Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laurentides—Labelle.
I support this bill at second reading. This bill, just as a bit of historical reference, is a reworking of Bill C-11, which previously died on the order paper. I certainly welcomed this new bill, thinking that it would go a bit further than Bill C-11. Unfortunately, while I am supporting it at second reading, there are some issues with this bill. It still does not go far enough in addressing the shortcomings of the previous bill, Bill C-11.
Bill C-11, the previous bill, and this bill, Bill C-27, are based on many criticisms levelled by veterans groups and the Veterans Ombudsman regarding the government's career-transition services. Unfortunately, this bill overlooks an entire group of veterans who have trouble transitioning to a new career. The vast majority of veterans do not have the necessary degrees to obtain a position in the public service, and of course, many are simply not interested in a career in the public service.
The bill would amend a number of sections and would offer priority status to members of the Canadian Forces released for medical reasons, placing them in the highest priority category ahead of both surplus employees and persons on leave. It also would increase the length of the priority entitlement period from two years to five years. It is important to note, and many people may not realize it, that Veterans Affairs also includes RCMP veterans. RCMP veterans would not be eligible for this new priority.
The bill would give Second World War and Korean War veterans priority over other Canadian citizens. By expanding the definition of “veteran” to include military personnel having served at least three years, we would see a resurgence in the appointment of veterans to public service positions, and this priority would last for a period of five years. However, surviving spouses of former members of the Canadian Forces who served for three years would not get priority. This is in contrast to widows of World War II and Korean War veterans. We do not agree with these provisions as we believe that surviving spouses of all veterans who sacrificed their lives for our country should be given this preferential treatment. In designating several categories of veterans, it appears in this bill that we have abandoned the idea that a veteran is a veteran is a veteran, which is, if I can say, a cherished principle of the NDP.
One aspect that is overlooked regarding the length of the priority entitlement period is that it would begin on the day a member left the Canadian Forces. This means that if members wished to contest the reason for their discharge or the length of time between their service and injury, their priority period would be decreasing by the day. As members may be aware, these procedures can take years to resolve. Members who pursued these courses of action would be at a disadvantage compared to other members of the Canadian Forces who did not have to appear before an administrative tribunal.
We believe that the bill does not go far enough and that it focuses on only a very small number of veterans in transition who have the training and experience necessary to pursue a job in the public service.
The government must implement the career transition recommendations made by the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General. The government is balancing its budget clearly on the backs of our veterans and is proposing half measures that would not have a significant impact on the standard of living of veterans as a whole.
Rather than implementing the recommendations of the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General, or even waiting for the revision of the new veterans charter, which will be tabled tomorrow in this House, so the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs could make recommendations about transition as a whole, the Conservatives chose to introduce a bill that applies only to a very small part of the transition program.
The priority entitlement period would end five years after a member of the Canadian Forces had been medically released. The eligibility period, as I said before, would increase from two years to five years.
We believe that an increased length of time is justified for veterans who wish to pursue university studies. For example, a regular veteran, a regular Canadian, would take about four years to get a university degree. However, in the public service, advanced degrees past the first degree are often key to getting a good job in the public service. Even with that increase, it might be too late for them to take advantage of this hiring priority.
Veterans Affairs Canada, together with the Department of National Defence, should explore other collaborative opportunities with organizations. Some of these were outlined in the report of the Veterans Ombudsman that came out in June last year. We should explore opportunities with organizations such as the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, and so forth.
It should be the job of the government, and part of this bill, to cultivate partnerships with organizations that specialize in job placement, mentorship, and internship opportunities, which, again, was indicated in the report of the Veterans Ombudsman. It should be developing affiliations with academic institutions and the provinces to translate military skills, experience, and training into civilian academic equivalencies recognized by provincial ministries of education. That was also from the Veterans Ombudsman.
It is pretty clear from the statistics that most departments do not hire veterans. A culture shift is required within government departments themselves. Of the few hundred each year who take advantage of priority hiring, 50% to 80%, depending on the year, will find positions in the Department of National Defence, not other departments. There should be a general effort made to ensure that this happens.
A universal deployment principle could be adjusted for Canadian Forces members who have been injured in the line of duty. The latest figures I have are from 2011-12. In that period, of the 942 medically released former Canadian Forces members, only 10% had a completed or partially completed post-secondary education. Nearly half of them had high school levels or less in education.
In the future, seven out of 10 jobs will require specialized post-secondary education. Therefore, the onus should be on the federal government to ensure that those opportunities are there for our veterans.
Equally interesting is that only 16% of the companies that were polled would make a special effort to recruit veterans. Clearly, knowledge and understanding of veterans and their experiences have not translated into the private sector.
Only 13% of the companies polled said that their human resources departments knew how to read the resumés of military applicants. That is understandable, because their training is a little bit different. I remember a few years ago, before the program ended when MPs had a chance to spend some time in the military, I was with the navy. I asked a question of the soon-to-retire captain of a ship. We were passing a cruise ship, and I said that there could be a cruise ship opportunity for him as a captain. He told me, quite politely, that his training really did not translate into being a cruise ship captain. People clearly do have to know how to read the resumés.
I would like to say one more thing about veterans, and Thunder Bay in particular, where the office recently closed. In 2012, 3,127 veterans were served in the Thunder Bay office, which is now closed. That office cost about $686,000 a year to keep open. All the veterans offices that were closed cost about $4 million. Strangely enough, that is the same amount of money, $4 million, the government is now spending on veterans advertising. There could have been some better use of that money.
Mr. Marc-André Morin (Laurentides—Labelle, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act, concerns a top priority: our veterans. No one will say otherwise.
It is not enough to say that we are behind them. We must take action. After these people have put their lives and health at risk, it would be hypocritical not to provide them with all the assistance and support they need to return to civilian life.
This bill is an amended version of Bill C-11, introduced in the fall of 2013, which the government allowed to die on the order paper after seven days of debate. Even though we feel this bill does not go far enough and the main flaws in Bill C-11 have not been corrected, we nevertheless support Bill C-27 at second reading.
Enough time has been wasted, and much work remains to be done in committee. We must work to ensure that this bill truly helps veterans return to civilian life.
In its present form, this bill will not help veterans who are finding it hard to make the career transition from the armed forces to civilian life. The vast majority of them do not have a university degree, which is necessary to secure a position in the public service, whereas others simply are not interested in that kind of career. I understand why because soon there will be no more public servants.
Under subsection 39(1) of the Public Service Employment Act, preference is given to veterans of World War II and the Korean War. However, surviving spouses of former members of the Canadian Forces who served less than three years will not have access to this preference, unlike the surviving spouses of World War II veterans.
We disagree with this proposal because we believe all veterans deserve the same treatment. By creating so many classes, the Conservatives are abandoning the principle of a single class of veterans, those who risked their lives for Canada.
In view of the staff cuts in the public service, veterans do not have access to as many positions as they did previously. Employees who have been victims of the cuts take precedence.
There also appears to be a flaw in the bill regarding the period during which veterans have hiring priority over other candidates. We feel that the period during which employment priority applies is quite short.
Veterans wishing to earn a university degree will need about four or five years, in certain cases where the position requires a master’s degree. This five-year period begins when the member is released. Consequently, if a member challenges the reason for his or her release or whether an injury is service-related, the priority period will continue to run during the proceedings, which may extend over several years. The member would therefore be put at a disadvantage relative to another member who would not have to challenge the matter before an administrative tribunal.
Private sector co-operation must be improved because people in the private sector are unaware of veterans’ skills. Human resource departments do not know how to interpret the curricula vitae of veterans who apply for jobs.
The government has announced that it will reimburse veterans up to $75,800 for training and transition costs. That amount will be spread over five years, and the budget has a ceiling of $2 million. If the maximum amount is granted to every veteran, only 27 will be able to receive it, roughly five a year. When we think of the tens of thousands of veterans returning from Afghanistan, we wonder how many veterans will be able to take advantage of this program.
In a recent advertisement, which focuses more on the government’s image than the service advertised, the Conservatives show a veteran standing in front of his closet. He hesitates between his uniform and a suit, as though he is merely making a clothing choice. However, the reality is completely different.
I cannot help but think of another veteran I saw. At the Remembrance Day ceremony on November 11, 2013, a man in his fifties leaned on his cane so that he could lay a floral wreath in front of the cenotaph. Having been wounded in training, he was forced to retire from the armed forces two years before he was eligible for a full pension. Today he must live on a pension that has been reduced by 35%, which puts him below the poverty line. He told me that he had enlisted in the armed forces to fight for his country and that now he had to fight against his country.
To sum up, there are two major classes of veterans: those the government presents to us in its advertisements and those who are fighting through an administrative maze against a bureaucracy that is preventing them from living their lives.
Mr. Corneliu Chisu (Pickering—Scarborough East, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, before starting, I would like to inform you that I will split my time with the member for Ottawa—Orléans.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-27. I served for 23 years in the Canadian Forces, in the reserves, the regular force, and the cadet corps. I participated in the missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Afghanistan, in 2007, when we were starting to realize that we were not in a peacekeeping mission but at war.
I am pleased to speak to yet another important way that our government is creating new opportunities for Canada's veterans and still-serving members who want to join the federal public service. The veterans hiring act builds upon our efforts to create priority hiring for those men and women who are medically releasing from the military because of a service-related injury.
This new bill reflects our government's profound gratitude for the service and sacrifices of Canada's men and women in uniform, past and present. Just as importantly, it recognizes that Canada's veterans and servicemen and women are highly skilled and admired individuals who are known for their courage and dedication. It recognizes our government's appreciation for their leadership, their professionalism, and their teamwork.
Most of all, it recognizes that they are renowned for getting the job done, no matter what the mission is. Our government is proud of them. We are proud of their extraordinary contributions to our great country, and we want Canada to continue to benefit from their experience and expertise. They have a lot to offer, even when they are retiring at the compulsory age of 60.
Increasing access to career opportunities for veterans in the public service does all of this. It also builds on our many other important investments and initiatives to support veterans in their transition to civilian life, an ongoing eight-year commitment that started when we implemented the new veterans charter, in 2006, and one that has continued with the delivery of our economic action plan 2014, in February.
Our government has been single-minded in doing everything we can to ensure that veterans and their families have the care and support they need when and where they need it. This includes ensuring Canada's veterans make a successful transition to civilian life, which often depends on finding meaningful new employment.
The fact is that the average age of our releasing Canadian Armed Forces personnel is just 37 years old. These young men and women have the drive, skills, leadership, and experience to start successful new careers. That is why we are helping veterans and their families with vocational training and employment opportunities after their military service.
This includes a flexible new approach to training for eligible veterans in the rehabilitation program, which provides up to $75,800 for even the most specialized training, if needed, and the hire a veteran initiative that is aimed at connecting veterans with employers.
We are working closer than ever before with both the private and public sectors to remind them of the very real benefits and advantages of hiring former military personnel. We are committed to ensuring that veterans have the supports they need to successfully transition to civilian life.
We demonstrated this when our government announced that Canadian Armed Forces veterans who are medically released due to a service-related injury or illness would be given the top level of priority consideration for job openings in the public service.
The veterans hiring act builds on this. We want to help move veterans to the front of the line when it comes to hiring qualified Canadians for federal public service jobs.
As well, this initiative would provide even further support for all medically released veterans, by extending their existing priority entitlement period from two years to five years.
However, our government proposes to go even further.
The bill adds new measures that would benefit even more veterans and Canadian Armed Forces personnel. Among other things, we would extend additional hiring opportunities to other honourably released veterans and still serving members who want to start a new career in the federal public service.
Through the amendments we are proposing, qualified veterans who have at least three years of military service will be given access to internally advertised positions. We will also allow them to continue to compete for these internal postings for a full five years after their release from the Canadian Armed Forces.
As well, these veterans would receive a hiring preference in the externally advertised hiring process if a veteran is equally qualified and has been honourably released and has at least three years of military service. Simply put, if a veteran is as qualified as the other candidates, the hiring priority will ensure that the veteran gets the job.
During their service to Canada, Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans have acquired the skills that make them ideal employees. These new measures recognize that. They have demonstrated their commitment to Canada, and it is now our responsibility to ensure that they have access to the employment opportunities they need to be successful when their time in uniform is complete.
At the same time, the five-year hiring preference would provide veterans with sufficient time to further upgrade their education and skills if required, before they seek work in the federal public service. This measure would ensure exactly what I mentioned at the outset of my comments, that our government will continue being able to tap into a remarkably skilled and dedicated pool of individuals, a pool of talent that was created through our country's investment in their training and development.
Although their time in uniform is complete, their dedication to Canada remains, which is why I am pleased that these measures would help veterans continue their service to Canada in the public service. This is the right thing to do for every Canadian who has proudly worn our nation's uniform.
We hope all members of the House will throw their full support behind these measures. Let us move quickly so that we can put these enhancements into effect as soon as possible. Our nation's veterans and still serving members deserve our support, and our government is proud to deliver it.
Obviously it is a shame that the Union of National Defence Employees is unsupportive of what is being proposed. It does not agree that we should recognize the service of Canada's veterans by providing them with access to jobs that will help them and their families succeed. Instead, it wants to see them moved to the back of the line behind civil servants. I strongly urge the NDP to bring the union bosses onside and support this legislation.
Mr. Royal Galipeau (Ottawa—Orléans, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East for the service he has given to our country and for graciously sharing his time with me today.
It is the men and women in uniform who have served and sacrificed so much for our country, and those who continue to do so, who have made our nation what it is today.
That is why I am pleased to rise today to support the government's efforts to recognize these sacrifices by helping our veterans find meaningful employment in the federal public service. It is the least that we can do.
Our veterans are the ones who have defended our freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law and the ones who, too often, have given their own lives doing so.
Their sacrifice has allowed us the freedom and peace to pursue and realize the great riches and potential that our country offers.
Indeed, Canada’s veterans personify the ideal of commitment to cause and country. They embody honour and modesty.
Each week, I run into many veterans, whether I am stopping by at the Orléans branch of the Royal Canadian Legion or participating at different commemorative events. There are a considerable number of military personnel and veterans in Ottawa—Orléans, and of course, Branch 632 is the friendliest Legion in the region.
When veterans are asked about their service, their sacrifice or the reasons why they served, their answer is almost invariably because it was their duty.
They did much more than that. They have made Canada a nation that is universally respected around the world. They have helped those in crisis and in need. They have helped to keep the peace in many troubled areas far from Canada.
When all other avenues failed, they fought to protect our way of life and preserve the right of others to live in freedom.
The proud record of Canada's veterans explains the government's deep commitment to recognizing their service and honouring their sacrifice every day.
The government continues to strive to ensure that veterans and their families receive the care and support they need whenever and wherever they need it.
The veterans hiring act further solidifies the government’s commitment and determination to be there for those who have always been there for Canada.
It is our responsibility to ensure that veterans have access to a broad range of programs and services to help them achieve new success after their time in uniform is complete.
The measures we are proposing today will greatly help veterans succeed by creating new opportunities for veterans and still-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces to start rewarding new careers in the federal public service.
We will create a five-year statutory priority entitlement for Canadian veterans who are medically released for service-related injuries and illnesses.
This change will move these veterans to the front of the line, ahead of all other groups for jobs in the federal public service and by doing so, it will recognize their very real sacrifices for Canada.
Additionally, these new measures will extend the priority entitlement period for all medically released veterans from the current two years to five years.
This means that eligible veterans whose military service is cut short by a career-ending injury or illness suffered in the line of duty will have the time they need to find a federal public service job.
However, we must not forget our other honourably released veterans and still-serving military personnel. As outlined in economic action plan 2014, the government made a commitment to allow eligible, still-serving military personnel to participate in the hiring process for internally advertised positions in the federal public service. This eligibility would extend for a full five years after their release from the Canadian Armed Forces.
To ensure our veterans move to the front of the line for federal public service jobs, a hiring preference for our veterans will be established.
If a veteran has the same qualifications as another applicant in an externally advertised hiring process, the veteran will get the job.
This new hiring preference will be available to all veterans who are honourably released with at least three years of military service. It will last for up to five years from their release date.
This will give our veterans who want to upgrade their skills and education before entering the public service the time to do so. This is great news for these remarkable men and women, and it is the kind of action Canadians have come to expect from us.
Check our record. The government, regardless of fiscal pressures or economic uncertainties, has delivered on its pledge to maintain and enhance veterans' programs and benefits.
Due to the action taken by the government, the annual budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs has increased by a total of almost $785 million since 2005. In total, almost $5 billion in new funding has been invested towards enhancing veterans' benefits, programs and services.
At every turn, we have been adapting our programs and benefits to meet the changing needs of the men, women and families that we serve.
We have been streamlining the way we provide this support. We have been simplifying and reviewing our programs and policies.
We have been introducing new technologies to deliver better and faster service. It is all part of our cutting red tape for veterans initiative, because on this side of the House we are actually allergic to red tape.
The government has made significant improvements to ensure the best care, support and benefits for Canada's veterans and their families.
Turnaround times for processing veterans’ disability benefits have been significantly improved.
The approval time for access to rehabilitation services has been cut in half from four weeks to two.
Paperwork has been reduced.
We are listening. The government is implementing a comprehensive approach to serving veterans that is responsive, inclusive and flexible.
Passing this legislation will keep this momentum going. The implementation of these measures is key in helping veterans and releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces make a successful transition to civilian life.
We are keeping faith with the courageous women and men who have served and continue to serve our country so well.
All members should demonstrate their own support and commitment to Canada’s veterans and serving members by supporting this bill.
I thank members for their kind attention.
I will be just as attentive to the questions put to me by members of the House.
Ms. Annick Papillon (Québec, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the fabulous member for Saint-Jean.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act, for our veterans. This bill, like its predecessor, Bill C-11, is a response to the many criticisms made by veterans' groups and the ombudsman himself of the government's career transition services.
I am very familiar with these criticisms, having been the deputy critic for veterans affairs during the first year of my mandate, having remained close to our veterans ever since, and having always lent them an ear. It is important to me that their sacrifice be honoured and that they never be forgotten or ignored.
Unlike the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I will not turn my back on veterans or soldiers, especially when they want my attention. I want to take this opportunity to extend warm greetings to the veterans in Quebec City and particularly the Royal Canadian Legion, which does exceptional work in Quebec City.
Bill C-27 does not measure up to veterans’ expectations, and yet their demands are clear. They want front-line services. They want services, just as they served their country. They went where no one wanted to go because the government asked them to, and today all they want is for the government to understand that when some soldiers return from a mission, they find it difficult to get back into the labour force.
Some soldiers have no choice but to become veterans rather quickly because they were wounded while on duty, either physically or psychologically. Let me say again that they do not choose to become veterans. It is important to understand that a wounded soldier will go through a period of genuine mourning for what he or she has lost.
Whether it is a soldier whose leg was shattered into a million pieces by an explosive device, a solider suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or a soldier suffering from an unexplained health problem, that soldier will grieve the loss of his former health. Accepting and adjusting to a new reality is an arduous, lengthy process.
That is why services are critically important and why Veterans Affairs Canada needs staff to help veterans get through this difficult time in their lives. Soldiers, unlike civilians, have been programmed. The government has a responsibility to invest resources into deprogramming them.
When the federal government opts to send our military members on either a combat or a peacekeeping mission, it has a responsibility to look out for their welfare before, during and after the mission. Experts, in particular experts in the field of health care, must be hired, something the government is not doing. If it were hiring these experts, we would not be reading all the time about soldiers and veterans committing suicide because they failed to get the help they needed. It has come to that.
My colleague opposite claims that a government has never done so much for veterans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Veterans and the Canadian public know that. Truth be told, never has a government done so little for our veterans.
Bill C-27 will in no way help veterans experiencing problems transition smoothly into another career. The vast majority of them do not have the degrees required to secure a job in the public service. It might take them a very long time to get these degrees. Others are simply not interested in a public service job, and it may well be that a given prospective job is not suited to the veteran’s new health situation.
A veteran has some good days and some not-so-good days.
A veteran’s health can be quite precarious. It can be good one day, and poor the next. Drugs can of course alleviate the pain and side effects, but there are no guarantees.
On June 20, 2000, former Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire was rushed to emergency after being found on a park bench in Hull. Inebriated and suffering from a reaction to anti-depressants, he almost slipped into a coma. This proved to be a wake-up call for the civilian world and an introduction to PTSD. We do not want to turn back the clock to that time when PTSD was unknown and left untreated. It is time to acknowledge the situation and allocate the resources needed to address the problem.
I have read a great deal about PTSD. I have also met personally with many veterans suffering from PTSD. I know they are struggling constantly to live in the present. They need to be able to count on having reliable and effective resources at their disposal, especially since soldiers may experience PTSD episodes only later, be it two years or twenty years after an actual mission. There is no way of knowing for certain.
On August 26, 2013, the Veterans Ombudsman released a report that focused on vocational training for veterans transitioning to civilian life. None of the ombudsman’s recommendations is included in this bill. The same goes for recommendations made by the Auditor General in the fall of 2012.
The NDP is of the opinion that the Conservative government should implement, not shelve, the ombudsman’s recommendations. It is really shameful to see a report, whether it comes from an ombudsman or from the Transportation Safety Board, shelved because of Conservative ideology, especially when it had the backing of all political parties in a parliamentary committee and was followed up on. It is truly a shame and it makes no sense at all!
Ombudsmen are appointed to prepare reports so that the government can listen to the concerns of all elected officials in the House. It is truly awful, shameful and disgusting to have these reports produced year after year, only to see the Conservatives scrap or completely ignore the recommendations put forward and then scrambling to backtrack. It is crazy really. A responsible government does not act this way.
What upsets me even more is that the government deliberately decided to balance the budget on the backs of our veterans. It decided to make major budget cutbacks that directly affect our veterans, something that London or even Washington did not dare do, even in times of belt-tightening.
This really comes as no surprise, since we are dealing with an irresponsible Conservative government that still cannot account for $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funding. More than a year later, the money is still unaccounted for. Where is the explanation? How were these missing $3.1 billion spent? The government has not been able to shed light on this mystery and yet it has no problem making cuts that affect veterans.
This Conservative government lacks the courage it should have. It is unable to provide the Parliamentary Budget Officer with all of the relevant information when it announces budget cuts, proving in the process that these cuts are made hastily and haphazardly, completely in the dark. That is how the Conservatives govern. How truly terrible is that.
This is where we find ourselves in 2014, with a Conservative, or should I say Reform-minded, government. It should be ashamed of proposing half-measures that will have no real impact on the quality of life of veterans in general. It should be ashamed of its actions. Having served for quite a while on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I know what could be done in terms of long-term health care for veterans. They could be given access to improved follow-up services and receive help from specialists. I am also thinking about the work that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board is not doing.
Decent pensions should be granted so that veterans are not forced to make repeated requests until they finally receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.
I find it truly offensive to treat people who chose to sacrifice their lives for us in this manner.
Mr. Tarik Brahmi (Saint-Jean, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am going to speak to Bill C-27. What my colleague from Québec said is absolutely true. We do not have our priorities straight.
I will obviously be voting in favour of this bill at second reading because it is a step in the right direction. However, the bill is not enough. One of the reasons it is not enough is that it always seems as though this government is responding because it is compelled to do so not because veterans are a priority for the government. We see it every day.
One of the reasons why I am interested in this subject is that we have a lot of veterans in Saint-Jean because we have a military base there, and most military members who have served in the Canadian Forces did part of their training at the base in Saint-Jean. We also have the Royal Military College, so we have a whole military environment. When members are transferred from base to base, some of them wind up staying in the area of one of their postings. That is true of Quebec City, with the base in Valcartier, but it is also true of us in Saint-Jean. A number of military members settle in the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu or in the region because their last posting was in Saint-Jean.
I am obviously very concerned about the situation in which we are putting our veterans. The Conservative Party and the Conservative government are not the only ones who have abandoned veterans. The Liberals did so as well. The cuts that the Liberals made in 1994 and 1995 when they were in power show that they were no more committed to helping our veterans or military members than the Conservatives. That is why we hope that the NDP will be able to take charge of this file after 2015 and give our veterans the help they deserve.
I am obviously going to talk about my bill, Bill C-568, which the government and Conservative members voted against. To my mind, once is not a habit. I can hold the Conservatives to account for their actions. They are always telling us that we voted against some budget measure or another when they are constantly serving up omnibus bills that contain measures on anything and everything. They then criticize us and attack us for not voting on one of the budget provisions, when that provision did not even have anything to do with the budget.
Now I am holding them to account for their choices. They voted against Bill C-568, my bill respecting long-term care for veterans, claiming that there was in fact no problem. When I meet with veterans, at the Legion or other events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu or in the region, the comments I get from my constituents are not at all consistent with what Conservative members are saying. The Conservative government is not addressing the real problems.
One of the problems I raised in Bill C-568 was the creation of two classes of veterans. This is a concept that we in the NDP oppose. The government and Veterans Affairs Canada have created two classes of veterans. On the one hand, there are what are called traditional veterans or war veterans, which means those who served until 1953, mainly in World War II and the Korean War, and who are still alive. On the other hand, we have modern veterans, which means those who served after 1953, mainly on peacekeeping missions, but also on war missions such as the one in Afghanistan.
Within this second class of veterans, the government has artificially created a third class. That third class is the class of veterans who served after April 1, 2006, or those who now fall under the jurisdiction of the new veterans charter.
As we can see, the consequence of making various amendments to different acts is that three classes of veterans have in fact been created: war or traditional veterans, veterans before the new charter and veterans after the new charter.
What is the main difference between these two subclasses of veterans? It is mainly the disability pension that was previously paid to our wounded veterans and that has been replaced by a disability award since April 1, 2006. I have had many conversations with veterans, and they have convinced me that, in practice and in many cases, they realize that the amounts of these two types of compensation for the same injury can at times differ by as much as a factor of 10 or 15. Consequently, the financial implications are that, with a ratio of 1 to 10 or 1 to 15, this creates a new injustice between these categories.
I will not go over all the arguments that my colleagues have advanced thus far. I would just be repeating what they have already explained very clearly to this point. However, I would like to go back to the incident that made the news last Thursday, when the Minister of Veterans Affairs actually ignored Jenifer Migneault. That incident was truly indicative of the lack of interest and compassion the Minister of Veterans Affairs has shown. It is that lack of compassion that veterans report to us in meetings in our ridings every day.
What is quite paradoxical is that, on the one hand, Veterans Affairs Canada has closed nine regional offices that gave our veterans access to services and, on the other hand, has spent millions of dollars advertising the services of Veterans Affairs Canada. Members have probably seen some of those ads on television or heard them on the radio in recent weeks. I am not opposed to the idea of advertising to inform veterans about available services, but advertising should be in addition to the services themselves. It should not replace those services. In other words, it should not be purchased solely for the purpose of concealing the fact that services have been cut for those who have served our country and sacrificed themselves. It is really terrible that, on the one hand, services are being cut, while, on the other hand, the government is buying advertising to conceal this state of affairs, which is a reality. Veterans tell us this every day.
I will close on that point. I am going to support the principle of this bill at second reading so that it is referred to committee and can be improved, because it really must be improved so that it actually meets the needs of our veterans.
Mr. Erin O'Toole (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to rise in the House to speak on issues related to veterans. I am very happy to follow my colleague from Saint-Jean, in particular because we share an affinity for Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean in his riding. We both reminded the House not long ago of the 1994 budget of the Liberals that kick-started the decade of darkness for the Canadian Forces and closed that fine school. I was very proud that a number of years ago our government reopened Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, and that my friend Michel Maisonneuve has done a great job of building that centre of excellence back up. We hope to see it continue to produce fine young men and women leaders for the Canadian Forces.
Speaking of leadership, we are talking today about Bill C-27 and the subject of the veterans hiring act. It is important for Canadians who may be listening to this debate, or groups that are unsure about the subject, to know that this is truly a group effort. A few members of the House have suggested that there are not going to be many veterans who would qualify for the public service, or that it is going to be a very small group or contingent. That might be true. This might be only for dozens or, over many years, 100 or 200 serving veterans to transition into other public sector positions. However, it is an example of our government playing an active role in the subject of hiring veterans and, more importantly, creating a culture in Canada where hiring a veteran becomes commonplace.
I would suggest that does not exist at the moment. However, there are a number of groups that I will refer to in my remarks that, over the last five to 10 years, have been trying to create a culture of hiring a veteran in Canada. Why is that a good culture to build? I suggest, altruistically, that it is good to hire veterans. These are men and women who have served our country with distinction, at times putting themselves into harm's way, whether overseas in Afghanistan or on missions here in Canada. Therefore, it is good for the government, and indeed the private sector, to hire veterans. However, it is more than just altruism; it is good business sense. It is actually accretive, to use a business term, to the bottom line, because businesses are getting men and women with demonstrated leadership.
Whether it is a master corporal or a major-general, these Canadians have received training that is unparalleled throughout NATO and the developed world in terms of an educated military, one that is trained in leadership ethics, managing people, leading under stressful situations, and with a culture that is inherently loyal. The regimental structure that the military is based upon is based on loyalty.
I have dealt with employers for many years, and one of their biggest challenges is retention. Somebody who is in high demand will go on to the next opportunity. Hiring a veteran helps to reduce costs over time, by retaining people who are inherently loyal. If employees show loyalty to employers with the opportunity of a job, they will return it, not just by meeting expectations but exceeding them. Therefore, the government is an important partner in the creation of a culture in Canada to hire veterans. I am pleased to be part of a government that has brought two bills before the House on this very subject. Whether 1,000 veterans are hired or one veteran is hired, it is a good step for Canada.
Bill C-11 was a priority hiring for injured veterans who were released as a result of injury, and Bill C-27, before us today, is on hiring veterans for the public service more broadly. This bill looks at Canadian Forces members who have given at least three years of service, and allows them an internal hiring opportunity in another part of government. Whenever I speak about veterans, I try to provide facts and educate others on this because there is too much rhetoric on this subject and not enough facts.
It might be news to some people in this House to learn that upwards of 4,000 to 5,000 people transition from the Canadian Forces each year. About 1,200 of those people leave for a variety of medical reasons, whether it is people with serious injury as a result of service, such as in Afghanistan, or those whose vision or hearing has become impaired and may lose their flight qualification, as I almost did in the air force when my hearing was damaged. We are looking at 4,000 to 5,000 men and women transitioning out of uniform each year. This bill would give those people one more avenue to explore as they plan their transition.
People who receive an honourable release from the Canadian Forces after a three-year service minimum have a level of priority within the civil service that would extend to five years. That number is important because it inherently recognizes that when they transition, veterans may receive additional training or get more education. The Canadian Forces can assist with that. In fact, there is matching of some payments for training programs and tuition payments, to allow people to continue their education while in uniform. In many cases, there is tuition assistance as they transition out. By building in a five-year period, we are acknowledging that people may release and decide to improve their skills or education. We want to ensure that opportunity in the civil service remains open to them.
As I said with respect to Bill C-11 earlier, if people release from the Canadian Forces as a result of a medical release, including an injury or a change in their medical category, they would be given the highest priority of hiring within the civil service. That is appropriate. It recognizes that the men and women who join the Canadian Forces give an unlimited liability to their country.
The most important decision that the members of this place make as parliamentarians is sending our men and women into harm's way. It is appropriate for us, in turn, to give these people the highest priority to find a position in the civil service.
I am glad to hear that many members, on all sides of this House, are here to support Bill C-27, the veterans hiring act. I am disappointed because it is certainly clear in listening to the debate that not a lot is known about the subject and how many people transition each year. Unfortunately, the politics in this area creeps in so often. However, it is refreshing to see that, in principle, most members of this House will be supporting Bill C-27.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about what I alluded to at the outset, which is building a culture of hiring a veteran in Canada. I said that with Bill C-27 and Bill C-11, our government has been an important partner. In many ways, we have helped to nudge the private sector and other individuals in Canada into doing more for hiring our veterans. However, as a parliamentarian who served in the Canadian Forces for 12 years, and after my release has worked on veterans issues for the last decade, I also want to salute some of the Canadians who have been doing this in a steadfast and dedicated way over the last decade. Government should not be the answer for everyone. A lot of veterans will want to go into the private sector. There have been some real trailblazers in that regard.
In fact, another thing that our government did was to create the Veteran Transition Advisory Council. I am very happy to say the minister, just last Friday, met with the Veteran Transition Advisory Council, VTAC, as it is called, in Toronto, to hear its latest update. This is a group of business leaders from across the country. The previous minister gave a mandate to them to help break down barriers within certain industry sectors and report back to the government on how it can facilitate more hiring of veterans. In a similar way that Helmets to Hardhats helped veterans break into the construction industry, VTAC was meant to do that.
I would like to thank Shaun Francis, the chair of the True Patriot Love Foundation, who was the first chair of VTAC, and the vice-chair, Joel Watson, someone I am happy to call a very good friend, like Shaun. Joel served as a dragoon officer before becoming a lawyer in Toronto, and has continually given back.
The entire board of the Veterans Transition Advisory Council, which has been advising the government, has each started veteran-friendly hiring initiatives within their own companies. In some cases. that might mean dealing with the human resources department to educate them, to let them know that looking at military experience as an important determinant on who to hire is something they should focus on.
In fact, one of my last major initiatives as one of the founders of the True Patriot Love Foundation was working on a conference with Canadian employers called “From Battlefields to Boardroom”. The goal was to bring senior human resources leaders from companies across Canada to a conference to hear from veterans, to hear from other companies that are hiring veterans, to show them that sometimes accommodating a veteran in the hiring process or considering their military service to be equal to some related civilian experience, will go a long way in getting them a great addition to their team.
The conference also had leaders from the Canadian Forces educating private sector employers on the difference between a corporal and a colonel. A lot of civilian organizations that do not have veterans may not know the different types of service or types of education and training that our men and women in the Canadian Forces have.
The battlefields to boardrooms conference was a big step in breaking down barriers to hiring veterans. I would like to thank all of the participants in that event.
There are also groups that have been doing this as part of their outreach to Canadians in working with veterans and with our wounded. I spent time this Saturday with Scott Maxwell and Phil Ralph from Wounded Warriors Canada, in Uxbridge, at a fantastic thanks to our troops tribute.
Wounded Warriors is part of their charitable efforts, allowing Canadians to support the men and women of the Canadian Forces. They have encountered companies and employers who want to do more than just help financially; they want to open their hiring process and open opportunities within their companies to veterans.
I salute the entire team at Wounded Warriors. I know they have an upcoming employer fair, in Alberta. They will be spreading their message that it is more than just the right thing to do. Some of the best hiring decisions they will make will be by hiring men and women who have served Canada.
Probably the most fascinating group I have ever encountered, and I am happy to belong to it as well, is a group called Treble Victor. It was begun a few years ago by Don Ludlow and Mark Walden, and is currently led by Tim Patriquin.
This is a networking group of veterans that started in Toronto. After they have transitioned into the private sector, they meet with their HR department. They meet with their senior leadership and ask them, “Why are we not hiring more veterans?” Or they ask, “Are there barriers to the hiring of veterans in our company that we can address?”
They have had tremendous success. I remember a number of years ago, before joining this House, Gord Nixon, the CEO of Royal Bank, when approached by Treble Victor members within the bank, talked about doing a bit of an audit, asking how many veterans they had. He was amazed at how many there were within the national organization. They were then empowered to create a network within the bank to help other veterans find employment.
Canada Company is another spectacular example of good charitable work leading to employment opportunities for veterans. It was started by Blake Goldring and a number of prominent business leaders. I was happy to attend a lot of their events when I was a lawyer in Toronto. It started as a program to raise funds for scholarships for the children of the fallen. However, it soon grew into an employment initiative, as senior business leaders wanted to do more than just support them financially. They have the military employment transition program, the MET program, and a website of tools run by an RMC classmate of mine, Walter Moniz, reaching out to employers and allowing transitioning veterans to plug into opportunities in the private sector.
There are also groups like Military Minds, started by a soldier suffering from operational stress injuries, creating a community for people to rally upon. Now there are opportunities for employment from that.
When I was in Windsor, I met with the leaders of Delta Company, a group of business leaders from the Windsor area helping find employment for members of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment.
Government is one part of building a culture here in Canada of hiring veterans. I wanted to salute some of the trailblazers, some of the people who have been at the vanguard of this subject.
I would also like the opportunity to thank a couple of members of this House. In fact, I would like to thank some members from the other side of the House, including my friends from Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Winnipeg North. Last week, they joined me in co-hosting the second annual celebration of service on the Hill, recognizing the parliamentarians and members of Parliament Hill staff who have served in uniform.
At the event this year, we also recognized some of the trail-blazing companies that have been implementing great hiring veteran programs for many years, such as General Electric, McDonald's, Thales, and TD Bank. The award for TD Bank was received by retired General Rick Hillier, who now works at TD Bank and helped the bank roll out a veteran hiring program throughout its national network of branches.
McDonald's started as a charitable sponsor of the True Patriot Love dinner and has now hired veterans throughout its organization. That is an organization where people can start small and go all the way to the top organically.
We wanted to recognize some of these trailblazers on Parliament Hill.
I have heard concern here about Veterans Affairs ads. I will tell the House that if any member of the House has worked on this issue, like I have for the last decade, an important part of those ads is the information. The information is very important, because most young veterans from Afghanistan try and access most of their services online. There are 15,000 who have signed up for a My VAC account.
More importantly, though, is the image of the former soldier straightening his tie, taking his daughter's hand, and going out of the house. That has been a message and an image that I, personally, have been trying to send for many years to show that taking the uniform off, our veterans are the men and women of Canada. We are thankful for their service. They are dads. They transition into amazing soccer coaches, parent council members, and private sector employees. Even more important than the valuable information on services and how to contact them is sending the message that veterans can transition from uniform and have a meaningful post-military career, be a great dad, a great community member, and a great role model.
I would suggest that websites, which have been mocked by some in this House, are the number one way that anybody thinking of transitioning out of the forces finds out about it. They go to Google and they google it. The employers, businesses, and charities that have worked on this for ten years are all there.
It seems that the MPs in the House seem to forget that we now not only serve veterans who are 80 years old and 90 years old, we serve Afghan veterans with multiple tours in their 20s. We have to make ads. We have to be online.
I would invite members to look at journalist Kevin Newman's blog on the subject. We need a better and more unified website that scores highly and that people will see.
I would like to finish by saying that it will take government and the private sector to build this hire a veteran culture. We have to show that it is not only the right thing to do, but that hiring a veteran will make a business a better place.
Mr. Pierre Dionne Labelle (Rivière-du-Nord, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Western Arctic.
As many of my colleagues have said, we are going to support this bill, but we do not think that it goes far enough. We think that it raises questions that the government needs to answer.
First, with regard to the priority given to members of the Canadian Forces who are released for medical reasons, we are wondering what will happen to members who are released for medical reasons when the department or the board does not recognize the connection between their injury and their service. This affects me personally because I have been in touch with a veteran, Mr. Scalise, who resigned from the Canadian Forces because he was suffering from burnout; however, he failed to inform the armed forces that his situation was related to post-traumatic stress.
For four years now, Mr. Scalise has been fighting to have his situation recognized as being connected to his years of service. According to the bill before us, his priority entitlement period is almost up.
First, I believe that the time it is taking to process Mr. Scalise's file is ridiculously long and unacceptable. Second, the bill as it stands does not address Mr. Scalise's needs. This man could very well go back to school, upgrade his skills in various areas and eventually get a job. However, he will not have time to do so if the bill is passed as is.
Whether at the CEGEP or the university level, it takes between two and four years for veterans to acquire a specialization that will allow them to make the transition to a civilian job. We therefore have to give these veterans time to heal and get treatment for their post-traumatic stress before they go back to school.
This transition takes time. It does not happen overnight. The committee should look at this issue again to ensure that the bill that is eventually passed meets the expectations of veterans and truly allows them to reintegrate into the civilian world and the labour market.
The skills acquired in the military are not necessarily automatically transferable to civilian life. Skills upgrading is required. What is more, the private sector is not really aware of the qualifications or technical skills that soldiers develop. A collaborative effort needs to be made here. In fact, the ombudsman proposed measures to that effect, but they seem to have been completely left out of the current bill. That is too bad.
Under the new legislation, the system will have to adjudicate an individual's file to determine if the medical release is related to service or not. That is the case for Mr. Scalise. Like the ombudsman, we have concerns about this administrative uncertainty when it comes to maintaining hiring priority.
Would it not be better to use the recognition of the link between the injury and the service to determine the accessibility and length of the priority entitlement? This could be done in two ways: either the reason for release is designated “service-related medical release” or the link between the injury and the service is recognized by Veterans Affairs Canada.
Either way, we want the system to be consistent. That way some of the red tape can be avoided and we could ensure that veterans do not lose their priority entitlement. That is central to our argument.
This bill also creates categories of veterans; that is another issue. The NDP supports the principle of having a single category of veterans. The bill takes another direction. Veterans of the RCMP are not included in the bill and remain in the regulatory category. I think that a member of the RCMP who suffered a trauma and wanted to get out of the policing environment because it reminds him of the trauma should have hiring priority. He practically gave his life to serve the public. It is only right that the government acknowledge that it has a social and moral obligation to that individual, just as it is only right that the government acknowledge that it has a moral obligation to the people it sends into various conflicts or on various missions.
According to what I read in the veterans' class action suit against the government, the government does not even acknowledge this moral obligation. That is so sad. It is implied. I hope that the veterans will win their case against the government and that their lawsuit will be successful. I hope that the government has a moral duty to people whom it sends into conflicts and who return injured. I hope that we have a moral duty to support them and to ensure that these people get quality care, have a rehabilitation process supported by the government and have access to jobs offered by the government.
There is another side to this coin. At present, we are in a situation where different departments are systematically downsizing. Since the arrival of the majority Conservative government, there has been a series of cuts. Jobs have been systematically cut in different departments, and even if the veterans are given hiring priority, the jobs have to exist. If departments are not hiring, this priority is completely meaningless because there are no jobs available. There is no correlation.
I think this is a weakness that must be studied in committee, and we must ensure that this hiring priority is based on something concrete. It is unrealistic. They will not be able to implement it. I find that too bad.
I will not have time to talk about all the statistics, but there are not many veterans who find jobs in the public service compared to the number of veterans who have access to these types of jobs and the number of veterans who are qualified for these jobs.
We have been told that of the 4,000 veterans who could have been entitled to these jobs, 200 applied and 63 were hired. The employment priority really applies to a very small number of people. That is another aspect that will have to be analyzed in committee to determine what other support could be provided to those members who have finished their military career and those who have been injured in order to ease the career transition to civilian life. We must ensure that there is a transition. For the time being, there are weaknesses in that regard in what we have before us.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise to speak to Bill C-27. Of course, I will be one of the few in Parliament who actually gets to speak to the bill, because we have gone to the process of closure very quickly.
I think it is unfortunate that closure took place today, when tomorrow and the rest of the week we will have many veterans here on the Hill. “Rock the Hill”, they call it.
The Conservatives have not seemed to show much of the courage of their convictions in perhaps having the debate about this particular issue when the veterans are here on the Hill. They are very anxious to get this over with tonight. That is the reality of what the Conservatives have done here with closure. They have taken the opportunity we could have had to have the veterans here to listen to the different points of view of the people in this Parliament on this subject. Conservatives are very happy to get closure on the bill and get it away.
I have the opportunity to speak to the bill at second reading. Of course we support the principle of assisting with priority hiring for injured veterans and doing more for veterans within the civil service. How could anyone in this Parliament not be solid with that principle? What we argue at second reading is principle and how bills should be formed, using the knowledge we all have about the history of the service of the armed forces in Canada.
My father was a veteran of the Second World War. He spent five years in Europe in Bomber Command. He always said that toward the end of the war, the CCF was very popular in Canada, and their numbers were well up. The government respected that and brought in very good programs for veterans when they returned from the war. It did not want to see this turn into a socialist paradise, which may have happened with these veterans who came back. It offered land in Edmonton. My father got a piece of land on a veterans estate. Veterans got an opportunity for low-interest loans to build their houses and to set up their families after being in the war and being away from their communities and their loved ones for the period of time they were in Europe, that five years. Compare that to some of the commitment our servicemen make today of 10 and 15 years overseas.
As well, the government at that time tried to hire many veterans, and my father got a job with the Department of Transport, working in the Arctic, taking care of the airports. The skills matched up in that regard, because he worked in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and that sort of relationship existed at that time.
As well, in every small community across Canada, there were lots of veterans who came back from that big war. The Legions were working very well. There was comradeship and an opportunity in every small community to share with many other veterans. I remember growing up in this atmosphere of Legions and the respect everyone in the community had for the veterans.
Compare that to today. The veterans come back from a foreign conflict, generally of a terribly undefined nature, where they are not involved in liberating countries. They are involved in inter-regional conflicts that have so many variables attached to them. When they walk away from those conflicts, do they have the honour people had coming out of the Second World War? Do they have the approbation of the citizenry across the country for which they have served? No. That does not happen anymore. Is there a large volume of veterans who can join together in common places like the Legion? No. In fact, across the country, Legions are shutting down.
In the major city in my riding, Yellowknife, even with Joint Task Force (North) there, the opportunity to maintain the Legion has almost failed completely.
The times have changed. There is no structure anymore for veterans, like there was in the past.
The good side of it is that we recognize post-traumatic stress disorder. That was not part of the vernacular of the Second World War. We are much more understanding of the nature of the mental injuries veterans suffer in these conflicts.
Bill C-27 tries to provide some answers, but it is not adequate. We do not think we should change the principle that a veteran is a veteran. That principle should remain in the bill, but it is not there. That is one problem we have with the principles of the bill. They are not dealing with all veterans in the same fashion as they used to be dealt with. They are not taking care of people and keeping the commonality among veterans that is so important.
The Conservative government is offering up the opportunity to go into the public service. The public service has changed so much. It is not the public service of 1945 to 1950. It is different. More specialized skills and education are required.
People may be put in priority positions that may not work for them. My Liberal colleague talked about the U.S. government program that includes skills identification. Quite clearly, it is important not to put people in jobs they will not be satisfied with and where there may fail. That would not help the veterans.
We need to pay careful attention to these people. They do not have the same opportunities veterans had in the past. They do not have the same volume of strength that 500,000 veterans had. The veterans today are thin in number. They are not a large part of the population. They need more specific attention. The Conservative government should be thinking about how it could provide the services these veterans require that would make their transition to normal civilian life successful.
This debate must continue until we come up with solutions. I look forward to the bill going to committee, because perhaps at that time, we could consider some of its details. We all agree with the principle that we should do more for the veterans, that we should find ways to integrate them into the workforce. How much more could we provide to the bill in committee on some of the issues we have identified in the very short time we have had to talk about this bill? We have a very short time to communicate in the House about the issues surrounding veterans.
We are doing our veterans a disservice by not continuing this debate for a period of time. They are going to be on the Hill, but they will not have the opportunity to speak to parliamentarians so we can carry their message forward in the House. We could do it at committee, but it is not really the same as talking here in the House.
The bill does not go far enough. We want to see it improved. We are willing to send the bill to committee. I encourage the government to take this seriously, to look at the other options put forward in committee, to listen to the witnesses, and to be open to amending the bill to make it work better for the veterans.
Mr. Bryan Hayes (Sault Ste. Marie, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to let you know that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for West Nova, who is also the outstanding chair of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
As the son of a veteran who spent 36 distinguished years in the Canadian Armed Forces, I can say it truly is a privilege to join the debate today and to express my pride in the generations of men and women who have served our great country. These include my mother, both of my sisters, and my brother-in-law. Among those and my father, there are over 80 years of direct immediate family experience in the Canadian Armed Forces. I am just absolutely so honoured and privileged to have been part of that. I did not join myself, but I think about them every day and I care deeply about our Canadian Armed Forces.
I also consider it an honour to serve on our Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, where I have gained an even greater appreciation of our government's efforts on behalf of veterans and their families. I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues on both sides of the House who sit on that committee. I believe genuinely that we all care very much, and collectively we are doing an incredibly good job on behalf of our veterans. I look forward to continuing to do so.
As some of my colleagues have already explained, our government is dedicated to caring for and supporting our men and women in uniform, past and present. As you know, our parliamentary committee is seized with two of the most pressing questions of the day: how can we make the new veterans charter even better; and how best can we state and demonstrate our commitment to Canada's veterans above all, and as well their families? I believe these two questions go to the core of what it means to serve those who have served our country so well.
The veterans hiring act would build on this. The measures before us would add important new levels of support for veterans and still-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces by offering them greater access to jobs in the federal public service.
As we meet, both here and at committee, to discuss new measures and enhancements for veterans, I want to make it very clear to Canadians watching that they can also be proud of what we have already accomplished.
Since forming government, we have delivered for Canada's veterans by investing almost $5 billion in new funding to enhance veterans' benefits, programs, and services. As a result of this new funding, we have been able to implement the new veterans charter as a more modern and comprehensive way to care for and support those who are injured in the line of duty.
Through the new veterans charter, we are now providing full physical and psychosocial rehabilitation services, vocational rehabilitation and career transition services, both immediate and long-term financial support, health care benefits, and one-on-one case management services.
Through these programs, benefits, and services, we are able to provide world-class care for seriously injured veterans, we can provide up to $75,800 in training assistance for eligible veterans to start a new career, and we can provide a minimum pre-tax income of $42,426 a year for veterans who are unable to be suitably and gainfully employed as well as for those in Veterans Affairs Canada's rehabilitation program.
On top of those measures, we can help eligible veterans with shovelling snow from their laneways or cutting their grass, we can have health care professionals and case managers visit them in their homes, and we can assist them with the cost of travelling to their medical appointments.
I must say that Veterans Affairs has helped my mother out tremendously.
We do all of these things because we are determined to help injured and ill veterans make the best recoveries possible as quickly as possible, and we are committed to ensuring that all veterans experience a seamless transition to civilian life.
Ensuring veterans have access to meaningful employment is yet another way we are delivering on this. In recognition of their sacrifice to Canada, we are proposing changes that will give qualified veterans the highest level of consideration for jobs in the federal public service. That is why we want to give medically released veterans more opportunities to start new careers in the federal public service.
We would provide priority access for five years for those released from the Canadian Armed Forces because of a service-related injury or illness. This measure would move them to the front of the line for the public service jobs they are qualified to fill and perform. As well, all medically released veterans would see their existing priority entitlement period increased from two years to five years.
Our government is also helping Canada's honourably released veterans to access federal public service job opportunities by proposing two new measures.
First, still-serving military personnel who have at least three years of service would have access to internally advertised positions in the federal public service. This measure would allow them to continue to compete for these internal postings for a full five years after their release from the Canadian Armed Forces.
Second, we would establish a hiring preference for veterans over other eligible applicants for externally advertised hiring processes. This means they could be appointed, if qualified, over other qualified candidates. In the case of the hiring preference for eligible veterans, this new measure would last up to five years from the day they were released from the armed forces.
We are doing all of these things because we believe veterans and still-serving members deserve such consideration and because we believe Canada would also be the better for it. Without these changes, we would run the risk of losing the valuable contributions of highly qualified individuals when their military careers end. That is why we will work in close consultation with key partners such as the Public Service Commission, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, and the Department of National Defence to create a fair and appropriate process. This process would allow Canada to continue to benefit from having invested in and supported veterans during their military careers, would ensure our federal workforce is enhanced and enriched by the valuable contributions that highly qualified veterans have to offer, and would at the same time permit eligible veterans to keep serving their country and to hone their experience and skills in a civilian capacity.
In short, these new measures demonstrate the value we place on the skills, the training, and the experience our men and women in uniform acquire in the Canadian Armed Forces. We do not want to lose that.
At the same time, Canada's veterans have done so much to help build our strong, free, and prosperous nation. These measures recognize that they have served Canada with courage and distinction and that they have been willing to sacrifice everything for a better tomorrow. We owe them the same.
I wish this program had been around when my sister and my brother-in-law left the armed forces. I am sure they could have benefited from it at that time. They are doing fine, do not get me wrong, but it is a good program. I encourage all members to support this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Greg Kerr (West Nova, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it seems everyone is in tune with the topic this evening, so I will try to continue.
We are talking about Bill C-27, and a lot has been covered on the bill itself. I look at it as one step toward what we are trying to do for veterans, together. There are probably a lot more steps that we have to take, and we realize that.
I will not go into details about the bill itself. That has been covered quite a bit. However, I would like to go into some of the background of what we have been attempting, together, members, private sector and veterans, to try to improve the lot of veterans and the opportunities for veterans.
For us in the House, it basically started with the new veterans charter. The whole idea was to move from an era where veterans were simply pensioned off rather to concentrating on getting veterans back into society. Those leaving the military should be given opportunities to get upgraded, to get skills and to find opportunities to transition into a full life within their communities.
I think every member of the House shares that wish and ambition. I do not think this is a political issue per se, although we do tend to get a little fixed sometimes on the difference of opinions. The reality is that our country expects us to honour these veterans. Our country expects us to invest in our veterans.
We know that taxpayers in fact have invested a lot in initiatives that take place right across the country. To quote a former veterans affairs minister, Hon. Greg Thompson, “Can you ever do enough for veterans?” We all know the answer is no. It is always a work in progress. There is always a lot that has to be done. Tonight is an example of one small step in the direction of trying to answer some of the questions they have, such as training opportunities, transition opportunities and certainly job opportunities. Not that government alone is ever going to fix it, but government has to set its own. Government has to work with the private sector. It has to work with the veterans groups.
Do we always agree? Absolutely not, whether it is members in a committee or whether it is people from various veterans groups themselves.
At the end of the day, we have to realize that over the years many military members have successfully retired into Canadian society and have not needed veterans affairs services. They are not clients of veterans affairs. They have successfully transitioned, in many cases on their own. With their wonderful training and mental outlook they have on life, they have become very productive members of society in a second career.
There are those who need our help. There are those who are really challenged either by mental or physical difficulties, some in active duty and some maybe in training exercises, but the kind of pressure and incidents they have run into means we have to pay attention to their needs.
What I have observed around the country, and in my particular riding, is there are those who are doing things and it is not government. One example I think of with great pride is Maple Grove Education Centre in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It has a memorial club, all students, all volunteers. They built a monument to the Afghan soldiers who passed away. They did it with their own fundraising. It is an amazing memorial to those people who they believe, as young Canadians, sacrificed for the future and the betterment of our country, and did their bit in the world because they were asked to.
Surely, if young people can get that message, we can all understand the opportunities out there. We do have to listen. We will disagree. We will never totally be on the same page as to what is right and wrong, but we have to continue to make progress. We owe that to the military and to the veterans in our country.
I know most of us went through the Day of Honour not long ago. Next to the Greenwood air base in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, in the village called Kingston, there was a big turnout of veterans, military and interested community citizens.
Some time ago I was fortunate to be on a special committee of the House, looking at Afghanistan. We had a lot of witnesses and heard a lot of stories. The one that struck me was from a very brave woman from Afghanistan who said to us that we should remember that Canadians would get impatient with the progress that was taking place, but that we were making a difference. Our military had made a huge difference. There were now water supplies where there had not been before. Thousands of young girls were being educated and it was now over seven million. She asked us to understand that it was not her husband's view as a male about women that would make a difference, it was her son's view. It was a generational change and that was what the military had done in helping a foreign country, in helping people they did not even know because they knew it was the right thing to do.
Our job is to look after those who are coming home. Our job is to provide opportunity. Our job collectively as parliamentarians is to understand and honour these people who have done so much for us. Tonight we are looking at one step, one piece of the progress we are going to make on this long road. We get frustrated sometimes in thinking about what could be or what should be. We have to remember, as we get in an animated conversation, there are a lot of good initiatives in place. A lot of good things are happening. A lot of progress is being made. Certainly a lot of people are gaining because we all have ensured they get the services and support they need. It is not the end of the story. It is not the end of the road. There is a long way to go and we have to keep at it.
I know we get quite worked up sometimes as parliamentarians. We get exercised over issues and details, but at the end of the day, I believe every member in the House believes and supports the military and supports the veterans. Whether we agree or disagree, at the end of the day we have an obligation to ensure initiatives take place that will support and help our veterans. They are watching us and measuring what we are doing. It is not about whether we agree or disagree. It is whether we together make progress where in a few years down the road we can look back and say that we supported the charter when it came in. It is supposed to be a living document. It is supposed to help veterans make the transition. All parties agreed when it first came in that it was the right way to go. We have to keep working to ensure it is the right initiative and the right document with the right results. We owe that to our veterans.
I will not go on any longer except I certainly hope we will support this initiative, not because it is the end of the progress and the end of the road we are travelling, but it is one step we can measure and put forward that offers more opportunity. Whether it is enough or not enough, we can debate that on and on. I expect there will always be a debate about whether we can do more. I believe we always will find that yes, we can, but let us do it together.
Mr. Frank Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg North.
I am pleased to rise to speak to any bill that seeks to find meaningful and lasting employment for the men and women of the Canadian Forces who have served our country so well. For the last many years in Afghanistan and Libya, in the Balkans, and across the world before that, the men and women of the Canadian Forces have accepted unlimited liability when they volunteered to serve. They served on the understanding that when they came back, we would take care of them. That is our sacred obligation.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that this bill would do enough. It is a textbook example of how the Conservative government would take a half measure and exploit our universal support for our veterans to pass it as legislation.
There is no substance beyond the title. One of the most substantial efforts we can make on behalf of veterans is to help them find a career when they are released, medically or voluntarily, from the Canadian Forces. This bill might do this for a very small few, though I am afraid that it simply would not be enough.
Currently, medically released members of the Canadian Forces who served full-time are eligible for priority hiring as a regulatory priority, regardless of the reason for the medical release.
The bill before us, Bill C-27, would build on a piece of legislation introduced in November 2013, Bill C-11, which the government introduced as part of its communications plan to address the backlash created by the closures of nine Veterans Affairs Canada centres in communities across the country. Addressing some of the major insufficiencies of Bill C-11, the government has decided to surmount it with this new legislation.
This bill would amend the Public Service Employment Act to increase the priority of Canadian Forces members who are released due to a service-related illness or injury, from fourth to first overall. Importantly, this bill would further extend the eligibility to all reservists, including cadet organizations, administration and training service personnel, and Canadian Rangers, as well as increasing the time period of eligibility from two years to five years, retroactive to members released as of April 2012.
Additionally, Bill C-27 would build on its predecessor by increasing access to internal postings of the public service and priority over all others for external postings to Canadian Forces members and former members of the Canadian Forces who served at least three years and were honourably released. Furthermore, Bill C-27 would amend the definition of “veteran” in the Public Service Employment Act from the traditional definition of an individual with First or Second World War service, to include someone who “has served at least three years in the Canadian Forces, has been honourably released within the meaning of regulations made under the National Defence Act and is not employed in the public service for an indeterminate period..”.
On its face, there is nothing problematic in these changes, but as a solution for hiring veterans, it truly falls short. Nothing in Bill C-27 or its public relations counterpart, Bill C-11, would ensure that veterans will get jobs. It is one thing to have priority to jobs in the public service, but it remains contingent on possessing the skills that match any number of the public service jobs that exist. In many cases, there is a wide gap between the skills possessed by a member of the Canadian Forces and the skills required in the posting.
There is nothing in this bill that would offer any form of skills translation or upgrading. Priority would be contingent on possessing skills that match the public service job first, and this bill offers no skills upgrading.
In addition, with the freeze on hiring, what jobs are Conservatives proposing that these veterans would fill? The government has guaranteed that there are no available jobs in the government. According to recent reports, the Conservative government will likely eliminate 30,000 more federal jobs on top of the 20,000 that it has terminated since 2012. When one couples 50,000 fewer jobs in the public service with the government's freeze on hiring, there is not much left that is available to released veterans.
In a piece in the National Post earlier this year, Barbara Kay wrote:
|| Recently the government proudly announced two new initiatives. The first pledges to give priority to veterans seeking civil service jobs. But Mr. Parent points out that thousands of veterans are incapable of working due to injuries suffered during their service. And since hiring freezes are in place over most federal departments, “priority” consideration for frozen jobs is not of much use.
Mr. Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman, also expressed concern that under the changes, which increase priority for Canadian Forces veterans, the system would have to adjudicate an individual's file to determine if the medical release is related to service or not.This will be important, considering that it will be the difference between priority to internal postings or external postings. It would create separate classes of veterans for federal priority hiring.
When dealing with seriously injured veterans, it is also important to consider that injured veterans are unlikely to find employment in line with their initial goals. Particularly since the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan, our Canadian Forces are often not career soldiers. Many are or were reservists, who intended to continue in or return to civilian employment. When someone is injured, a lot of that goes right out the window. It is a long and often endless road from recovery to rehabilitation, and finally to employment. This bill neither shortens this road nor hastens the completion of one's effort.
The Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs heard from experts who agree that the key to successful rehabilitation from a serious disability is early intervention. Judy Geary, vice-president of work reintegration at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, explained to the committee, in November, that after six months off work, only 50% of disabled workers ever return to full-time employment, and that following two years of unemployment, re-employment is rare. It is unfair to present this bill as a panacea when it is unlikely to bear much fruit for rehabilitating Canadian Forces members.
It is largely with this in mind that the Department of Veterans Affairs has embarked on its most recent advertising initiative. At this point we have all seen it, given that the government has spent millions of dollars plastering it throughout prime time playoff slots. It is great production value, with a punchline that Veterans Affairs Canada can be counted on to provide career transition services. Despite all of this, not much comes from following the 1-800 number or the web link. One arrives at the standard web page where it boasts about this bill and having provided funding for 296 veterans. These are $1,000 grants to develop resumés. That is pretty thin gruel for a man or woman who has served in our Canadian Forces.
Recently, I had an opportunity to question the minister and deputy minister of Veterans Affairs on the estimates. It became clear that while the Conservatives had the audacity to increase their Veterans Affairs advertising budget by $4 million to promote the Conservative government, we learned, to our amazement, that they are only spending $296,000 on those services themselves. It is more on advertising, less on services. Veterans deserve better jobs and services.
In the United States, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal government, along with many other private employers, use a skills translation tool, which allows veterans to determine the jobs for which they are best suited. Better yet, they help to determine how to translate the skills they already possess and determine which skills build the bridge to another.
Contrary to the opinion expressed by the minister before the committee last week, not all veterans feel best suited to take up jobs in policing once they are released by the forces. Like Sergeant Bjarne Nielsen, they want to be financial planners. Like Corporal Mark Fuchko, they want to be lawyers.
By present estimates, a skills translator, the calibre of which has been used in the United States for over three years, would cost a fourth of what the government is spending on advertising the $1,000 grants it will provide to assist CF members in writing their resumés. While I do not wish to detract from the possibility of jobs that might be created by public service priority hiring, the government has many other opportunities that it refuses to exploit, in favour of closing regional offices and advertising itself.
While I am glad that the government is finally acting on a recommendation put forward by the Canadian Forces Advisory Council that it has had before it for the length of its time in power, more than eight years now, I have sadly come to the conclusion that it is nothing more than a public relations exercise. As always, its talk is much more than what it actually does. I believe our Canadian Forces members deserve the very best resources for translating their valuable skills learned during their time in the military into jobs in civilian life. I do not think that this bill does it.
Liberals will support the bill, but grudgingly. The government will have to demonstrate much more solidly a desire to help our veterans and Canadian Forces members find jobs and rehabilitate before it can tout itself as a champion for veterans and for the military.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to deal with what I believe is a really important issue that Canadians want us to respond to and to do what we can for those who have served our great nation.
It has been a privilege of mine that I was afforded the opportunity to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. I served for just over three years. I have a very high appreciation of the commitment and pride of those who choose to serve in the forces. One of things members of the forces recognize is the degree to which Canadian society as a whole has assigned so much value, appreciation, and thanks to those who made the decision to serve their country.
Earlier today through members' statements, I had the opportunity to express appreciation and to offer thanks to those members who have served in the past and their families and those members who are currently serving. Yesterday there was the recognition of Canadian Forces Day. Canadians from coast to coast to coast have recognized the valuable contributions of the past and today by those who have put their name forward and served our great country.
I hear a lot about the importance of what happens after an individual has had the opportunity to serve. I go to what I think is one of the greatest organizations that has had the right attitude in terms of those individuals who served, retired, and want to get engaged. I printed something from the Commissionaires website, an organization I have made reference to in the past. The website says:
|| Trusted, Everyday, Everywhere Commissionaires is Canada's premier security company, offering a unique combination of integrity, experience and innovation.
What I like is their mission. Their mission is to hire and support veterans. I would argue that no organization has done more in terms of being able to reach out to the degree to which our Commissionaires from coast to coast to coast have. They have done a phenomenal job in providing opportunities for retired service personnel.
Whether it is security guards, mobile patrols, everything from the taking of fingerprints to high-profile positions of security such as in medical labs to bases, it has taken the opportunity to demonstrate in a very tangible way that individuals who serve our country do have skill sets that can benefit society as a whole.
There are certain skill sets that are a given when a person is in the military. Some of those that come to mind are discipline, doing things in a timely manner, developing good teamwork, responsibilities, and skills.
One of the things that comes to mind is that some of the best cooks we would find in our country have been trained through our Canadian Armed Forces. We have specialty cooks who get the Red Seal. There are many different skill sets that are given to members of the forces and ultimately we could do so much more in terms of recognizing those skill sets.
I listened to my colleague, the member for Guelph, who has done an admirable job as the Liberal Party's critic for veterans affairs. He talks a great deal about the importance of taking career transition services seriously. If the government were to make that a priority issue, I and members of the Liberal Party would argue that we would have far greater success at finding employment for individuals who are retiring today from our Canadian Forces.
I love the contrast that the member puts to the floor of the House. All it takes is political will. We see a government that seems to be focused on political spin. We have a bill before us that is hard not to support. How can we not support the principle of the bill and allow it to go to committee? What our veterans really want to see is something that is a whole lot more tangible, something that is not going to create a false hope.
When we talk about this legislation, there are many current members of our forces and many veterans who are starting to believe that there are going to be hundreds or potentially thousands of jobs created by this particular piece of legislation. That is not going to happen. Look at the dramatic cuts to our civil service over the last few years. There are tens of thousands of jobs that have been lost or that are committed to being cut into the future. We have asked about the degree to which we can anticipate what kinds of numbers will follow out of the passage of this bill, and we have not gotten an answer from the Conservatives.
In part, it is because the Conservatives are more concerned about how they might be able to develop a positive spin and try to give the appearance that they are doing a lot for our vets. If the government wanted to do something a whole lot more tangible, I would make the humble suggestion that they listen to what the member for Guelph, as the Liberal Party's critic on veterans affairs, has talked about in terms of the career transition services that could be made available. The money is there. We have seen how tax dollars have been squandered. My colleague from Ottawa often refers to the waste that takes place in advertising. The last numbers that I heard were in excess of $600 million. Imagine, $600-plus million that is going to pat the Conservative government and this Prime Minister on the back to try to convince Canadians that they are doing a really good job. The Conservatives are not doing the good job that the Conservatives think they are doing.
The government should funnel some of that money to where it really matters. If they say that our veterans are important to us today, my challenge to the government is to then make it a higher priority in a very real sense. They could adopt the bill being proposed by my colleague from Ottawa who wants to depoliticize some of the advertising, and take some of the money that we spend on that advertising and funnel it in to the area of transition services. Let us get some of these retiring members and enhance their skill sets through post-secondary education, quite possibly on-the-job training. There are unlimited ideas out there that would make a significant difference in the lives of our military personnel who are looking at retiring and of their families.
All it takes is strong leadership, and that leadership needs to be coming from the Prime Minister's Office and the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Talk is cheap. What our vets want is action. My colleague from Montreal made reference to the fact that we have veterans today who are complaining more than they ever have. I think we need to stand up and take note of that fact. There is a reason they are doing—
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the veterans hiring act.
Canadians, regardless of age or gender, have been directly affected and impacted by what our brave men and women in uniform have done for our country throughout our history. Chances are that we know or knew of a family member or friend who is currently serving or who has served in the Canadian Forces. This is definitely the case for me.
My wife's grandfather, Philip Lavoie, for example, fought as a soldier in World War I at Vimy Ridge and was wounded twice during the Great War. My wife's father, Brendan McSherry, served as a medical officer in the reserves. My own father was in the Royal Canadian Air Force for over two decades, and for my part, I served for 20 years in the Canadian army as an officer in the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before I became a member of Parliament.
As yet another way to recognize the service and sacrifice of our veterans as well as their desire to continue serving their country when their military careers are over, our government has brought forward Bill C-27.
The legislation before us is aimed at giving veterans and still-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces greater opportunities to start new careers. It is also a way for Canada to continue to benefit from their skills, experience, and leadership. However, as we discuss the veterans hiring act, it is important to remember that this is not be the only way we would assist veterans who want to pursue new jobs and rewarding new careers when they transition to civilian life.
With the time I have today, I would like to speak to how these measures would assist our veterans in their transition to civilian life and the other important ways we are helping veterans find meaningful employment following their military careers.
I think it is helpful to start by reminding this House why post-military careers are so critical to the well-being of Canada's veterans and their families. First and foremost, as each of us knows from our own experiences, the work we do goes a long way in defining who we are as individuals. It greatly influences our sense of self, our level of personal satisfaction, and even how others see us.
Our men and women in uniform, of course, are no different. Their sense of identity is strongly tied to their military careers and experience. Indeed, for many of them, military service to their country is all they have known for the majority of their adult lives. That desire to serve or lead does not end when they are released from the Canadian Armed Forces.
In fact, the average age of those members releasing from the military is dropping steadily. Today the average new veteran is just 37 years old. That is exactly how old I was when I left the Canadian army. Most of these men and women have the drive and desire to find new jobs and start new careers. Their time in the military has provided them with skills that make them an asset to any employer. Their service has taught them how to organize, prioritize, effectively manage staff, and make decisions under pressure.
Canadian Armed Forces soldiers and veterans are admired for their leadership, teamwork and the fact that they faithfully and effectively carry out their duties to serve their country, both at home and abroad.
Their skills, training and experience make them good candidates to work in the federal public service. That is why our government has made it a priority to support veterans who are looking for a new job to help them find meaningful work. Thanks to our leadership, veterans will be getting more support as they transition from military to civilian life.
To gain a better understanding of veterans' needs and expectations, our government committed to conducting a series of studies in recent years. This project, titled “Life After Service Study”, yielded much-needed results. It gave us a better idea of what is happening with the 7,600 individuals who leave military life each year, including the 1,000 men and women who are released for medical reasons, either injuries or illness. It is important to underscore the fact that there is no such thing as a typical veteran. They are anywhere from 18 to 98 years old.
Some of them served during the Second World War or in Korea, others served in Bosnia or Afghanistan. Some were never deployed.
Just over half of them have more than 20 years of service. However, a large number of them were released with less than two years of military service. Lastly, two-thirds of all veterans are of working age. They are less than 65 years old.
This diversity means that we should not use a cookie-cutter approach to assisting veterans who need our help and support. However, there are some general conclusions we can reach.
First, employment is important to a successful transition. Nine out of ten new veterans start a second career after their release from the military.
Second, most of these veterans report that the experience, education, and training they gain in the military helps them in their new jobs.
Third, the majority report that their transition to civilian life was relatively easy. However, some veterans report experiencing a difficult transition, particularly those who are medically or involuntarily released from the military.
Our government understands this reality, which is why we have developed a comprehensive veterans transition action plan, an ambitious new strategy that pulls together all our rehabilitation programs, transition services, and employment initiatives. The veterans hiring act is part of this overall strategy, but as I mentioned earlier, it is only one initiative in a larger suite of solutions.
To ensure that Canada's veterans have the support they need to transition with the utmost success, we offer full rehabilitation services to meet the physical, psychological, and vocational needs of our veterans. The goal is straightforward. We want to ensure that a veteran's health and well-being are not barriers to his or her successful transition.
Last fall, the Minister of Veterans Affairs also introduced new measures to make our vocational rehabilitation program more responsible and flexible. As a result, eligible veterans have faster access to more training support. However, these services are designed specifically for our medically released veterans. That is why we also have our employment strategy, which is designed to help all veterans, whether they have a service-related injury or not. This legislation is part of that effort. It would create better access to jobs in our federal public service. We are also creating opportunities for veterans within corporate Canada as well as with public sector employers at other levels of government.
In addition, we are conducting ongoing research into the issues and the challenges facing veterans who want to keep working after their military service ends. For example, what kind of help are veterans seeking, and how are we responding to meet their needs? Our government understands that veterans are looking for good, reliable advice and assistance that meets their specific needs. What we have found is that many veterans need help effectively communicating their military experience and expertise to potential civilian employees. The reality is that more often than not, employees do not understand how their skills and training apply in the civilian workforce, and we need to bridge that gap.
For example, take the work of a military logistics officer. Does the average employer really know what such a person does or did in his or her military career? Do potential employers understand how these veterans were team leaders who learned to get a tough job done in difficult conditions with demanding deadlines? Do potential employers know that these veterans may have been high-level leaders managing budgets, allocating resources, and inspiring people to work together to achieve a common mission?
We need to bridge that language divide in the same way we need to close the cultural gap between serving in the military and working in civilian life. Our government is spearheading a variety of innovative strategies to do just that.
The veterans hiring act before us today proposes four key initiatives.
First, we want to create a statutory hiring priority in the federal public service for veterans whose medical release is attributable to their service.
Second, we are proposing that the existing two-year priority entitlement for all medically released veterans be extended to five years.
Third, we want still-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have at least three years of service to be able to compete for internally advertised federal jobs. This hiring preference would also continue for five years after their release date from the armed forces.
Fourth, we want to give eligible veterans hiring preference when it comes to externally advertised positions in the federal public service. This means that if a veteran is just as qualified as any other candidate applying for a federal job, the preference would be to hire the veteran. We think this sends a powerful message to the private sector that we understand the unique skills, leadership, and professionalism veterans offer, that we are putting veterans first, and that we hope businesses and other levels of government will follow our lead.
That is also the goal of our hire a veteran initiative, which aims to encourage employers to put an emphasis on hiring veterans not just to support our country's former military personnel but also as a way to strengthen their workforces and remind all Canadians of the important contributions and sacrifices veterans have made building our country.
So far, by working in tandem with the Canadian Armed Forces and Canada Company, we have recruited more than 200 employers to participate in the program. We have been working with other partners who are equally determined to think outside the box when it comes to helping veterans with this transition process. That is why we are a supporter and founding member of the Veterans Transition Advisory Council. It is a blue-ribbon panel that reads like a who's who of corporate Canada, whether it is Air Canada, the Royal Bank of Canada, General Electric, TD Waterhouse, or J.P. Morgan Securities, just to name a few.
Our government established this advisory council through Veterans Affairs Canada, in partnership with the not-for-profit organization True Patriot Love Foundation. The council is providing the Minister of Veterans Affairs with advice on how to support veterans in transitioning from the military to successful civilian careers. As a result, the advisory council is coming up with imaginative ideas to overcome systemic barriers and help veterans make a rewarding return to civilian life.
This council also sprang directly from some of our first forays into a veterans employment strategy, including our $150,000 contribution toward the launch of a Canadian version of the Helmets to Hardhats program. Helmets to Hardhats is an innovative partnership between government, the building trades, and private companies to help veterans find apprenticeships and well-paying jobs in the trades and construction industry. Over the program's first two years, we have seen dozens of employers and more than 1,200 veterans register.
In short, we are doing everything we can to find new ways to help veterans who want to start new careers in their civilian lives. We are trying to tailor these solutions to their individual needs.
Bill C-27 is a great initiative. It is a practical, effective, and honourable initiative, one that would deliver meaningful results to our veterans. Therefore, I urge all members to support this legislation and I encourage the NDP to bring its union bosses onside.
Believe it or not, the Union of National Defence Employees does not think Canada's veterans, who have sacrificed for our country, deserve to be put at the front of the line, ahead of civil servants. I disagree. In recognition of their service, they deserve the support they need to gain meaningful employment.
I recently visited all of the Legions in my riding and took the time to speak with Legion members and veterans. I know that the veterans of the riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell support the bill and are encouraged by the leadership that our government is taking in caring for and supporting our veterans.
Our government knows that veterans deserve the support they need to succeed and thrive in the civilian workforce. We will continue to act for veterans and we are committed to achieving these important goals.