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View Cathay Wagantall Profile
CPC (SK)
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2019-06-11 17:50 [p.28946]
Mr. Speaker, as this session comes to a close, I cannot think of a better way to end my first term as the member of Parliament for Yorkton—Melville than to rise and speak to our veterans community on issues that so deeply impact veterans' quality of life following service and their sense of being valued and appreciated by Canadians.
I am humbled and grateful that I have had the privilege of serving as deputy shadow minister of Veterans Affairs and also on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for these four years.
In that time, individual veterans and veterans organizations have reached out to me through committee, social media groups, emails and face-to-face meetings at round tables and town halls as I travelled across Canada and then over to France to celebrate Canada's Hundred Days. The time I spent with the veterans who travelled with us was very precious. They have also reached out to me by getting together informally at restaurants and in homes.
What I have appreciated more than anything is how patient veterans have been with me while reminiscing, documenting experiences and providing their perspectives on how things could be done so much better than they are.
I am sure members can appreciate that veterans do not tend to sugar-coat the issues. They are pretty direct. They speak very frankly and passionately. I am not surprised or, quite honestly, offended by the intensity they sometimes express. After all, they have been trained to be intense, to fight against injustice and to fight for us.
Long overdue is the government's recognition of duty of care implied in the promise that whatever happens when enlisting, the government will take care of veterans and their families. The recommendations on transition, mental health, homelessness, medicinal cannabis, abuse of mefloquine as an anti-malarial drug and financial support for the treatment of physical and mental repercussions of war, just to name a few, are reasonable and achievable.
Motion No. 255 provides the opportunity for the Government of Canada to respond to veterans' recommendations on the need and the possibility to end veterans homelessness in Canada: first, by setting a clear target for eliminating homelessness among Canadian veterans; second, by maximizing Veterans Affairs Canada's capacity to deliver key benefits; and, third, by co-partnering with national veterans organizations to employ their existing capacity, peer-to-peer networks and bonds of trust established with veterans in order to accelerate the delivery of this program nationally.
Truly, these organizations have such a capacity already. They have good peer-to-peer relationships and they have bonds of trust that come through the relationships they have among themselves with veterans. Therefore, their role in this is very significant. It is undeniable that the level of bureaucracy and the long-standing culture of mistrust and denial within VAC needs to be purged.
There is no question that this uneven playing field has added much frustration to an already challenging life change for our veterans. Quite often, mental illness, family dysfunction, physical pain and suffering, suicides and homelessness have been increased as a result of their frustrations in trying to work with VAC.
To ensure opportunities for the government to respond, I have heard the following from veterans' advocates. They feel that the role of VAC should be mandated in three ways.
First is to provide sufficient funding for clearly delineated, simple, efficiently administered programs of care for injury and lifetime benefits, with the benefit of the doubt going to the veteran and his or her family.
Second is that beginning with enlistment and throughout their service, VAC must facilitate future veterans and their families in choosing and implementing their own path for life beyond service, in other words, for VAC to be involved early in the beginning stages of the veterans' service and be there to facilitate and encourage them to realize that they can make decisions to determine in advance their own paths once their service ends and that they can have a lot of understanding before they face that very difficult time when they no longer serve.
Finally, VAC should identify and support veteran and community organizations that veterans and their families can access for delivery of services. In polite terms, affirm, enable and empower those organizations to do what they do best, and the things they do best that VAC would be better giving them the responsibility for.
I was honoured to represent my Conservative caucus at the press conference announcing Motion No. 225 on veterans homelessness in Canada. There are very good elements in this motion put forward by this government. However, as the member mentioned, because of the lateness of its introduction, we are now days away from this session ending. Therefore, it is only a first step. It is a motion that will depend on the next government to implement.
I was very pleased to also recognize at that press conference the role of Tim Richter with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, Dave Gordon and Ray McIinnis with the Royal Canadian Legion, Matthew Pearce with the Old Brewery Mission, and Jim and Debbie Lowther with VETS Canada, for their involvement in the making of that announcement. Truly, they were very pleased to see a focus on homelessness going forward from our government.
Along with other veteran and community organizations, they are the heart, hands and feet that advocate for and work directly with veterans and their families. They successfully implement the quality of care that our veterans deserve and need. They are all unique in their approach and provide a variety of options for services that tackle many issues, including veterans homelessness.
For example, VETS Canada has opened up a care centre five blocks from where I live. In the course of its first year, it has serviced 365 different veterans with emergency needs, and it has done it without any direct funding from VAC.
ln testimony at our committee on the study of veterans homelessness, they all had excellent contributions. I would encourage all veterans and people who are viewing today to take a look at the study from the veterans affairs committee on homelessness and listen to what they had to say.
I can focus on only one veteran today, and so I am going to talk about Tim Richter. He is the president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. I would like to share some of his recommendations. He has solid experience in preventing and ending homelessness, including experience in developing housing programs for homeless vets. He also served for just over six years in the Canadian Forces and is a Veterans Affairs client. Clearly, he is capable and well positioned for this. Veterans homelessness is a concern that is very close to his heart, and he is rightly pleased to see us working together on an initiative. He said, “The first [thing] is that veterans homelessness in Canada is readily solvable. The number of homeless veterans in Canada is relatively small. It's unknown, but it's relatively small. We know what to do and we know how to do it.”
He went on to say, “We have a strong veterans network. We have solid expertise in communities like Homes for Heroes. We have proven models to follow, and I think we have strong public support.”
I can affirm that they certainly do. He continued with, “What's missing is federal leadership and decisive action. We need a federal government prepared to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to ending veterans homelessness and to invest the fairly modest additional resources needed to get the job done.”
Ending veterans homelessness is possible if government does its part, and, in doing its part, realizes that there are others, not politicians, not public service employees, but others who have served or are dialed in to assist veterans on the ground where and how they need it most. There are people available to be the feet, the hands and the hearts of this particular focus to end homelessness.
To quote Tim one more time, “We know what to do and we know how to do it.”
Following October 21, 2019, the incoming government will do its part to enable and work with stakeholder communities and organizations to ensure that every veteran has a home.
View Erin O'Toole Profile
CPC (ON)
View Erin O'Toole Profile
2019-06-07 11:41 [p.28753]
Madam Speaker, the veterans' hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, was transferred from the federal government to the Government of Quebec in 2016.
Unfortunately, under this Liberal government, the quality of care has gone downhill, forcing very elderly veterans to take legal action to get the services they were promised at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.
Why are the Liberals once again abandoning our veterans?
View Erin O'Toole Profile
CPC (ON)
View Erin O'Toole Profile
2019-06-07 11:43 [p.28753]
Madam Speaker, what is inappropriate is for the Liberal government to ignore our veterans a day after we celebrated their win over tyranny in World War II, veterans like Wolf Solkin, who is the lead veteran at the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue hospital. He and his friends were the veterans who secured the democracy we have today. He is standing up for his fellow veterans at Ste. Anne's to ensure that they have the same level and quality of service and treatment that they had before the transfer in 2016. We can celebrate our veterans, and both sides respect that, but only this side can make it right.
When will the government commit to fixing the situation at Ste. Anne's?
View Garnett Genuis Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague sits on the immigration committee, and she made comments in her speech about some of the immigration sections that were kind of snuck into this large omnibus budget bill. I would like to ask her about one aspect of those changes.
One thing I hear from people I talk to about immigration, whether I am in Brampton, in my own riding or in other parts of the country, is concern about shoddy immigration consultants. I know that my colleagues from Brampton North and Brampton West just love it when I visit their ridings.
When people receive advice from shoddy immigration consultants, there is a concern about the impact that has on their lives if they act on that advice and it has negative consequences for them.
There is some discussion in the budget about changing the process of regulation, but what we heard at committee was that those changes really are a rebranding of an existing body and that there are some big gaps there that I think the opposition members share concerns about.
I wonder if the member can talk a little more about the failure of the government to actually address this issue of shoddy advice from some immigration consultants.
View Matt Jeneroux Profile
CPC (AB)
View Matt Jeneroux Profile
2019-05-16 17:57 [p.27979]
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to be able to stand and speak on behalf the hon. member for Calgary Rocky Ridge. He is a dear friend, and I believe that this is a very important piece of legislation that he is bringing forward here in the House. It is an honour to speak on it.
I would also like to thank Senator Percy Downe for introducing this bill in the Senate. It is a shame that the government plans to oppose it, but I hope government members will listen to all of the reasons that this bill makes sense for the government and for Canadians.
It is timely to be speaking about Bill S-243 now, as the majority of Canadians just finished filing their taxes with the Canada Revenue Agency. We also just found out that the Canada Revenue Agency wrote off $133 million owed by a single taxpayer.
CRA employees discussed the large writeoff in an internal memo in September of 2018, and the media reported on this memo in April. However, we do not know who the taxpayer is or whether it is a person or a corporation. We also do not know whether this writeoff is related to government subsidies, which is something Canadians should know.
The aim of this bill is to keep the CRA accountable for tax collection efforts. It would also require the CRA to report on the tax gap, which is the difference between taxes owing and taxes actually collected. The bill would also require the CRA to publish information on convictions for domestic and offshore tax evasion. Data shows that the offshore tax gap for the 2014 tax year was between $0.8 billion and $3 billion.
The CRA has published information about the tax gap related to the goods and services tax. In 2014, here the offshore tax gap was estimated to be about $4.9 billion. The CRA has also shared the domestic personal income tax gap for that same year, 2014, at $8.7 billion. In that one year, the money owed for the tax gap, which could have been as high as $16 billion, could have funded many programs or eased the tax burden for many Canadians.
Conservatives believe in making life more affordable for Canadians and in keeping taxes as low as possible to stimulate the economy. When the government loses a significant amount of money because of a tax gap, it means that taxes could be raised for the rest of us. This penalizes law-abiding Canadians.
I support Senator Downe's bill, which is sponsored by the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge here in the House, because it makes sense and makes the CRA and those Canadians not living up to their responsibility to pay taxes more accountable.
Some Canadians are concerned that reporting on the tax gap could threaten their privacy, but this bill balances the privacy of individuals with transparency and accountability for the CRA. The information would be reported to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, so its intent is not to name and shame average Canadians.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia all report on their tax gaps. These governments all indicate that they report this information because it helps their revenue departments understand how and why non-compliance occurs. This information is helpful to policy-makers, who can then make better-informed decisions about tax policy and also help the government better manage its resource allocation.
Canada should have this system. Mandating measurement of the tax gap ensures that future governments and parliaments have all of the information necessary to take action on the tax gap.
Many of us are aware that offshore tax evasion is a problem in Canada. Almost 1,000 Canadian taxpayers, including individuals, corporations and trusts, were named in the Panama papers three years ago.
The CRA told media last month that it had identified 894 taxpayers and had finished reviewing 525 of these cases, resulting in $14.9 million in federal taxes and penalties. This number will rise as audits continue.
Although the CRA told the media the amount of taxes assessed, it did not say how much of that money has actually been collected. Senator Downe's bill, if passed, would require the CRA to report that type of information to Canadians. As I mentioned before, this type of information would be incredibly helpful to our policy-makers. Many other countries use this information, and Canadians would be better served if our policy-makers also had this kind of information.
Most Canadians work hard all year and diligently file their taxes. These are honest people who would never attempt to cheat the government. However, we see wealthy Canadian individuals and corporations attempt to cheat the tax system all the time.
Tax money is used to fund services we enjoy, such as health care, transit and roads. The CRA should be able to say how much money it has collected as a result of the Panama papers. This is in the Canadian public interest.
Similarly, it should be allowed and able to tell us why $133 million was written off for a single taxpayer. That money could provide significant funding for public services, and Canadians deserve to know why this taxpayer or corporation received special treatment while the rest of us diligently work to pay our fair share.
I have had many constituents complain about dealings with the CRA, including poor levels of service or the agency repeatedly requesting documentation that has already been provided to a different branch. The Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsman, which operates at arm's length from the CRA, has experienced an increase in complaints over the last few years. In 2017, the taxpayers' ombudsman said the biggest complaints were: first, the struggle to even get through to the CRA call centre, which can be a huge headache, especially around tax time. Other complaints included receiving inconsistent and incorrect information from the call centre agent and the lack of information sharing between different branches of the CRA. Many Canadians have been asked to produce the same information or documents more than once, because the person's file was not properly shared between departments.
The taxpayers' ombudsman called these problems “systemic” and said there are other deeply rooted problems. The CRA acknowledges that it needs to do more to better serve Canadians, and representatives from the agency will be travelling across Canada over the next month to conduct in-person consultations on how the CRA can improve its services. I have no doubt they will receive plenty of feedback. I am hopeful that the CRA will take this feedback and then implement it to create a better-run system, which Canadians deserve.
I know it is not just the CRA that has these problems. A recent Auditor General report found that other government departments, including immigration, employment insurance and the Canada pension plan, did not answer their phones for the millions of Canadians who called them in 2017 and 2018. It is obvious the government needs to make huge improvements to give Canadians the accessible service they require and deserve.
I hope these consultations by the CRA are fruitful and we will see a service improvement in the near future. I know how seriously Canadians take the CRA, except for wealthy Canadians who keep their money in offshore accounts without thinking of the consequences. For many Canadians, getting a letter from the CRA is anxiety-inducing, and dealing with audits and investigations can cause high levels of stress.
When Canadians owe the CRA money, most work to pay that money back, whether it is through installments or a lump sum payment. Most people would not dream of running out on the bill, so to speak, so they should not be unfairly penalized when corporations and wealthy Canadians run out on their tax obligations.
If this bill passes, it means increased accountability for the CRA, which is in the best interests of taxpayers. The changes proposed in this bill require the CRA to report on all convictions for tax evasion in addition to reporting the tax gap, as I mentioned earlier. This data would be reported to the Minister of National Revenue in the CRA's annual report, which is tabled in Parliament. The Minister of National Revenue is also required to provide the Parliamentary Budget Officer with data to calculate the tax gap.
These amendments, which would be inexpensive to implement, would increase transparency, which the government allegedly values. Publicly available reports on the gap between income taxes owed and taxes collected will provide a metric for judging the efficacy of measures to combat income tax evasion. This is important information for Canadians to have access to. Many other western nations publicly post this information. Canada is already behind standard practice in this regard. Conservatives support any measures to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of the public service.
Bill S-243 is a common-sense amendment to the Canada Revenue Agency Act, and I support the amendments.
I thank Senator Downe for his work on this bill, and the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge for helping to get the bill through the House of Commons. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill today.
View Pat Kelly Profile
CPC (AB)
View Pat Kelly Profile
2019-05-16 18:24 [p.27983]
Mr. Speaker, it is a tremendous honour and privilege to sponsor a bill in this place.
First, I want to acknowledge and thank Senator Percy Downe for his passion on this issue and for obtaining unanimous support in the other place for the bill and giving me the opportunity to sponsor it in the House.
I want to thank my dear friends, the member for Edmonton Riverbend and the member for Calgary Nose Hill, for their speeches tonight. I also want to thank my friend, the member for Calgary Shepard, who spoke in the first hour of debate on the bill, and indeed the other members who spoke in support of the bill, in particular the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who spoke tonight, and the member for Sherbrooke, who spoke in the first hour. I would also like to thank the members for Châteauguay—Lacolle and Winnipeg North as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, who also participated in the debate.
The bill would allow the Parliamentary Budget Officer to measure a problem that all parties acknowledge exists. As the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques noted, the Auditor General has repeatedly called out the Canada Revenue Agency for not treating Canadians the same way it treats those who file taxes offshore.
When he said that, I was reminded that the CRA, in its self-audit, believed that its call centre was operating just fine. It took a report from the Auditor General to reveal that it was a complete disaster. Without giving the Parliamentary Budget Officer the tools it has asked for, we are asking it, with the misleading information the CRA hands over, to be the final word on the scope and scale of this problem. That is not acceptable. It is not good enough. It is not good enough for Canadians, and it is really just more of the same.
I take exception to the parliamentary secretary castigating my motives as a Conservative in bringing forward, under Private Members' Business, the bill. As was pointed out by the member for Calgary Nose Hill, she essentially said, “Shame on the Conservatives”. Because we did not do this for the 10 years we were in government, she said we should be ashamed for saying that this is important, even as the Liberals plan to vote against the bill. Only a Liberal could say this and not understand the hypocrisy and ridiculousness of that position.
I was not part of the former Parliament. However, despite the previous government's incredible track record and that Canadians are now yearning for a return to a Conservative government, I am comfortable admitting that not every single problem under the sun was solved during the 10 years of the Conservative government. Tens years was not long enough to undo everything done by the previous Liberal government. It was not long enough to solve every problem in the world.
All speakers on the Liberal side claimed to support the motivation behind the bill and claimed to care about the problem it would solve, yet they came up with excuse after excuse, which is all we heard in the parliamentary secretary's speech, for why we should not pass it and should not bother. Shame on the Liberals if, as has been indicated to me by the minister, they reject the bill tonight.
Again, I want to thank Percy Downe for his advocacy on this and thank all members who participated in the debate on the bill.
View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Andrew Scheer Profile
2019-05-15 14:22 [p.27829]
Mr. Speaker, I trust I can speak for all members of this House when I say that this morning I was shocked and horrified by a recently released recording, broadcast by APTN news, of an RCMP officer questioning a young female indigenous sexual assault victim. Obviously, this line of questioning was appalling and insensitive to the young woman who was coming forward with her story.
I would like to ask the Minister of Public Safety if he could update the House as to what reviews he might be contemplating to ensure that this type of thing does not happen in the future.
View James Bezan Profile
CPC (MB)
View James Bezan Profile
2019-02-22 10:52 [p.25675]
Madam Speaker, I would draw the member's attention to the PBO report this week, which showed that the Liberals failed and broke their promise to bring back pensions for life. They missed it by about $20 billion. They are not even close.
Those who are the most injured as veterans will receive $300,000 less under the Liberals. The people who need the most help are getting less. That is not a record the member should be standing up and bragging about. Veterans across the country are incredibly upset with the broken promises from the Prime Minister and the government. It reflects that all we saw was electioneering. We did not see any compassion when it actually came to services for our veterans.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Speaker, I want to set the record straight for both the members of the NDP and the government side regarding the closure of nine Veterans Affairs offices by the former Conservative government.
While it is true that nine offices were closed, all of the staff in those offices were transferred to Service Canada locations within the same ridings. In fact, because of that, all of the Service Canada outlets were then able to provide services to veterans without those veterans having to go to a regional office.
Here is a concrete example. In Saskatchewan, prior to the change that made veterans services part of the core responsibilities of Service Canada, there were only two regional Veterans Affairs offices, one in Saskatoon and one in Regina. That meant that anyone who wanted to go speak in person to an official in a Veterans Affairs office had to travel to one of those two centres. We are a rule-based economy. We are also a rule-based province. I spoke to several veterans who had to make the trek from Estevan to Regina or Saskatoon, which is sometimes two to two and a half hours to get to an office. When we made the change to incorporate veterans services into Service Canada that meant that in almost every mid-sized town in Saskatchewan, there was a Service Canada official prepared and trained—
View Jim Eglinski Profile
CPC (AB)
View Jim Eglinski Profile
2018-11-05 12:51 [p.23240]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a simple question. The Liberal government talks about its contributions to our military veterans, yet in the last two years, it has spent over $38 million taking our veterans to court. I wonder if the member would speak about that money maybe being better spent somewhere.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
CPC (SK)
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2018-11-05 13:21 [p.23245]
Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased to rise today to speak to issues concerning our Canadian Armed Forces veterans in response to the opposition supply day motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Courtenay—Alberni.
I enjoy serving with him on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I appreciate the opportunities we have to collaborate on ways that have the potential to see our veterans better served, if the government were to implement our recommendations.
The motion before us states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should automatically carry forward all annual lapsed spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs to the next fiscal year, for the sole purpose of improving services for Canadian veterans, until the Department meets or exceeds its 24 self-identified service standards.
Today, in response to the motion, we have heard from the Liberals and they tell us that lapsed funding does not result in anyone receiving less than they should. They have said that it is just how the government keeps its books. They have said that nothing nefarious is going on. The Liberals have explained that most spending at Veterans Affairs is statutory and that the government needs to be prepared to cover the cost of these benefits, whether 10 or 10,000 eligible veterans make a claim.
The Liberals have advised us that each year the spending estimates for Veterans Affairs are put before the House, based predominantly on those very same statutory requirements. In other words, the funding that has lapsed will be in the spending estimates this year and the year after that and the year after that.
The Liberals are saying that the motion is a moot point. Actually, for the most part, they are right. However, I know they hope veterans will forget that when in opposition, the Liberals sung a very different tune.
It is true that the funding for Veterans Affairs is regulated by statute. It seems the Minister of Veterans Affairs is aware of this fact now. The other day, he was explaining to Global News that he was statutorily obligated to provide programs and services owed to veterans, so any lapsed funding would not affect services to veterans. A Veterans Affairs spokesperson agreed with the minister and said that lapsed funding did not result in anyone receiving less than they should, that it was simply an administrative process.
Services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, under the Liberals, is demand driven, just as it was during the previous Conservative government. The hypocrisy here is that when the same thing happened in the past, the Liberals falsely claimed that the then government was stealing from veterans. Now when they find themselves in government and are faced with the exact same situation, the Liberals say that they are not stealing, that they are following an administrative process.
I am not going to come to the House today and claim that lapsed funding in the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Liberal government is somehow stealing from veterans, because it is not and it never was. However, I will ask the minister, now that he and the Liberal government are aware of how Veterans Affairs budgets work, if they will apologize for accusing my former colleagues of thievery? Will they apologize to Canadians for completely misrepresenting in the past how this Veterans Affairs budget works? Will they apologize to veterans for the stress they caused them by suggesting the former government was taking money from their benefits, when they knew it was not true?
The department makes estimates for what it expects to spend and in the event that all the money is not spent, it lapses. The way the department is set up, it is required to have enough money for the demands of our veterans, each and every year. This motion by the member for Courtenay—Alberni is somewhat moot. However, there are many areas of concern where my colleague and I are of one mind that I believe are the force behind his intent today.
What are the reasons this funding remains there at the end of the budget year? Why does it fail to reach veterans? There are two significant reasons why that happens. One is incredible inefficiencies within the department, an inability when it creates programs to get them through the door and out to the veterans. The other reason is a significant culture of denial. Veterans always have to fight for something they should be able to receive without an increased level in their mental health problems, without an increased level of PTSD and struggling through the transition process and without an increase in the number of veterans who contemplate or actually go through with suicide and homicides because they simply cannot take another problem added on to the problems they are already facing.
For example, the fact that $37 million taxpayer dollars abused by the Prime Minister to fight veterans in court was a blow to the guts, the hearts and the minds of our veterans. When asked why we were fighting certain veteran groups in court, the Prime Minister responded, at the Edmonton town hall, in February 2018, with this statement, “Because they're asking for more than we are able to give.”
The previous Conservative minister of Veterans Affairs had worked with Equitas, firing the government lawyer and instead putting the case in abeyance, with the goodwill to work together to move toward acceptable solutions to improve outcomes for injured veterans, as they were requesting.
The outcomes this motion is trying to achieve are very important. I am very disturbed by the increasing backlog of applications for disability benefits. Despite the $10 billion the minister is always quoting, the backlog is 29,000 and growing.
The government sees itself as succeeding, because it indicates that cases are being processed and moved to VRAB, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, more quickly. How could any government claim this as a success, that basically, initial request from veterans are moving quickly to an appeal board, where once again they have to go through the process for applying and requesting that funding? In most cases, once they make it through that process, it is provided. Why are we putting our veterans through this added difficulty that causes them great angst and only means they are not receiving their funding or their services in a timely manner?
When VAC finally communicates to Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and their families using veterans-centric plain language and when it ensures all veterans have a clear understanding of every benefit they qualify for upon release and every benefit they may need to access over time, we will be on the road to succeeding to care more effectively and efficiently for our veterans.
One of the biggest challenges to veterans receiving their benefits is an over-complicated chain of command, where upper management does not embrace change and case managers are not empowered to do what is best for veterans as quickly as possible. There does not appear to be a desire to work with DND to create a seamless transition for our veterans if it means a change to the structure or the composition of VAC.
There continues to be a culture that insists VAC must determine if medical release is due to service before VAC will provide benefits, when DND already makes the determination when a member no longer meets universality of service and is released. Yes, of course future decisions by VAC will need to be made as veterans age. However, upon medical release, there is complete clarity already provided by DND on whether they qualify for services from VAC. It is already there at release.
Timely service and peace of mind for an injured veteran should be the determining factors, not protecting the turf of a department. The truth is that the majority of the cohort of case managers the Liberals claim they have put in place, 400 of those 470, were already budgeted for by the previous Conservative government.
At the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, we heard that case managers were not properly trained and up to speed on veterans benefits. They are overworked, stressed and often feeling helplessly caught between veterans in dismay and those up the chain of command. VAC needs to stop operating like an insurance program.
VAC needs to be transparent in what it is actually providing to veterans. Today, we heard one of the members of the Liberal Party talk about the education benefit, $40,000 for someone who has served for six years and $80,000 for someone who has served for 12 years. Unfortunately, that is not a transparent presentation to veterans or Canadians because those funds are a taxable benefit.
Therefore, when veterans think they are going to get $40,000 to go to school, at the end of the year they find out that it is a taxable benefit and they owe the government in taxes. I wonder if the government has come to any decision as to how much of that benefit it hands out is actually clawed back and how much it gets back through taxes from our veterans. It is misleading.
As well, the member across the way said that with the education benefit, veterans would get to go to the school of their choice. I have been approached by many veterans who wanted to take advantage of that program. One of them was actually okayed to go ahead and registered with the institution. The veteran then heard back through the case manager that the people higher up did not think the school qualified. It was devastating.
As well, the member across the way said that the emergency funds were available 24/7. What he is saying is that people can call in 24/7, but he did not tell truthfully how long it took for the department to actually get those funds out the door to a veteran who was in an emergency crisis situation. Our committee should take a look at that.
Under no circumstances should the men and women who have served and have come home physically or mentally injured find themselves fighting for benefits they were told would be there for them and their families when they signed on, willing to die for their country.
The minister has indicated on numerous occasions that the backlog is because veterans are better informed and they have more services to apply for. I hope there is a certain amount of truth to that. However, in actuality what is not being said is that the backlog is going to get even worse, as VAC is facing a significant increase of service members ready to retire now after serving 25 years. The department is not prepared.
It is no secret that there is no clarity for veterans or service and case managers with the rollout fast approaching of the so-called pension for life. The plan provides no new funds. Instead it consolidates and rolls in existing benefits.
In an article in Esprit de Corps Canadian military magazine, dated April 18, Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol, comparing the old Pension Act and the Liberals' new so-called pension for life, stated:
Furthermore, under the same category of non-taxable benefits for pain and suffering, injured veterans will have a choice between a lump-sum payment of up to $360,000 and a monthly “Pension for Life” up to a maximum of $1,150 to compensate for their injuries. There are no additional amounts for spouses or children. The average “Pension for Life” likely will be around $200 per month. For the 60,000 veteran recipients still receiving the Pension Act, they are paid an average of $680 per month plus amounts for spouses and children.
In the announcement of the Liberals' budget for 2018, with the new life-long pension included, the example that was given was of someone who had served the full 25 years and ended up at the last moment having a very horrific injury, including major loss of limbs. That individual qualifies for the maximum amount. There are many of our boots on the ground who get injured and never make it to 25 years. It is misleading in that document.
Another glaring problem is the inability of VAC to administer funds in a timely manner. One example is the emergency relief fund. It takes days, not hours, to get the funds to a veteran in a crisis situation. I am going to mention an organization called “Veterans Emergency Transition Services”, known as VETS Canada. It is operated by veterans for veterans. A non-profit corporation with volunteers across Canada, it provides emergency aid and comfort to veterans who are in crisis and who are at risk of becoming homeless.
If a veteran or someone on their behalf reaches out to VETS Canada, it can have a person at their door very quickly with help. If it gets a call about a homeless veteran, it works that same day to get them off the street. The new VETS Canada drop-in centre is just blocks from Parliament Hill and it is so effective in its mandate that we heard that 65 of its emergency clients went there in its first two months of operation.
The problem at Veterans Affairs is not a lack of money. We all know that the minister says he has $10 billion to spend, because he says that at every opportunity, yet it seems the desire of the government is to get dollars out the door elsewhere, providing taxpayer dollars to colonize overseas countries, to get Canadians to submit to its attestation values, to pay out terrorists and help murderers, rather than focusing on our veterans, elderly and those working hard to join the middle class.
Veterans want to see more veterans as caseworkers so that they can talk to people who understand military service and speak their language. They want transparency when they file a claim, with an honest, accurate estimation provided as to how long it will take. Veterans want to be made aware of available services. For example, I recently returned from a committee trip up north and discovered that 89% of our Canadian Rangers are not aware of their Canadian Armed Forces health care entitlements or their veterans benefits. An excellent recommendation came forward in the north that a VAC service agent simply be included with the existing team at the Service Canada building in Yellowknife.
Understanding that Veteran Affairs services need to start shortly after enlistment with ongoing contact, we need to ensure that when an forces member retires or is released from the Canadian Armed Forces and becomes a veteran, he or she is armed and trained with the clear, concise information that empowers them to access everything they need and deserve as they transition from serving in our military.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
CPC (SK)
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2018-11-05 13:50 [p.23249]
Mr. Speaker, in fairness, I think it is very important that we reach out to veterans in a way that is accessible to them. Whenever there is change, it is difficult.
I note that one of the offices reopened in my province, and I had veterans coming in to talk to me. The frustration was that no one came to talk to them about reopening them. This is the government that consults on all things. The veterans said that the government put it back where it was. It is downtown, in the middle of a very busy area. There is no parking, and they cannot get upstairs. They really liked it when it was in a mall with Service Canada.
Up north, in Yellowknife, veterans asked why we do not have someone come to be part of Service Canada there so that there is an expert on the ground.
With regard to reopening offices across the south, I have not seen any results to see what they have cost the government or how effective they have been. I know that there are some veterans who still very much prefer meeting face to face, but even in those offices, I have heard that they usually respond by telephone.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
CPC (SK)
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2018-11-05 13:53 [p.23250]
Mr. Speaker, veterans are incredibly important to Canadians. Serving at committee for veterans affairs as the shadow deputy critic, I find that this is probably one of the most emotional files in the House of Commons. That is why I am pleased to say today that everyone on this side of the floor represented in the Conservative Party of Canada will be voting in support of this motion.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
CPC (SK)
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2018-11-05 13:55 [p.23250]
Mr. Speaker, I hear from a great number of veterans, and their frustration is with the very department the member says to bring their concerns to. That again shows that we have work to do in making sure that VAC is there to serve veterans and not itself.
I would ask a rhetorical question. Now that the Liberal government is aware of how the Veterans Affairs budget works, is it prepared to apologize for accusing my former colleagues of thievery?
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
View Bob Saroya Profile
2018-11-05 13:56 [p.23250]
Mr. Speaker, my question is simple and short. When the Prime Minister was in the third party, he promised veterans that they would never have to fight the government in court. After $38 million spent over the last two years, what has happened?
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