Proceedings of the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs

Issue 2 - Evidence - October 26, 2011


OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met this day at 12:05 p.m. to study the services and benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces; to veterans; to members and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their families.

Senator Roméo Antonius Dallaire (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today's meeting is the first of a series on the Corps of Commissionaires and its role, responsibilities and impact on a topic we have previously discussed but will continue to study, and that is the transition of veterans out of the military and into civilian life. The Corps of Commissionaires is a particularly important entity in that regard.

I would therefore draw members' attention to the fact that we have received a summary dated October 13 from the Senate and, today, a series of questions prepared by Martin, who is doing such a good job for us.

Today, we are essentially hearing from the staff of the Corps of Commissionaires.

[English]

It is old home week for me. I am happy that you brought your team with you, Colonel Sutherland. I see that you have a statement. You might want to paraphrase it. We do finish early and want all senators to be able to participate in questioning, which is where we get into the subject matter.

Will you please introduce your team and then go to your statement? You have such a team, and part of your headquarters of the Commissionaires is a bit ambiguous in its role.

Colonel (Ret'd) W.G.S. Bill Sutherland, Chairman, National Board of Directors, Commissionaires: Honourable senators, ladies and gentlemen it is a pleasure to be able to be here to speak with you this afternoon. Let me introduce Captain (Retired) Paul Guindon, who is the chief executive officer for the Ottawa division of the Commissionaires. He is here primarily in his capacity as chair of our national business management committee. The national business management committee is the collective of 17 chief executive officers.

Let me also introduce Colonel (Retired) J. Douglas Briscoe, who is the executive director of our national office here in Ottawa. It provides our foot-on-the ground and linkage with other organizations.

I am the chair of the national board. I am a volunteer. We are organized in 17 divisions across the country, and the national board consists of the chairs of the divisions. All of the chairs that comprise the national board are volunteers.

The vast majority of us are veterans in our own right. A case in point is Lieutenant-General (Retired) Jim Gervais, who is also a volunteer. He is here in two capacities. One is as the chair of the board of governors for the Ottawa division, and second is as the chair of a newly formed committee of the board called the government relations committee.

We also have Colonel (Retired) Mark Rouleau, who is the Director of Communications and Public Affairs. He has newly come to the national office within the last year. We have Scott Proudfoot from Hillwatch, who is providing us with advice and consultancy and services, with respect to how we can better interface with government. Government is an important client for us.

That comprises our team.

In my preliminary comments this afternoon, I will not read the opening statement. You have that in front of you. You can relate back to it at your leisure. However, there are several things I would like to highlight.

First, as Commissionaires, the combination of volunteers as well as full-time professionals, we have been around since 1925. We were initially organized and incorporated with the purpose of trying to help veterans who were struggling through the 1920s find employment after the demobilization and the economic problems that occurred in the 1920s. That mandate has not changed markedly over time. Our social mandate that governs everything we do right now as a not-for-profit is to assist veterans of the military and the RCMP in finding meaningful and challenging employment. That employment does not have to be a replacement for other employment that they may find at various points in their life. We cover quite a spectrum of opportunity and we want to cover quite a spectrum of opportunity for them — everything from being an employer of transition for them as they transition out of the military or the RCMP into civilian life or as an employer for them later in life, as they come back into the workforce, for whatever reason, for whatever circumstance they may have in their life.

There are a couple of messages that I think are important to put on the table right at the start before we get into questions. One of them is that we acknowledge that we have not been particularly good in blowing our own horn. The fact that Scott Proudfoot and Mark Rouleau are here today are good indicators that we recognize that and we want to do something about it. Why do we want to do something about it?

Clearly, we provide for the Canadian taxpayer a valuable cost-effective option for delivering security services to government, and at the same time we provide a cost-effective and valuable service to veterans. It certainly is a win-win situation. We, at no cost to government, look after veterans by providing meaningful employment, which means that those veterans do not fall through the cracks or need to be looked after in other ways.

About 70 per cent of veterans leaving the Canadian Forces do so without a pension. That statistic is quite shocking. If you were to poll Canadians, most Canadians would think that veterans leaving the service of the country do so with some kind of pension, but fully 70 per cent of veterans do not. It is that 70 per cent that is our primary target audience as a not-for-profit. I emphasize the point that we are a not-for-profit. Our bottom line is not profit. Our bottom line is people. That sets us apart from other security services, private sector security services that you might see at airports and various other places across the country. We have no shareholder other than the veterans that we serve. Our focus is clearly on people, as you can tell from our social mandate. Any profit that we do make, the fact that we need to be successful businesses in order to serve veterans, is all for the sole purpose of turning whatever we can back to veterans and commissionaires across the country to provide them with a better life through employment and the benefits that they get from employment.

It has not been an easy thing for us over the years. As I said, in 1925 we were established, and the country, demographics and expectations have changed. That is still the case today. It is a constantly evolving, constantly changing demographic, as you know. The modern veteran, the veteran coming out of service in Afghanistan and other places around the world, has markedly different expectations, skill sets and needs than the veterans that we would call more traditional veterans coming out of the Second World War. The degree of technical expertise, the degree of expectation as Gen Xs and Gen Ys and all of the things brought to the table by that are very different. We as an organization, wherever we might be across the country, have to adapt and change to meet the changing need of that demographic. That is what we are about as well, to try to do that.

As I bring these opening remarks to a conclusion, I will read what we have put in front of you. There are three things that we would ask your support with.

First, we need the Government of Canada to better understand the role that Commissionaires has played and continues to play in supporting Canada's veterans through the provision of gainful employment. We are proud that we have been there for hundreds of thousands of veterans for 86 years and counting. We feel that we are a Canadian institution driven by a noble cause. We would like our government to have a stronger awareness of the pivotal impact of our mission.

Having said that, I also recognize that it is partially our responsibility to get our message out. It is difficult for us as a not-for-profit because 95 per cent of what we bring in, we return to veterans and commissionaires. We want to keep that overhead low, but to get our message out we have to tap into what would normally go to veterans. It is a conundrum that we constantly wrestle with and it is not unlike the conundrum that we constantly wrestle with because of the unique organization that we are.

Second is the maintenance of the right of first refusal, which was put into place by government in 1945 after the Second World War to provide access to veterans to government guarding services and the security services that are provided by them. It is part of the relationship that we have had with government since 1945 through the right of first refusal, the RFR. The maintenance of the RFR is critical to helping veterans. It is the one tangible way in which the Government of Canada supports Commissionaires in serving Canada's veterans. We would like the government's support when the RFR comes up for renewal in 2016.

Renewing this commitment also means updating it. We must ensure that the opportunities that we generate for the veterans of today and tomorrow are tailored to their shifting demographics. That likely means adjusting the RFR and the provision of services policy to reflect the skills, capabilities and aspirations of modern veterans, as well as the areas in which they live.

What does that mean? As I said a bit earlier, modern veterans are coming out with different skills, different expectations, different aspirations and technical abilities that, perhaps, did not exist. At the same time, the security industry has changed markedly. It is becoming a far more technical industry. The traditional guarding services that were originally written into the RFR in 1945 have remained largely unchanged since 1945. When we come to renew the RFR in 2016, we need to be able to update it.

Third, and finally, we would like the government to serve as more of an enabler in assigning us or assisting us in reaching out to Canadian Forces and RCMP veterans to let them know that we have challenging opportunities we can offer them now or in the future. We would like better access to bases to talk to CF members before they retire. In terms of the department's career transition program, we would like improved access to veterans to ensure that they understand that we are a compelling option for them. We do not have that access now, for various reasons, but it would seem to make sense that, since we have no agenda other than serving veterans, we ought to be an option that is available to them. We are a not-for-profit; we are not a profit-driven organization. We turn 95 per cent of what we make back to veterans, 70 per cent of whom do not have pensions and require that assistance; and we are primarily focused on employment so that we can provide that kind of meaningful lifestyle and dignity to veterans coming out of the forces. We provide good value and valuable service.

The Chair: I have a small sideline question and then I will hand it over to Senator Plett. I notice you are all properly dressed with your ties, badges, uniforms and yellow ribbons on. Do the commissionaires buy the uniforms that they wear or are they provided?

Captain(N) (Ret'd) Paul A. Guindon, Chairman, National Business Management Committee, Commissionaires: That is provided.

The Chair: And the cleaning thereof?

Capt. Guindon: No, not the cleaning, but uniforms are provided as well as many other aspects on the business side that I can talk about later on — training, et cetera.

Col. Sutherland: We try to make sure that our commissionaires are representative of the organization. The uniform is an important part of that, recognizing that across the country there are various provinces that have put legislation into place within the last couple of years that calls for very specific uniform and badge requirements for non-police security services. Part of the work of the national business management committee, the collective 17 chief executive officers together, is to sort through that kind of legislative mess.

The Chair: Or imposition — we will get to that later.

Senator Plett: Let me start by making a suggestion. As politicians, we are all used to blowing our horn. I think you should take a chapter out of our life and start doing the same with your services. You need to ensure that we, as government, know exactly what you do. I know you are proud of the services you perform and you need to ensure that is presented out there. I encourage you to do that and congratulate you for the excellent services that you do provide.

I have a few questions around the services. First, you said the veterans of today are much different than the veterans of yesteryear. They certainly are. We have noticed that ourselves as we have travelled and had meetings with the veterans that sat around the table in Edmonton at the base. About 20 Canadian Forces personnel were there and they were all kids 22 to 25 years old. I was expecting to see some people my age around the table but there was none. Certainly the challenges are different.

Can you tell me the average age of the people that you would be trying to get employment for, their education level and how many of them need your help because they are injured as opposed to lacking education or whatever it is? How many people would you get employment for? What would be the ratio there?

Col. Sutherland: I will start off with broad strokes and then hand it over to Colonel Briscoe for specifics.

Typically, the vast majority of veterans these days are 20, 30 or 40 years old. Interestingly, earlier this year I had the occasion to present a commissionaires' medal of bravery down in Windsor to a young commissionaire who is 19. It was for two separate acts of bravery while he was wearing the commissionaires' uniform in service of the client that he was serving. Our age demographic stretches from late teens to mid-eighties because as a not-for-profit focused on people, we are trying to help as many people as we can.

The education level of the new veteran coming out of service is very high in comparison to what it might have been in my generation, if I can use that term, although I do not want to feel that old. Certainly that presents part of the challenge for us.

Our social mandate is to provide meaningful employment. One of the challenges we have is trying to figure out what ``meaningful'' means to that broad range of demographic and to try to tailor meaningful employment to the needs of the veterans that are coming to us. Perhaps I can hand it over to Colonel Briscoe to provide more specifics.

Colonel (Ret'd) J. Douglas Briscoe, Executive Director, Commissionaires: The median age of a commissionaire is 52 and it is lowering each year. We have a greater intake of members coming to us in their thirties and forties. Why they are coming to us in their thirties and forties is because the average age of a retiree in the Canadian Forces is 39, and it is getting younger.

That brings on the other question: Why are they leaving at 39? Principally, we believe it is because of the operational tempo. Deployments are back to back without sufficient recovery time in between and there are family pressures, so they are coming to us younger.

Over the past five years, the attrition rate for the Canadian Forces has averaged around 6,000. Last year, it was at 4,700. Over that same period, we have been able to recruit up to 1,200, which is about 20 per cent of that attrition rate. They may not all be from that year because we do get some folks coming back to us who are in their third career.

When they retired at age 37 or 38, they still needed sufficient income to get their kids through school, et cetera. Once that was settled, they were looking for other work or they may have missed the environment that they had in the military, which we do offer as well. We see a number of people coming to us around the age of 50, which is quite an interesting phenomenon — that they still have that interest. I do not know if that answered all your questions.

Senator Plett: What is the average education level?

Col. Briscoe: I cannot give specifics on that. What we do know is they have higher academic standing in leaving school before joining the forces. Many of them joined a bit later so they may have completed more education.

It is not just pure academics where the education is; it is also the equipment that they are using in the forces. For example, we now have servicemen deployed with GPS in their helmets and they are taking orders off a hardened BlackBerry. Their skill sets in terms of IT are much greater and probably more marketable.

Senator Plett: Colonel Sutherland, I think you said that your present agreement was written in 1945. Did I understand that correctly?

Colonel Sutherland: The original right of first refusal was first put into place in 1945, but it has been renewed about every five years since then. The evolution is always delayed and is not tracking up-to-date realities, but it is renewed on a five-year basis.

Senator Plett: It is open for renewal again in 2016, is that right?

Col. Sutherland: Correct.

Senator Plett: Your right of refusal initially was subject to your using veterans. Is that correct?

Col. Sutherland: Correct.

Senator Plett: Is that still the case? Can you use people that are not veterans if you run short?

We have a great group of people here that guard the security on the Hill and so on. From what I have heard, you are struggling sometimes to get the amount of personnel you need. I see you do a lot of private and public business, which is great.

Col. Sutherland: Yes.

Senator Plett: Obviously that same thing would not apply there.

Can you tell me what percentage of the people you employ are veterans? Can you also tell me what you would like to see in 2016 to better the contract that you have now?

Col. Sutherland: Sure. Again, I will skim the higher level surface and hand it over to Captain Guindon or to Colonel Briscoe to talk a bit more about the numbers.

We do employ both veterans and non-veterans because one of the things that we have found over time is that the security business, which is what our focus is, is a highly competitive business. Across the country, we have to be competitive in the local marketplaces in which we have divisions. We have to be competitive so that we can provide employment to veterans, but in order to be competitive we also have to be able to employ non-veterans. I would think that we are probably at the stage where about 60 per cent of our business is actually non-government business.

That also reflects some of the changes that have occurred over time. For example, we closed a large army base in Calgary. That did not mean that all of the veterans who loved the Calgary area were going to move to Edmonton. There is still a very large veteran population in Calgary, but there is very little government work under the RFR for veterans in the Calgary area.

In order to serve veterans, they have to become competitive in the commercial marketplace. They have to employ non-veterans as well, to provide them with the range and capabilities that are required to be competitive. It is one of those interesting things.

I will hand it over to Captain Guindon to talk in more detail.

Capt. Guindon: We are approximately 20,000, of which 16,500 or so are full-time and the remainder are part-time, mostly working with the RCMP on a very specific program called Guards and Matrons, in small communities in the North. Out of the permanent workforce, almost 50 per cent are veterans across the country.

We are in 1,200 communities, roughly, across the country, so our footprint is quite large. As Colonel Sutherland said, about 60 per cent of our contracts are external, non-federal government contracts. It includes businesses, provincial government, municipal government and private as well.

One of the issues that we have had to deal with on the business side is having to employ non-veterans in order to secure work for our veterans. In many cases, the numbers of veterans may not be large enough for us to acquire or to bid on a non-federal government contract, but they still need to be employed. That decision was made a few decades ago, and we had to start hiring non-veterans in order to employ veterans.

As well, government demands over the last 12 or 15 years have increased. The federal government demands private security, and at times the uniqueness of the demand, having to provide bilingual guards to some departments, has also required us to hire non-veterans in order to fulfill the demand of the National Master Standing Offer we have under the right of first refusal.

As well, what we have done in the last seven years or so is create other private security business lines than just the traditional guard service that we had been providing in order to cater to the newer veterans, the better-skilled veteran of today.

As an example, some of our divisions now do investigation, threat risk assessment, background checks, identification services, digital fingerprint with the RCMP, providing training, mostly for private security training for our own people, but we have also started to market this.

When we talk about the need to reconsider the RFR going forward in the provision of services, it is with those additional and new services in mind that we can provide more meaningful employment to new veterans. It has become — not in all cases, of course — that the highly skilled veteran does not necessarily want to guard a door. He would like a higher-end type of private security job than we were providing in the past. We had to evolve rapidly in recent years to keep the veteran population that we have, and in order to attract newer veterans.

In terms of keeping them, we have been successful. You will find that the veterans with us, in most cases it is much more than just in passing, in transition. A large number of our veterans will stay with us for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years plus. Whether this trend will continue or stay the same 15 years from now is difficult to say. It also depends on the economy. Certainly, for the last 30 years or so, our veterans population has been stable with us.

[Translation]

Senator Nolin: Thanks to the three of you for accepting our invitation. I have some questions on the right of first refusal, but, first, to make this very clear, I would like to know whether you have a functional relationship with Veterans Affairs Canada or whether it is a friendly relationship or whether you have, let us say, a business relationship.

Capt. Guindon: It is more a professional and friendly relationship because we are in business. What we give veterans is employment, work.

Senator Nolin: So you are both in the post-service field?

Capt. Guindon: Yes.

Senator Nolin: In your own way?

Capt. Guindon: In our own way.

Senator Nolin: So you have to cooperate?

Capt. Guindon: Yes, we cooperate. Our population base is not veterans suffering from mental or physical injury; they are veterans who are physically and mentally able to work.

Senator Nolin: I would like to go back to your right of first refusal, which, as our chair said, dates back to 1945. The reason why the Government of Canada established this relationship is clear. I believe we have to explore this topic a little further.

You told us about the major principles. I believe you have some minor problems. The future may hold some problems. You currently have an obligation to maintain the number of veterans under federal contract at 60 per cent. I would like to know what the relationship is between the federal contracts that you execute and those executed by your competitors. Are you the main security services contractor?

Capt. Guindon: Yes.

Senator Nolin: To what percentage? Ninety per cent?

Capt. Guindon: That is what I would say, senator, roughly 90 per cent.

Senator Nolin: Why do you lose the ones you lose?

Capt. Guindon: At the national level, 60 per cent of the hours worked under the right of first refusal must be worked by veterans. That is not just contract by contract. It is the overall total for the national invitation to tender.

Senator Nolin: That is important. That means it is not every contract.

Capt. Guindon: Not at all.

Senator Nolin: And that is really national? It is not just Montreal and Ottawa? It is across the entire country?

Capt. Guindon: Across the country.

Senator Nolin: So that offsets the Calgary phenomenon we were talking about earlier?

Capt. Guindon: Yes and no, because there are a lot of veterans in regions where there is no work under federal contract. In Calgary, for example, only 3 per cent of turnover, of hours worked by the Calgary division — Calgary has about 1,600 commissionaires — the federal government service projection is only 3 per cent. We have that problem. The veterans do not necessarily live in places where there is work under the national contract. So that is a problem.

As I was saying earlier, we have to ensure that 60 per cent of the work is done by our veterans under this contract. So there is another vehicle that the government has used in the past four years, but it is a contract for which we have to respond to an invitation to tender in order to keep the share that we cannot do under the national contract.

Senator Nolin: You are losing me there. That means there are contracts for which you are alone? There is no competition?

Capt. Guindon: That is correct. I would say it is about 90 per cent of the total.

Senator Nolin: And why are you in competition for the remaining 10 per cent?

Capt. Guindon: Because we would be below our 60 per cent.

Senator Nolin: What would your turnover be if not 60 per cent? It has previously been 70 per cent.

Capt. Guindon: Yes.

Senator Nolin: It was lowered to 60 per cent for two regions.

Capt. Guindon: Yes.

Senator Nolin: That was extended across Canada at 60 per cent?

Capt. Guindon: Yes.

Senator Nolin: Should it be eliminated?

Capt. Guindon: In fact, senator, there was no figure before 2004.

Senator Nolin: There was no figure before 2004?

Capt. Guindon: The figure was put in response to pressure from our competitors.

Senator Nolin: Mr. Chair, it is very important that we have this information. So you would like to go back to what there was before 2004?

Capt. Guindon: Last year, we proposed a new approach. Ultimately, we were unsuccessful, but we wanted a new approach to examine all that. Instead of having a broader management report, we would have what is called an accountability framework, which would be substantially different. We did not win that round, but the game is not lost.

Senator Nolin: We are going to help you.

Capt. Guindon: But there was no figure before 2004.

Senator Nolin: And that worked well?

Capt. Guindon: We are definitely facing challenges for reasons that I gave you earlier.

[English]

Col. Sutherland: We want to be accountable, we need to be accountable, and the government should hold us accountable for the services we provide to them. However, the accountability framework needs to reflect the reality of the demographics of today's modern veteran, as well as the geographic realities of where those veterans are.

Our reach is national. With regard to the opportunity for government employment under the RFR, in Ottawa there is huge opportunity, but in Calgary there is very little opportunity, so it is very spotty across the country.

Senator Nolin: Captain Guindon referred to the fact that the competition in 2004 lobbied probably Treasury Board — let us say the government — to establish the threshold of 70 per cent. Before that, the service was properly rendered to the various departments and agencies of the government.

Col. Sutherland: Correct, and we were still accountable to Public Works and Government Services Canada on an annual basis.

Senator Nolin: What kind of an argument is the Treasury Board giving you not to go back to 2004? We are asking you questions to help you, because we will write something on this and we want to be able to do a pre-emptive strike.

Capt. Guindon: Honestly, we firmly believe that to go back to pre-2004, at the time that we approached the government over the last three years, it was not the question to ask; it was a non-starter, even though we asked for it to be eliminated, in a roundabout way, through a different accountability framework.

Our competitors have made arguments such as by the government giving us the right of first refusal.

[Translation]

That cost the government more money, but that is not the case because the provision of services under the right of first refusal and under the national contract is negotiated with Public Works and Government Services Canada every year. And as long as we remain a non-profit organization, there is no profit margin in our contract.

So we provide services at cost.

[English]

Capt. Guindon: There is a cost, but it is at cost.

[Translation]

And that also enables us to pay our commissionaires.

Senator Nolin: Adequately?

Capt. Guindon: It ranges from $1 to $2 an hour more than in the industry, in addition to all other benefits such as training, free training, uniforms provided and so on.

[English]

Col. Sutherland: With regard to the various departments that we serve in government, as well as Public Works and Government Services Canada, which really maintains oversight and holds us accountable, we recognize that government, too, changes, and it has to change in terms of accountability and various other things.

Our desire is to work with government to find how we can continue to have a win-win, where we win by continuing to serve veterans at cost to government, and government wins by having us be successful at delivering a valuable service to government at cost.

We are a fully self-financing organization. We are a not-for-profit. We do not solicit donations or do anything like that. We compete on a business, competitive footing, and that holds us accountable as well to ensure that we can be good at what we do.

It surprises me sometimes, although I suppose maybe it should not really surprise me; just as we have not been particularly good at blowing our own horn, it surprises me sometimes that government has not actually said to the Canadian public: Look, we have a commitment to veterans. We are trying to help veterans. Since 1945, we have had this right of first refusal, which, at no additional cost to government, except for the competitive cost, which is not driven by a profit margin, we are providing this contract through Commissionaires, and Commissionaires are providing the service.

The Chair: Your link with Veterans Canada is nowhere near what you have with DND, which is an MOU. You are simply one possibility in the program for the New Veterans Charter of finding employment for veterans, including the injured. With regard to the employment of spouses because the member is too injured, which is part of the charter, would spouses not count as part of the veteran numbers that you are authorized to use?

Capt. Guindon: They are not.

The Chair: Not as yet?

Col. Sutherland: No. People like me and Lieutenant-General Gervais, we are veterans. We are volunteers. We do not count either.

The Chair: We have created a disconnect in the policy of employment with the New Veterans Charter and Veterans Affairs Canada.

Senator Plett: You may have answered this, but in the exchange you had with my colleague in the other official language, I may not have picked up on it.

What is a fair percentage of veterans that you should have to have employed to keep the contract of right of first refusal?

Capt. Guindon: In terms of the hours worked, as I said, prior to 2004 there was no threshold. The RFR was more or less a carte blanche. There is a control mechanism through PWGSC that every year we have to negotiate with them, and they agree to a certain bidding rate based on their not-for-profit status. Therefore, there is no profit whatsoever made with the National Master Standing Offer.

Ideally, that is certainly where we would like to go back to, recognizing the fact that more and more government has to be accountable to taxpayers. We are certainly prepared, and we have made the proposition to government in the last few years, that we could work on a different accountability framework to ensure that government is getting fair value.

Col. Briscoe: It really has more to do with the hours that we work as opposed to the percentage of the complement of commissionaires. If there is an opportunity for us to employ 13 veterans, but the job requires 20 people, we would still want that contract because we would still be meeting our social mandate of employing veterans.

So the numbers almost obscure what the target is. The target here is that we will provide employment for any veteran who is looking for it. We are in the business of trying to find those jobs.

Col. Sutherland: That is a good point. We are struggling to find an appropriate relationship through the RFR because our social mandate calls upon us to provide meaningful employment no matter where veterans are and no matter what kind of job. It does not just mean federal government jobs. If we can find a veteran meaningful employment in the oilfields of Alberta, providing high-tech security services, we will do that. We are, in doing that, performing a valuable service to the taxpayer and to the government. We are also fulfilling our collective moral obligation to the veterans who have served our country. We are doing that on behalf of the Government of Canada, basically, as a not-for-profit.

It should matter little whether or not that veteran is employed in a government job. As Colonel Briscoe says, if we can access federal government opportunities and employ veterans for 40 per cent of that contract, the remaining value of that contract is supporting veterans wherever they might be.

Senator Day: Thank you, chair, and thank you gentlemen for being here. I apologize for being a bit late.

I have a personal interest that I have to declare in participating in this particular meeting. I am a member of the board of governors of the New Brunswick-P.E.I. division of the Corps of Commissionaires, and I have been for more than 12 years. I trust my colleagues will allow me to continue to participate in this meeting.

Can you tell me when the rules changed to allow non-military, non-RCMP civilians to be part of the group?

Col. Sutherland: Those were changed, I would say, in the early 1990s. They have kind of changed progressively. Part of that has been in response to all of the challenges and changes to Canadian society and to veteran realities that I was describing earlier. The rules have changed relatively recently, within the last 20 years.

Senator Day: Do you suspect that the pressure that Treasury Board was getting from competitors in the private sector might have been the result of the fact that there were now non-military personnel working within the Corps of Commissionaires? Was it that they started saying, ``There have to be some limits on this?''

Capt. Guindon: There might have been some of that. However, having had the opportunity to have had some exchanges at the time, I think that, in true business fashion, those competitors were looking at the dollar sign much more than the number. They could have used that argument, but, at the end of the day, they are after a fair chunk of work to the tune of about $250 million.

Col. Sutherland: There is no question in my mind — and I can say this as a volunteer, much as you are because you sit on the board — that our competitors, particularly the large multinationals that are headquartered offshore, are targeting us. We have lots of indications of that. It would make sense, from their perspective, to try to target our relationship with the federal government. That is a fair chunk of our business. They use direct competition in the bidding process — bidding on price and that kind of thing — but they also use the mechanism of access-to-information to try to get proprietary information from the government. We are a not-for-profit, accountable to government under the RFR for the portion of business we do with the federal government, and so they are trying to go through government departments to get proprietary information about how we conduct our business and make our business decisions.

We are constantly trying to ensure that the government departments we deal with, particularly PWGSC and others, understand the value that we bring to government and understand that we are not like a for-profit company. There is a different relationship there that is founded on this idea that, basically, we are trying to serve the same people.

Senator Day: This committee has heard evidence from the Department of National Defence, Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs. They have explained to us how they are working much better together to inform retiring, or prospectively retiring, Armed Forces personnel, before they retire, about what is available for them. This is so that they will be able to gain meaningful employment following their career. They are particularly helping those Armed Forces personnel who have to retire by reason of injury. We are assured that all avenues are being covered. Yet you point out, as one of the items where we could better help and where there is cause for concern, your lack of ability to meet the needs of those veterans. That was your third item, and that, frankly, surprised me when I read it.

You have obviously made efforts to try to penetrate that wall between the roles of Veterans Affairs and DND.

Col. Sutherland: We have had some success on a very localized basis, based on the relationship between people in various divisions and the local base, in having access to the SCAN seminars, to provide a five-minute briefing to potential retirees.

The Chair: Give us the definition of the SCAN.

Col. Briscoe: The Second Career Assistance Network provides an opportunity for exiting service personnel to determine what best work they could look for, and it also assists them with the job search.

Col. Sutherland: I will ask Captain Guindon to provide an example to give you an idea of what that means.

Capt. Guindon: We have been denied access to the SCAN seminar here in Ottawa. In other bases in the country, in Valcartier, for example, they will invite the Commissionaires division of Quebec to make their five-minute pitch. Here we cannot. It is sporadic. It is not the same across the country.

We approached people about this over the past six years. I personally approached leaders of those organizations and tried to get access. For valid reasons of their own, they have decided that we cannot do that.

We have the Return to Work Program and the Return to Work MOU with the chief military personnel, which is fairly recent, about a year old. We have approximately 30 members who, over the last 12 months, have come to us at various places in the country, in transition to civilian work. Just a couple have remained with us, and the others have transitioned. We believe there is a lot more that we can do. There are programs like TAP, the Transition Assistance Program, which we have not been very successful with. I am sure some of that is due to our own shortcomings. We believe that a lot more could be done.

Col. Sutherland: There is quite a natural reluctance on the part of the Department of National Defence to provide preferred access. They probably see us as being a sort of private sector organization. There are also privacy concerns about providing information about potential retirees.

In part, there needs to be a better understanding at DND and at Veterans Affairs Canada that we are not private sector. We are not-for-profit, and we are governed by veterans for veterans. That is our raison d'être. Our social mandate has not changed and is the thing that governs us entirely. We can provide a valuable service to veterans in that critical transition period. Whether they choose to pick up on the knowledge that we are there to help them with employment, we are not an employment agency. We are businesses that employ veterans. We are the largest single employer of veterans in the country. In fact, Ottawa division is the largest single employer of veterans in the Ottawa area.

Senator Day: Would the new MOU on the Return to Work Program that you have signed with National Defence not give you a new opportunity to deal with Veterans Affairs and National Defence?

Col. Briscoe: Yes; and it has done that. We have worked with both Veterans Affairs Canada and the National Defence Return to Work Program authorities. We have connected with them at each of the base levels, where the first contact is initiated. The program is not meant for everyone. In particular, it assists an injured soldier in his return to the workplace. The thinking of sociologists and psychologists has indicated that the sooner an individual gets back to work, the better his rehab might work. However, the program is not for everyone. The take-up has been slow. Over a year we have had 30 people come back to us. They spend a period of time with us when they feel comfortable and then decisions are made about their career. Do they go back to their units or will they eventually leave the forces? We feel encouraged by that program, but it is not a panacea for us drawing and having access to the broader base.

The relationship that exists between us and the Canadian Forces is almost at the base division level. At some bases and divisions it works quite well; in others it does not. What we mean is that we are looking for a consistency in that approach.

Senator Day: This is a broad question, but I will try to be brief. We have dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder in our studies here on many occasions. PTSD does not always manifest itself immediately upon retirement. What steps are you taking within and outside this program for hiring retired personnel to recognize PTSD and provide support? They would become members and employees of your organization, but this injury may only manifest itself down the road.

Col. Sutherland: Before I hand it over to Captain Guindon, in broad strokes, the fact is we employ veterans who are increasingly used to the idea of post-traumatic stress. I do not mean that in a cavalier way because it is of critical importance to the success of military units. The veterans we are bringing into our organization today and veterans that have been in the organization for a while are probably hypersensitive to it, even more so than would be the case of an isolated veteran or two working in a large public sector organization. A large portion of us come from the same background where post-traumatic stress has been and continues to be a significant issue. As an organization, we are probably more sensitive to it than others who employ veterans.

Capt. Guindon: Absolutely. What you said is quite true. For example, in Ottawa we hired some veterans who did not know about it and it came upon them after the hiring process. What mechanisms and supports do we provide? We are an organization of veterans, as Col. Sutherland said, so we understand the issue better. We have also changed with society as well. We are more aware. We will direct the person to the right medical authorities. In fact, I had a case with a young soldier who had returned from Bosnia. He is still with us after six years. Twice he had to go back to the medical authority. He is quite functional now, and the program is working well. There are laws that we have to recognize to ensure that we protect others. We do quite well.

Senator Day: I am glad to hear that.

Senator Manning: Thank you for your presence here today. You have given us some great information. Many of my concerns and questions have been addressed by my colleagues.

Could you elaborate on a couple of things for me, please? Several witnesses have appeared before us on many different issues and commented on the New Veterans Charter. Several of you today have passed the same comment with regard to the challenges you face with the New Veterans Charter. Could you elaborate on that for us? As we all know, it is a changing world. The employment opportunities are much different today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Technology has changed the way we live and operate. From an overseer point of view at your organization, what are a couple of the major challenges that you face where government could assist in respect of employment opportunities available now?

Capt. Guindon: With regard to the new veterans, I see opportunity. They bring a required skill set, which we did not have, to the service industry where we operate. Of course, that service industry is quite cutthroat. In some parts of the country, it is not regulated, while in other parts, it is regulated. There is a mixed balance. In some areas the regulations include training standards but in others it does not. We are faced with those differences because our footprint is from coast to coast. New veterans bring not only skill sets but also a drive to work. They are younger and need to work, in many cases. They do not come to us because it is a supplement to something else. They truly need to work for a living.

As a result of those opportunities, we were able to create a new business line, as I mentioned earlier. One problem is that the new business line where we employ new veterans with skill sets are not ``accounted for'' in the framework under which we are regulated. In a way, we are providing meaningful and more challenging business and work opportunities, while on the other hand we are penalized for it. We would like to rectify this going forward.

Col. Sutherland: That is probably the single biggest thing. The security business has evolved, and we have evolved. We are no longer in the guarding business, although much of the business we do is guarding. We are in the security solutions business, which encompasses the whole range of things that Captain Guindon talked about earlier, everything from traditional guarding through to investigations and background checks.

For example, why would the government not ask us to do background checks as a cost-effective option? We have the skills and the people to do it, most of whom are veterans. That is the background they come from. There should be the flexibility under the RFR to include security solutions as opposed to guarding. That would be most helpful to the government.

Senator Manning: I understand that the RFR will be renewed in 2016.

Col. Sutherland: That is correct.

Senator Manning: When will the negotiations start and who will be involved? You may require the assistance of this committee in the furtherance of some of your concerns. Negotiations can be tough. What is the process?

Col. Briscoe: We believe that the file will be reopened in late 2013 or early 2014. There is a Treasury Board policy related to the common services policy that gives us right of first refusal. They will go through a process of examination at that time.

It will be important for us, when going through the negotiations, to look at an expansion of what is in the National Master Standing Offer in order to find opportunities to move from strictly security guarding to security solutions.

Col. Sutherland: If the negotiations can be based on interests, and if the government would be willing to find a balanced solution that meets its needs in terms of competitiveness, accountability, et cetera, given the value that we bring to the government as a no-cost option that serves veterans, that would be useful.

Senator Manning: You said that you negotiate each year even though the plan is in place for several years.

Capt. Guindon: Yes. The billing in the contract that we have with the government, the National Master Standing Offer, is negotiated every year.

Senator Manning: Although it is in place for several years?

Capt. Guindon: Yes.

Col. Sutherland: The National Master Standing Offer exists under the auspices of the RFR, which is negotiated less often, but still regularly.

The Chair: The steering committee will be meeting on this subject. We will quite likely ask for a second round on the commissionaires because of the vast information to be gathered from them and from other businesses that do business with them.

How many of the veterans in the Corps of Commissionaires are reservists?

Col. Sutherland: We do not distinguish between regular and reserve.

The Chair: Excellent. That is the answer I was looking for. However, recruitment is more complex?

Capt. Guindon: In Ottawa, approximately 30 per cent of new hires are reservists.

Senator Plett: Mr. Chair, you will have my support at the steering committee meeting on that proposal.

You mentioned earlier that there were cases when you need bilingual people, or is it always the case that you need bilingual people?

Capt. Guindon: It is always the case where the position deals with the public. As an example of the evolution of security, we operate many of the security operation centres for our clients, including government departments. For those positions bilingualism is not required, but control access points require bilingualism. If it is a two-person position, at least one must be able to communicate in both official languages.

Senator Plett: Does that same rule apply in Quebec?

Capt. Guindon: It is easier in Quebec. The Ottawa division operates in Gatineau where we have about 510 commissionaires. In most instances, as long as they can speak French we can get away with the other official language.

Senator Plett: What is good for one should be good for the other. I think that in many cases in Ottawa also they would be able to operate if they could speak only English.

I believe that if they need to be bilingual in Ottawa or in any other place in the country, they should be bilingual in all parts of the country. I live in Gatineau and I would not be able to communicate with them if they could speak only French.

Capt. Guindon: In most cases we are able to provide bilingual guards. We subsidize language training.

The Chair: It is interesting that with the New Veterans Charter, Veterans Affairs has hired a civilian agency to find employment for veterans. Yet, we have an entity here that has an arrangement that is far less formal than it should be with regard to injured veterans. Remember that Veterans Affairs Canada only handles injured veterans. Veterans who are not injured do not automatically fall under Veterans Affairs Canada's listing. That is why there is some complexity in the follow-up to this.

Gentlemen, this has been magnificent. Thank you very much for your clear and consist comments. We will require you and others witnesses to return here as this is an element that we have not explored in enough detail. Thank you again.

Col. Sutherland: Thank you very much for the opportunity.

(The committee adjourned.)