Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Security and Defence
Issue 11 - Evidence - Meeting of March 23, 2011
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, to which was
referred Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans
Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, met this day at 4:03
p.m. to give clause-by-clause consideration to the bill.
Senator Pamela Wallin (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for
being here today. This is a special meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Security and Defence, but we have received permission from the Senate
to meet today. We are looking at Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces
Members and Veterans Re- establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act.
We are pleased to have the minister with us today. He has brought officials
with him, Mr. Hillier and Mr. Butler, who will also be available to answer
questions. Welcome, minister, and thank you. We understand that you may get
called back to a vote. We will understand that.
Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, P.C., M.P., Minister of Veterans Affairs and
Minister of State (Agriculture): Madam Chair, it is a pleasure to be here
with you today to discuss a very important bill that is of utmost importance for
our Canadian Forces members, our veterans and their families.
I know that our time together is short, so I will keep my opening remarks
brief. But I do want to take a moment to thank you for the excellent work you
have been doing on behalf of the men and women who have proudly worn, and wear,
Your commitment to our veterans' priorities is truly commendable, and your
advice and recommendations have greatly informed our efforts on behalf of these
Bill C-55 is a perfect example. In the drafting of this bill, we relied
heavily on the insights and information available from many sources — including
your committee, the House of Commons committee, and people in the field, such as
We listened to our veterans and Canadian Forces members.
When I travelled to Afghanistan last year, I remember specifically asking our
troops there what we could be doing better. At first, they were a little
hesitant about answering, but gradually they opened up. And one of the issues
they raised was the disability award. They said it would be much more helpful if
there were different options for how the disability award is paid out. We know
that some people have not always used this money wisely. Instead of a lump sum
payment, they wanted options.
Honourable senators, that had a profound impact on me. Here were these
courageous men and women serving overseas in a very dangerous place risking
their lives for Canada and our way of life, and they were reluctant to ask for
much in return.
As a result of their comments, on the flight back to Canada, I decided that
we had to go even further than I originally anticipated, that we should offer
them these payment options and do even more than I was originally planning.
That is why Bill C-55, which is before you today, is very open-ended and very
flexible when it comes to giving our Canadian Forces members and veterans more
choices in the payment of the disability award.
We listened to what our veterans were saying. We looked at the various
studies and reviews available, and drew from our own experience with the New
Veterans Charter — all of which told us there were some problems with how the
new charter was originally drafted. While the New Veterans Charter brought
sweeping and significant improvements when it was passed unanimously by
Parliament in 2005, it also had some flaws, which were discovered along the way.
I will add, as an aside, that since the coming into force of the New Veterans
Charter, when our men and women in uniform return injured, they remain in the
forces for two or three years. They continue to receive their full salary during
that two- or three-year period. We didn't start discovering the flaws in the New
Veterans Charter until after that.
You have pinpointed some of them. Our veterans have raised some of them. The
bill that you are studying today proves that we are able to work together to
correct these flaws. The result is legislation that has received broad support
—because Bill C-55 represents an important new chapter in the New Veterans
Charter and how Canada cares for and supports our military, our veterans and
It amounts to an additional $2 billion to improve the quality of life for
injured and ill veterans and their families.
Over the next five years alone, it represents an additional $200 million in
support paid directly to our most seriously injured veterans and those with the
lowest incomes and who are in a rehabilitation program.
And, with this additional support, our men and women injured in the line of
duty will now be able to focus more on what matters most to them: getting
With the changes we are proposing, we are doing three things: we are ensuring
a minimum annual income for veterans in our rehabilitation program, and for
veterans who are unable to be gainfully employed again.
We are recognizing that Canada's most seriously injured veterans and their
families face the greatest challenges starting a new life outside the military.
We are creating payment options for CF members and veterans who receive a
How are we doing this? By establishing a minimum income, as you can see in
the bill — a pre-tax income of $40,000 a year for the earnings loss benefit. For
those in a rehabilitation program, this will mean $40,000 in compensation or 75
per cent of their salary. That is the minimum. If their salary is higher, they
will obviously receive more, but the minimum that they will receive is $40,000
for the duration of their rehabilitation.
Secondly, by expanding eligibility for the permanent impairment allowance and
the exceptional incapacity allowance, we are creating a new $1,000 monthly
supplement for our most seriously injured veterans. If they are unable to return
to work, with the monthly allowance and the amount allocated for rehabilitation,
they will receive a minimum of $58,000 per year until they reach the age of 65.
This aspect covers someone who can no longer go back to work, because of a
mental health problem or a physical disability.
By creating more payment options for the disability award, we will be
recognizing that soldiers or veterans do not all have the same needs. They need
financial options to meet their individual circumstances.
These enhancements go to the very heart of the New Veterans Charter, and they
build on its solid foundation of making sure that the men and women who serve
Canada have the help they need — when they need it and for as long as they need
There is wide agreement on that. Even those who say we should go further
acknowledge that these are important measures and a big step in the right
I want to stress that we have not stopped there, that we are taking
additional actions in many different ways. I will list them for you briefly; you
will recall what we did for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which we now
recognize. As soon as a person receives that diagnosis, they can access all of
the services they would have normally been entitled to, had the condition been
recognized as an illness resulting from military service. We have resolved the
Agent Orange issue by enabling widows to receive an ex-gratia payment of
$20,000. I made that announcement just before Christmas.
These are all measures that will make a real and meaningful difference in the
lives of the men and women who need this help from their country. Bill C-55 will
also make a real and meaningful difference. We know this is true because our
veterans and CF members have told us so. They spoke, and we listened, just as we
promised we would. And we are taking action, just as we promised we would.
Today, I am here to ask the Senate for its support to keep our important work
Current parliamentary dynamics, with the issue of an imminent election, have
plunged us, as well as our veterans, into uncertainty. Passing this bill as
quickly as possible is of the utmost importance.
If there were to be an election, before the bill were passed, it would mean
postponing it for a year. I don't know how any of us will be able to look our CF
members in the eyes, if we do not do what is necessary to get this bill passed
in time. The support that they can receive from us is important to them.
I therefore ask you, on their behalf, to fast-track this bill so that it can
receive royal assent.
The Chair: I want to thank you, Mr. Minister. I think we all feel that
way on both sides. My deputy chair has been briefed on this legislation as well.
I want to thank you for changing your schedule. I know you were to be here
Monday. I know you feel strongly about this.
Mr. Blackburn is here to take questions. I ask members to be pointed and
disciplined in their questions because our time is short today.
Senator Plett: I will echo what the chair has already said. It is
great to see you here, and I want to congratulate you for the way you have
brought this forward. This has been a fairly extensive process, and I know you
have engaged with many people.
In large part you have answered my first question. My first question was
going to be, in your opinion, what happens if we cannot get this bill passed and
get Royal Assent before a possible election? You have said that we would lose a
minimum of a year and that it would be devastating for the men and women in
uniform who so desperately need what you are offering.
You mentioned in your presentation, minister, how you have travelled and
spoken to so many of the men and women in uniform. We did the same thing when we
visited the base in Edmonton.
I know we would never get all of them, but would you believe that most of the
concerns the veterans have shared with you are addressed in Bill C-55?
Mr. Blackburn: That is a good question, and I am happy to provide some
clarification. Why and how did we end up with this? First of all, the Department
of Veterans Affairs experienced an unprecedented crisis this past year. I wasn't
expecting a situation like that. It started with newspaper articles, followed by
radio interviews, TV reports and so on. Everyone had complaints about the New
Veterans Charter and the department in terms of delays in processing files.
Criticism was everywhere, to such an extent that, at one point, I turned off my
BlackBerry and asked myself what should be done in a crisis like this. What is
urgent, and what should the priorities be moving forward?
Of course, all of that factored into the number of times I had met with
representatives of veterans associations; I had listened to them and heard their
comments. We conducted a survey on the lump-sum payment and found that 31 per
cent were not in favor of the lump-sum payment. We realized that they were
primarily people with mental health issues or post-traumatic stress disorder. I
had a very clear picture of the problem.
But we had to set priorities, assess the costs associated with all of that
and take the complaints into account. At one point, we reached a consensus on
the priorities with the organizations and our veterans. That is how we
established the three priorities.
Bear in mind that the entire New Veterans Charter is focused on
rehabilitation. We cannot ask someone who is 20, 25 or 30 years old and who
comes back injured to go home and wait. We must enable them to transition to
civilian life. We must help them find a new job, taking into account their new
disability. That is what rehabilitation is about. We must also make sure that,
while participating in that rehabilitation, which may last two, five or ten
years, that person has an adequate income. The person may have one, two, three
or more children; they may or may not have a spouse. We must ensure that things
are done right.
That is why it is not reasonable to give the person at the low end of the pay
scale in the army, someone who is earning $26,000, 75 per cent of their salary.
That is not enough to live decently. That is what we will fix.
The permanent monthly allowance resembles the former pension system. It is a
monthly amount ranging from $536 to $1,609 per month. I am referring to the
former figure; it has been indexed, and I don't remember the new one. Depending
on the injury, a member receives a certain amount per month, for life. It
doesn't stop at 65, it is for life. It wasn't enough for people who are
seriously injured. We decided to increase the amount by $1,000 per month. When
you add the monthly payment plus the $40,000, the minimum that someone will
receive is $58,000 per year, until the age of 65, if they cannot return to work,
be it the result of a physical or psychological injury.
The other point regarding these injuries is an important one. There was a
problem in the charter that had gone unnoticed up to that point: when the New
Veterans Charter was adopted, injuries were taken into account following the
coming into force of the charter. If someone had an injury predating that coming
into force, it was not counted. As a result, people did not receive the amount
ranging from $536 to $1,609. Only 12 or 16 people received it in five years. By
fixing that aspect of the act, 3,500 people over the next five years will
receive that monthly payment for life.
Lastly is what is called the lump-sum payment up to a maximum of $276,000.
The amount is now $285,000 after indexing. They can receive that. They can
spread it out over five, ten or twenty years, the decision is theirs.
Our bill does not guarantee that the person will make the right decision;
there are no guarantees of that. If it were one of us, what would we do? Go to
our spouse and say: I am receiving $285,000, I am injured, and I will never be
able to go back to work, what is the best thing for my family and me? It will
encourage people to think about the best choice for them.
That is what this bill offers. I can put myself in your shoes. You might be
thinking that I have brought you this bill in the final hour and I want you to
ram it through. Sometimes you have to have faith in life and believe that we
have looked at it before. We are not sending you just anything. The House of
Commons has considered it, as have veterans and associations representing them.
Everyone agrees that it is a good step in the right direction.
I understand that some people want more. That remains, but there are no
missteps here. All we can do after the fact is continue to make improvements as
the needs arise and the budgets are allocated.
Senator Plett: When I spoke in the chamber yesterday, I used three
people in my comments: Patricia Varga, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian
Legion; Ray Kokkonen, President of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans
Association; and Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman. They all indicated they were
supportive of this first step.
We have said this is a living document. Can it be improved if necessary?
Mr. Blackburn: Of course we told our veterans that this was a living
charter. We must be honest with them, and we must prove to them that it is a
living charter. Today, we have our first chance to prove that it is a living
charter and that we are in the process of correcting the problems that had been
identified. We established priorities. There are a host of other things to
change. We needed to start with the most urgent issues.
I will give you an example; I acted somewhat like a submarine captain. At
some point, a pipe bursts and as you are fixing it, it starts leaking from
everywhere. That is what happened at the department. At one point, I said to
myself: I have to save the crew, the ship, and we need to keep the motors
running so we can head in the right direction.
I acted like a responsible father, trying to do the right thing to support
our veterans. I should repeat that there is still some work to be done and that
if I stay in this position, I will continue to try to help them as much as
Senator Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for coming.
The Liberals will be supporting this bill, not because it is adequate, but
because it is a start. We have concerns about its shortfalls, but we are taking
You write that the Senate delayed this. That is wrong, and I want to clarify
that. You announced this in September of 2010. You presented it to the house in
November of 2010. We got it on Monday, and we will pass it tomorrow. We had four
The Chair: Senator Mitchell, can we stay on the bill, please?
Senator Mitchell: I will.
Finally, it underlines what many people are saying: You are very quick to buy
the jets and you have been very slow to help the vets.
The earnings loss benefit will now be raised to $40,000. Why did you not do
that before this proposed legislation? Why did you have to wait for this bill?
You have regulations that would have allowed you to do that years ago. That
underlines the point made, which I think is very inappropriate, that we delayed
it. You could have done this a long time ago.
Is this $40,000 base retroactive to when the program was established? Will it
pick up those who were injured and have not been paid this base up to this time?
Mr. Blackburn: Why do we have all of this now? Allow me to pick up on
what I mentioned earlier.
Let's assume that you were in Afghanistan two years ago and that, tragically,
you lost both your legs. When you get back from Afghanistan you have what is
called a stabilization period. You stay in the armed forces for another two or
three years and receive your full salary. When you are told you can no longer
remain a member of the armed forces because of your disability, you leave the
armed forces and turn to Veterans Affairs Canada.
Let's stay with the scenario of the individual who has just lost both his
legs. First of all, he will receive a sum of up to $250,000 for his physical
injuries. He will then receive up to $285,000 from Veterans Affairs depending on
the extent of the injury. Subsequently, he will get all the other benefits as
his coverage comes under our department.
At first, he remains in the Canadian armed forces and receives his full
salary. So we do not immediately get involved. We discovered all of these
problems approximately a year and a half ago when they blew up in our face.
Our department has aged at the same pace as traditional war veterans, who are
now 87 years old, on average. The department would contact people using letters,
and they would respond in writing or sometimes by telephone. That was the way we
Today, the department realizes that young people prefer to use computers.
Rightly or wrongly so, young people express their views in blogs, and
information travels everywhere. So it is up to the department to make that shift
and think of a transition.
We realize it cannot happen overnight. But the process is under way because
we have reduced our processing time from 24 to 16 weeks. Here, I am referring to
the entire process to determine the permanent disability award or any other
amount that the veteran would be entitled to.
We are trying to improve this timeline, and for all our Afghanistan veterans,
we have a rapid response case management team to address their needs. No, it is
Senator Mitchell: You make it sound as though no one has been paid
less than the $40,000 minimum base. Some certainly have been, and you could have
increased that for them before this piece of proposed legislation. You have led
people to believe that it required legislation, and it does not. Those people,
therefore, have been neglected. I am not saying that what you are doing now is
not a help; it is, but you could have done it earlier.
Mr. Blackburn: Unless I am mistaken, it cannot be amended without
Bernard Butler, Director General, Policy and Research, Veterans Affairs
Canada: The earnings loss is a regulatory change, so it does require the
Senator Mitchell: You have the power to do that now under your current
Mr. Butler: The regulations are there, but this change requires an
amendment to the regulations. It is part of this package.
Senator Mitchell: You do not need legislation to change regulations.
I hope I am wrong about this, but I understand that if a public servant in
Ottawa is injured while working and loses a leg, that person gets $350,000, but
a soldier who is injured by a bomb in Afghanistan gets a maximum of $280,000.
How do you square that?
Mr. Blackburn: First of all, you should not look at these things in
isolation. These three elements work together, and other services are provided
to soldiers based on their needs. For instance, if changes need to be made to
their homes and a special rehabilitation program is required, there is a
transitional program. If their spouse takes care of them, there will be an
allowance of $100 per day for a year.
There are a host of other measures in the New Veterans Charter that did not
exist in the past. It is a major change. That is why I am saying you need to
consider the lump sum, the permanent monthly allowance and rehabilitation in
Senator Mitchell: The public servant gets a disability pension and an
earnings pension. The get all the same kinds of extra things, but they get as
much as $80,000 more for losing a single limb, while a soldier can lose two or
three limbs and get $80,000 less.
You say that this will cost $2 billion in additional funding, but in your own
presentation you point out that it is to be $200 million over five years.
Therefore, it would take 50 years to spend $2 billion. Are you not inflating the
expectations of these military people with this kind of hype when they have to
live with the reality that it is not $2 billion, neither today nor within a
reasonable period of time? It is $2 billion over 50 years. It is cruel.
Mr. Blackburn: When I had to convince cabinet that this measure would
not cost $2 billion, but rather $200 million over five years, I waged the same
battle as you. I thought $2 billion was enormous.
I am the only minister to have obtained $2 billion from the government, an
unanticipated amount, specifically during a recession.
Senator Mitchell: I am saying it is not.
Mr. Blackburn: From a financial standpoint, the Department of Finance
must assess costs over a lifetime. That is why they must itemize the $2 billion
in the budget. But in actual fact, disbursement for these various individuals
amounts to $200 million over five years. I think Mr. Hillier wanted to add
Keith Hillier, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Veterans
Affairs Canada: In addition to the amounts that the minister has referred to
that someone would get from Veterans Affairs, the earnings loss and all the
other programs, Government of Canada employees are paid under an insurance plan.
I do not have the exact amounts, and I do not want to speak for the Department
of National Defence, DND, but in addition to the amounts that an injured veteran
would receive from Veterans Affairs Canada, there are payouts from the Canadian
Forces and from the Canadian Forces insurance plan as well. The payment on
behalf of the Government of Canada has to be looked at in its totality.
The Chair: We are going to move on.
Senator Mitchell: Have you done that assessment to see —
The Chair: Senator Mitchell, please.
We have a couple of complications. One, there is a vote in the Senate, so we
will be returning there. We want to make as good use of minister's time as
possible, and we have other senators who want to ask questions. I would ask
again that we try to be brief and stay on the aspects of Bill C-55 and not the
politics surrounding it.
Senator Banks: Thank you chair and thank you minister.
I have to agree with Senator Mitchell — and this concerns the bill — that the
Senate has processes. It is not a good way to begin that process by sending a
letter to us, which you did, saying, "following the refusal by Liberal senators
to give fast track . . .'' That is not a good way to begin the conversation.
However, I want to ask Mr. Butler a question about a response that he gave to
a question that Senator Mitchell asked. The earnings loss benefit authority was
given in the regulations that are contained in the original bill; is that not
Mr. Butler: Yes.
Senator Banks: It is the case that the regulations could have been
promulgated in the Canada Gazette and gone to the Standing Joint
Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations even if this proposed legislation that
is presently before us did not exist. Is that correct?
Mr. Butler: I think that is fair, senator.
Senator Banks: I just wanted to make that point.
Minister, what is the difference between permanent incapacitation on the one
hand and permanent impairment on the other? We have information that the
eligibility criteria for the supplement are different from the eligibility
criteria for the base amount. We also have information that of the 269 veterans
who were deemed to be suffering from total and permanent incapacitation between
April 2006 and March 2009, 3 received the permanent impairment allowance. The
other 266 are deemed to have permanent incapacitation but they do not qualify
for the permanent impairment allowance. I would like to understand why.
Mr. Blackburn: I will try to answer your question based on my
knowledge, and perhaps the people around me can complete my answer.
It all depends on when you were injured. It can be before the new charter
came into force or after, or even a bit of both. To some extent, there is a
chart for injuries and a percentage that is allocated. According to this
percentage, the standard is established for the amount the person receives. That
is how the process works.
Mr. Hillier or Mr. Butler may have more details on this.
Mr. Butler: You qualify for the permanent impairment allowance if you
have a severe and permanent impairment. That is how it is defined in the act. If
you are participating in a rehabilitation plan in respect of a disability for
which you hold a disability award, you will qualify for this permanent
For the most severe, if you have a total and permanent incapacity, which is
defined in the regulations to mean that you are incapable of earning a
livelihood more than 66.66 per cent of your pre-release salary, then you are
deemed under the regulations to be totally and permanently incapacitated. It is
a defined element in the legislation and in the regulations.
Senator Banks: In the present bill, however, I am told that the
criteria for the supplement will be different from the criteria for the base
amount. Is that correct? If so, how are those criteria defined as being
different, or am I wrong?
Mr. Butler: The additional $1,000 supplement will be paid to those who
are at the most severe end of that continuum.
Senator Banks: Is there a graduated system? Would some get $300 and
some $700, or is it $1,000 or nothing?
Mr. Butler: In the schedule to the act, there are actually three
levels of permanent impairment allowance — $600 and then it moves up to $1,600.
They are paid in three categories, as per the schedule. Those who are at the
high end of that amount and who are suffering a total and permanent incapacity
will benefit from this additional $1,000 per month supplement.
Senator Banks: Would that be in addition to the $1,600?
Mr. Butler: Yes, it would be.
Senator Banks: Mr. Minister, you have heard the criticism that I am
about to voice, because we have heard it, too. I would like you to respond to it
so that we know what your response is. It is criticism that we have heard from
veterans — old veterans and new veterans, if I can put it that way — that the
reaction of the department to claims is rather along the lines of the reaction
of an insurance company to claims. That is to say, as we all know, insurance
companies try as hard as they can to not pay on claims. It is always difficult
doing that, but you have heard that criticism before. For our record, would you
respond to it, minister?
Mr. Blackburn: You must first consider the fact that these services
are related to wounds sustained in the course of military service. This first
point is very important and is the basis for all the services we provide to
Also, 75 per cent of the applications the department receives are initially
approved. Of the remaining 25 per cent, between 50 and 75 per cent are approved
when the decision goes to appeal. Often, these people then receive a positive
response because they are bringing forward new information. In these cases, they
go before the veterans review and appeal board to appeal a negative decision.
Again, a decision is rendered.
A first negative response is therefore based on the information provided.
When individuals come forward with new information that serves to correct the
record or add information to the file, the decision may be altered in their
favour, based on that information. This is the process that is lengthier, and
that is not done on purpose. First of all, the medical file comes from the
Department of Defence. An astronomical number of photocopies are made at the
department. In fact, we want to change the system and computerize further. Then,
we have to await the results of medical and other sorts of tests.
Perhaps Mr. Hillier has something to add to this point.
Mr. Hillier: Actually, I responded to that question at a town hall
meeting at Canadian Forces Base Halifax.
Senator Banks: I was not there.
Mr. Hillier: I will reinforce what the minister said about the number.
While 74 per cent get a yes on the first pass, I would like you to think about
it in a little different context.
The people who serve in the Canadian Forces serve on behalf of Canada. People
who work at Veterans Affairs serve on behalf of those who serve their country.
Concerning this issue of the insurance company mentality, I can tell you — and I
know some senators have visited Charlottetown and have met the with the
adjudicators — the 60 people who come to work every day come to work to find
ways to help veterans. They work to ensure veterans get the right answer. I can
assure you that the employees of Veterans Affairs Canada do not come to work
every day to deny a benefit, or a service, or a medication, or whatever a
veteran needs. I think you will find quite the opposite. I have heard, you are
quite right, senator, that they are instructed to say no the first time around.
Quite frankly, that is not true.
The Chair: Thank you for those comments.
Senator Lang: I have a couple of observations. First, I do not share
my colleague Senator Mitchell's views on what is being done here. I think he
used the word "cruel,'' regarding what was done in the past. I think the
department and the government have been doing the best they can with what they
have. My experience at the base in Edmonton was that I walked out of there
feeling proud to be a Canadian and proud of all the people who were taking care
of those who were seriously hurt and the active members of the Armed Forces. As
a Canadian, when you are projecting to look at spending $2 billion over the next
number of years to reinforce and to supplement what we have already been
providing, that speaks well for our country. We should not diminish the
commitment that the taxpayers and Canadians are making.
I have a concern from that visit, however. I left there with the distinct
impression that those members in the Armed Forces were really confused about
what is available and how it would be made available. The question I have for
you, Mr. Minister, is this: What public relations campaign do you have organized
and ongoing for those members so that they realize what is there, what is
available and how they will be taken care of, if they must avail themselves of
something like that?
Mr. Blackburn: Indeed, that is another thing we noticed. Our personnel
in the Canadian armed forces today do not know what will be available to them
when they leave the forces, either upon retirement or due to an injury that
renders them unable to serve. That is something we have noticed. People believed
we offered strictly the lump sum and left them to their own devices afterwards.
This is quite a change we need to make so people clearly understand that that is
not the case, that there are a number of other factors.
To that end, I have toured the country on a number of occasions to meet,
first of all, with our staff and, second, with our representatives and veterans
in the various associations. Third, we went to the military bases to meet with
members and inform them, as well as their spouses, about what is happening at
Veterans Affairs and the services we provide. I think our members discovered
something; they did not know what we offered.
We still have work to do in this area, we are far from done. We started off
by doing what we could do. Of course, being a member of a minority government, I
must be in Ottawa when the House is sitting. But we have done a fair bit over
the last few months, we have done quite a few things.
The Chair: We will have a final quick point from Senator Pépin, and
then we must go.
Senator Pépin: If I understand correctly, Mr. Minister, perhaps your
department needs better communication with veterans. I also understand that the
compensation you provide, be it the monthly benefit or total amount, can be
increased in some cases as the severity of a condition or side effects come to
light. I understand from what you are saying that does not mean these amounts
will not increase.
Mr. Blackburn: First of all, those amounts are indexed each year. That
is the first important point. Also, this time, most of the changes we are making
are for modern-day veterans. Traditional veterans supported these changes 100
per cent because they also found that modern-day veterans needed special
We need to make other improvements. For instance, for the VIP — the amount we
grant, approximately $2,650 per year, so people can stay at home and have
someone come in to do housework, mow the lawn, shovel the snow —there are
changes. We are currently looking at all of that to see what we can do. We also
need to computerize our services. One decision we made was that all frontline
staff would be able to make decisions independently; they no longer need to
refer their decisions to a second level. That will speed up the process. They
are professionals, they have all the knowledge needed to do a good job.
You saw the crisis that ensued when our documents and private information
became public and was seen by too many people. We are currently rectifying that
situation in our department. It involves bringing about a change in culture.
Whenever I meet with staff, I like to chat with them. I think they do a good
job, but at one point, there were shortcomings, which we are currently
The Chair: I am sorry for this. I appreciate your time today. We had
to reschedule your appearance because there was a delay in the discussions. That
is why we are meeting here in the Senate. We are glad you were so willing.
I assume that, if these changes are passed as quickly as we hope, they will
be immediate. Can we say that?
Mr. Blackburn: If this bill is indeed passed before the house is
defeated, through a non-confidence motion, should that happen, the changes would
still take a few months before they enter into force, as we wait for regulations
to be made. That would be five to six months minimum.
I want to tell you once again that what matters is for us to succeed. I think
that if we can pass this bill before all that, everyone will be pleased. We will
all be commended regardless of our political stripe; we will have done something
good for our veterans.
The Chair: We will suspend our meeting right now. There is a vote in
the Senate. We ask for the willingness of our other witnesses who are to appear
today. For those of you who can stay and meet with us later, we appreciate it.
If your schedule does not allow that, the clerk will be talking with you
(The committee suspended.)
(The committee resumed.)
The Chair: We suspended our meeting, as you know, because we had to
return to the chamber for a vote. Mission accomplished and the vote is over, so
we will now pick up where we left off.
Our apologies to you, Mr. Parent, as well, because we know you were here and
all set to present testimony on Monday, but that was delayed. You are here now,
and you have been delayed again as we had to go over to the chamber. I will ask
you to keep your remarks to a couple of your key points about Bill C-55, because
we are trying to focus our limited time on that.
Chief Warrant Officer (Retired) Guy Parent was appointed as the second
Veterans Ombudsman in November of 2010 for a 5-year term, and he has almost 50
years of experience in both military and civilian worlds. We look forward to the
benefit of his knowledge tonight. Please go ahead.
Chief Warrant Officer (Retired) Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman, Office of
the Veterans Ombudsman: Honourable senators, as noted, my remarks should be
I apologize if my address seems a little disjointed, but in the interests of
time I will try to cover the main points. First, I would like to thank you for
giving me the opportunity to be before you today and also to recognize the work
you do on behalf of all the veterans.
There is long-awaited movement, through the introduction of Bill C-55, on two
important fronts: the bill itself and the changes to regulations that will
increase the financial support provided through the earnings loss benefit
So, this is cause for optimism, and we need to continue to build on this
The changes to the earnings loss benefit program, as well as those proposed
in Bill C-55, respond to concerns expressed by veterans, veterans'
organizations, parliamentarians and others. They do not address all of the
concerns about the New Veterans Charter, but they do represent improvements.
They are steps in the right direction.
I hasten to say, however, that there is a great deal of frustration and
confusion about Bill C-55. In my opinion, the frustration stems from the
expectation created that the New Veterans Charter would be a living charter, a
dynamic document that would be modified to respond to the changing needs of our
veterans and their families and continually upgraded to correct shortcomings or
Well, it has taken five years for the principles of the living charter to
become a reality. Based on my discussion with veterans and the veterans'
organizations, it is clear that this long period of inactivity has had a
negative impact on the acceptance level of the New Veterans Charter among
Additionally, based on discussions around Bill C-55 and particularly
concerning the disability award, I venture to say that the communications
efforts over the past five years have not been particularly successful in
engaging Canadian Forces veterans in a dialogue and explaining in layman's terms
the New Veterans Charter's focus on wellness and transition to civilian life, as
well as its dual approach to compensation for pain and suffering and income
The principles of the New Veterans Charter are sound. It is a good concept,
but there have been weaknesses at the execution and communications levels.
I mentioned earlier that there is cause for optimism and that we are building
on this momentum for change. Bill C- 55 must be seen as the beginning of the
renewal process. Other improvements to the New Veterans Charter and to
regulations are needed and must soon follow.
The increased supplement of $1,000 a month for permanently and severely
injured veterans is also a welcome improvement. To receive the supplement, a
veteran must suffer from both a permanent and severe impairment and a total and
permanent incapacitation as defined in the regulation. Is that too restrictive?
It may be. In fairness to veterans and their families, the department must
exercise due diligence in drafting regulations to avoid creating eligibility
barriers that prevent veterans from accessing these new benefits.
As for the disability award and whether or not the payment options provided
under Bill C-55 go far enough to address the concerns around the lump sum, I am
of the view that it is a first step only. Discussion about further improvements
to the charter's dual compensation approach must continue.
Well-designed incremental changes to the New Veterans Charter and regulations
can be an effective way of addressing emerging issues and the need for
corrective adjustments, if done in a timely fashion, that is. As I mentioned in
my remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs a few
weeks ago, waiting another five years to bring about further improvements would
Thank you for the opportunity to share my views with you on Bill C-55. I
would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
I look forward to meeting with you again at a later date to discuss my
vision, my priorities and the way forward for the Office of the Veterans
The Chair: At the Veterans Affairs Committee, which is a subcommittee
of this larger one, we have been looking at the New Veterans Charter for many
years, more than four I think at this point, and there will be a more
substantive and fulsome report assessing the New Veterans Charter. However, it
was our agreement that we would look at the bill here, because it does come to
the main committee, and focus on that. Rest assured you will be invited back,
probably to both committees when they next convene.
Senator Mitchell: Thank you very much, Mr. Parent. I very much
appreciated your presentation. We greatly appreciate the work you have done for
I recently received an e-mail from a veteran who was asking a number of
questions I would like to convey to you.
He wanted consideration of five different proposals. I will make them
quickly. One is that the earnings loss benefit should be calculated to match
current DND pay scales. I believe the corollary of that is that it should be
moved from 75 per cent to 100 per cent, or a part of that. The earnings loss
benefit should be calculated to increase with normal career progression because
someone age 21 earning not very much could be disabled for the rest of his or
her life and would not progress. The Pensioners Training Regulations should be
amended to include all Canadian Forces veterans. The fifth one is that there be
support for veterans to attend post-secondary institutions and further
education, which he says was available to World War II veterans, for example.
Could you comment on what you feel about that, whether you feel those
proposals are reasonable or what progress could be made?
Mr. Parent: They are all issues that are of importance. As far as the
first one is concerned, we have to be careful. If you go to a program that is
based on existing salary, it might be below the $40,000 because 75 per cent of a
young private or a young recruit's salary probably will be below that amount.
This is where we have to be careful in anything that is based on existing
Senator Mitchell: The lesser of 1 of 100 per cent or $40,000 is the
The Chair: Can I please remind my colleagues that we are not here to
take testimony on all the changes that everyone might see. We are here looking
at a specific bill, and because our time is so short, I would really like it if
we could stay focused.
Senator Mitchell: We are here to represent veterans, and that question
was asked specifically of us by veterans.
The Chair: I have asked Mr. Parent to answer.
Mr. Parent: On the issue of the veterans accessing secondary education
or other types of vocational rehabilitation or courses, the flexibility is there
with the rehabilitation plan. They look at all aspects of what the veterans'
needs are. I think one of the important things to recognize about this New
Veterans Charter is that it is based on needs.
In fact, where the work has to be done is to make sure that the needs of the
veterans are well identified and that they are pursued. I think that might not
have been up to par in the past. If you base something on needs, you need the
input of the person who actually is involved.
Senator Mitchell: The point was made by the minister in some of his
material that there could be as many as 3,500 veterans who will benefit from the
permanent impairment allowance in the future. That can only mean one of two
things — either many people have been languishing and not receiving that benefit
for many years, as many as five years, or he is anticipating huge future
injuries to our military. How did we come to that figure of 3,500 people? It
seems huge. We have 20 people on it now.
Mr. Parent: I cannot give you specifics on the number of 3,500. Maybe
Mr. Hillier or Mr. Butler later on can clarify that point. All I can say is that
many people do not have access to a permanent impairment allowance because they
were in the dual program before. They had benefits under the old Pension Act and
benefits under the New Veterans Charter; because of that, they could not access
this permanent impairment allowance.
Another reason might be that some people are still in service. While they are
in service, they are getting full salary and they are not getting this
allowance, which would probably be available to them once they are out of
service and deemed to be totally and permanently incapacitated.
Senator Mitchell: The point is made, and I think you made it too, that
this is a start but nowhere near enough. One of the gaps is that support
specifically for families is not sufficient. There are special requirements,
needs and demands just for families. Do you have any itemization of the
additional services that you think should be included in legislation of this
kind in the future or should be included in policy in the future, both for
veterans and for their families?
Mr. Parent: I will go back to the idea that it is a living charter. As
it progresses and as these new amendments are incorporated, we do continue to
analyze the impact on the veterans and their families and to provide
adjustments, if need be.
Certainly, one thing with the New Veterans Charter — not necessarily Bill
C-55 — is that now spouses have access to the same benefits as the veteran had
before. In the case of someone who is totally incapacitated, his or her spouse
can access the rehabilitation program and all of the financial benefits as well.
Senator Banks: The criteria that are set out to determine whether a
veteran's injuries are sufficient for him or her to get the permanent impairment
allowance must be very strict, because relatively few people are getting that,
it seems. Are those criteria set out in regulations, and can they be changed by
regulation, rather than by this bill that is before us?
Mr. Parent: Again, that is a question probably better answered by the
department, but as far as I am concerned, the addition to the permanent
impairment allowance is part of Bill C-55.
Senator Banks: It certainly is. I am talking about the criteria that
set out how to get to the permanent impairment allowance.
Mr. Parent: The definitions of totally and permanently incapacitated
or total impairment are in the regulations.
Senator Banks: It could be adjusted, notwithstanding this bill; is
Mr. Parent: I am not the departmental expert, but I expect that is the
answer you would get from the department.
The Chair: As promised, Mr. Parent, we will be back to you on this
issue and your thoughts on the whole question of how we deal with injured
veterans. Thank you very much.
Senator Mitchell: Can I ask more questions?
The Chair: No, we are moving on here. Do you have a specific question
about the bill?
Senator Mitchell: I certainly do.
The Chair: We will move on to our next witnesses. We invited all these
witnesses at your behest, and we have forfeited our asking of questions.
I would like to take a moment now and apologize to you gentlemen because I
know we have changed your schedule on several occasions, and we appreciate your
patience and your willingness to be here.
Brad White joined the Canadian Forces in 1975 under the Officer Cadet
Training Program. That was a great program. He retired from the forces in 1998
at the rank of lieutenant colonel and then joined the Dominion Command of the
Royal Canadian Legion as an administrative officer. Five years later, he became
the director of administration. He was appointed to his current position as
Dominion Secretary in August 2009.
We also have with us Pierre Allard. After enrolling in the militia as a
private in the Hull Regiment, Mr. Allard joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1964
as a pilot. After retiring from the Canadian Forces in June 2001, he joined the
Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion as a service officer, and assumed
the responsibilities of Service Bureau Director in January 2003.
Thank you, gentlemen, and again as I said to others, we are asking you to
abbreviate your opening remarks. Please go ahead, and then we will have some
Brad White, Dominion Secretary, Royal Canadian Legion: It is a
pleasure to appear in front of you again today to represent not only our
Dominion President, Patricia Varga, who is also a navy veteran, but also 342,000
members across this great country of ours. We thank you very much, particularly
for your support and advocacy on behalf of our veterans of all ages and their
families. We have provided you with a copy of our presentation today for your
further reading, if you so wish.
We recognize that Bill C-55 is an interim measure. In the Royal Canadian
Legion, we strongly support its passing as a first step to bring changes to the
New Veterans Charter. We understand that there is also broad support among
veterans' organizations across the country for the spirit of the New Veterans
Charter, in regard to its focus on ability versus disability, transition to
civilian life, compensation and its more complete approach to meet the needs of
veterans and their families.
When the government introduced the New Veterans Charter in 2006, it made a
promise to the veterans that it would be a living document. We agreed with the
implementation back in 2006 on the basis that the New Veterans Charter would be
a living document.
Gaps and deficiencies have been identified by the New Veterans Charter
Advisory Group, which we are part of, through parliamentary standing committees
and in other fora, including some of our own legion resolutions that have been
submitted to government.
In November 2010, the Minister of Veterans Affairs stood up in front of the
country and Canada's veterans and also made a promise to bring forward
amendments to the New Veterans Charter. We agreed that this is a very important
first step to make this charter into a living document. We believe that Bill
C-55 will immediately improve the lives of the most seriously disabled veterans
receiving disability benefits under the Pension Act and the New Veterans
There is still concern about the disability award and whether the flexible
payment options provided under Bill C-55 address the concerns around the lump
sum payment. We believe that we now have a limited improvement. A larger
disability award has not been addressed. The first two presenters made that
point. Australia provides a lot more to their veterans than we in Canada do.
Disabled workers in Canada, through court decisions, receive more than our
veterans do. Our veterans receive only just over $275,000 now for that permanent
We have already talked about the earnings loss benefit. The question was
already raised as to whether it was part of a regulatory change or a bill
change. We understand that as well.
The discussion about improvements to the financial compensation for the New
Veterans Charter is extremely important and ongoing. The issues around financial
compensation are complex and should not be construed as a comparison of
disability award and disability pension in isolation of the charter's other
programs and benefits.
The charter not only allows for lump sum disability awards for pain and
suffering but also provides monthly financial support, if needed, such as
earnings loss benefit, permanent impairment allowance, Canadian Forces income
supplement, supplementary retirement benefit, case management, rehabilitation,
transition assistance, family support and community outreach.
We agreed Bill C-55 is the first step. It is chapter 2. There is more to
come, and we want to part of the ongoing discussion about what changes need to
be made to improve the New Veterans Charter to ensure we look after our veterans
in Canada. It has been five years coming down the road.
The passage of Bill C-55 will demonstrate to our soldiers that we have made a
commitment to them, have kept our promise and will look after them when they
need it. The charter has to be a living document.
Senator Mitchell: Thank you, gentlemen. We certainly have heard this
point that you make and emphasize very appropriately that this is something, but
not enough. Much more work needs to be done. Do you have a list, study or
document that lists what it is? Suppose you were the prime minister for 15
minutes and you wrote this piece of legislation. What would you have put into
it, and what do you think is fair?
Mr. White: You could look at the recommendations already made by the
New Veterans Charter Advisory Group. That group is comprised of not only the
legion but also leading people in rehabilitation, academia and other veterans
groups. Those 17 recommendations incorporated into that advisory group report
form the basis for changes to start. Bill C-55 starts to address some of those
changes. It does not address them all. We need to look further into those
recommendations and continue as situations evolve. One cannot take an individual
and say that it is a cookie-cutter solution to his or her situation. One must be
flexible and adaptable and ensure there is proper legislation to deal with the
Senator Mitchell: Of the 17 recommendations in that document, how many
are embodied in this piece of legislation?
Pierre Allard, Service Bureau Director, Royal Canadian Legion: We were
looking at those 17 recommendations. Recommendations around rehabilitation, case
management and care of families are already implemented. The earnings loss
benefits improvements and unintended consequences of the permanent impairment
allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance have been corrected. There
are still things that need to be done. However, it is important to make progress
at this time, and Bill C-55 is a step in the right direction.
Senator Mitchell: I mentioned earlier to the minister that if a public
servant in Ottawa were to lose a leg on the job, that person would get $350,000
in compensation. A military person who loses a leg or two in Afghanistan will
get no more than $270,000. You alluded to the fact that in Australia they get
more. In addition, workers here in Canada who go to court get more. What does
Australia provide? What do workers generally get? Also, do military people have
the option of going to court to get a settlement in addition? Or is it part of
the deal that they get this money and cannot sue for more?
Mr. Allard: Both Australia and the civilian courts are probably in the
range of $320,000 right now. A military person cannot go to court to seek
resolution of his grievance. Having said that, the minister's staff indicated
that one cannot look at the disability award in isolation to see how people are
being compensated. In addition to the disability award, there is a SISIP
accidental dismemberment insurance that provides $250,000. The disability awards
under the New Veterans Charter provide $285,000. It is a bit unfair to make that
comparison between what is provided to serving military.
Senator Mitchell: Has anyone listed that comparison? You are
contradicting yourself, are you not?
Mr. White: It is not contradictory at all. The disability award is out
there now. It is about $275,000 for the pain, loss and suffering. I lose my
legs; I get a certain amount. That does not stop me from getting the rest of the
benefits that Mr. Allard has spoken about, which are complementary to that loss.
Others get that as well.
The Australian model, I think, is $325,000. Court averages are between
$320,000 and $330,000, everything else being equal.
Mr. Allard: They do not have SISIP accidental dismemberment.
Senator Mitchell: What is your point, then?
Mr. Allard: Our point is that eventually the disability award should
Senator Plett: In Australia, is it not true that the older you are,
the less money you receive?
Mr. Allard: You are correct.
Senator Lang: I seek clarification on the general discussion here. It
is obvious that we have to compare apples with apples. If you compare apples to
oranges, you can make a case on either side sound bad. However, it sounds like
we have gone a long way to meeting the concerns.
With regard to its being a living document, could the changes that could
happen over the course of time be made mostly through the regulatory process as
opposed to having to come back to amend the New Veterans Charter?
Mr. White: I am not wise on the methodology for implementing the
changes. If there are changes — these are the promises that have been made to
people — we should look at these changes, research them and understand exactly
what they are, how they will affect the individual and how they will affect the
compensation. If it requires legislative change to get that done, then that
should happen. If it is just something regulatory that you can do with the
earnings loss benefit at this stage, it is even simpler. If the department has
the power to make the changes within the department, that is fine.
Senator Banks: Many of these things can be done by regulation.
However, some require legislative changes, and among those are changes to
sections 19(1) and 23(1) of the original charter. Everyone is glad to see
evidence that it is a living charter. This is the first time that it shows up to
be the case. With regard to those two sections, the New Veterans Charter
Advisory Group and the special needs advisory group both recommended that the
amount should be moved from 75 per cent to 100 per cent.
Mr. Allard: That is correct.
Senator Banks: What is your comment on the fact that it was not?
Mr. White: We would like to see it go to 100 per cent. We think it is
fair and equitable. It will assist in compensating the individual as he goes
Senator Banks: When the special needs advisory group and the New
Veterans Charter Advisory Group make recommendations, are you satisfied that
attention is paid to them? I picked out one single example where it was not, but
are there examples where they are given effect?
Mr. Allard: We are happy that there is a systemic approach to making
corrections where corrections are needed. It is true that veterans deserve the
best that they can get because they have sacrificed their lives for their
country and put their physical and mental health at risk. At the end of day,
progress is made in steps, and we are happy that progress is made in steps. We
are happy also that an amendment has been proposed in the current bill that
would invite renewal on a regular basis of the New Veterans Charter so at least
it would be looked at every two years. That is an important element to have in
place that will at least not necessitate sitting for another five years before
we see further improvements. There is a two-year window.
Senator Pépin: Among veterans, there are women.
Mr. Allard: Yes.
Senator Pépin: I am wondering whether they have different needs,
special needs, or whether everything is equal and they get the same services and
the same amounts as their male counterparts.
Mr. Allard: I think that we have already discussed the matter before
the subcommittee and that you even met with female veterans. Clearly, their
needs may be different. At the end of a day, the benefits are the same. As to
whether there is need for refining, I believe so. But in terms of benefits, they
are the same.
Mr. White: I would add that there should be additional study about
what the needs are, because the needs are different.
Mr. Allard: They are more complex.
Senator Pépin: I agree. I am looking at your publication, which is
quite nice, but there are never any woman pictured on it, always men. I like
them. It was a comment. But I would like to see some women from time to time.
Mr. White: We can correct that next time.
The Chair: She always makes a good point.
Gentlemen, thank you very much. We look forward to speaking with you as we
continue to take your advice and that of others. This is only just the beginning
of the changes that are needed and desired and deserved. We will get back to
that issue as soon as we possibly can. Thank you again for your patience.
We will now ask Brigadier-General (Retired) Joseph Sharpe to join us. Our
apologies to you as well because we have been changing everybody's schedule. Joe
Sharpe joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1965 under the regular officer
training plan. He completed his military career as a brigadier-general, serving
on the air staff as the director general responsible for air force development.
He served as a special adviser to the CF/DND Ombudsman on Operational Stress
Injuries, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, and he currently serves
as a board member of the Canadian Defence Association Institute.
You have heard my comment to the others. We will ask you for your brief
comments on Bill C-55, the bill in front of us tonight, and then we will have
some questions. Thank you.
Brigadier-General (Retired) Joseph Sharpe, as an individual: Thank you
for the invitation. I will condense the points I was going to make to a couple
of minimum ones.
I will touch briefly on the background. My interest in veterans started as
the chair of the Croatia Board of Inquiry in 1999, a year or two before I took
off my uniform. At that point, frankly, I was disgusted to discover how we were
treating our veterans, and that became a lasting interest I have had in the
years since I have taken off my uniform. I have an encompassing or ongoing
interest in veterans affairs and how we deal with this. I have maintained
contact with many veterans, and I am here today talking just as an old guy who
talks to many veterans. I have served six years since retirement as an honourary
colonel with the Air Force, and I am currently the Colonel Commandant for the
military police, so I do maintain contact with many serving members on a regular
I should also acknowledge that I chaired the financial gaps subcommittee of
the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group. That is my ongoing interest in this
activity, and what I bring in terms of Bill C-55 is that transition from the New
Veterans Charter Advisory Group recommendations to Bill C-55. It is with that
background that I will make a few comments on what I had hoped to see in Bill
In short, looking at the financial gaps, which is my focus, or my background,
I had hoped to see two key issues dealt with in Bill C-55. To a certain extent,
they have been touched on, so I am not black or white here on this one because
there is a little bit of give and take.
The first thing we wanted to see was an end to a disability insurance
approach to dealing with our veterans. I feel personally that that disrespects
the sacrifice and the service that our members make.
We also wanted to see, and this is a bit of an esoteric point, a better
approach to communication. Many of our veterans believe that the New Veterans
Charter and Bill C-55 will not work well for them, but they do not understand
it. We are doing a lousy job, to use a technical term, of communicating what is
in these various pieces of legislation. Frankly, most soldiers cannot understand
three quarters of what they see on the Veterans Affairs website that tries to
explain this stuff to them. There is a problem there. We need to learn to
communicate. With Bill C-55, I have not seen better communication than I have
seen in the past. That is another major point.
There are two outcomes I would have been looking for in the objective of Bill
C-55 and other changes that will follow. The goal, in my opinion, and this is, I
guess, an opinion a bit tempered by talking with people, must be to ensure that
veterans who are permanently disabled receive 100 per cent income replacement at
a level consistent with a normal military career. I do not understand why we do
not accept that as basically a context within which to discuss the rest of these
issues. That can be easily and simply done.
Second, I believe the changes that are made to the New Veterans Charter ought
to reflect an entitlement approach to economic benefits that acknowledges both
the economic and the non-economic losses that a veteran suffers when his or her
career is ended by an injury, either physical or psychological. I believe we
must learn to treat our veterans and their families with respect and leave their
dignity intact. That is what I mean by an entitlement basis and rather than, "I
am injured, and here is what I want you to do for me.''
Bill C-55 has been described as a first step, and I recognize that. I
certainly recognize that these changes must be made incrementally. We will not
fix everything in one shot.
My personal opinion is that Bill C-55 misses the mark in that it does not yet
ensure that members who are permanently disabled receive 100 per cent income
replacement. I think that should be the first step. We are talking about 100 per
cent at a level consistent with a normal military career, not one that is fixed
at a point when the injury occurred.
It is certainly coming a lot closer and is making some very positive changes,
at least for some of our members. I am not sure how many, but at least some of
them are benefiting. However, I believe it needs to remain focused on reaching
that ultimate goal of achieving 100 per cent. There are many troubling economic
aspects still remaining with this legislation.
With respect to the non-economic losses, the options outlined in Bill C-55
for payment of the disability award are a very good start. However, the amount
remains far below the equivalent civilian settlement, and that must be dealt
with. The $500 sum is insufficient in terms of financial counselling, and a lot
of the young guys I have talked to certainly needed financial counselling and
did not get it. I am not sure whether more money there would have helped, since
there are other issues.
Bill C-55 does continue to move the yardsticks forward, and that is a
positive note. Veterans Affairs Canada should be congratulated on that. However,
five years after the introduction of the New Veterans Charter, I am not sure
they are moving either far enough or fast enough.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your very succinct comments.
Senator Banks: I have two questions. First, thank you for being here,
and I will echo the chair's sentiments.
I am sure you know that all senators are in favour of this step. We will vote
for it and it will pass, in short order. You talked about the insurance
mentality. You did not use that word but I will. We asked that question earlier,
and Mr. Hillier, who is still in the room, said it is not so. Some of us have
been to Charlottetown and met with the people who do these things, and though we
have never actually applied for these things and gone through the whole route,
those people seemed really and truly dedicated to doing the best they could for
veterans. I would like to you to expand on that a bit because Mr. Hillier told
us earlier today that is not the case.
Second, I have a problem with the idea of how it would work. I do not mean I
disagree with it, but I do not understanding how it would work. You said you
want to get to the point where there is 100 per cent replacement of income based
on a normal military career. I do not know what a normal military career is or
how you would actuarially determine that.
It is not normal that someone who joins as cadet, and who perhaps gets to be
a corporal, eventually becomes a brigadier-general. I do not know what normal
is. I know what you mean in that you cannot lock in someone who injured as a
sergeant to a sergeant's salary, but they will not all become colonels or
brigadier-generals, or even majors. How would you determine what is normal?
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: I have often been called not normal in the past but
I will take that in a positive sense.
The Chair: We are on the record here, I want you to know.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: I will touch on your second point first.
Regarding what makes a normal military career, I had a couple of chats about
this issue with Lieutenant-General Semianiw when he was the Chief of Military
Personnel. Quite frankly, it is easy to predict what a normal career is. The
average soldier who joins as a private will not become a Canadian Forces chief
warrant officer but will probably become a master warrant officer over the
course of 25 to 30 years. The average officer, joining as an officer cadet, will
probably retire as a major or a lieutenant-colonel. Depending on trade,
education and other factors, we can come up with a relatively accurate model of
what an average career would be.
My concern with basing it on the rank at the time of injury is that, if that
injury had not interfered with a normal military career, the average individual
would have seen an increase in baseline salary over the years, retiring at this
other level. There should be something to reflect that model in the economic
awards that we are talking about — not the non-economic awards. That is not hard
to do. A model can be developed.
Senator Banks: There are 40-year sergeants.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: Yes, certainly. In talking with personnel people,
we would be looking at averages and averaging out the 30-year captain with the
20-year brigadier-general, over a group of people.
Senator Banks: And warrant officers.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: Since I have become a part of the military police
officer organization, we know someone may not have the same opportunities for
rank progression that a fighter pilot would. Most pilots are promoted well
beyond their level of expertise. I am a navigator, by the way, and Mr. Allard
was a pilot, so there is a little bit of that in here. We can do that.
On the first question of the insurance mentality, that is not something I
would attribute to the people in Veterans Affairs Canada. I have physically
worked closely with the people inside Veterans Affairs for the last 10 years.
There are some very dedicated people in there. It is not the people but the
regulations and the rules.
I now chair what was the Mental Health Advisory Committee. We had a meeting
here about eight or ten months ago. A senior VAC person almost broke down at
that meeting, explaining why they could not do the right thing in one particular
circumstance because the rules would not let them.
Therefore, when I talk about an insurance-based mentality, it is a
bureaucratic mentality, not a people mentality. We are not talking about bad
people but rather about rules that have not been thought through in the sense of
how they impact people in many cases.
Senator Banks: There have to be rules, though.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: Absolutely.
Senator Banks: So your point is that they should be more flexible,
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: They should be devolving more authority down to
individuals in the system, and we would have a much better process.
Senator Mitchell: I wanted to follow up on that last comment. I was
about to make or emphasize that point. It is clear when we met people who work
there that they care deeply, but it is still happening. Therefore, what is the
reason? You are saying it is the rules. That makes sense.
However, what process do you think we could recommend for changing those
rules? Have you thought about that, or are you aware of it? Would it be a task
force or people like you who are brought in?
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: I hate to toot our own horn, but the New Veterans
Charter Advisory Group did some good work, and we did good work because we had
good people, including Veterans Affairs Canada staff who were assigned to our
subcommittees. In that 60- or 70-page document, there are some very good ideas
on how to do that. I would hesitate to introduce those at this stage.
The Chair: We have studied those in the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: It is a good piece of work.
Senator Mitchell: Let us get back to the point that you emphasized as
your priority, which is the 100 per cent base instead of 75 per cent. I would
like to understand what that might mean.
If an officer or another rank was earning $80,000 a year, under your proposal
he would be eligible for the lesser of 100 per cent or $40,000. What currently
occurs is that he gets the lesser of 75 per cent or $40,000. In that case, he
would get $60,000 a year for the rest of his life instead of $80,000 a year.
If he was not injured and stayed in the forces for another 20 years and never
received a single raise, he would have earned $400,000 more than he could now
earn because he is injured. In addition to that, he might have been promoted to
a rank that paid $120,000 over 20 years, so the average would be $100,000 over
those 20 years, which is another $20,000 that becomes $400,000. Therefore, under
your proposal, someone who is injured and who can therefore never progress in
any career would be out $800,000.
That is what we are talking about. That is a huge impact on someone's life —
someone who sacrificed a whole bunch of what he was physically and otherwise to
all of us Canadians.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: I will comment on that briefly.
The philosophy is that, if you are a young solder off doing your job, you and
your family have a quality of life and a certain expectation of maintaining that
quality of life. I am troubled that we have a system that assumes you should
only maintain 75 per cent of that quality of life. That is right at the
I can be corrected on this, but I believe the 75 per cent was originally an
idea that was based on this being a tax-free type of pension or benefit. If it
was taxed, then, it should be 100 per cent. If not, then it ought to be 75 per
cent. We have to go back and have a think about that as the changes come forward
in the future.
Why would we automatically assume 75 per cent is good enough for someone who
is totally, permanently disabled? I have, on a personal level, dealt with a
number of families for whom a drop to 75 per cent was very serious for the
family's quality of life.
Senator Mitchell: Yes.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: That is what motivates me on this one. I have not
done any of the sums, I must admit. I have done some visits and looked at some.
A family in Winnipeg, for example, lost their house as a result of that.
Senator Mitchell: A drop of 25 per cent would be catastrophic for most
people and even those not under the pressures of grievous injury and
psychological and physical problems.
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: To me that is fundamental. That is why I am not
disappointed to see us moving forward. Bill C- 55 is great: We are seeing
momentum; the point has been made that it is a living charter; and we need to
see this process happening. However, I am disappointed we did not grapple with
that issue right at the beginning.
Senator Mitchell: The flip side is that a soldier who has been
receiving this program to this point, let us say for the last five years, and
who is at three quarters, if he was earning $40,000 when his injury occurred, is
now getting $30,000. He has lost $10,000 a year over what he would have received
had this $40,000 base been in five years ago. That is $50,000. Would you make a
case for this being retroactive?
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: I am not technically qualified to say that, but
conceptually yes, absolutely. We have a problem of unintended consequences of
changes. I do not want to go too far down that road, but if we do not think
through the consequences of the changes, sometimes we have some serious
unintended ones, and we end up with a whole bunch of guys marching on Parliament
Hill because they see some inequity in the system. We need to think some of
these things through. I am not qualified to actually to say.
Senator Mitchell: Is it worth pursuing?
Brig.-Gen. Sharpe: It is worth pursuing.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your comments and your
thoughts, and we will hear from you again in the future because I think everyone
agrees with the advice we have heard here again today, and that it is a start
and a good one, but it is just a start.
Is it agreed, honourable senators, that the committee proceed to
clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-55?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: We have officials in the room who have agreed to stay in
case anything comes up that we do not understand.
Shall the title stand postponed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, stand
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 3 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 4 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 5 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 6 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 7 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 8 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 9?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 10?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 11 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 12?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 13?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 14 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 15?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 16?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 17 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 18 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 19?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 20?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 20.1?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Clause 21?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay. Shall the title carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Wonderful; thank you very much.
Senator Nolin: Do you want to report back?
The Chair: Yes. Is it agreed that I will report this bill as soon as
possible to the Senate?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: If they are still sitting, I will be running over there in
just a moment, but we do not know whether they are. Can we have officials look
at that? Thank you.
I truly appreciate this. I know that this is a complicated matter, and I
really do thank you for moving with this as quickly as you did. I thank you for
staying. We have brought you here and kept you here, and now we do not need you.
We want you; we just do not need you.
Does everyone agree that we can go in camera for a moment to deal with the
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(The committee continued in camera.)
(The committee continued in public.)
The Chair: We will return now to the public portion of our hearing. We
have a motion from Senator Lang, please.
Senator Lang: I would move a motion in respect to the forthcoming
budget for 2012. I move that the following budget application for national
security and defence policies of Canada for the fiscal year ending March 31,
2012, be approved for submission to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy,
Budgets and Administration, following a final administrative review that will be
overseen by the steering committee for a total of $545,406.
The Chair: All in favour? Question?
Senator Banks: Are you sure you want the line about final arbitration
by the steering committee?
The Chair: We have replaced that.
Senator Banks: You can leave that little bit out.
The Chair: What will happen to cover is if they have said go and take
some out of it, and if we need to do that quickly, so it is kind of a second
stage. Is that wording still fine?
All in favour then?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That is agreed, and we will send it
Again, thank you all very much for dealing with this so expeditiously. We
will now see if the rest of our colleagues in the Senate will.
(The committee adjourned.)