Before we proceed, I did have some continued difficulties with the translation. The French was coming through, but when people switched to English, I was hearing the French and not their microphone, so we do have some continued technical issues here.
Did anybody else experience difficulties, or is it just me? I see that some of us did.
Okay, just to clarify, when there was a switch from French to English, I heard the interpreter in both situations. I did hear the translation into English when French was being spoken, but when the speaker switched to English, I was hearing the French being spoken in my ear, not the person speaking.
We'll just give them a few minutes here to see if they can figure out what the issue is before we proceed.
Was anybody having difficulty with anything other than the French translation? Was the English translation working for those who were listening to the French?
I'm just getting word that we should be good now to move forward. That's great. Thank you.
This is going to be an ongoing thing, folks. I just wanted to say at the outset a huge thank you to the technical folks there in Ottawa. This is not going to be an easy process, and we will try to be as patient as possible as we learn the process together.
First and foremost, thank you for your confidence. It's an honour to chair this committee again. Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
Before we get into the routine motions, I promised MP Brassard that I would do a run-through of how we would proceed. To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few important things to know moving forward.
Number one, interpretation in the video conference will work very much as it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “floor”, “English” or “French”.
Two, as you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will need to also switch the interpretation channel so it aligns with the language that you're speaking. You may want to allow a short pause when switching.
Three, before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you're ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your microphone.
Four, I remind you that all comments by members should be addressed through the chair.
Five, should members need to request the floor, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order.
Six, if you wish to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, you should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest in speaking. In order to do so, you should click on the “participants” button at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you will see next to your name that you can click on “raise hand”.
Seven, when speaking, please speak slowly and clearly.
Eight, when you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
Nine, the use of the headset is strongly encouraged. In fact, if we can all agree that it would be not just an encouragement but a requirement, that would be good. Interpreters will have a very difficult time if you don't have your headset in use.
Should any technical challenges arise—for example, in relation to interpretation or a problem with your audio—please advise the chair immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times, as we need to ensure all members are able to participate fully.
Before we get started, can everyone click on their screen on the top right-hand corner to ensure that they are in gallery view? With this view you should be able to see all the participants in a grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see one another.
If the committee wishes, we can now proceed to the consideration of routine motions.
Is there any discussion?
I guess a question for the clerk is whether a hand up is sufficient, and I'm just getting word here. Yes, as long as we have agreement from everybody, we can move forward in that way.
At this point, seeing no disagreement, I would like to invite Jean-Rodrigue Paré, the committee's analyst, to activate his camera in order to participate in the meeting.
Seeing that he's just joined us, hello, sir.
Again, I want to add my congratulations. I've always enjoyed you as a chair, so I'm happy to see that happen again.
I have a couple of amendments that I would like to propose.
In PROC and in many other committees, they have looked at the 10-minute timeline for an opening statement and changed it to “between five and seven and a half minutes”. That's to make sure that when people do their presentations, we get through them quickly so that we can get to the question portion, which is so important.
The other amendment I would like to propose in this section is changing the second round to “Conservative Party, five minutes; Liberal Party, five minutes; Bloc Québécois, two and a half minutes; New Democratic Party, two and a half minutes; Conservative Party, five minutes; and Liberal Party, five minutes.” Again, this has been done in PROC and the majority of the other committees that have met to this point.
I would not support having opening statements at any more than five minutes, and here's why.
Let me say this. My support for the motion will be conditional on the opening statements being limited to five minutes.
I agree that the chair should have discretion in the circumstances Mr. Albas described, but in the first round you have four six-minute slots. That makes 24 minutes. In the second and subsequent rounds, you have four five-minute slots and two slots of two and a half minutes. That's 25 minutes.
You thus have 49 minutes of questions. Take that 49 minutes of questioning, with two witnesses presenting for five minutes each, and there's your 59 minutes for one panel.
The problem I have is that if you increase the time for the presentations, the slot that gets cut is the Liberal slot at the end. To be comfortable with moving us to the back of the line and moving the NDP and the Bloc up the line from where they were in the last Parliament, I would want to have the assurance that there's some hope of getting to us. That assurance is gone if the opening statements are longer than five minutes.
It's about 58 years old.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Sean Casey: I have a motion to present, Mr. Chair. This is what I would call a continuation motion, I guess.
The motion is as follows: I move that the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs agrees that all substantive motions adopted by the committee to undertake studies or hear from witnesses in the first session of the 43rd Parliament are hereby readopted by the committee without modification or amendment.
That's the motion I wish to present. Perhaps I can offer just a little bit of colour, because I know that we have some new members on the committee.
Essentially, the committee had adopted four specific motions as a work plan and had assigned priorities to each of them. As the first order of business they covered, first and foremost, the backlog, and they dedicated no fewer than four meetings to that study. The second was to undertake a study of federal supports and services to veterans, caregivers and families, with no fewer than three meetings dedicated to that study. The third order of business was to undertake a study of the efficacy and use of psychiatric service dogs, with no more than three meetings devoted to that study. The fourth was a study on commemoration, with no fewer than three meetings.
That's just by way of background, Mr. Chair. The motion is essentially to readopt all of those four substantive motions as our work plan.
I will speak to Mr. Casey's motion first.
I agree that of course the studies this committee put forward earlier in the session are important ones. I do think we need to revisit these. I have some additions that I would like to look at, so I'm not comfortable supporting the motion unless I have more clarity about the process.
My understanding is that the subcommittee would be able to meet, review what had been done, look at any new motions that are applied, and then create a work plan based on that. Things have changed. I think it's important to continue a study on the disability backlog, but it has been a significant number of months. There is a PBO report that all of you know, and I'm very interested in following up on that and in making sure we get more clarity on that issue.
I guess what I'm saying is that I want to know the process before I commit to agreeing to anything. I don't think moving forward with the old work plan makes sense until there is a more substantive debate about where we need to go.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
You'd think I would have learned my lesson with PROC.
Frankly, I share Rachel's concern regarding the “without amendment” aspect of this motion. I believe there are some significant issues that we still need to deal with.
We have, as Rachel said, the parliamentary budget office report on the backlog. There's a lot of new information in there. I'm not in disagreement with moving on that report and the backlog situation, but the process is that we go to the subcommittee. That, in effect, sets course and direction for this committee.
My concern is that with respect to the family caregiver question, the efficacy of service dogs and...what was the other one? There were four specific things, and there's a new session. There's more information. We've had the supplementary estimates, for example, that have been tabled in the House of Commons. We haven't dealt with that issue. That doesn't reflect what's in Mr. Casey's motion. There's an order of the House on April 20 for committees to look into this and report back by November 27.
I'm not going to support this motion as is. The Conservatives will not support this motion as is. I think we need to go through the process, have the subcommittee provide direction and then have the clerk work on whatever comes out of that subcommittee at that time, Mr. Chair.
If that's how that is going to work, then I think I will go through that process.
Thank you so much for those motions. I found some of them very thoughtful and I look forward to discussing them.
I recognize just how unprecedented these times are, in that we don't know a lot about when committees are going to be meeting. I know that the House staff is working very hard and I thank them so much for their incredible work to make sure we move as quickly as possible and get the committees up and running. I know that it will happen.
I am wondering, Chair, if you could just clarify for me that, as I think I'm hearing, our first meeting, once the whips make their agreement and send that out and it's public, will in fact be a meeting of the subcommittee, so that it can bring forward to the full committee recommendations about how to move forward. At that point, we can review all motions that have been put forward and perhaps amend and put together some that are similar and then present something to the larger committee.
I'm just looking for clarification.
Since I have the floor, I am going to read these notices of motion into the record in advance of their going into subcommittee.
Motion number one is “That pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the committee undertake the study of the Supplementary Estimates (B) 2019-2020, and that the committee invite the Minister of Veterans Affairs and departmental officials to appear.”
I will note as well that the estimates, as I said earlier, were tabled September 30, and that pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) and the order made on Monday, April 20, each committee may consider and report or shall be deemed to have reported the same back to the House no later than Friday, November 27, 2020.
Therefore, I think it's important that we pursue the supplementary estimates in advance of that timeline of November 27, 2020.
The second motion for which I'm giving notice is “That as its first order of business and pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee conduct a study of the backlog of pending veteran disability benefit applications at Veterans Affairs Canada, and that no fewer than four meetings be devoted to this study.”
I want to commend Ms. Blaney for her question to the PBO on the backlog and the subsequent report that was issued last week, outlining that we are now upwards of 50,000 cases of veterans and their families not receiving adjudication or decisions on their claims. I think that is an extremely important study. We need to have witnesses and have the PBO come in, and I want to thank Ms. Blaney again for that.
The third notice of motion is “That pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study of the Royal Canadian Legion and other veteran organizations and their financial health during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”
The situation involving veterans' organizations such as the RCL has come to the attention of all Canadians. I know that Bill addresses some of the issue, but this is not a “just now” issue. It is going to be a long-standing problem across this country for these service organizations, including Dominion Command and the Royal Canadian Legion, to help veterans and their families as we move forward, because many of them are facing financial hardship. It's important that we look at these organizations and the impact of many of these service organizations not being able to function in their proper fashion. We need to study the impact on veterans and their families and on those organizations.
The final motion—and I'm glad to see Mr. Casey sees this as important—that is on notice is “That as the fourth order of business and pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study of (a) the efficacy and use of psychiatric service dogs by Canadian Armed Forces veterans to alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder; b) that the resources required by Veterans Affairs Canada to implement access to psychiatric service dogs; c) the challenges faced by veterans with psychiatric service dogs; and d) what should constitute minimum national standards for the training of PTSD psychiatric service dogs, and that no fewer than three meetings be devoted to this study."
As Ms. Casey indicated, this study was being done in a previous session of Parliament. We feel it is extremely important, and now is the time to continue that study.
Those are the notices of motions, Mr. Chair, that are in front of the committee. I'll be glad to speak to them as we move to subcommittee and figure out what the agenda is going to be, going forward.
Thank you for your time.
I'm going to take my lead from Mr. Brassard. He has put on notice two of the four motions that were part of my original motion, the motion that I withdrew. I want to put the other two on notice to be referred to the subcommittee as well.
The first one is “That pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study of federal supports and services to Canadian veterans, caregivers and families; that the committee report its findings to the House with recommendations on how the government could improve these services and supports to better meet the unique needs of veterans, caregivers and families; and that no fewer than three meetings be devoted to the study.”
The second one is “That pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study of a long-term Canadian strategy for commemorations, which recognizes and honours the service, sacrifice and achievements of all Canadian veterans; takes into consideration future events, monuments, memorials, graves and cemeteries, both at home and abroad; that the committee invite officials from Veterans Affairs Canada, interested stakeholders and Canadian veterans, educators and other partners; that the committee report its findings to the House with recommendations to the government on the best way forward in the 21st century to inspire and educate Canadians and citizens around the world to recognize the service and sacrifice of all who have served our country; and that no fewer than three meetings be devoted to the study.”
Welcome Mr. Carrie. You're just getting in under the wire here to the meeting. It's good to see you, sir.
I see no other hands at this point. Is there any additional committee business before I call for agreement to adjourn?
Seeing none, is the committee in agreement to adjourn the meeting?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Excellent.
It was a great start. We had a few technical glitches at the beginning. A huge thank you to everybody there in Ottawa who make this possible. We always seem to work well together.
Thank you very much, and take care. Have a great rest of your week.
The meeting is adjourned.