on the line and are always prepared to go into harm's way. They have dedicated their lives to defending Canada's sovereignty, protecting our values, and promoting international peace and security around the globe.
No one is in a better position to understand the sacrifices and to appreciate the valuable work of our armed forces than the members of the defence staff and those who support them.
The Canadian Armed Forces personnel and Department of National Defence civilian employees work side by side as an integrated team. They know better than anyone how important it is to support the women and men of the armed forces when they are nearing the end of their service.
They saw for themselves how their colleagues transition from military life to civilian life. That is why they resolved to take care of the health and well-being of all military personnel and their families. That is why Canada’s defence policy, entitled “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, is making tremendous strides when it comes to helping people leaving the military, either on retirement or because of an illness or injury.
The way we take care of the women and men of our armed forces is at the heart of our defence policy and everything it seeks to accomplish.
The Canadian Armed Forces has reworked its transition approach in order to ensure that members receive the professional and personalized support they need as they prepare to return to civilian life after military service.
The defence policy includes four new initiatives to improve transitions both within and outside the forces.
The first initiative consists in re-establishing the personnel administration branch of experts in military human resources. Every CF member will be able to use the services of that group. Among other things, this group will ensure that members preparing for retirement are aware of career transition services such as career counselling or job finding assistance, and that they have access to these services if they so desire.
Furthermore, 200 employees will be added to the Canadian Armed Forces health services. These employees will provide care to ill or injured members. The new staff will include transitional care specialists. Ill or injured members who return to civilian life will receive personalized health care and services until they are able to officially access services from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Under the policy, a Canadian Armed Forces transition group will be established, which will be the third new initiative.
The group will be made up of Canadian Armed Forces members who are experts in military human resources. They will ensure that every member of the Canadian Armed Forces receives personalized support as they transition to civilian life. The Canadian Armed Forces transition group will be commanded by a general officer and will be approximately 1,200 strong.
All military personnel will have access to the group's services. The staff will ensure that all pre-release and pension administration is completed, and that the veterans' benefits are in place before the members transition to care under Veterans Affairs Canada.
Just as importantly, the Canadian Armed Forces transition group will make sure that retired members are aware of the career transition programs offered by the Defence team and Veterans Affairs Canada and that they are enrolled in these programs if they so choose.
Services, such as vocational rehabilitation, financial literacy, individual career counselling, and job searching, are also offered by third-party service providers.
The National Defence team looks after the interests of both Canadian Armed Forces members and their families, who are the source of much of their strength. The Government of Canada has made it clear that the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, and Veterans Affairs Canada are going to streamline the transition for Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their families.
The fourth initiative in the “Strong, Secure, Engaged” policy is there to make that happen. Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces have established a Seamless Transition Task Force that will implement an improved transition model for retiring Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their families.
All Canadians who care about Canadian Armed Forces members can be confident that the many progressive measures the government is taking will give those members access to the care and support they need. Our approach to our members and veterans is one that involves the entire government. In budget 2016, we put more money in the pockets of veterans and their families to increase their financial security. In budget 2017, we supported the health and well-being of veterans and their families by investing in mental health support, educational opportunities, and career transition services, and these new and improved services will be available soon.
All of these programs complement each other: physical and mental health services for veterans and their families to promote well-being; educational support services to help build a new career after service; career transition services to find a rewarding job; family support, including financial assistance if necessary; caregiver recognition; and advice and support services to help veterans integrate into their new community. All of the programs can also be tailored to each veteran's unique needs.
The government listened to the concerns raised by the families of military members and veterans, advocates, and communities about the benefits and programs. We listened to them and created a detailed plan to restore and enhance benefits through plans and services designed to improve the life of veterans and their families. I am very proud of the government's efforts to finally make this a reality.
Mr. Speaker, it is an absolute pleasure for me to rise to speak to this opposition day motion on behalf of the residents of Davenport, who I am so proud to represent.
A couple of my colleagues asked why I was speaking to this motion since I was from a downtown riding of Toronto. I said I am very proud to have a very active Legion in my riding, the Royal Canadian Legion Earls Court Branch #65. It has a great Legion Hall where there is a lot of fun, mirth, and activity, and where a lot of people in the community come together. It is on Ossington Street near Bloor Street.
Every single year at Prospect Cemetery in my riding, there is a really wonderful Remembrance Day ceremony, where people come from right across Toronto to attend. It is in its 89th year. This year will be its 90th year. At the Cross of Sacrifice, the Royal Canadian Legion Earls Court Branch #65 holds court, and has a very beautiful service to honour all Canadians who fought in past wars and sacrificed their lives for Canada. I am very proud, on behalf of Davenport residents, to be speaking to this opposition day motion.
That said, this government is committed to providing all current forces members and veterans with the support and services they so rightly deserve. The Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, and Veterans Affairs Canada take the health and well-being of CAF members and veterans very seriously.
On November 4, 2015, our government pledged to ensure that veterans receive the respect, support, care, and economic opportunities they deserve. We delivered the first of our changes with a $5.6 billion investment in financial security for veterans and their families in budget 2016. On that day, our said, “Our veterans have dedicated their lives to the defence of their country. They deserve our gratitude, our respect and our support. We made a solemn promise that they will have it. And we will keep that promise.”
That day, we increased the disability award from a maximum of $310,000 to a maximum of $360,000; we increased income replacement, from 75% of a veteran's pre-release salary to 90%; we reopened the nine offices closed by the Conservatives; we announced that we would hire staff to make up for the Conservative cuts; and much more. Just to be clear, we reopened offices in Kelowna and Prince George, B.C.; Saskatoon; Brandon, Manitoba; Thunder Bay, Windsor; Sydney, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown; and Corner Brook; as well as opening a brand new office in Surrey, B.C., and expanded outreach services to the north.
A year later, in budget 2017, we announced $624 million to further improve the health and well-being of veterans and their families, including an all new education benefit; career transition services to help employ those skills unique to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as create a new centre of excellence in post-traumatic stress disorder.
This year, we are delivering on the promise that we made to restore the pension for life option, as well as to continue to improved service delivery, and enhance programs that will benefit veterans with service-related injuries and illnesses. That is what I want to talk a little more about.
Since we were elected just over two years ago, we have listened to veterans, their families, and advocates to better understand their reality. We have heard them, and in response, we have invested over $6 billion to improve benefits and services for veterans and their families over the last two years.
With an emphasis on overall well-being, the new pension for life invests another $3.6 billion in benefits that can be tailored to meet the individual needs of veterans and their families. We know that every veteran is different. However, one unifying experience is the major life change that results from the transition to life after service. The most successful transitions occur when a veteran has a positive state of well-being: a balance of financial, mental, physical, and social factors.
While most veterans transition smoothly, some struggle for various reasons, and of the approximately 1,500 members who are released each year due to illness or injury, almost 20% suffer with a mental health condition. It is paramount that those veterans and their families know what programs and services are available to them. That is why the , the , and the Chief of the Defence Staff together launched the joint suicide prevention strategy on October 5, 2017.
I believe that every member of the House appreciates what a tragedy it is if any member of the Canadian Armed Forces or one of Canada's veterans suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder or any other mental health condition that impacts their health and well-being. We know that when a member or a veteran is affected, their families are affected too.
The CAF and VAC are committed to a coordinated, collaborative approach and identified over 160 initiatives dedicated to saving the lives of veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members. One suicide is too many. While this strategy supports the government-wide healthy Canadians priority and fulfills another of the 's mandate items for Veterans Affairs Canada, more importantly, it is about these two departments working together to help military men and women and veterans reduce their risk, build resiliency, and prevent suicide to the fullest extent possible.
This joint approach will improve CAF members' and veterans' well-being and support them by reducing stigma and encouraging them to seek the help they need. A key resource is Veterans Affairs Canada's nationwide network of over 4,000 mental health professionals. They are ready to deliver services to veterans and members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP who have post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries. Veterans and their families can also find mental health information support and resources from 11 operational stress injury clinics across the country, plus satellite service points from coast to coast to coast. They also offer telehealth services for those in remote areas.
Each clinic has a multidisciplinary team of specialists who have been professionally trained to address the unique needs of veterans. They are equipped to refer serving Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP members, veterans, and their families to mental health professionals who provide individualized assessment and treatment. These programs and services are complemented by an additional seven operational trauma and stress support centres operated by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Earlier in my speech, I mentioned the centre of excellence in post-traumatic stress disorder that was created by our government. This is of personal importance to me, because I also have veterans in my riding who have served in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and various other places, and PTSD is impacting them. They were okay for a while post-release, but then it hit them, the anxiety, the lack of sleep, the nightmares, the depression. It took them a while to actually ask for help.
I am so proud that we have created this centre of excellence in post-traumatic stress disorder. The centre is a place where we can access the best in research, the best tools, and the best support for our veterans. We can also work to try to find ways to prevent PTSD moving forward, and we can do all we can to share our best practices with others around the world.
Veterans Affairs Canada is clear in its mission to improve the well-being of veterans and their families. This is at the core of everything it does in providing the treatment, support, and services veterans and their families need when they leave our country's service to successfully transition back to our neighbourhoods.
I also want to mention that I am very pleased with our recent announcement of the pension for life. This was something that came up when I was knocking on people's doors during the election in 2015. I know that residents in Davenport will be very pleased that we are fulfilling this promise. They continue to ask that we continue to serve our veterans and help support them on an ongoing basis. I know that they are very pleased with everything we have done to date.
We are deeply committed to supporting our veterans. We fulfill our sacred obligation to them by ensuring that, should they come back injured, we will be there with the benefits and services they need to feel well enough to participate fully in post-military life. Of course, more needs to be done: more services, less complications, more help with getting jobs, and the list goes on. However, we have made a tremendous degree of progress with a $10 billion investment.
This government is going to continue to make things better for all veterans and their families. More than words, and more than 10 years of inaction, we have demonstrated real action behind our commitments and there is more to come.
Mr. Speaker, this is an important debate brought by my colleague today, because it highlights one of our most important duties as parliamentarians. As I have said in debates in this place, before Canada sends our men and women into harm's way, whether it is fighting ISIS or in other deployments, decisions related to the Canadian Armed Forces, those Canadians who serve us, are perhaps the most important decisions, debates, and questions we have as parliamentarians.
We should be very deliberative and thoughtful in our decisions with respect to deploying our military. We need to apply that same deliberate, compassionate, and honest approach in how we treat those men and women who come back with a variety of service injuries.
Unfortunately, in the last decade-plus, there has been a lot of rhetoric with respect to veterans' issues and veterans' care, but very little deliberate language trying to explain and understand how we best provide for our men and women. They are often used as political tools and I want to see that end, so I am going to devote most of the time I have for my remarks today to setting the record straight. Even some of the language I see from the minister's office shows he does not understand how programs and services are delivered to the people he serves, the same with people in his office. I hope they are tuning in.
I am also going to try to take a balanced look at the new veterans charter, and why, as minister, I tried to improve it, fix the problems, fill in the gaps, as opposed to making irresponsible promises that the and the Liberal Party, in the last campaign, either did not understand, did not cost, or did not care whether they fulfilled them. I certainly hope it is not the last one of those reasons. I certainly hope not. I think, at a bare minimum, all politicians, when talking about care for those who serve us, have to have honesty and respect underlying all of our comments, all of our promises, and all of our commitments.
We hear a lot about quotes from our past with respect to our obligation. I have often talked about the Royal Canadian Legion, and once a Liberal member mocked me for suggesting the Legion has a role, but the Legion has been serving veterans far longer than Veterans Affairs Canada. In fact, they were given a mandate to help veterans and help commemoration through an act of Parliament in this place in 1926. They still, in many ways, are at the forefront in their 1,400 locations across the country, where each branch has a veterans' service officer.
I want to start my remarks by saying, veterans started taking care of veterans first, and they still do. I spoke with many of them on the Hill today, because they are trying to take care of their comrades and in some cases, themselves. As I said, we owe them honesty and respect. That is why we are having this debate today. The has not provided honesty or respect in all of his commitments with respect to veteran pensions and veteran care.
We saw that first-hand two weeks ago in Edmonton, where an injured veteran asked him about his commitments, and the told that veteran that he was, in many ways, asking for more than the government could give. However, he was only asking for the Prime Minister to live up to his promise.
Let us talk about this pension for life charade from Christmastime. Even in the minister's own remarks, he suggests building upon programs in place. That was one of his responses. Many of the programs put in place where put in place by ministers of the Paul Martin government, when they started the new veterans charter. Then under the Harper government, we modified and enhanced benefits, including in my time.
When I introduced Bill in the last Parliament, which outlined a number of new enhancements, new benefits for veterans after direct consultation with veterans, I embedded into that legislation language with respect to the just and appreciation and the obligation we had to our veterans. This comes from a 1917 quote from Sir Robert Borden given to our men overseas who were injured in and around the campaigns of 1917.
Yesterday, Liberal members voted down a private member's bill put forward by my colleague from Barrie to enshrine that sacred obligation, that enhanced social covenant, that we owe to our citizens who we ask to serve with the risk of unlimited liability. That is why our veterans are in court. That is why they are asking for such a covenant. Their comrades in the United Kingdom have it. I is talked about it in Bill .
One of the members from British Columbia brought forward an opposition day motion on it in the last Parliament. I am quite sure the voted for it then as third party leader. He whipped his members to vote against it yesterday, even though I know a lot of those members deeply care, including some who are in the House now. I wish their voices would be heard in their caucus, because right now veterans do not feel they are getting honesty and respect from the Liberal government.
We often quote Sir Robert Borden, who happens to have been my favourite prime minister because of his leadership during the Great War and the toll it took on him.
Here is a quote from a veteran who died 100 years ago, Talbot Papineau. Ironically the is also the member of Parliament for , but he is referred to as Prime Minister because he leads the government. Everyone in the House has a right to speak as members of Parliament.
The Papineau family, going back to Talbot Papineau's grandfather, has been so important for Quebec life that the now represents a riding named after the Papineau family. The Prime Minister also played Talbot Papineau, the Great War soldier, on television, so there is a direct connection there.
What did Talbot Papineau say to his troops days before he died in the Battle of Passchendaele? He said, “For those who have been disabled, who cannot carry on the good fight — it is certainly for us to see that they want for nothing.” He died on the day his regiment lost six of its junior officers on one of the worst days of fighting in Passchendaele. We honour Passchendaele. I know the parliamentary secretary was in Passchendaele.
The needs to do more than just act in the form of Talbot Papineau. He needs to live up to those words. This debate is about that. The fact that he whipped his members to vote against this concept yesterday is troubling.
We do owe a special, a sacred, a profound obligation to those who are injured while serving us. That is why the Conservative Party has brought this opposition day forward today. Veterans heard the of Canada, in my view, disrespect a veteran with his response in Edmonton because that veteran was asking the Prime Minister to live up to his promises.
Where did the Liberal government go wrong with veterans in its first two years? It boils down to two central pledges in the Liberal campaign. I was still veterans affairs minister during the campaign. During the 2015 campaign, unions were paying people to protest in front of my office. I was still trying to help veterans in need.
I remember very well when the , then third party leader, leader of the Liberal Party, had a rally not far from CFB Trenton in Belleville. The party flew in its star veteran candidates. The was there. The parliamentary secretary for U.S. relations was there. The parliamentary secretary for transport was there, all wearing medals, all behind the Prime Minister. It was very impressive form, very impressive people individually..
The said two things in those remarks that day. He said that he would never allow a circumstance where the Government of Canada forced veterans into court to be heard in their fight for benefits. He also made a commitment that day to return to the Pension Act, not make up a modified pension for life, which even the minister admits only 10% or so of people will see any enhancement whatsoever. He made a commitment to return to what veterans know as the old system, the Pension Act, where everyone got a pension for life.
I never made that promise as minister because the old act had inherent problems with it. Many people forgot that. My old friend, Peter Stoffer, the long-time critic for the NDP, agreed with me that the old system had problems and we had to fix the new system, the new veterans charter, because it was based on overall wellness of the veterans and their families. Honesty is not making a promise one will likely not keep.
Then there was the court decision. I have not told the House this before, but I will inform members of it today. I think the people involved with Equitas would be okay with my talking about this level of disclosure.
The previous Government of Canada, and I was minister at the time, and the Equitas veterans, who were in court because of their frustration, built a level of trust. As a veteran myself and with veterans on my team, I hired a new lawyer. I replaced the Department of Justice lawyer who had brought an argument suggesting in a pretrial motion that the Government of Canada owed no special duty to our veterans. I found that repugnant as a lawyer, as a parliamentarian, and as a veteran. We learned from the Equitas veterans. The family caregiver benefit, the retirement income security benefit, all the benefits the Liberals are now renaming and trying to claim as their own, a lot of them came from advice I received, and we virtually had Equitas settled. Why was it not settled? Because the Liberals dangled the promise of a return to the old Pension Act.
I said that if that was indeed the promise, I could not meet it. I asked whether we could turn our settlement into an abeyance agreement, or at least call time out on the litigation. I told the veterans that if they trusted the Liberals and wanted to go with that deal, as their friend now and not just as minister, I would respect that. I had told Prime Minister Harper at the time that we were close to settling Equitas. I looked at it as a failing of mine. Why did it fail? Because a promise was made, a deception was sown, and the Liberals need to take accountability for it.
I would much rather the admit that the Liberals have broken their promise than to dress it up in a press conference a few days before Christmas. It was shameful. They should step up and say they cannot meet their promise.
The in his town hall in Edmonton basically admitted the government could not afford it. Why did he promise it? We are looking at a return to the old system, a cost to the federal government of somewhere between $20 billion and $35 billion. That is because the old system wanted veterans to just quickly go on a pension. It was not about wellness. It was not about transition. If veterans had an operational stress injuries under the old system and because with mental health injuries they could have good times and bad times and they could respond to treatment, they did not get a permanent disability of 100% a lot of the time. If they were assessed at a 40% disability, they had a pension for life that committed them to poverty, or addiction, or family break-up or homelessness.
That is why the old system does not work. We need to focus on the wellness. For those who cannot transition, because of physical or mental injuries, give them lifetime financial support. I did that as minister, with the retirement income security benefit, with the critical injury benefit, with enhancements to PIA, all the things the Liberals are building on now, to ensure the moderate to severely injured, who could not transition, were supported for life. All Canadians want to see that.
Here is what is wrong with the Liberal system. The Liberals throw this number around, which I know they do not even understand. They said they spent $10 billion on veterans. That is not true. Some of that is accrual accounting, and they are not even forthright on it. It is not a cash accounting spend. It is an accrual. It is a commitment of the federal government to maintain a lifelong benefit. I would like them to break that $10 billion down into how much is in accrual accounting and how much is cash out the door. We will know in a couple of years when lapses in public accounts come in. The reckoning is coming. Why can they not just be forthright?
Here is what was not smart about the government's first act. The retroactive top-up of the disability award was very bad public policy. Every dollar I had from the treasury, working with Prime Minister Harper at the time, I wanted to go to the moderately to severely injured and their families, those who were struggling. The vast majority of the $2 billion or so the Liberals spent retroactively topping up the lump sum went to people with disability assessments in the 13% range. They spent at least a billion dollars on hearing loss. If they were more forthright, I would know exactly how much. Those funds should have put toward families.
Expand the permanent impairment allowance and give family caregiver benefits to everyone on PIA. That is where I was going. That would be sound policy because those are the people who have had trouble transitioning. Those are the people Talbot Papineau, 100 years ago, said, “it is certainly for us to see that they want for nothing.”
I know veterans with lower level injuries, such as musculoskeletal and hearing. Some of them go on to work on Bay Street, or in government, or are deputy ministers. Do they need the transitional support? Generally, not. Therefore, any funds should go to the ones who need it.
To say I am profoundly disappointed to be having to debate this here today is an understatement. As I stated at the outset, the two things that veterans deserve are honesty and respect. They did not get that.
If the wants to show those things, he should admit he did not understand the cost of his pension promise, instead of suggesting the veteran in Edmonton was asking for too much. The Prime Minister did not know what he promised. That is shameful. He should admit that.
The other thing he should do is meet with the Equitas veterans. They are wonderful people. They have served us. I know a lot of the Liberal MPs have met them and like them. Why is he forcing them to go to the Supreme Court of Canada? I agreed with his promise. Veterans should not have to face off against their government in court. He is making them do that. The lawyers from the Justice Department, who I removed from the case, he reappointed. They went back to their old argument that we had stopped them from making.
This is about owning leadership. Leadership is not just photographs, or as the Prime Minister suggested to the Ethics Commissioner, he is like a networker-in-chief for Canada. He owes it to the veterans of our country to tell them why he has broken his promises on a return to a pension for all injured, and for returning Equitas veterans to court. Until I see responsibility from the and the minister, the Conservatives will continue to fight in this place for those who serve us.
Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Two years ago, this government made a pledge to Canadians to do more to support veterans and their families. We promised to ensure that veterans receive the respect, support, care, and economic opportunities they deserve and have earned through their dedication, sacrifice, and service to this country. I stood behind the in Belleville and I stand behind him now as we bring forward $10 billion in programs and services for veterans and their families. We set out to make tangible improvements in the lives of our veterans. In the past two years, this government has come a long way in making a real difference in the lives of veterans and those who care for and love them.
We inherited a department broken from years of neglect and band-aid, boutique, quick fix, photo-op solutions left by the previous government. We need long-term, sustainable solutions. That is what our government is about and that is what takes time to get right. This was a journey that began by listening to veterans, hearing their concerns, and developing a plan to respond to them.
Not only did this government reopen nine of the Veterans Affairs offices that the hon. member for thought were not important, but we actually opened a new one. The Surrey office opened its doors in May 2017. This new Surrey office serves approximately 7,500 veterans, and enables approximately 206 veterans to work in person with their case managers.
Veterans Affairs Canada also reversed the cutbacks in service and hiring. The Conservatives cut over 900 jobs in Veterans Affairs Canada. We have hired 460 more staff in the last two years to deliver services and benefits, answer questions, and help veterans and their families. That number includes more than 180 case managers who work directly with veterans to deliver the services and benefits they are eligible for. We have also increased and improved outreach in every part of the country. In 2017 alone, Veterans Affairs made 12 visits to communities in Canada's north.
This government also increased the maximum value of the disability award for Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans with service-related illnesses and injuries to $360,000, putting more money directly into their pockets. Now, 67,000 veterans are better off. We increased the earnings loss benefit, raising it to 90% of an injured Canadian Armed Forces member's military salary at the time of release from the forces.
I mentioned that the first thing this government did was to listen to and hear veterans' concerns. One message we heard loud and clear was that many of the benefits and services delivered through Veterans Affairs were difficult to access and time-consuming to apply for. They also said that they were often not able to apply for the benefits and services they were eligible for because they did not have the information they needed to even ask the right questions. They also told us that we needed to look after those who were most severely injured first, and that is what we have done.
The department began an 18-month review of the way it delivers services and benefits. That review led to 91 recommended actions to improve service delivery. By the end of 2017, the department had put 37 into action and will complete another 45 by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year. Most of the remaining nine are beyond the department's direct control and it is working with other organizations to make progress on them today. More benefits and supports will be coming into effect on April 1, which will have even greater impact on the lives of veterans and their families.
Here is an example. Under the former Pension Act, let us say a supply technician with 12 years of service ended up with a 40% disability. Under the Pension Act, that soldier could expect a monthly cheque of just over $1,000, or $12,000 a year.
Under the new veterans charter, that same veteran would get a lump sum of about $124,000, and if the severity of their injuries meant they could not return to work, they would get a career impact allowance in the range of $1,000 a month on top of the $124,000 lump sum. On top of that there are numerous benefits when it comes to rehabilitation, retraining, education, treatment, and care. All of that adds up to a good way to get people launched into a new and rewarding future.
This was a plan that was supposed to evolve with veterans' needs. This was the design of the new veterans charter, but under the previous government, the Conservatives never let it. They were not interested in having that new veterans charter evolve to where it should be.
A critical promise that we have also delivered is re-establishing a monthly option for veterans. Coming into effect April 1, 2019, this pension for life is a combination of benefits and it will provide income support and stability to veterans who experience a service-related illness or injury. Under this change, that retired technician would receive nearly $5,000 a month for the rest of his or her life, that is $60,000 a year for life, and now at 90% of their pre-release salary.
Should they wish to go back to school, they are also entitled to an additional $80,000 to help cover the cost of tuition and then they will have access to career transition services to help find meaningful work and a purposeful life.
When the new legislation comes into force it will represent an investment of nearly $3.6 billion in supporting veterans in addition to the nearly $6 billion this government committed in the two previous budgets. This means that within two years of a majority mandate, this government has put $10 billion into the hands of veterans. We have increased spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs from $3.6 billion a year to this year where it will be $4.9 billion. That is a huge and substantive improvement.
In the same period in the first two years of the Conservative mandate after 2011, they did nothing. It changed somewhere around 5% and we changed it 30%. We will continue to engage with veterans, families, advocates, groups, and stakeholders. We will continue to listen to hear their concerns and advice. We will continue to make concrete improvements in the programs and services and in the well-being of veterans and their families.
We have come far in this journey, but we are not stopping now. We will continue to move forward on that journey and we will honour and commemorate our veterans' achievements, courage, and sacrifice. We will continue to treat veterans with compassion and respect, giving them the financial and service support they need, not empty platitudes and political gamesmanship. We will always remain committed to the well-being of veterans and their families.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the progress and efforts our government has made to support our veterans to this point.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I can assure this House that our and the are very engaged in the issues that affect our veterans and have made their well-being and reintegration into civilian life a priority.
We made a commitment to make it easier for the men and women who have served in uniform so courageously to access their benefits. We are talking about members of our society who have given up so much for our country. They deserve benefits that meet their needs.
In 2015, we pledged to make it easier for veterans to access services, to do more to support their families, to streamline benefits, to reduce the administrative overhead, to improve the veterans' experience with Veterans Affairs Canada, and to help them make a more successful transition to civilian life after service. We have been delivering on those promises, and I will share some examples.
For years, veterans, veterans' advocates, and other stakeholders have told successive governments that there are problems with some of the benefits and services offered by Veterans Affairs as well as with the delivery of those services. Starting in 2016, the began reaching out to the veteran community to ask for their input. He, his predecessor, and the parliamentary secretary have travelled from one end of the country to the other to listen to veterans across the nation.
At the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, veterans and their advocates and stakeholders repeatedly told us that information was often difficult to understand. Eligibility rules were confusing. Veterans had a hard time navigating the process of applying for and receiving benefits and services. Often, they missed out on programs or benefits they were eligible for because they did not have enough information to ask the questions they needed to, in order to find out more about those programs.
As one veteran put it, “I don't know what I don't know”. This lack of knowledge is a real barrier for the Canadian Armed Forces member who is trying to make a successful transition out of the military to a new life after service, often in a new community, and often with very different needs and career goals. We listened to veterans' concerns. We heard them and we acted on them.
Veterans Affairs Canada commenced an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the way it delivers services to veterans. Department officials also consulted with front-line staff about the strengths and the challenges of the department and its programs.
The report that came out of that review made 31 recommendations, with 91 actions to improve service delivery. The measures were focused on aligning policies, programs, and functions to support excellence in delivering services. The measures were also aimed at investing in tools, technology, and training to empower Veterans Affairs employees to deliver more effective services to veterans and their families, as well as strengthening communications, information sharing, and outreach. They were also aimed at developing a new model for delivering services to veterans, one that is simpler, more integrated and user friendly.
The department has now adopted a veteran-centric approach that puts the individual veteran at the core of every decision. They work diligently to ensure a higher standard of care and service, and to uphold the “one veteran, one standard” approach, which is to say that each veteran is treated as an individual with the same standard of respect, support, and care.
By the end of 2017, Veterans Affairs Canada had completed 37 of the actions recommended in the service delivery review. It will complete an additional 45 by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year, and is working with other organizations to put the remaining nine into action.
There is one goal, one single purpose driving these changes: making real improvements in the well-being of veterans, and for their families, too.
This is in addition to the commitments we made to veterans from the outset of this government.
Veterans were disillusioned by 10 years of neglect under the previous Conservative government. That is why our government invested over $10 billion into increasing compensation for pain and suffering; increasing income replacement for veterans on vocational or psycho-social rehabilitation, or veterans who cannot return to work; restoring access to critical services like reopening the nine offices closed by the Conservatives; and hiring 460 staff, focusing on mental health, creating an education benefit, and investing more into families and caregivers. Veterans asked for changes, they asked for action, and we acted.
Just months ago, the announced the details of a pension for life option, a plan designed to help veterans live a full and productive life post-service. This new pension for life option is a monthly tax-free payment for life to recognize pain and suffering. It provides income replacement payable at 90% of a veteran's pre-release salary, indexed annually, and for life for those who need it.
The Pension Act was no panacea, which is why every party in this place supported changes to a model that includes wellness.
Our pension for life gives back the option of a monthly pension that could be double or triple or more than the amount of the lump sum payment to provide financial security for veterans and their families while guaranteeing the important wellness benefits like rehabilitation, education or career training benefits.
Take a 30-year-old veteran with 12 years of service who is 60% disabled. He or she would be able to receive $4,660 per month across his or her lifetime in pain and suffering compensation and income replacement, plus $1,000-a-month to his or her caregiver for supports. The veteran could access up to $80,000 for post-secondary education. There is no longer a time limit on applying for rehabilitation services or vocational assistance. Pension for life works with veterans, providing them with financial, educational, and mental supports they need to seamlessly transition to their new life post-service.
We know we are not finished, and the commitment continues to improve the lives of the men and women who have dedicated, even sacrificed, their lives to our peace and security.
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As usual, I would like to say hello to the many constituents of Beauport—Limoilou who are watching. Two months ago, as I was going door to door in Limoilou, I met a man who said that he listened to all of my speeches. He talked to me about how the festivals at Cartier-Brébeuf park cause noise disturbances. I want to say hello to him.
First, I would like to say that I am very passionate and care a lot about any issues that affect Canada's veterans, mainly for family reasons. On the Clarke side of the family, fathers and sons have served in the Canadian Armed Forces since 1890, and I was no exception. My great-grandfather, William Clarke, served in the First World War and the Boer War. My grandfather, Robert Clarke, served in the Second World War. My father, Patrick Clarke, served our country in Berlin during the German occupation in the 1970s. My brother, Anthony Clarke, served in Afghanistan in 2006 during the campaign in which most lives were lost. I served the country in the reserves and never went overseas. It is perhaps one my biggest disappointments that I was not able to serve this beautiful country in times of war.
My colleagues opposite say that we, as Conservatives, should be embarrassed about how we treated veterans. However, I just shared my family's and my history, and I am in no way embarrassed to be a Conservative. I assure my colleagues opposite that I am being sincere. If the Conservatives had acted poorly towards veterans, I would admit it, if I were minimally honourable and capable of analyzing public policy—which I am. This is not at all the case, however, and I will have to talk about everything that we did for veterans. This is not the primary focus of my speech, but I have no choice, because all the Liberal members have been saying since this morning that the Conservatives were horrible to veterans. Our treatment of veterans is not the focus of this opposition day. Today's focus is the following:
That the House call on the Prime Minister to apologize to veterans for his insensitive comments at a recent town hall in Edmonton and show veterans the respect that they deserve by fulfilling his campaign promise to them, when he said on August 24, 2015, that “If I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned”.
Not only did the break this solemn promise in an egregious manner when he stated at a town hall in Edmonton that veterans were asking for too much, but he broke three other promises. The Prime Minister promised Canadians that, if they voted for him, he would restore lifetime pensions for veterans. He broke this promise because the lifetime pension established and presented by the Liberals before Christmas does not really restore the old lifetime pension. Most veterans who elect to pull out of the former system, which applies to those who fought before 2006, will not get 100% of the amounts they were receiving.
The Prime Minister also promised that veterans would not have to fight their own government to obtain the support and compensation they deserve. Yesterday, my great colleague from introduced a bill that proposes a covenant. It is a commitment, an agreement, or a contract. My colleague from Barrie—Innisfil probably wanted to enter into a proper contract with veterans by changing the Department of Veterans Affairs Act and compensation for the Canadian Armed Forces by amending section 4 of the act by adding the following:
...the Minister shall take into account the following principles:
(a) that the person, as well as their dependants or survivors, is to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness;
It is interesting, because the delivered a big speech here yesterday about the relationship that his government and Canada have with our brave indigenous peoples, who have been here for thousands of years. He said we do not need to change the Constitution, because section 35 already says that we recognize the rights of indigenous peoples. The Prime Minister said that instead, we need to change the way we view indigenous peoples and treat them with dignity and respect, and that is how we will give them the recognition they want.
However, that is exactly what my colleague from wrote in his motion on veterans. His motion called for the concept of treating veterans with dignity and respect to be incorporated into the act, so that bureaucrats and judges would take that concept into consideration when making decisions about veterans' benefits. Sadly, the Prime Minister voted against that motion yesterday. Is that not a shame?
I am disappointed, not only because the Liberals voted against this motion, but also because day after day in question period, the , the Prime Minister, and his veteran colleagues trot out the same hogwash about how the Conservatives treated veterans disgracefully. Those are lies.
Ours was the first government to implement the new veterans charter. We significantly increased virtually all of the compensation amounts. Every day in question period, rather than actually answering questions and apologizing for what the Prime Minister said, the Liberals spout off this kind of nonsense when what they should be doing is explaining how they intend to respect veterans, some of whom are meeting with a number of my colleagues outside.
Another thing I am disappointed about has to do with Bill , a bill I introduced to create a grandfather clause for veterans wanting to transition to the public service. They could thus avoid having to work another five years to collect full retirement benefits. It is a very simple bill.
I have repeatedly requested a meeting with the . I even told him to forget about my bill and incorporate its amendments into the Treasury Board rules so that the 80 veterans who have to work an extra five years in Canada's public service to retire with dignity can benefit from the grandfather clause. The Minister of Veterans Affairs refused to meet with me. This would cost about $2 million. That is peanuts.
As a final point, in response to my colleagues, I want to point out what we, the Conservatives, have done since 2006. First, we created the position of veterans ombudsman. Second, we announced clinics for veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. Third, we established the Veterans Bill of Rights, which is on my desk in Beauport—Limoilou. On top of that, we announced additional funding to support operational stress injury clinics.
Furthermore, we created the atomic veterans recognition program. We launched an outreach campaign with community partners to identify and support homeless veterans in the Montreal area. In addition, in 2010, we created a community war memorial program, because once again, veterans often need recognition. We also introduced benefits for seriously injured veterans, including the earnings loss benefit, to increase monthly financial support.
All of that was introduced by the Conservative government, and that is not all. We also improved access to the career impact allowance, another measure created by the Conservative government. Is that not incredible? We also created a $1,000 supplement to the career impact allowance for the most seriously injured veterans. That is another Conservative government measure. Lastly, let us not forget the flexible payment options for veterans and Canadian Forces members who are receiving a disability award. That is another Conservative government measure. Is that not incredible, Mr. Speaker?
Despite everything I just said, the bottom line is that the made a solemn promise in 2015, hand on heart and surrounded by top military brass who are now MPs. He said that veterans would never, ever have to fight in court for their rights.
That is what is going on. He broke his promise. There is nothing honourable about that. It is most unfortunate.
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to be speaking to this motion today calling for the to apologize for his insensitive comments toward Canada's veterans.
I have to start with a simple comparison. During the last election, the said, “If I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned.” However, only a few weeks ago, when a young PPCLI vet in Edmonton asked the Prime Minister why the government is fighting veterans in court, the Prime Minister said that veterans are “asking for more than we are able to give right now”. Is it any wonder that veterans are marching today in Ottawa, in Vegreville, and in Bonnyville, in Lakeland.
Like many Canadians, members of my family were and are veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces, and I am blessed to have gotten to know many veterans throughout my life. Canadian veterans are not always in uniform, but for those who still wear a uniform, and those who do not, they are and were Canada's best. Canadian veterans deserve the best from their country and eternal gratitude from all Canadians. They deserve the highest level of care and dignity from their government and from the department whose mandate is to serve them. I know that Lakeland constituents, like all Canadians, believe passionately that veterans deserve dignity and respect.
William McGregor, now in his 90s, served on the European front in World War II. William is from Bonnyville. He served Canada by helping to liberate France from the Nazis. William's distinguished service as a medic earned him the highest national order of France, a Knight of the Legion of Honour. Although William and one of his brothers survived storming the beaches of Normandy, his other brother did not and is now buried in France. William did not enlist as an 18-year-old to ask his country to give him anything in return. William still does not ask anything of his country.
The veterans who have been forced to ask a court to give them the help they need are not asking for more than Canadians are willing to give. The 's rebuke to veterans is shameful, and it simply does not at all reflect the concern, compassion, and respect of Canadians toward veterans. It is especially disappointing, given the Prime Minister's own lofty promises, and sadly, what were clearly empty words during the campaign.
What I hope we can all agree on is that we should not insult Canada's veterans when they are simply asking the to account for the difference between what he says and what he does.
Canadian soldiers owe us nothing. They have served us well. They and their families have a sacred bond with Canada, which is responsible to them in turn. Our job is not only to see those with whom Canada has made the sacred covenant be generally or usually treated with respect and dignity but to do what we can to ensure that this ethos informs every interaction between veterans and the government, on Canadians' behalf. However, yesterday, the and every Liberal member defeated a private member's bill that would have required the government to ensure that veterans and their families were treated with dignity, respect, and fairness, with consideration given to their unique experiences and sacrifices, and that any decisions regarding their care or treatment be made in a timely manner. This is a covenant that is in place in the U.S., the U.K., and other countries.
I would remind my colleagues that the House of Commons even unanimously supported a motion in 2015 that recognized the standalone covenant of moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation between the Canadian people and the Government of Canada to provide the care and financial compensation needed by members of the Armed Forces who have been injured or disabled or who have died as a result of their military service. However, the Liberals defeated it.
The should, at the very least, always treat veterans and their families with dignity, respect, and fairness if they are not going to support putting those actions into law. The motion does not require anything unreasonable or burdensome for the Prime Minister. It is a simple request. It should be an easy decision.
Now, I want to be fair. Every member in this House has, and will, from time to time, make a mistake when speaking. There but for the grace of God go I. However, when we make a mistake, as the has clearly done, we should own up to it, and we should apologize.
My constituents who are veterans deserve this apology. They are veterans like Fred Roddick. Fred is from the border region between Lakeland and Battle River—Crowfoot. Fred flew Catalinas for the Australian air force and fought Nazi U-boats off the southern tip of Africa. In one engagement, six hours from the nearest land, he destroyed a U-boat and his plane took damage. With great determination and bravery, he piloted his damaged plane all the way back to land, a six-hour flight, carefully landed it using only half the landing gear, and returned his crew to their base safely.
There is also the story of Cliff Espetveidt, a farmer from Marwayne. He and his brothers signed up to serve because they saw what Hitler was doing in Europe, and they felt that they had to do something about it. The brothers were initially stationed in England and were supposed to have gone to Dieppe as reinforcements, but they ended up in the Sicily campaign. Cliff tells of how his brother was shot twice, once by a sniper. He survived, but with scars and a hand that no longer worked. When the war ended, Cliff's unit was in Holland. The happiness and celebration eventually finished, and Cliff and his brothers returned to Marwayne. Life eventually went back to normal, but Cliff still keeps his memories, and his brother still keeps his wounds.
There are countless other veterans from across Canada and in Lakeland with stories just like Fred's, William's, and Cliff's, such as John Karmandy from Vegreville and Jack Leighton from Kitscoty. Their amazing stories only marginally reveal the nature of what Canada's soldiers experience in combat.
These men and women undergo terribly demanding training and evaluation preparing themselves mentally and physically for combat to put themselves at risk and to fight to prevent the loss of their own lives and the lives of their comrades. That is before a soldier, pilot, or sailor even arrives in a combat zone. To face daily the possibility that they may take a life or lose their own would undoubtedly leave a permanent mark on anyone. To then witness and experience horrors only seen on a battlefield, to personally lose limbs, senses, or the ability to fall asleep are experiences only others who have gone through it too can truly understand.
Canada asks this of members of the armed forces, and Canada needs people to serve. Canada asks them to suffer abroad so that we may not suffer at home and so we can live freely and safely. Veterans serve without asking to know the details or to know how everything will turn out. They do not even know to which combat zone they might be deployed. They simply sign up to serve.
There is no legitimate reason any member should oppose this motion. The said he would not force veterans to the courts to get the help they needed, and then when veterans were forced to the courts and asked him about it, he said they were asking for too much, saying that they were trying to take something that was not theirs. He must apologize.
I would like to offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to the member for , the member for , and the members for and for their dedication to Canada's veterans. I will support this motion, and I encourage all members of this House to join me in that effort.