Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Pierre Lemieux Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the budget implementation act, such an important piece of legislation for veterans.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I am pleased to say that the Minister of Veterans Affairs tabled in this House Bill C-58, support for veterans and their families. The provisions contained in the bill are so important for veterans that they are contained within the budget implementation act itself.
The budget implementation act is a major step forward in our work for our Armed Forces members, for veterans, and for their families. With the bill, our government would address unintended gaps in the new veterans charter.
In addition, the bill would satisfy recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Last June, the committee issued a report with recommendations to improve the new veterans charter. That report was based on input from over 50 veterans and veterans organizations that appeared at the committee. The report was unanimously accepted by all members of all parties on that committee.
Here is the problem for the Liberal and NDP members of Parliament. The measures in the budget implementation act address recommendations presented by the Veterans Ombudsman, by the veterans affairs committee, and by veterans and veterans organizations, yet for some incomprehensible reason, the opposition is fighting these initiatives, initiatives that would benefit our veterans and their families, instead of helping to pass them into law.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs is serving veterans extremely well. He has held a high number of consultations. He has reached out to veterans and veterans organizations, and over the last number of months, he has announced many significant initiatives for which veterans have been asking.
Within the first few weeks, the minister laid out his priorities for Veterans Affairs: having a focus on caring, compassion, and respect; having a veteran-centred service attitude; ensuring a seamless transition from the Armed Forces into Veterans Affairs; and providing service excellence. It is these priorities that have borne tangible fruit. There have been major announcements to improve government services and benefits for serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, for veterans, and for their families.
I would like to briefly highlight some of those significant and important announcements, which are contained in the budget implementation act.
The retirement income security benefit would provide moderately and seriously injured veterans with continued assistance in the form of monthly income support payments, beginning at the age of 65. This was a direct response to the Veterans Ombudsman's recommendation. In fact, when the minister made this announcement, the Ombudsman said, “I encourage all Parliamentarians to pass this new pension benefit without delay”.
The minister also announced that the earnings loss benefit would now be calculated the same way for reserve force members as it is for regular force members. With this announcement, reservists would now receive earnings loss benefits equal to those of their regular force counterparts.
Alice Aiken, the director of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, said:
This really speaks loudly and clearly to the reservist veterans that the minister in fact does have their 'six', and is willing to go to bat for them, and take care of them.
This is another announcement that was supported by the Veterans Ombudsman.
Building on this momentum, the minister then announced that the eligibility criteria for the permanent impairment allowance would be expanded to allow more veterans to benefit. More seriously injured veterans would now be eligible for more financial support.
Another significant and important announcement the minister made that is also contained in the budget implementation act was the new family caregiver relief benefit. Our government recognizes the vital contribution of caregivers, often the spouse or another family member, to the health and well-being of seriously injured veterans. This new benefit would provide an annual tax-free grant of over $7,000 per year to allow caregivers to take a well-deserved break while ensuring that their loved ones continued to receive the support they needed.
So far, I have been speaking of benefits and initiatives that were a direct response to the recommendations made at the veterans affairs committee. In other words, they are benefits and initiatives that the Liberal and NDP members of Parliament should have no hesitation voting in favour of.
However, the Minister of Veterans Affairs took the opportunity to offer a new benefit that went beyond what the committee and others had asked for, and of course, I am speaking of the critical injury benefit. The critical injury benefit would provide $70,000, tax free, to the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans. This benefit is intended to address the immediate impact of severe and traumatic service-related injuries or diseases sustained by our Armed Forces members and veterans.
I think Mr. Phil Ralph, the program director of Wounded Warriors Canada, said it best when he said:
Any time you have a benefit that is going to add to the suite of benefits for veterans, it's a good thing. And the minister has done a good job at filling a whole bunch of gaps in the last couple of weeks.
These announcements are about respect for serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, respect for veterans, and respect for their families. Our government recognizes its obligation to our Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans and is determined to enact and implement these measures as soon as possible. The purpose of these measures, which is contained in the budget implementation act is: recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs has made a commitment to veterans that these initiatives, benefits recommended in an all-party report from the veterans affairs committee, would pass through the House before the end of this session. To fulfill our obligation, we have included these new benefits in the budget implementation act to ensure that they pass and can be implemented as soon as possible. I certainly look forward to bringing them into force so that serving members and veterans can actually benefit from them.
However, it is most unfortunate that the Liberals and the NDP are playing political games with our armed forces members, veterans, and their families regarding these new benefits. Earlier this week, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore attempted to move a motion to send Bill C-58 to the committee, which would actually have disrupted the passage of the budget implementation act and the bringing into force of these important benefits I am speaking of this morning.
Here is the dilemma. There are real and significant financial benefits contained in this budget implementation act that would improve the lives of serving Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, and their families. They are benefits that the opposition has asked for and has said it supports, yet when it comes time to vote on them and actually move them into law and make them a reality, the Liberal and NDP members of Parliament say that they will not vote for them.
As I said, it is shameful that the NDP and Liberals are playing these political games to the detriment of our veterans and their families. It is important to highlight to those watching this debate that the NDP and Liberal MPs will not just stand by while we move these benefits into law but will actively vote against them. Think about that for a moment. Opposition MPs are going to actively try to defeat these initiatives for veterans that are contained within the budget implementation act. They would rather that veterans and their families get nothing at all than receive these new benefits. It makes no sense at all, and it would disadvantage our veterans for the opposition's own partisan purposes.
Men and women in uniform and veterans have confidence that our Conservative government would not only propose these key benefits but would also do everything possible to ensure that they are actually brought into effect. They know that they can count on us to bring this through to a successful conclusion.
In closing, I would say to my Liberal and NDP colleagues that veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and their families are watching closely. With this in mind, I would ask my opposition colleagues to reverse their current position and to instead vote in favour of the key new initiatives contained in the budget implementation act. They are initiatives that would benefit our serving members, veterans, and their families.
View Guy Caron Profile
Mr. Speaker, as the parliamentary secretary said, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore made two attempts to send Bill C-58, which is about veterans, directly to committee after second reading in the House. Both times, the Conservatives refused to do it.
It is clear that this is a political game the Conservatives are playing because Bill C-59, the budget implementation bill, which we are discussing now, would not be disrupted if we were to agree to the motion moved by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore simply because the provisions in Bill C-59 could be withdrawn in committee if they became redundant.
Knowing that, can the parliamentary secretary explain why the Conservatives are against our proposal to send Bill C-58 to committee and pass it quickly? Why are they using these stalling tactics?
View Pierre Lemieux Profile
Mr. Speaker, do members see what I mean by political games? The measures contained in Bill C-58 are in the budget implementation act, and the budget implementation act is here in debate and is going to committee right after the break week.
My opposition colleagues will have the opportunity to vote in favour of these tangible, credible, and real benefits for veterans, serving Canadian Armed Forces members, and their families, but they choose not to. Instead, they throw up a smokescreen and chaff, saying that it is not being done the way they want it to be done.
I say to put those political games aside and instead focus on the benefits that would be delivered to our veterans, serving members, and their families and vote them into law. They should join the government in serving our veterans and serving Canadian Armed Forces members, our men and women in uniform.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Marc Garneau Profile
2015-05-15 10:13 [p.13989]
Mr. Speaker, I have rarely heard such political spin and damage control in the time I have been in this House of Commons.
Let me suggest to my hon. colleague that what he should do for the veterans is write to them and apologize for the way they have been treated for the past four years, whether it was by closing service centres across the country, decreasing the Veterans Affairs offices by about 1,000 people, pulling back on their budgets, or failing to address the issue of PTSD.
The current Conservative government should start, if it really cares about the veterans, with a huge apology for the disastrous Veterans Affairs ministers who have preceded the current one. That is what they should do. What does my hon. colleague think about that?
View Pierre Lemieux Profile
Mr. Speaker, we have brought about tremendous improvements in service at Veterans Affairs. We have announced record levels of funding and new benefits all the way around to serve veterans and their families.
My point today is that we have a budget implementation act in front of the House right now that needs to be approved. I am asking this member, who actually served in the Canadian Armed Forces, to support these very real, very tangible benefits that would help veterans, serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and their families.
The opposition should vote in favour. Instead of throwing up these smokescreens, they should vote to implement these measures.
View Laurie Hawn Profile
View Laurie Hawn Profile
2015-05-15 10:15 [p.13989]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for a comprehensive speech.
The interesting thing is that this is what veterans want and need, and everyone on the veterans affairs committee, of which I was a member, agreed unanimously that these are good things. We have added things even beyond those.
Given the games that are being played, and there are going to be a lot of accusations in all directions, how important is it, because the time is short, to not give the opposition an opportunity to frustrate getting these measures passed? That is why we put them in Bill C-59 and that is why we are also debating those elements.
The opposition members will have a chance to vote on it at committee. They will have a chance to show that support. How important is it to roll it all into Bill C-59 so that we can make sure that the aim of getting these benefits there for veterans is not frustrated by game playing?
View Pierre Lemieux Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank that member for his service to our country and for that good question.
I think the member is touching on a key point. The recommendations that were made by the veterans affairs committee were unanimously accepted, and here is the fruit of what the veterans affairs committee actually recommended contained in the budget implementation act.
Why are these measures in the budget implementation act? It is because the Minister of Veterans Affairs has made a commitment to veterans and their families that these measures will pass through the House before the end of this session. That is why they are in the budget implementation act.
I am calling on members of the opposition parties to vote in favour of these measures to support our veterans, their families, and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
View Ève Péclet Profile
View Ève Péclet Profile
2015-05-15 10:16 [p.13989]
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to share my thoughts on the 2015-16 budget despite the fact that it is yet another omnibus bill with closure. I think that the Conservatives have made history, not for their skill with budgets, but for their contempt of democracy. So successful have they been that the expression “Conservative tactics”—meaning the undue use of time allocation, lack of transparency and contempt for democracy—has become part of our everyday vocabulary. A sure sign of that is their use of an omnibus bill to pass measures that are outright illegal, such as those related to the RCMP and access to information.
We all know that the Conservatives are trying to protect themselves from prosecution by passing a bill that retroactively legalizes the illegal things they did. That is in clause 230, if I am not mistaken. When people in any Canadian province say that a government is using Conservative tactics, they are referring to this government.
If the members take a good look at themselves in the mirror, perhaps they will one day understand that what they have done here is completely undemocratic. It is really unfortunate, because more and more young people are becoming cynical about politics. The tactics that the Conservatives have been using over the past four years will only reinforce that cynicism among young people regarding politics. It is unfortunate.
Let us talk about the budget, but let us also talk about what is not in the budget. We talk a lot about what is in the budget, but we do not talk about what is not there.
We are in the middle of an unprecedented housing crisis in Canada and Quebec. We know that 1.5 million households do not have access to housing. The federal government continues to disengage year after year. In its 2012-13 budget, the government cut investments in housing by $21.7 million. By 2030—and 2030 is closer than you think; it is only 15 years away—if the federal government maintains its current level of disengagement, $1.7 billion will have been cut from social housing. This amounts to 85% of the total federal housing budget. For example, with the end of social housing agreements, 26,000 housing units have been affected since 2011. By 2016, over 100,000 units will have been affected. We are talking about families, women and children, who could wind up homeless, who will be forced to turn to food banks, who will no longer be able to afford groceries because they will have to pay too much for housing. Is that acceptable? No.
La Pointe-de-l'Île is no exception. In the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles, 6,500 people spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The director of Infologis de l'Est de Montréal calls these numbers alarming. I would like to commend him on the excellent work he and his organization do for La Pointe-de-l'Île and Montreal East. When families spend more than 30% of their income on housing, they do not have much left to spend on other essentials, such as food. Almost 20% of the households in Pointe-aux-Trembles spend more than 50% of their income on housing; that is one in five households. It makes no sense.
In 2009, the current Prime Minister went to the UN and made a promise to the Human Rights Council to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that every Canadian and Quebecker had access to suitable and affordable housing.
The provinces are stretched to the limit and are at a loss as to what to do. The government's lack of leadership is only adding to the burden on the provinces. The lack of social housing and the deterioration of existing social housing have become critical. We are going to hit a wall.
The government needs to understand the importance of investing in affordable housing programs in order to put an end to homelessness and ensure not only that all families, all Canadians and all Quebeckers have a roof over their heads, but that they do not have to choose between food, health care and housing, because that is unacceptable.
We are the only G7 country that does not have a social housing strategy. It is high time that the government adopted the NDP plan for a national housing strategy so that everyone can have decent, affordable housing. Unfortunately, we cannot support a budget that reduces funding for social housing.
Let us now turn to rail safety because La Pointe-de-l'Île is a railway hub. Since the Lac-Mégantic disaster, we have come to realize that our system has privatized Canadians' safety. Rail safety and our system are inadequate. In the early 2000s, the system was privatized. Self-regulation prevailed, even with respect to inspection. At a time when the transportation of crude oil is increasing exponentially, our safety system must be reviewed.
In a report published on October 22, 2013, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives criticized the shortage of inspectors. In 2009 there was one inspector for every 14 tank cars. Now, in 2015, there is one inspector for every 4,000 tank cars. Since the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, the Government of Canada has hired just one additional inspector. We went from 116 inspectors to 117. That is unacceptable, and it is putting the lives of the people of La Pointe-de-l'Île in danger.
It is high time for the government to invest in rail safety. Everyone agrees on this: the unions, the Auditor General and the Railway Association of Canada. We have a big problem with inspections, and now is the time to take action. There is not a single mention of rail safety in the 2015-16 budget.
We cannot support a budget that puts the lives of Canadians and Quebeckers in danger. For example, the DOT-111 cars, which were declared dangerous by the Transportation Safety Board and the Auditor General, will be phased out, but it will be done over 10 years. For another 10 years those DOT-111 cars will continue to operate in communities across Canada and Quebec, including in my riding, La Pointe-de-l'Île. Rail safety is clearly a problem.
I am calling on the government to make appropriate investments in rail safety in order to keep everyone safe. For example, with regard to the most recent oil spill in Gogama, in northern Ontario, the Transportation Safety Board said that the problem was with the tracks. That means it is an inspection issue because the companies are responsible for the tracks. The government has been complacent about this. Given the large number of accidents that have occurred since the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, I hope that the Conservatives will realize that it is high time something was done about this.
There is also the issue of health, since we have an aging population. Seniors need proper and accessible health care. The government did away with the Health Council of Canada, which told it that the provincial transfers would have to be increased by 6% to address the issue of the aging population. The Conservatives silenced the Health Council of Canada and said that they were going to cap the transfers at 3%. The provinces are left with a $36 billion shortfall when it comes to health investments for everyone, including seniors.
Does this government really think we are going to vote for a bill that directly affects health care for Quebec and Canadian seniors? I am sorry, but we cannot support this budget.
View Adam Vaughan Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Adam Vaughan Profile
2015-05-15 10:26 [p.13990]
Mr. Speaker, I have heard reference to an NDP plan for housing and I welcome a look at it, but so far I have not seen details much beyond a plan to have a plan. It is important that we know how the money would flow, both to provinces and to municipalities, which sections of the housing community it would support, and how it would arrive and create construction.
I also have a question about the state of the repair budget. It is not just a question of the waiting lists; state of good repair is a significant issue in many cities. How is that issue going to be addressed?
Finally, there is the issue of the subsidies. Are the subsidies and the commitment to co-ops and affordable housing going to continue? The agreements are expiring.
It is a three-part question. I would like to know what the plan is from the NDP, beyond just having a plan to have a plan.
View Ève Péclet Profile
View Ève Péclet Profile
2015-05-15 10:27 [p.13991]
Mr. Speaker, I understand that the member may not be familiar with our many initiatives, because he had not yet been elected at the time, but the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot introduced Bill C-400, which is precisely our proposal for a national social housing strategy. I invite the member to look it up online to see the details of our plan.
My colleague from Hochelaga introduced a bill before Parliament calling on the government to continue to invest in rent subsidies, thereby maintaining the agreements. I invite the member to also look that up online for more details, and to consult the NDP website to learn more about our plans. We have concrete plans. We have brought them before the House, and the government refused to support them.
View Dan Albas Profile
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-05-15 10:28 [p.13991]
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is obviously very passionate about housing and housing needs in Canada. That is a worthy goal.
She raised the NDP's plan, which was a private member's bill. Inside the bill was a requirement that all housing built under it, which would be paid in part by the federal government, would require the highest green standards; I believe it is LEED.
When I spoke to people in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla, many groups like Habitat for Humanity, and others that may from time to time do housing projects for seniors, voiced that as a considerable concern because it would increase the building costs. It would actually exclude many small not-for-profits from being able to contribute and bring reasonable housing to meet the needs of people.
I would like to hear what she has to say about that. Will she revise that particular notion of the NDP's plan? If so, let us hear the alternative plan.
View Ève Péclet Profile
View Ève Péclet Profile
2015-05-15 10:29 [p.13991]
Mr. Speaker, perhaps the member consulted with organizations in his riding, and I did the same thing. What I can say is that organizations all across Canada supported our plan. Even the Federation of Canadian Municipalities supported our plan to invest in social housing. We are in the middle of a crisis. We are about to hit a wall, and the government continues to disengage. In 15 years, the government will have cut $1.7 billion from social housing, and I have no doubt that if the government continues on this path, over 100,000 families will wind up homeless or will no longer be able to afford groceries, unfortunately, because they will have to pay too much for housing.
If the member wants to play politics on the backs of our families, our women, men and children, he can continue to do so. What we on this side want to do is invest in social housing so that everyone can have a roof over their heads.
View Claude Gravelle Profile
View Claude Gravelle Profile
2015-05-15 10:30 [p.13991]
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île on a very good speech. My colleague serves the people of La Pointe-de-l'Île very well.
In her speech, she mentioned the Gogama derailment, which could have been very dangerous had it occurred two kilometres farther west. That would have put it right in downtown Gogama. It could have been another Lac-Mégantic. There was another derailment 40 kilometres from Gogama three weeks earlier.
Can the member tell us what the Minister of Transport is doing about rail transport's poor performance?
View Ève Péclet Profile
View Ève Péclet Profile
2015-05-15 10:31 [p.13991]
Mr. Speaker, as I said, the government did not mention rail safety one single time in the new 2015-16 budget.
Between 2010 and 2015, the office responsible for rail safety lost 20% of its resources to cuts. In 2009, there was one inspector per 14 cars. In 2015, it is one inspector per 4,000 cars. That accident could have been prevented if the government had enforced the rules and made appropriate investments in rail safety.
View Dan Albas Profile
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-05-15 10:32 [p.13991]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on our government's budget implementation bill.
Our Conservative government is focused on what matters most to Canadians: helping families to make ends meet by lowering taxes; protecting, and, of course, creating jobs. That was abundantly clear in economic action plan 2015.
Under this Prime Minister, this government recognizes that our country's greatest asset in the global economy is our people. With that in mind, we have worked hard to cut taxes for all Canadians to ensure that more of their hard-earned dollars stay in their wallets.
The tax relief measures introduced by our government are benefiting all Canadians. Economic action plan 2015 builds on our government's record of support for Canadian families by keeping taxes low and helping them to save. We will also introduce tax relief for seniors and persons with disabilities to make their homes more accessible, as well as to help students to pay for their education.
We are seeking to increase the contribution limit for tax-free savings accounts. We are seeking to adjust the registered retirement income fund, or as they are better known, RRIFs, and their minimum withdrawal factors that apply in respect of ages 71 to 94, to better reflect long-term, historical, real rates of return, and expected inflation. As a result, the new RRIF factors will be substantially lower than the existing factors.
We are also seeking to implement a new home accessibility tax credit for seniors and persons with disabilities. As the member of Parliament for Okanagan—Coquihalla, I know that many retirees in my riding want to be able to stay in their homes longer. I think this, in addition to helping people with disabilities, will help to do exactly that.
All of these measures work toward this government's goal of helping families make ends meet by lowering taxes, and, again, protecting and creating jobs.
Now, I would like to speak about some budget measures that fall directly under my purview as the parliamentary secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. Economic action plan 2015 reaffirmed the government's commitment to pursuing a new disability and sick leave management system for Canada's public service.
As I said earlier in this place, the government's continued overarching goal in these negotiations is to reach agreement on total public service compensation that is fair and reasonable to both the employees and the taxpayer. The legislative changes proposed in the budget implementation act allow the government to take necessary steps for a modernized disability and sick leave management system to give employees the safety net they need.
The minister has been clear in his negotiations with the unions. He is working towards a settlement that includes a revamped sick leave system.
The President of the Treasury Board has been clear that mental health issues are important to our government. That is why we have worked with the public service unions to establish the joint mental health task force. This task force is a first step in improving how the federal public service can manage mental health challenges in the workplace. Additionally, economic action plan 2015 announced our government's intention to renew the mandate of the Mental Health Commission of Canada for an additional 10 years. This will allow the commission to continue its important work to promote mental health in Canada and foster change in the delivery of mental health services.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has said:
This is wonderful news for the mental health community. [...] Together, we have advocated for change. And together, we are succeeding.
It is clear that this government is putting the health of federal employees at the top of its priorities during the ongoing negotiations. We will make every effort to reach an agreement with bargaining agents within a reasonable timeframe on these necessary reforms to disability and sick leave management.
We know that the 40-year-old sick leave accumulation system currently in place is antiquated and not responsive to the needs of the majority of our employees. Almost two-thirds of employees, 6 in 10 people, in the core public administration, do not have enough banked sick leave to cover a full period of short-term disability of 13 weeks. Worse still, a quarter of employees have fewer than 10 banked sick days, and many new and younger public servants have no banked sick days at all.
That is why this government, with thePresident of the Treasury Board leading the negotiations, is proposing a short-term disability plan that would help public servants get healthy and back to work. The proposed short-term disability plan would give public servants the comprehensive safety net that they need while protecting the taxpayers who are paying the bill.
To date, the government's bargaining representatives have had over 200 meetings with the unions. There are nearly 50 additional meetings planned in the future, which is more than enough time for both sides to come to a reasonable agreement.
The minister and his team will continue to negotiate with unions, but our objective is clear: we will not pay sick leave to people who are not sick. In the event that an agreement between the government and bargaining agents cannot be reached, this legislation would allow the government to take the necessary steps to implement a modernized disability and sick leave management system within a reasonable timeframe.
I think it is important for me to address some of the misconceptions about the savings that are booked in economic action plan 2015.
The $900 million booked in 2014-15 is a subset of the contingent liability associated with banked sick days that have accumulated over decades under the existing regime. This savings target is a commitment to taxpayers that the government takes this very seriously. As always, our government will be mindful of the purse strings, and, of course, accountable to the taxpayers.
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