Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 11:24
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Canada Revenue Agency's 2019-20 main estimates to the committee, and to answer any questions you may have on the associated funding.
My understanding is that you have a copy of my full remarks. In the interest of time, I will just hit some of the highlights as I go through.
As you are aware, the CRA is responsible for the administration of federal and certain provincial and territorial programs, as well as the delivery of a number of benefit payment programs. Last year the agency collected approximately $526 billion of tax revenue on behalf of federal, provincial and territorial governments, and distributed over $33 billion of benefit payments to millions of Canadians. The CRA also offers help and information to those who need it, and is working hard to reach Canadians who might not be receiving the tax credits or benefits to which they are entitled.
In order to fulfill its mandate in 2019-20, the CRA is seeking a total of $4.5 billion through these main estimates. Of this amount, $3.5 billion requires approval by Parliament, whereas the remaining $1 billion represents the forecast statutory authorities that are already approved under separate legislation. The statutory items include the children's special allowance payments, employee benefit costs and, pursuant to section 60 of the CRA Act, the spending of revenues received for activities administered on behalf of the provinces and other government departments.
These 2019-20 main estimates represent a net increase of $297.7 million when compared with 2018-19 main estimates. Of this change, $236.8 million is associated with previous funding announcements, with the balance of $60.9 million related to proposed budget 2019 measures. The largest component of this change is an increase of $110 million for measures to crack down and combat tax evasion and tax avoidance, at $61 million; enhance tax collections, at $22 million; and improve client services, at $27 million. This represents the amount of incremental funding received in 2019-20 as a result of measures announced in budgets 2016, 2017 and 2018.
To give you a sense of the kind of programs supported by this funding, allow me to touch on some specific initiatives.
Increased reporting requirements for trusts, which will seek information on beneficial ownership, will help authorities to effectively counter aggressive tax avoidance, tax evasion, money laundering and other criminal activities.
We are addressing commitments to service excellence in three key areas. The first is improving telephone services, including reducing wait times for callers and improving the accuracy of responses provided by call centre agents. The second is enhancing the community volunteer income tax program, where community organizations host tax preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to prepare, free of charge, income tax and benefit returns for individuals with modest or low income. The third is strengthening digital services by updating and modernizing the agency's information technology infrastructure to deliver a more user-friendly experience, allowing Canadians to easily find the tax and benefit information they need.
Other items contributing to the year-over-year change include adjustments for collective bargaining increases of $64.8 million and the implementation of the federal fuel charge of $56.4 million.
The CRA's 2019-20 main estimates also reflect about $60 million in proposed incremental resources for the announcements made by the Minister of Finance in the March 2019 budget. The largest component, at nearly half, is a proposed increase of $29.3 million to improve general tax compliance. These funds will be used to hire auditors, build technical expertise and improve the agency's compliance IT infrastructure.
A further $9.5 million is proposed to take action to enhance tax compliance specifically in the real estate sector. The proposed funding will be used to create four new dedicated residential and commercial real estate audit teams in high-risk regions, notably in British Columbia and Ontario, to ensure that tax provisions regarding real estate are being followed.
Other examples of items relating to budget 2019 include about $9 million proposed to stabilize Phoenix-related activities by the CRA in our role as administrator of the tax system;
$8.5 million proposed to support the agency's ongoing service improvement efforts;
and $3.5 million proposed to improve access to the Canada workers benefit throughout the year.
In closing, the resources being requested through these estimates will allow the CRA to continue to deliver on its mandate to Canadians by making it easier for the vast majority of taxpayers who want to pay their taxes, and more difficult for the small minority who do not, and by ensuring that Canadians have ready access to the information they need about taxes or benefits.
Mr. Chair, at this time my colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have. Thank you.
View Shaun Chen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much. I want to start off by thanking the Auditor General and his team for their outstanding work and this set of reports.
I want to echo the concerns that have been expressed by my colleagues around the table, particularly Mr. Christopherson. He pointed to the Auditor General's opening statement in which he expressed the overall message that audit after audit, year after year, we still see that departments are focused on their own activities, not on the citizens' perspectives.
We've talked around the table today about the concerns of citizens, the experiences of citizens, the service to citizens. I want to start off by taking a moment to first deconstruct this terminology, because I believe it's very important that we are clear on who we serve. That, to me, is Canadians, in the most general, broadest, and most inclusive sense, whether we are talking about the oral health of first nations and Inuit children, or Syrian refugees who have now been welcomed to their new home, or indigenous women offenders who are not provided with culturally appropriate programs, or women offenders in general who are subjected to correctional programs designed for men, not women. To me, we need to be clear that we are talking about all Canadians and to understand who they are and be able to provide the types of services and programming that very clearly meet the needs of all Canadians.
With that said, I want to focus on the audit with respect to the Phoenix pay system.
Exhibit 1.2 on page 7 of the Auditor General's report shows a graph of the number of public servants with outstanding pay requests in 46 departments and agencies. This graph shows very clearly that over the course of two years, under the Miramichi pay centre, there were 15,000 public servants with outstanding pay requests. That number goes up to 35,000 in January 2016, when Phoenix was first adopted, and then we see an exponential increase in the number of outstanding pay requests, going up to the latest number, in June 2017, of 150,000.
If I were to take this graph at face value, I would understand it to be what it is described as—46 departments and agencies, the public services under those departments. However, reading the report tells me something a bit different. It points out that these outstanding pay requests were not capturing the information from all 46 departments over those two years, because some of them were not on board with those systems.
I'd like to hear the Auditor General's comment on what this means. To me, at face value, it means a significant and very worrisome increase in the number of cases. However, reading the report tells me that this increase can be attributed to departments that perhaps were not on the Miramichi pay system or the Phoenix pay system at certain points in time.
I'd like to hear the Auditor General's comments.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 10:07
I'll start trying to give you an explanation, and I'll ask Mr. Goulet for more details.
The graph is dealing with just the 46 departments, so it is dealing with the departments that were being served by the Miramichi pay centre. Certainly by the time all of the second wave was done, everything had been transferred, and everything that happened after that was happening in the new pay system, but of course there was a transition period in getting the 46 departments' pay requests all processed at the Miramichi pay centre. That would have happened over a period of time as their pay advisers were removed and the services were starting to be provided at the Miramichi pay centre.
I'm not sure, and maybe Mr. Goulet has the details, about exactly when those services started to move over to the pay centre, at what pace those 46 departments moved over, and by what time all of that was completed.
I'll ask Mr. Goulet to provide those details if he has them.
View Jennifer O'Connell Profile
Lib. (ON)
My last question is with regard to training for front-line workers. We heard testimony yesterday that front-line workers often don't understand whether there are new proposals or new benefits or how to interpret them. The testimony yesterday was that veterans are being denied just because the front-line or the intake person doesn't want to or doesn't know how to interpret whether they are qualified or not. It requires the veterans themselves to appeal constantly, and some just give up.
What is being done with any of these changes to ensure that the front-line intake people who are working with these veterans actually know what the policies are, know who is qualified, and ensure that anybody who is entitled actually receives the benefit?
Faith McIntyre
View Faith McIntyre Profile
Faith McIntyre
2017-05-18 12:16
Thank you again for that question. It's a very important one.
I acknowledge that the system is complex and is not necessarily the easiest to manoeuvre through, whether from a client perspective or at times even from a staff perspective.
As you know, we've made a significant investment in order to hire about 400 new employees directly in the field and in the service delivery area. We have developed a very robust national orientation training program that all of our new field staff have gone through—and will be going through, if they are very recent hires. Part of it is certainly explanation of policy and of benefits, and it includes explanation of systems.
As well, we will be rolling that orientation out to all of our existing staff to make sure that everybody is at the same level of understanding. Even more so, for example, in my area in policy, the training and orientation will also be offered to staff in other areas of the organization.
More specifically to your point, we also just completed a service delivery review. One outcome of that service delivery review acknowledged that communication needs to be more assured in terms of the way we communicate, from a functional direction perspective, with the field. As well, there needs to be a reduction of complexity, in the numbers of policies, of business processes; it ties back even to the legislative authorities that we have.
How can we best simplify that work going forward? We have already reduced our policies by more than 200 in the last few years. We are also looking, as an example, through what we're doing with the budget implementation act, putting in this waiver whereby, if we already have all of the information on file, we would be able to make a decision without having to have contact directly with the veteran to get further information. We can then also look at what other benefits they would be eligible for and make decisions on those. That should reduce the, as you said, unfortunate need for the veteran to be constantly going back and forth and possibly even requesting reviews and appeals.
It's certainly something we're very aware of through the training, orientation, and even our service delivery review action plan. We are looking actively at moving forward.
Richard Kurland
View Richard Kurland Profile
Richard Kurland
2017-04-10 15:31
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's indeed an honour and a privilege to appear before the committee. I'd like to preface my remarks with a description of the decades of intervention on this particular issue.
The immigration consulting issue encompasses the protection of people desirous of becoming Canadians and desirous of visiting our country. I'll distill the issues plainly and simply. When it comes to the issue of immigration consultants, the key is who can fix this and how to motivate the institution to fix this.
I've read the submissions of other witnesses appearing before the committee. What seems clear to me is that there is only one single entity capable of handling the immigration consultant issues and that is the department, not the provincial level and not the regulatory authorities, provincial or federal. Only our public servants, working within the immigration department, can truly and practically get to the bottom of this. Why? It is only the department that has the capability of identifying who accesses our immigration operational system. It is the department that controls this access. The department has the tools and mechanisms to prevent contact with the departmental systems, and the department has the means to allow access.
The two obstacles preventing resolution of the immigration consultant issue for over 20 years are basic. The first level is unseen. Our governance in Canada, for social engineering purposes, in terms of multi-year, long-term strategy, emanates from the Privy Council Office. Within that office, there is a directive to prevent the judiciarization of Canadian society. We do not want a litigious society as it appears in our neighbour to the south. Consequently, when it comes to dealing with immigration consultants, there is a hidden unseen directive to prevent the legalization, the judiciarization, of the issue.
On the other hand, there is the desire to offload client contact from the department, where possible. What does this mean? This means that the department prefers to have a three-tier delivery system. Tier one includes members of Parliament and senators, preferred service; tier two has the regulated professions, lawyers and consultants; and tier three has unrepresented members of the public.
Here's where I'll conclude my opening remarks. The cheapest, easiest, most direct way to resolve this is to require third party representation on every application for service. In this manner, the applicants are driven to publicly regulated individuals: licensing, insurance, protection of the public. It allows the applicants to pay for service.
It should not be mandatory, but a preferred service system for represented applicants would go a long way to preventing abuse and would save the department money by using trained officials—lawyers and consultants who are regulated. It is going to be up to the department to make this decision. It can do it now. It has the artificial intelligence mechanisms in the incoming application processing system to do this.
To sum up, all you've been hearing to date have been different sides of the elephant, how it got into the room, and individual concerns and group concerns. At the heart of all this is the key, the central decision, on the part of our immigration public servants to allow access to third party representatives, and reward applications with third party representation with preferred service times, or more reliability in terms of the product that's entering the system.
I hear the self-interest bell ringing, but over 20 to 25 years I have not come up with a better solution, other than hiving off ever greater chunks of the operational delivery system onto the offices of our elected officials.
Those are my opening remarks. Thank you.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
I'm sorry to interrupt. I want to leave some time for my colleague, Ms. Harder.
Mr. Nurse, you commented on attitude, and I think it's come up as a theme. Without denigrating the public service, I think it's something that is going to come up over and over again.
Could you just very briefly explain what that means to you and perhaps provide a concrete recommendation for performance management outcomes or something that could be inserted into front-line workers' performance reviews or something to that effect, and could you quantify what that means?
David Nurse
View David Nurse Profile
David Nurse
2016-12-13 16:58
Sure. I think it's a matter of training and a matter of the instructions that are given to the front-line staff. I think they are doing their best, and I think sometimes we get absolutely fantastic service from ESDC or IRCC, but often we don't. I honestly believe it comes down to training and the expectations that are given to staff for what their deliverables are. Is it to get off the phone as fast as possible, or is it something else?
When Mr. Orr was here, and I listened to that. I think he did talk about changing the script and the tone. I think those things would make a dramatic difference. I don't run a call centre, but you have a policy manual, and people have a script as to how they interact and how they enter those conversations and navigate people.
I don't think there's a huge performance gap with the staff—
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Gannon, do you feel comfortable commenting on providing services and training your caseworkers so they're continually getting further training and they're up to standards as things advance?
Carl Gannon
View Carl Gannon Profile
Carl Gannon
2016-10-18 16:23
Most definitely. It's another bone of contention for us right now. At one point, we had a very extensive training package. Unfortunately, when we suffered the cuts, we needed every case manager to hit the ground running.
It's a huge concern, because we are looking at bringing in a whole new slew of case managers. The majority are not going to have the experience of a more experienced case manager, obviously; they're new to the game. It's going to take them a bit of time to hit the ground running, and we need to revamp our systems at Veterans Affairs to ensure that we are providing all the necessary tools for them to do that. We're seeing right now that individuals are not able to meet those expectations, and they're leaving; they're quitting because they can't deal with the situation, and it comes down to training.
We are going to continue to push this; it's imperative.
Nancy Dussault
View Nancy Dussault Profile
Nancy Dussault
2016-09-29 15:41
I will provide you with some figures on the admissions of clients to our programs. From 2013 to 2015, 36% of requests had to do with an addiction issue, 32%, depression, 19%, respite, 8%, PTSD, 4%, anger management, and 1%, anxiety management.
It is important to understand that someone in one program, such as the addiction program, can also have a depression and PTSD diagnosis, as well as an anger and anxiety management issue. Furthermore, 58% of residents have suicidal thoughts.
The requests of Veterans Affairs Canada clients come mainly from the department's case managers, the operational stress injury clinic, the OSISS program—for the operational stress injury social support—or directly from veterans who call us. In that last case, the veterans are redirected to Veterans Affairs Canada to talk to a case manager who will then connect them with us for their application. Generally, the confirmation of the stay at La Vigile from Veterans Affairs Canada case managers takes less than 48 hours.
The main reason for admission of military personnel and veterans is addiction, meaning the alcohol and drug withdrawal program, which requires 24-hour medical supervision and participation in psychoeducational workshops.
La Vigile is the only specialized centre for those in uniform in Quebec that provides a 24-hour medical service for alcohol withdrawal. It is important to understand that alcohol withdrawal comes with risks, especially during the first 48 hours after stopping consumption. There are risks of convulsions, delirium and even death. The presence of medical staff is a must for the first 48 hours.
The respite service is also very much in demand for managing post-traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, for developing a healthy lifestyle and dealing with home and workplace stress.
I will now talk about the criteria for excluding patients from our programs.
The nurse must complete an assessment...
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for being here with us today.
To the Veterans Transition Network, I visited your installation in Vancouver when I was there last May.
I am very pleased that representatives from the Maison de la Vigile came to meet with the committee. I live near the Maison de la Vigile in Quebec City and I can say that you are doing a great job. Thank you very much.
We may have to interrupt you sometimes because we have a number of questions for you. Do not be taken aback by that.
Inevitably, you work with veterans very often. In fact, you work with them every day and I imagine that many of them express their discontent, rightly or wrongly, with case managers and with the way the Department of Veterans Affairs operates.
What do you think of the administrative process and the organizational practices of Veterans Affairs Canada? What is your relationship with case managers? How do you see the department’s way of operating? Are the administrative processes followed properly? Are there things that need to be replaced?
Nancy Dussault
View Nancy Dussault Profile
Nancy Dussault
2016-09-29 15:54
Mr. Chair, if I may, I will answer the question.
In terms of the administrative process before the Maison La Vigile receives a call from a case manager, we unfortunately cannot say because we don’t really know what is happening up there. However, our relations are excellent from the time we receive a call from a case manager. As I explained, the admission process is often initiated in less than 48 hours and the veteran's date of admission is set. Our relations with all the managers are excellent.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Your document points out that veterans’ family members do not necessarily have easy access to the department’s case managers. This committee has, on several occasions, come across that problem of family members’ lack of access to case managers. Does that complaint come up often?
Nancy Dussault
View Nancy Dussault Profile
Nancy Dussault
2016-09-29 15:58
We have heard those comments from some veterans. Some would have liked their family members to have access to La Vigile’s services too. We have also heard that on occasion.
Doug Allen
View Doug Allen Profile
Doug Allen
2016-09-29 16:50
I'll say thank you very much for allowing us to come here to speak as well.
One of the things with Veterans Affairs and with our program is that we've been working to get the members into our program, and the case managers become enablers. They become enablers in a most powerful way. When they see their members come back, the members want to talk to their case managers. The members want to come back and engage with VAC because VAC has helped them get to the place where they are after the program, which to me brings them back and invests them back into the community, back into the resources, and back into the system, if you will. The trust is reinstated when they do that. I've seen that with the case managers in working with them.
I just thought I'd put that out there as well. Thank you very much.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you.
There's an interesting saw-off here. One of the things we hear from veterans is that they're rejected initially by VAC. You said that the caseworker or the adjudicator can't take an in-depth look because it would gum up the works. It has been suggested that in the case of an application from which documentation is clearly missing, the caseworker could simply make a telephone call and say, “I cannot process this as is because you've forgotten something” and it could be something quite simple.
Anthony Saez
View Anthony Saez Profile
Anthony Saez
2016-06-16 11:30
I think as of about eight or 10 months ago, the department did start to do that. It is actually calling clients with those questions. In a departmental review, when we send something back to the department and we say to the client, “You know what? We can help you find this little piece of paper that you're missing, and the department will probably grant you this instead of it having to go through the Veterans Review and Appeal Board”. The evidence that we're dealing with there is the kind of stuff that at first application the department wouldn't necessarily be aware of. It's what I mentioned earlier—something that the client forgot about, or that they didn't think was important to bring up. It's the kind of information the department wouldn't necessarily have available to it, but when we start to scratch the surface, we can identify it and send it back to the department.
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
Is there any training that could be given to case managers to try to bring out this information prior to...?
Anthony Saez
View Anthony Saez Profile
Anthony Saez
2016-06-16 11:43
I know that in recent months they have in fact been.... When they receive an application, they actually call the client when they see that, gee, they're pretty close to crossing that line. They call them to suss it out and to see if there's anything else that supports the claim. More recently, they have been doing that.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
The case manager is usually the specific direct contact of the veteran, but you're not interacting with that individual, except on a broad department basis.
Anthony Saez
View Anthony Saez Profile
Anthony Saez
2016-06-16 11:56
No, generally the case management side of VAC is dealing with other issues unrelated to what we do in the pension and lump sum award disability benefits.
View Bob Bratina Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, but quite often the case manager is filling out the forms for the individual, who may be in some state of duress at the time.
Bearing that in mind, is there any way that we could improve the service to vets from VAC's point of view, or are you satisfied with the ebb and flow of business as you see it?
Anthony Saez
View Anthony Saez Profile
Anthony Saez
2016-06-16 11:57
I think the biggest challenge is the one around the evidence that needs to be collected in order to proceed to the board, and that evidence most often has to do with medical reports. It can be difficult at times, first of all, to find a family doctor to provide that report, and secondly, sometimes the family doctor's medical report isn't sufficient. As you go up the chain into the specialist world it becomes even more difficult.
We do pay for it for them. We'll pay for a specialist's report, but we have to be able to find a specialist to do it.
Jerry Kovacs
View Jerry Kovacs Profile
Jerry Kovacs
2016-06-14 17:16
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the veterans affairs committee.
My name is Jerry Kovacs. I have been engaged in veterans advocacy work for the past five years. Although I have a relatively short military career compared to some, such as Reverend Zimmerman, as an infantry officer, many of the things I learned and saw remain with me decades later.
My civilian career as a lawyer and educator has taken me to Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Palestine. I spent four years in the former Yugoslavia, two of them in Kosovo. My work often involved collaboration with other civilians, police officers from Canada, and individuals involved in helping people in post-war countries under reconstruction.
During the past five years, I have heard numerous times the comments and complaints that you are hearing now for the first time. As the military ombudsman said in Ottawa on June 7, there have been many studies and reports, many proposals, and many recommendations. It's time for decisions.
It is commendable that this committee is travelling to hear from individual veterans who live outside Ottawa or veterans who are not members of any veterans organization. There are approximately 800,000 veterans in Canada. Of that number, only 100,000, or 12.5%, are members of any veterans organization. It's important to hear the views and concerns of the other 700,000 veterans, or 82.5%, who are not members of any veterans organization. They too are defined as stakeholders by the department. Perhaps now, or in the future, they may receive benefits and services from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Twenty years ago, from 1995 to 1997, the veterans subcommittee of the national defence committee undertook an extensive two-year examination of issues related to the quality of life of veterans. The agenda was open. There were no time limits on speaking. Members of Parliament actually visited veterans in their own homes. The final report was issued in 1997. In addition, the MacLellan report, the Stow report, and Joe Sharpe's Croatia Board of Inquiry had wide mandates to examine how military members and veterans were being treated.
Neither Veterans Affairs Canada nor the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, formed since then, have ever had full public hearings into the services and benefits and policies and programs offered to veterans.
On March 8, the veterans ombudsman talked about the importance of outcomes before this committee. Outcomes, in Professor Barber's view, relate to his “deliverology” theory. Are services and benefits being delivered to clients effectively? Are the value and benefits of existing services and resources being fully utilized by veterans, the RCMP, and their families?
Services and benefits must be delivered in a timely, effective, and efficient manner. Veterans Affairs employees should continually ask veterans, through customer satisfaction surveys, whether they are satisfied with the manner in which they are being treated. A comprehensive survey is also warranted. To save taxpayers money, it could be done through SurveyMonkey.
In improving services and benefits to veterans and the RCMP and their families, this committee should divide them into three categories: one, things the Minister of Veterans Affairs can do immediately without parliamentary approval; two, things the departments of Veterans Affairs and National Defence can do immediately without parliamentary approval; and three, things that require parliamentary approval where Treasury Board approval is required, such as the federal budget.
The process for the transition from military to civilian life needs to be simplified. It needs to be made clear well in advance of the release date. Mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that on the release date, the veteran and the veteran's family have everything needed for a smooth move, or a seamless transition, from a career that ended voluntarily by retirement or involuntarily as the result of a medical release.
Too often in the past I have heard veterans say, at this veterans affairs committee, that they were not fully aware or informed of the services and benefits available to them. The department must take primary responsibility to ensure that veterans and their families know what services are available to them.
Medical and personnel records should be easily and quickly transferred, whether by paper or electronically. A copy should be in the possession of the veteran on release day.
Identification cards are long overdue, and the veterans' names should be in a database, cross-referenced with the service number so that their location is known.
Provincial health cards could identify an individual as a veteran. If the word “veteran” can be printed on a provincial licence plate, it can be printed on a driver's licence or health card so that health care professionals would be aware of any military conditions that a veteran in their care may have.
There should be a comprehensive application form for services and benefits. Eligibility for services and benefits should not require proving multiple times that an injury has been sustained. If a veteran is missing one, two, or more limbs today, chances are the same veteran will not have those limbs two years from now.
On service excellence, training in customer service should be delivered to Veterans Affairs staff on a continuous basis. Feedback on service delivery from the veteran and service agents or case managers is essential.
The committee should also provide a timeline for when things are accomplished. Being in the military involves timings. Veterans who are used to timings—what will be done, what day it will be done, what time it will be done—will want to know, as veterans, when services and benefits will be made available to them. Veterans want to know when the mission will be accomplished.
In closing, I wish to comment on a few items.
The first is the new Veterans Charter versus the Pension Act. During the 2015 federal election, the Liberal Party promised to return to the Pension Act. It has yet to occur. This is viewed by many veterans as a crucial benefit and an election promise made but not yet delivered.
Second, the Equitas Society lawsuit should not be viewed as an obstacle to making needed changes regarding services and benefits for veterans. If the changes are made, the reason for the existence of this lawsuit disappears entirely when the plaintiffs' demands are satisfied. The abeyance agreement ended on May 15. A new one could have been written. The existing one could have been extended. At any time, the parties can continue settlement negotiations via a settlement conference pursuant to rule 9-2 of the British Columbia rules of civil procedure. The parties should continue settlement negotiations. The Equitas lawsuit should not be used as an excuse for anyone to hide behind the words “No comment. It is before the courts.”
The work of this committee, Parliament, the department, and the minister can continue to improve the services and benefits for veterans, as Reverend Zimmerman said, while this lawsuit is ongoing.
Third, the expression “sacred obligation” has been publicly used, misused, and thrown about indiscriminately. I suggest “sacred” be replaced by the word “unconditional”. The duty, commitment, or responsibility to our veterans is an obligation based on their unlimited liability to Canada. An unlimited liability from them should be an unconditional obligation to them in return.
In Anne Cole v. Attorney General of Canada, a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal dated February 25, 2015, Mr. Justice Ryer, speaking on behalf of the court, said:
Parliament has mandated that a liberal interpretation of the Pension Act must be given with a view to ensuring that our country’s obligation to members of the armed forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service may be fulfilled.
The Federal Court did not feel the need to use a religious adjective to define the word “obligation”. It exists. In plain language, an obligation is an obligation.
This was confirmed in a Federal Court decision on May 31, 2016, two weeks ago, in Ouellette v.Canada (Attorney General), where the Federal Court extended the whole analysis to physical conditions. These two court decisions, last year and two weeks ago, are consistent with section 2 of the Canadian Forces' Members and Veterans Re-establishment Act, also known as the new Veterans Charter, which talks about, “recognize and fulfil the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada.”
In addition, section 3 of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act states:
The provisions of this Act and of any other Act of Parliament...conferring or imposing jurisdiction, powers, duties or functions...shall be liberally construed and interpreted to the end that the recognized obligation of the people and Government of Canada to those who have served their country so well and to their dependants may be fulfilled.
Fourth, the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to always recognize this obligation has resulted in a growing cottage industry during the past few years. This cottage industry consists of individuals and organizations that are generating money from private donations and public funds. They are not all volunteers. Some of them are profiting from helping veterans. The abrogation by, or absence of, the government in meeting its obligation has created the vacuum for this to occur.
Fifth, this committee will perform a great service to veterans, the minister, and his department if it can identify barriers that prevent existing benefits from being improved and effectively delivered, and new ones from being implemented.
The words “one veteran, one standard”, “care”, “compassion”, and “respect” have been repeated all too often. Let's ask Petter Blindheim, a 94-year-old veteran living in Halifax about these words and what they mean to him and his family. He is a veteran; he is a Canadian. Veterans Affairs recently denied him a bed at Camp Hill Veterans' Memorial hospital in Halifax, where there are 13 beds vacant, because he does not need specialized care. I challenge you to name a 94-year-old veteran who does not need some sort of specialized care either today or in the future.
The sections of the statute that I just enumerated plus the two recent court decisions show that there is an obligation, an unlimited obligation, to deliver services and benefits to veterans and not to deny them. Care, compassion, and respect are needed in the decision-making process when granting the services and benefits earned by veterans.
There are three kinds of people in the world: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who don't know what's happening. It's time for Canadians to make things happen for veterans.
Thank you.
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2016-06-14 17:36
Thank you very much.
Mr. Kovacs, I have the same sort of question regarding navigating Veterans Affairs Canada and the complexity of the whole system. I know that there has been a movement to hire more case managers and reduce the ratio to 25:1. We've visited some of the Veterans Affairs offices and have heard that this is happening, and hopefully things will improve.
I wonder if you believe that lowering that ratio will assist in helping veterans navigate the benefits they're entitled to.
Jerry Kovacs
View Jerry Kovacs Profile
Jerry Kovacs
2016-06-14 17:37
Yes, absolutely. Before the veteran is assigned a case manager, you could start one step sooner with the client service agents at the counter, with an orientation package, a pre-release information package that includes things like financial literacy and financial planning. As an example, the Canadian Securities Administrators, CSA, is actively involved across Canada in financial literacy and financial planning for Canadians. Eliminating the discrepancy among reservists involves eliminating the classes of reservists.
Having this information available beforehand would definitely assist the veteran.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Kovacs, for being here. We certainly appreciate hearing your input. One of the things that I think we have at this point in time is an opportunity to do some positive things, and, as you pointed out, Mr. Zimmerman, there were some very difficult decisions that were taken over the last 10 years. Believe me, I sat in the Parliament of Canada for those 10 years, and I indeed did see things that concerned me very much in regard to the treatment of veterans.
We've heard from a number of folks. One of them was the DND ombudsman, Mr. Walbourne. He said one of the problems—and there are many problems—is that DND and the Canadian Forces, Veterans Affairs Canada, and SISIP,all have their own case managers and vocational programs, and some of the programs offered become inaccessible because of a lack of awareness on the part of the member or due to the sheer complexity of it all. He said it would be best to have one knowledgeable point of contact that you can trust for the entire journey. You seem to be saying the same thing. I wonder if you could comment on what the ombudsman had to say.
Also, I wondered if benefits that are identified by DND—this is what you have lived through, this is what you get—should be constantly reviewed as a matter of course in subsequent years.
George Zimmerman
View George Zimmerman Profile
George Zimmerman
2016-06-14 17:48
Yes, I would agree with the ombudsman. The short answer is absolutely.
One of the things that we discovered in health care when I was working with the surgeon general's office, one of the things that became very clear, was that there is a tremendous dissatisfaction of members because they would come in and they'd see Doc Blue on one day, and then come a few weeks later with the same complaint and have to go through the whole process again with a different doctor, and then a third doctor. It was a major dissatisfaction. One of the things the defence department did and the surgeon general did was to create a system by which you were assigned a physician, and that was your physician while you were in that particular location. That took a significant amount of anxiety off the patients who were coming in for services. It would be the same kind of thing. If I knew that my point of contact, who I had known for the last two or three years, on my release—especially if I'm dealing with health issues—is going to be the same person afterwards, my sense of anxiety...and connection with the Government of Canada, and their sense of obligation to me, would be very profound and very meaningful.
Those would be my thoughts on the ombudsman's recommendation.
Sorry, your second point was?
View Alaina Lockhart Profile
Lib. (NB)
Both of you bring really interesting perspectives, and I hope we get to touch on both as we continue.
Mr. Callaghan, I would like to thank you for your service to begin with, and also for articulating so easily all of the things that we have been talking about over the last little bit.
If I had check boxes, you kind of hit a lot of them when we're talking about service delivery, paperwork being one. With regard to receiving a letter, for instance, when there's a change in your benefits, or notification that you're not going to receive benefits, do you think it would be helpful if you had one-on-one contact with a case manager or what have you, to walk you through this process, rather than receiving documentation in the mail?
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