Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue 1 - Evidence - November 20, 2013
OTTAWA, Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology is
meeting today at 4:15 p.m. to study the subject-matter of those elements
contained in Divisions 5, 10 and 11 of Part 3 of Bill C-4, A second Act to
implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21,
2013 and other measures.
Senator Art Eggleton (Deputy-Chair) is in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: I would like to welcome you to the Standing Senate
Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
I'm Art Eggleton, deputy chair of the committee, sitting in today in place of
Senator Ogilvie, who will be back with us again tomorrow.
At this meeting, we are dealing with Bill C-4, A second Act to implement
certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013, and
other measures. There was a budget bill in the spring to help implement those
measures, but more measures are now coming before us in the Senate. The bill has
been divided into several different parts, so the different committees of the
Senate are looking at different provisions in Bill C-4.
We have at the committee three provisions in what is known in the terminology
of the budget bill as Division 5. Division 5 deals with measures relating to the
Canada Labour Code. We will be starting on that tomorrow. That deals with the
terminology of ``danger'' in terms of workplace provisions of the Labour Code.
Today we are dealing with Division 10, which is related to the National
Research Council. It essentially changes the composition of the council,
reducing it from 18 to 10 members. There are also measures relating to the
Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act under Division 11.
We will have three sessions at our meeting today. First, we will deal with
the National Research Council, or NRC, Division 10 provision, and then the
following two panels will deal with Division 11 relating to the Veterans Review
and Appeal Board Act.
The first session will start right now. At the other end of the table from me
is Patricia Mortimer, Executive Vice- President and Secretary General, National
Before I get to her, I remember that it is time for members to introduce
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton from Ontario.
Senator Stewart Olsen: Carolyn Stewart Olsen from New Brunswick.
Senator Enverga: Tobias Enverga from Ontario.
Senator Bellemare: Diane Bellemare from Montreal, Province of Quebec.
Senator Segal: Hugh Segal from Kingston—Frontenac— Leeds, the best
part of Ontario.
Senator Cordy: I am Jane Cordy from Nova Scotia, which is the best
part of Canada.
Senator Seth: Asha Seth from Toronto, Ontario.
The Deputy Chair: I should also mention I'm from Toronto. It's not a
place that people know much about these days, at least not the city hall portion
We have one other member who is taking his seat. He is here as a substitute,
but he has particular interest in Division 11.
Senator Dallaire: Senator Dallaire from the Gulf.
The Deputy Chair: We will go to Patricia Mortimer on Division 10 of
Bill C-4 with respect to the National Research Council. Please make your remarks
and then we will go to questions.
Patricia Mortimer, Executive Vice-President and Secretary General,
National Research Council Canada: I have a one- line remark to summarize
that Bill C-4 amends the National Research Council in three ways in order to
improve the accountability and strengthen the governance structure of NRC.
Specifically, it's reducing the numbers of members of our council from 19 to 12.
I'm sure you'll agree that 12 is a very effective number for a committee. It
separates the role of the chair from the role of the President of NRC. If there
is an acting president or chair for more than 90 days, it provides that there is
a need to come back to the Governor-in-Council to confirm the appointment or
The Deputy Chair: Could I clarify? In our notes, it says you're going
from 18 to 10. You just said 19 to 12.
Ms. Mortimer: We count the chair as a person — as a member — and the
president is ex officio. So the council would be 10 members, plus the chair and
president, 12. It's currently 18 plus the president, because we don't have a
Senator Cordy: Eleven voting members, then.
Ms. Mortimer: I don't know. We have not determined whether we have the
structure yet. It was previously 18 members and the President of NRC. It's now
10 members, a chair, and the President of NRC.
The Deputy Chair: The chair, the president and —
Ms. Mortimer: Ten other members.
The Deputy Chair: That's what you're proposing in the 12?
Ms. Mortimer: Yes.
The Deputy Chair: All right. Let me start off with questions from
Senator Segal: Thank you for being with us and giving us your brief
Governance, of course, is a challenge for any Crown corporation — any
official body — and the country, as you know, is very large. There are
disparities between the regions. The quality of research and business-related
R&D in different parts of the country is different.
How is your governance improved by having fewer people on your board, which
would mean by definition that either you would not have people from as many
regions as you do now or you'd have people reflecting the views and their own
expertise relative to a larger region perhaps and as the catchment area now
represented by more?
Ms. Mortimer: We're confident we've looked at a potential matrix
whereby we would have a sufficient regional, gender, linguistic and technology
balance to give us the diversity of advice that we need and that larger is not
necessarily better, but that 10 is sufficient to cover the country
Senator Segal: Will you have representation on your board from the
scientists that actually work at the NRC?
Ms. Mortimer: The board is looking at providing strategic-level advice
and guidance to the president. We would be looking for members who have senior
experience in running complex organizations and in the commercialization of
technologies. We're looking for senior business people and looking on the
academic side for people who have run universities — that type of level. We are
not looking for the rank-and-file researcher. Input at the research level — this
is not the only body that provides us advice and guidance. Each of our research
divisions will also have their own advisory body, at which we can get more
subject-specific technical expertise from the Canadian S&T and business
Senator Segal: Has the transition from an organization that was
traditionally and historically about pure research and now is about applied
research — as I understand the transition that took place — changed the degree
to which the projects you fund go through the normative peer review process?
Because sometimes applied technology issues, for example, don't require or may
not necessitate the traditional kind of elaborate peer review. I am interested
because clearly somebody will be reporting to your board on that peer review
process and the way in which you evaluate projects as part of a larger strategy.
I wonder what your advice to us would be.
Ms. Mortimer: There are two aspects to it. First, NRC was set up to
support industrial research in Canada, and it has over its history. There are
periods where it has had more basic research components, but it's not a big
departure, basically returning to our original mandate.
With respect to the choice of research, the research we are doing is going to
have an impact on Canada and specifically on the economic well-being of the
country. Therefore, every piece of research that we do goes through a rigorous
review process. It is not a peer review process; it's a business planning
process. They have to demonstrate that it not only has technical merit but that
it is something that will have impact on Canada, where we have a competitive
advantage, where we have a skill set we can apply. It involves market
We have to demonstrate who in Canada is willing to work with us in terms of
industry and technology — what we are trying to reach as an end point. It's not
``We're going to work in this area;'' it's ``We're going to work in this area to
achieve this goal that will have this economic benefit.''
Only when we are satisfied this is well thought out and is going to have a
meaningful result and impact for Canada will we make a decision to invest in
that research. These are investment decisions we are making in research. That is
the fundamental difference in how we are managing the research.
Within that, in order to get from point A to point B, there are many
individual research projects. The researcher on the bench may not feel the
difference — they are still doing research — but there is an overall plan to get
to something that industry is looking for.
Senator Eaton: I think Senator Segal covered most of my questions. By
way of clarification, what you'll do is go into universities and look for
specific research. Will industry come to you, or will you go to industry? How
will it work exactly?
Ms. Mortimer: We will be working with industry. I'll give you an
In the aerospace area, where we have been working for many years, we've
worked with them on a road map that identifies the key technologies they need to
develop to remain competitive. We identify with them the areas where we can have
the best impact and then work with them toward improving or solving those
problems. We are really looking at solving problems.
We're not going to do any research program unless there is somebody who says
they want the results.
Senator Eaton: So people will come to you and you will judge the merit
of what they're asking.
Ms. Mortimer: We will work with them. If people come to us with a
small problem, we will be doing that. Do they have something they need tested?
Yes, they can come to us if we have the capability.
We have larger programs that take months or even a year to develop jointly
with industry where we are putting together a major program to have a
significant impact. That is based on the fact that we work with industry all the
time and we know where the starting point is in those discussions.
Senator Eaton: You're still ``bricks and mortar''; in other words, you
still have scientists working in labs — you don't farm it all out?
Ms. Mortimer: It's in-house. We work jointly with the industry. We
still have bricks and mortar. We have unique facilities and large facilities,
which is one of the reasons that industry is coming to work with us — because we
have capabilities that they don't have in-house.
Senator Eaton: Yes, I see them out by the airport.
Senator Seidman: We're reducing the number of members of the council
from 18 to 10. They are appointed by the Governor-in-Council for three-year
terms. Will anything change in the criteria used to appoint these members now
that we've reduced them from 18 to 10?
Ms. Mortimer: We have prepared a profile of what we would feel is an
ideal candidate to be a member of this council. We are hoping to actually have a
more senior level. I'm trying to say ``improve the quality.'' I do not want to
offend anyone who has been on the council, but we need every position that is on
there to be somebody who brings something to the table, who will become fully
Part of the reason why 10 members is a nice size is that everybody will be
fully engaged; we will not have to set up small subcommittees. Everybody will be
fully engaged and fully understand. It does count on us having good-quality,
senior people who understand the management of science. We're not looking for
Nobel Prize winners. We're looking for people who have run research institutions
and complex organizations and who understand the whole innovation and
commercialization process, which is not straightforward.
Senator Seidman: And you're also adding a chair.
Ms. Mortimer: Yes, an external chair.
Senator Seidman: Could you please elaborate on the purpose of adding
Ms. Mortimer: Currently council is chaired by the president. The
council provides advice and guidance to the president, who is the chair. As you
can see, that would be very awkward. Without a separate chair, you don't have
the challenge function, as much oversight and the independence of advice that
you would get as if you had an external chair.
Senator Seidman: So the chair is separate from the council. Is the
chair a non-voting member of council?
Ms. Mortimer: No, they would be a member of council. They would be a
Governor-in-Council appointee who is a member of council.
Senator Seidman: How does it make the chair more independent than the
president, which is what —
Ms. Mortimer: Well, it's the same relationship you get as with the
chair of a board of a corporation and the CEO. The president runs the day-to-day
operation and is accountable for the people and the infrastructure. The board
is, in essence, an advisory board, but it is an independent board. At the
moment, it's a little mixed.
Senator Seidman: That's very clear.
Ms. Mortimer: Already that model has been implemented at NSERC, where
they have an independent chair.
Senator Seidman: Thank you very much.
Senator Bellemare: I will follow a similar line of questioning. The
people who are appointed to this committee are not paid. Is this indeed the
Ms. Mortimer: Yes.
Senator Bellemare: That means that money would not be saved by
reducing the number of members, because they are not paid.
Ms. Mortimer: There are travel expenses since we are doing it across
the country. Saving money is a nice side effect, but I think having the smaller
council for the effectiveness and efficiency of the operation is a larger
driving force than the economies; but, yes, we would expect to save money with
Senator Bellemare: You answered that there are advantages to the fact
that you have separated the chair of the board and the CIO. Please elaborate,
because I am not certain that I see any advantages. Also, will the chairperson
Ms. Mortimer: No.
Senator Bellemare: This is a person who is not paid and who will
simply be the band leader, if you will, during meetings?
Ms. Mortimer: Well, they would be chairing the meetings, but they also
would have a role in deciding the agenda of the meetings, when the meetings
would be held and this type of thing. In essence, it's more the case that this
makes the council itself independent from the operating arm of the organization
so that the council with the separate chair can be seen as an entirely
independent body that is providing independent, unbiased advice to the
president. They will make recommendations to the president for, say, approving
his budget or whether to approve the strategic directions. In the previous
model, he was making recommendations to himself, which he usually agreed with.
Senator Bellemare: However, I understand that the board chair is
appointed, and not elected. This person is appointed?
Ms. Mortimer: The chair of the counsel? Yes, he will also be appointed
as a Governor-in-Council appointee.
Senator Seth: You have told us that there will be separate roles.
There is a chairperson and also there is a president.
Ms. Mortimer: Yes.
Senator Seth: You said there would be a difference between the two
different roles for the two posts and why it is required to have two instead of
Ms. Mortimer: The role of president is like the deputy minister of a
department. He's basically running the organization. He's appointed to that. It
was through a competitive process. It's like the Deputy Minister of Natural
Resources or the President of ACOA. The President of NRC is responsible for the
day-to-day operations of an organization of 4,000 people and a budget of $700
million. That's his job.
The other people are Governor-in-Council appointees who have been appointed
to provide advice and guidance to the President of the NRC to help bring that
stakeholder perspective, the regions perspective and the business perspective to
new ideas, as any independent advisory body would do. By having it totally
independent, by having an independently appointed chair, we ensure that they are
providing unbiased advice. We're looking to the business community and the
academic community for advice on how we set our directions.
Senator Seth: I understand that council members have been reduced from
18 to 10. What do you think of that in terms of benefit and cost, financial or
Ms. Mortimer: The cost obviously will be less, because although we do
not remunerate them, we do pay travel and hospitality because they're giving of
their time to assist us. There is the cost of producing materials and general
support for council members. There is a modest saving, as I say, but really, the
driving force in the reduction is to get a more manageable size of group, a
group of this size where you can actually have a good discussion. We've all been
in committees where you go around, and by the time the eighteenth person has
said their point, there's no discussion time. We're hoping to have a more robust
discussion and a more agile group to get them engaged in the business of NRC.
Senator Enverga: A lot of my questions were answered already.
In reducing the number of members, what will be the future? Will it be more
efficient? Will more research be done? Can you let me know what the real
advantage is of doing this, other than cost? Would you be able to invite more
people as witnesses to your meetings?
Ms. Mortimer: I think what we would end up doing is with a smaller
group you can also expose them to more of our operation. You can take a group of
that size to visit the laboratories and the facilities.
Because we have a much larger group, we have a separate human resources
committee and a separate finance committee. Those groups have to meet, and then
they have to report. Now significant issues in those areas can be discussed by
everyone. So you have a more efficient meeting schedule, and you have more
flexibility in actually working with council members and exposing them to the
programs of NRC.
Senator Enverga: I think that's good. Thank you for your
Senator Cordy: I guess a question you couldn't answer is why this is
in a budget bill, but I won't ask you that question.
The idea of separation of chair and president is excellent. It creates more
independence and avoids possible conflicts within the meeting, so I think that's
a great move.
The president and the chair are Governor-in-Council appointments, but the
minister can appoint a president or a chair for 90 days. Is that just for
expediency in the case of somebody leaving? What's the intent behind that?
Ms. Mortimer: It is for expediency. You do not want to leave either of
the bodies without a head for any extended period of time, and it does take time
to do Governor-in-Council appointments. You have to have the bus scenario. If
the president is hit by a bus, the minister can immediately ask someone to act
in their stead. A number of delegated signing authorities are associated with
that position that needs to be dealt with immediately. You can't wait for an
The difference here is there's a limit to how long you can go on with the
minister simply appointing someone, and I think that also returns the
accountability to the Governor-in-Council for these positions.
Senator Chaput: Who determined that there was a need for this
Ms. Mortimer: This is something that we have discussed internally. My
position as secretary general makes me responsible for the governance systems,
including the council. It is something that we support. As we took a looked at
the transformation of NRC and the type of council members, we started with what
kind of people and it led naturally to how many of these people we would want
and the structure we would like with respect to independence. These are
discussions we had internally, and I'm sure they were discussions that happened
within the minister's office as well. We were of the same mind on this.
Senator Chaput: So this is a discussion that took place over several
Ms. Mortimer: Yes.
Senator Chaput: Is the focus still on applied research?
Ms. Mortimer: The role of NRC is to carry out research and development
that solves problems of Canadian industry. That means that in order to do that
you still need to do fundamental research. You need to solve problems. You're
still doing research, but there's an end point, so this business of basic versus
applied doesn't really fit. We are still doing fundamental research, but it's
towards an end that we have already identified to solve a problem that industry
has identified for us.
Senator Chaput: Could you give me some examples of this research which
seeks to find the solution to a problem?
Ms. Mortimer: Okay. At the moment, we have 45 research programs
ongoing. I will give you a few examples. We have one looking at trying to build
mid-rise wood buildings, which is something that British Columbia is trying to
do, but the technology in going above a floor level just using wood is quite
onerous. That is something we're working on.
We've announced programs where we were looking at using algae for producing
fuel, but frankly the price point didn't make that a good idea. We took that
technology, which was in Nova Scotia, and added technology from Toronto to it on
how to build a bioreactor. We're deploying it in Alberta to use the algae to
capture the carbon from the oil sands and use it in a bioreactor that will
provide a variety of value-added products. If it works, in the end you will have
a new business that is making money from taking carbon out of the oil sands. So
we were looking at that case, the problem of the carbon and some technologies
that we had, and deployed a truly national program. Those are the sorts of
things we're working on.
The Deputy Chair: Let me ask you finally about the separation of
positions of chair and president. It's a normal thing in the business world in
Canada nowadays to do that, so it seems quite reasonable to do it. But heading
up the National Research Council I would think requires a person that's very
specialized, has expertise in a certain area. What are the qualifications going
to be for this chairperson? Would it be the same as it would be for any other
council member, or would there be special qualifications for the person who is
Ms. Mortimer: We would be looking for someone of national stature, but
particularly someone who has experience in serving on or running boards. For our
council members, we are appointing them because they bring particular expertise
to the table or represent a certain sector; but for the chair, you're looking to
them to manage and run meetings, and it's a difficult job, so we are looking for
people with that expertise as well.
The Deputy Chair: Would it be somebody with a science background?
Ms. Mortimer: They could have a science or business background. They
could have a business background in a technology-based business, which are
people who have an engineering or science background. There are a lot of aspects
that we need in support of our program. We need people with good, strong labour
law or intellectual property law expertise. We can use people who have started
up companies, but we also are interested in people who run multinationals. I
think the additional thing for the chair is someone who has experience in
serving on boards, running committees, and that's what we'd be looking for.
The Deputy Chair: Being bilingual would be a requirement as well?
Ms. Mortimer: That would be helpful but not necessary. We have
simultaneous translation at all of our meetings.
The Deputy Chair: I think we've exhausted our time, so thank you very
much for helping us today, Ms. Mortimer.
Next is panel two. We are switching the subject to Division 11, as it is
known, a component of the budget bill, C-4. This deals with measures relating to
the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act.
Welcome to two witnesses who we will hear from in this connection. They're
both from The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command. Gordon Moore is the
Dominion President and Ms. Siew is Director of the Service Bureau. We will turn
it over to you and then we'll have questions and answers.
Gordon Moore, Dominion President, The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion
Command: It's a pleasure to appear in front of your committee. I'm pleased
to be able to speak to you on behalf of our 320,000 members and their families.
The Royal Canadian Legion is well situated to provide advice to improve the
Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
The Royal Canadian Legion is the only veterans' service organization that
assists veterans and their families with representation to the board. We have
been assisting veterans since 1926 through our legislative mandate in both the
Pension Act the New Veterans Charter. Our 23 professional service officers are
located across the country and provide free assistance for veterans who are not
satisfied with the decisions about their claims for disability benefits from
Veterans Affairs Canada. Please note that you do not have to be a Legion member
to avail yourself of our services.
Our national service officer network provides representation at all three
levels of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board: review, appeal and
Through the legislation, the Legion has access to service health records,
departmental files to provide comprehensive and independent representation at no
cost. Last year our service officers represented 265 reviews, 85 appeals, and 15
requests for reconsideration.
The Legion believes that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board has a critical
role in ensuring that all veterans and their families receive the benefits that
they're entitled to as related to their injuries attributable to their service
to Canada. However, the government has an obligation to ensure that veterans
have access to a fair, transparent and timely adjudication process. Our veterans
have been injured in service to our country, and they deserve to be treated
fairly, with respect, and they must trust the process.
With regard to the issue before the Senate today, Bill C-4, Division 11, Part
3, to amend the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act to reduce the permanent
number of members of the board from 29 to 25, I believe we can speak confidently
and with credibility. The Royal Canadian Legion has formally expressed its
concern with the number of board members to the Minister of Veterans Affairs
Canada on two occasions in the past year.
We are concerned with the lack of progress in making timely
Governor-in-Council appointments to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. To
date, I remain very concerned that the lack of a full complement of members is
affecting the scheduling of hearing dates and decision making for entitlement
reviews, appeals and requests for reconsideration. As such, the board is relying
on teleconferencing to hear cases as a solution to scheduling hearings and
juggling board members' schedules.
While the board is established with a complement of 29 members and currently
has only 23, the challenge of scheduling hearings in a timely manner is
increasing the use of videoconferencing at the review level. At the board review
hearings, veterans have the right to bring forward new evidence, to tell their
story and be represented by lawyers of the Bureau of Pensions Advocates or
Legion service officers.
This is the only time that a veteran can provide their case to the board. The
board can look directly into the eyes the veteran and the veterans can look
directly into the eyes of the board members at that time. These members are
making a decision that will have a life-long impact on the quality of the life
of our veterans, which is at the heart of the social contract between the
government and the sacrifice our veterans made for this country.
Yes, there's a cost for hearings in person and time delays with scheduling.
However, if these hearings reinforce the trust and transparency of the
adjudication process, then let's ensure that the board has the resources to
continue hearings across the country. This is the only opportunity to be face to
face with an adjudicator to tell his or her story. Ladies and gentlemen, this is
At the appeal level it becomes more difficult to schedule hearings as a
hearing requires three different board members. At our hearings in Ottawa, we
are seeing an increased use in teleconferencing. For example, in September, for
just eight cases, one member of each case was connected by teleconference. This
is because it's difficult to schedule board members.
At the reconsideration level, there are challenges to schedule the case as
the case must be heard by the same three board members. This is causing
significant delays — greater than a year — to have cases heard. What I mean by
this is that the evidence is collected and analyzed, arguments are prepared and
forwarded to the board to schedule the hearing, and then we wait and wait until
the board members can reschedule.
Reconsiderations are not a priority. It is our position that this lack of a
full complement of board members available to conduct these hearings is having a
direct impact on the length of time it is taking veterans to receive fair
consideration of their cases. In several cases that the Royal Canadian Legion is
representing, the veterans have waited for more than one year to have their
cases heard at the reconsideration level. This is unacceptable and is related to
the number of board members.
On April 1, 2009, the board established a service standard to issue decisions
within six weeks of the hearing. In most instances this service standard is
being met — 87 per cent for review hearings and 89 per cent for review hearings,
according to the department's public performance measures. However, there are no
public service standards for scheduling hearings once the case is ready to be
heard. An excess of one year is too long to wait for a hearing. The Legion
recognizes that it is a challenge to schedule hearings as board members have to
be available at locations across the country, in addition to training
requirements, vacation and illness. However, rather than reduce the number of
board members, the Royal Canadian Legion urges the government to take immediate
action and make the necessary appointments to ensure the board is fully staffed
with members who meet the VRAB's operational gender, diversity and geographic
needs so that our veterans and their families are accorded timely hearings and
Our veterans have been injured in service to our country and deserve to be
treated fairly, with respect, in a timely manner and they must trust the
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. Moore.
Ms. Siew, did you have any opening comments?
Andrea Siew, Director, Service Bureau, The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion
Command: No I'm just available to answer additional questions.
The Deputy Chair: Colleagues, let me start with Senator Dallaire.
Senator Dallaire is also the Chair of the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of
the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, but he is
joining our committee today. Thank you for being here.
Senator Dallaire: Thank you, chair. I will do my best not to
monopolize all the time, and hopefully there might be a second round of
First of all, VRAB is supposed to have 29 members, which includes the
adjudicator. It's now at 23. Have they been at that number for quite a while or
have they been less than that on numerous occasions in the past?
Mr. Moore: That's the number that they've been sitting on now for well
over a year.
Senator Dallaire: Previous to that?
Mr. Moore: Previous to that they were sitting at 25 or 26, and they
haven't touched the ministers. Minister Blaney, when he was in office, did not
at any point, other than this past June — appoint a vice-chair to the VRAB.
Anyone whose contracts were up were supposed to have been replaced but were not,
and this is the problem that we've got.
As I said in my address, the 23 cannot meet all the backlog that's sitting on
the table at the present time.
When you have a veteran sitting for over a year and possibly up to 18 months,
waiting to be able to have his or her case heard, they're suffering badly. If
you know any of these veterans at all — and I urge you to meet some of them so
that you understand the problems and the situations they're facing — we need to
be able to make sure, as I said before, that it's a process they can trust.
Right now they don't trust it.
Senator Dallaire: So you're telling me that the final appeal process
that will give the ultimate credibility to an organization that is being fair
is, in general, not trusted by your members of the Legion; is that correct?
Mr. Moore: It's the veterans who are not trusting the system.
Senator Dallaire: That's right. Okay.
Some of these files can be fairly thick. They've gone through a series of
previous staffing, because now they're in their final review. The three members
who are sitting there, how much time do they have to sit for each case when they
Mr. Moore: I'll let Ms. Siew deal with that one.
Ms. Siew: It depends on the nature of the case. At the appeal level,
we'll generally schedule half an hour. However, if the case goes long, the board
takes the time it needs to hear the case. For an operational stress injury case,
we schedule an hour. But we've never been rushed to hear a case.
Senator Dallaire: There's never been any rush to hear a case?
Ms. Siew: We hear cases at the Legion and across the country with our
command service officers, and we have never been rushed to hear a case.
Senator Dallaire: In front of the board.
Ms. Siew: In front of the board. We can take as much time as we want
to present our evidence, and they take as much time to ask us the questions.
That's why it's so important not to have the teleconferencing or the
videoconferencing because it reduces the ability to have the back and forth
between the members, the advocates and the veteran. That compassion is not
Senator Dallaire: Well, I've been informed that in fact they barely
even have half an hour. They do up to five cases a day. They've got to submit
the reports nearly the same day, and they're going flat out with travelling time
five days a week. The backlog is not decreasing but increasing; is that not
Ms. Siew: Certainly at the reconsideration level there's no priority
to hear the reconsiderations. We have had reconsiderations in the last year that
have been outstanding for over a year. That's after all the work is prepared,
it's forwarded to the VRAB and we're waiting to get a hearing date, and we've
had to hurry them. The veteran gets quite upset.
Although they do hear five in a day, some hearings can be very quick, and the
evidence can be presented quickly. If the argument is presented in advance with
all the new evidence, the board member reviews all that in advance. They can
just query it, and maybe they have made their decision. You have a quick
discussion with the board member. It could be less than five minutes to hear the
case because everything is there.
Senator Dallaire: Why are people happy not with that? You're telling
me it's working so well.
Ms. Siew: It's a perception issue.
Senator Dallaire: It's a perception issue.
Ms. Siew: What we've presented is not necessarily that it's not
Senator Dallaire: You are giving me that impression.
Ms. Siew: You had asked the question, sir, about the time it takes. We
have not been rushed for any appeal that we have presented at the Legion, if we
need an hour or two hours. I did a reconsideration last month and it went for
Senator Dallaire: You handle about 15 per cent of all the cases; is
that not correct?
Ms. Siew: Yes.
Senator Dallaire: The other individuals have to work their own way up.
Ms. Siew: They work through the Bureau of Pensions Advocates.
Senator Dallaire: We're getting potentially more cases because with
the New Veterans Charter the new veterans are bringing different dossiers. That
was not necessarily the case with the old Pension Act; is that not correct?
Ms. Siew: The number of cases being presented to the board has in fact
actually declined. However, what has improved in the board is the turnaround
time in the time that they write their decisions. Ten years ago, when they had a
high number of cases, it would take a year to get your decision once your case
was heard. They've improved in that area, but they have also had a reduction in
the number of cases. Are we going to go back that route when we see
reconsiderations at over a year to have the case heard? They need the board
members to keep the times they have and to reduce the delays in the
Senator Seth: Senator Dallaire has already asked my first question.
You have answered that there are currently 23 members of the VRAB and the
five-year average is probably that. How much money would be saved by proposing a
decrease in the number of permanent members?
Mr. Moore: I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing.
Senator Seth: Decreasing the number from 29 to 25, how much money
would be saved? How much money are we talking?
Ms. Siew: We don't have that information. You would have to ask the
VRAB for that, about how much money is involved in their budget.
The Deputy Chair: By the way, we're still trying to get the minister
here, and if not, then we'll certainly have staff of the department here. They
could answer your question.
Senator Seth: Thank you.
Senator Segal: Let me first of all thank you both for being here today
to help us with this. I will say that in my part of Ontario, which is Kingston,
Frontenac and Leeds, the Legion branch is doing an outstanding job. They are a
huge part of the community, and we appreciate the work they do very much.
Can you help us with two specific aspects? I understand that rather than deal
with the amount of members you would just like to see the existing membership at
full complement so they could hold their hearings on a regular and timely basis;
is that correct?
Mr. Moore: Exactly.
Senator Segal: Both of you are so aware of the dynamic in front of the
hearings. Would it be better, in your judgment, if there were not three officers
but two officers so they could have more hearings and do that on a more timely
basis? If you could wave a magic wand not only to deal with this but to make the
process more efficient so our veterans are getting answers on a timely basis and
getting the information they need, what would you do based on your experience
with this organization?
Ms. Siew: Our concern about the delays in terms of the number of
hearings is to appoint; make the Governor-in- Council appointments, fill the
complement to 29, and that will reduce the number of delays.
Senator Segal: I realize that every veteran has a different
circumstance, and he or she will have had different circumstances relating to
the level of support they need, but please give me a sense of who is your client
group amongst our veterans now. Are they of a certain category in terms of age?
Are they veterans of a particular conflict? Are they people from Bosnia or
Afghanistan or Korea? We are getting into an age frame where there are some
changes. I would be interested to understand who you see as your prime client
base and helping them make their presentations before the committee.
Ms. Siew: Sixty-five per cent of our clients, the veterans that come
to the Legion for assistance, are post-Korean War veterans. They are modern
veterans and under the New Veterans Charter. We have seen a trend over the last
five years from the traditional World War II/Korean vets to the more modern
We now have service officers who work at the Integrated Personnel Support
Centres across the country, and we are also seeing more serving members coming
to the Legion, particularly after first application. Veterans Affairs are on the
base, but for a follow-on redress up through to appeal the serving members are
coming to the Legion, and about 20 per cent of our clients at the appeal level
are serving members.
Senator Segal: Standing back, if you can, maybe at a 10,000-foot
height and looking at the process that you are part of and help our veterans
through in such a constructive way, what would you say their level of
satisfaction as individuals might be generically with the kinds of decisions
being made by the review board? Would you say half feel it is pretty reasonable
or 20 per cent think they are being treated well? Is it less or more? One of the
critical questions is this: Is this board doing its job responsibly and actually
standing up for the interests of the veterans, which is what I would think would
be the purpose of this board? It does not have to be an exact number, but I
would like your feel because you have more expertise on it.
Ms. Siew: I can only answer from my perspective of sitting in there
and doing the hearings and preparing it, and I believe that it is a fair process
for veterans. It is by right. There is no limitation on when they can apply to
submit an appeal. We have cases coming forward 60 years after service,
requesting an appeal. It's tremendous that that opportunity is available.
The board members come and they are prepared. They ask us questions and
they're looking for the information to make a favourable decision. They truly
The process is fair. We try and communicate that to our veterans, but not
every case is successful. The biggest issue is the benefit of the doubt and how
that's interpreted, and the qualification of the evidence and the medical
Senator Segal: Which is why interpersonal, direct interaction with
members of the appeal board is better than teleconferencing, because of the
degree to which, when you're in the room, you can have a sense of what is going
on a bit better than from a remote location.
Ms. Siew: Absolutely. If you are going to trust the process, it is
about your life decision. It is going to give you treatment benefits and access
to programs and services for the rest of your life. For some of our veterans,
that is so important, and to have that decision made through a teleconference
because of a budget cut?
Mr. Moore: I've done a number of teleconferences myself, and I've also
done video conferences. I will let you know that the video conference is no way
to go because you are not able to sit there eye-to-eye with the veteran and make
that decision on the video conference or on the phone. If you get eye-to-eye
with a veteran and he is pleading with you to make his life and his family's
life a little bit better, then we have to do that.
I am very emotional when it comes to our veterans, and the bottom line is
that I believe firmly and strongly that the Government of Canada, whoever it is,
you have that covenant to make sure that each and every veteran is looked after,
right through to the day that we give him a dignified funeral.
Senator Segal: Thank you both for the work you are doing on this. It
is very important and we appreciate it.
The Deputy Chair: You've expressed a lot of concern about
teleconferencing and the fact that it is increasing. Can you give an indication
what percentage of these hearings are now done by teleconferencing?
Ms. Siew: I can't do that, but the board can. Last year, they reduced
the number of sites across the country where they were doing hearings, so
veterans are given the option to have it by teleconference to reduce the travel
time and to schedule the hearing sooner.
The Deputy Chair: If they don't want that option, they can get it in
Ms. Siew: They can, but do they understand that decision? The veteran
wants to have their case heard, and they want the decision. They have been going
through this process. They are upset. Unless their counsel advises of the
importance, there is a finite amount of opportunity to have your case heard.
After appeal, it's not by right.
It's so important that they come forward with the best evidence and go
forward so their case can be presented in the most effective manner.
Senator Stewart Olsen: Thank you for coming today. I fully support the
Legion, its members and the reviews.
I am a bit concerned. I have some questions about the actual review board
itself. Forgive my ignorance, but the members are paid, are they not?
Ms. Mortimer: Yes, they are.
Senator Stewart Olsen: Why is it a difficulty for them to schedule
Ms. Siew: At the review level there are two board members, and the
hearings are held across the country so that veterans can go before the board
and testify. At the appeal level it's three members. It's the last level by
right and they are three different members. The hearings are heard in
Charlottetown or in Ottawa at our location down by the Legion. Then at request
for reconsideration, it's the same three members that heard the appeal.
So in order to do the review hearings across the country, board members have
to travel. Some are in situ, but others have to travel across the country and
then they have to schedule them to do the hearings. If we're doing 15 appeal
hearings in Ottawa and they're all different cases, they have to have a mix of
board members that have not heard any of those 15 cases, and the cases are
coming from across the country.
Senator Stewart Olsen: I understand that, but I wonder why. I don't
see that minus four members is really what you're getting to. What I seem to
hear from you is there is maybe a lack of proper planning in meeting with people
and in getting to them. For instance, just off hand I could say perhaps once a
month they should be in a certain province or it could perhaps be done better,
another relook. I'm actually a big supporter of the Legion.
We have rebuilt our Legion in Cape Tormentine. It is very small and has been
rehabilitated, rebuilt and our membership is up. I hear from these veterans that
you're hearing from. I know of people who have been in peacekeeping, and a
veteran is a veteran. They have been injured doing their work in peacekeeping,
lifting or whatever. For whatever reason, I know of these difficulties. I'm not
sure that it's a lack of members or not a sufficient number of members. I'm
wondering if it is not that they need to look at how the hearings are held, how
they do this and rethink the whole thing because I agree with you; our veterans
deserve every moment of our time. Whatever it takes, we need to give fair and
honest open hearings, and I'm distressed when I hear that it takes this long a
time. It distresses me a lot.
Mr. Moore: Because of the backlog — and I can't give you those numbers
right now — a large number of veterans still have to be heard. When you're minus
6 people at the board level, that workload increases dramatically on the other
23. For them to go across the country, which they haven't been able to do, maybe
they have to take a good look at how they schedule things. I firmly believe that
we are able to get rid of the backlog and have the Minister of Veterans Affairs
bring in six new board members in his budget.
By the time you go through the budget process, the Minister of Veterans
Affairs turns around and makes the appointment, so now we are looking at six to
seven months down the road. Each individual has to be trained on the processes
to be a member of that board. You're looking at another five to six months of
training right there, and you've wasted a whole year. That backlog is not
improving at all. As a matter of fact, it is starting to get worse than what it
is at the present time.
It is very important that these six members be appointed to the board as
quickly as possible. Once the budget process is done, get them appointed, get
them trained and get them working with their veterans to make sure they're
Senator Enverga: Thank you for your presentation. I am big supporter
of our veterans, too.
Going to the line of questions from Senator Stewart Olsen, how do you select
your three members for the board meeting? Do you select them randomly?
Ms. Siew: I'm sorry, but I don't understand the question.
Senator Enverga: The question is: How do you select the three who are
supposed to be at the board meeting. Is it random?
Ms. Siew: We don't select — how do we select the board members?
Senator Enverga: How do you select?
Ms. Siew: We don't have any input on that. To hear the cases?
Senator Enverga: Yes, to hear the cases.
Ms. Siew: For the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, we submit the
cases that have to be heard. They determine who heard it previously, and then
they determine who will hear your case based on the availability of board
Senator Enverga: You have no control on who will look at a certain
Ms. Mortimer: No.
Senator Enverga: I was thinking that having teams of three to answer
any questions would be more appropriate for this kind of proceeding so that it
would be more efficient. Is there nothing like that?
Ms. Siew: No.
Senator Enverga: Would you recommend that?
Ms. Siew: At the review level, there are two board members who hear
the case. For the final level by right, there are three members, and they are
completely different members. That is probably the most important level because
it is the last opportunity for the veteran by right to have his case heard. It's
important that they be three completely different members and that three members
are there to hear the case.
Senator Enverga: When you say three ``completely different members,''
what do you mean?
Ms. Siew: Different members from the previous two members that heard
it at the review level.
Senator Enverga: Would you recommend that whoever selects it makes a
selected team, like this is for Ontario, one for British Columbia? Would you
prefer it that way, or how can you make everything efficient and faster at the
Ms. Siew: The VRAB can speak more accurately on this.
At the review level there are board members that live across the country in
specific locations, but they also have board members that travel to specific
locations across the country. It is important that hearings be held across the
country for veterans to go to the hearing and present their case. At the appeal
level, cases are only heard in Ottawa and in Charlottetown by the Bureau of
Pensions Advocates. They are only held in two locations.
Senator Enverga: Those board members do not live in the area?
Ms. Siew: There are some board members who live in Ottawa who will
come, but if they have heard the case before, they can't sit in front of the
Senator Cordy: As others have said, thank you very much for being
here. Being from Nova Scotia, the Legions are very much a part of every
community. The members do a tremendous amount of volunteer work helping other
veterans, so kudos to you and other members of the Legion.
You said in your presentation that you've expressed concern to the Minister
of Veterans Affairs twice in the past year concerning the number of board
members, yet we're seeing with this budget bill — it is unusual to see an issue
dealing with veterans in a budget bill, but that's just the way it is — that
contrary to your suggestions to the minister, it is reducing from 29 to 25 board
members. With 29, we have 23 members in place. Are you concerned that the
reduction to 25 may mean that only 18, 19 or 20 board members will be active?
Mr. Moore: That is a concern because at this point in time I can't
tell you out of the 23 board members that are currently there, when their actual
contract comes up, if are they going to be reappointed again by the minister or
if are they going to be let go and all of a sudden they're not going to be
replaced and we go from 23 to 20. That's going to make the situation that much
I have to keep repeating, Mr. Chair, that the bottom line is if we can get
the full 29 at the board level and have every case on the backlog at the present
time looked after — then at any point in time the backlog is completely looked
after — then the minister can reduce the board down to the 23 we currently have
or the 25 that he wants to have. But he has to get the job done and get it done
Senator Cordy: When you shared your concerns with the minister, what
was the minister's response concerning the number of board members?
Mr. Moore: He'd take it under advisement.
Senator Cordy: In both cases?
Mr. Moore: That's right.
Senator Cordy: I'm quite concerned about the teleconferencing that you
suggested. I think you said in eight cases in one month at least one board
member was there by teleconference. You expressed earlier the importance of face
to face — the real people, the real connections. I think I agree with you: The
board members I have known in the past have certainly been there to try and help
veterans as much as they can, but I think the face to face — the real people —
is extremely important for the veteran and for the board members.
I was in Cape Breton last week at a meeting with veterans, and they are quite
concerned about the closure of the Veterans Affairs Canada office in their
community. They were told by the department that they should use iPhones and
apps for their iPhones. Some of the veterans I met were in wheelchairs and in
their eighties, and I don't think any of them used an iPhone.
Are you concerned that the use of teleconferencing will get greater and
Mr. Moore: Teleconferencing will definitely not help an 80 year old or
90 year old, or even a 23 year old who has OSI, operational stress injury.
Senator Cordy: Or post-traumatic stress.
Mr. Moore: They will not be able to sit on the phone for any length of
time. They will not be willing to sit in front of a TV and have the
videoconference either, because they will not be comfortable with that.
Senator Cordy: Are you concerned that this may be increasing in the
future just as a cost measure?
Mr. Moore: That's exactly what we're afraid of.
As our younger veterans come forward, especially from Bosnia, right up to
Afghanistan, that situation will get worse and worse. There is a prediction —
the numbers came out last year — that within the next five to 10 years, up to 34
per cent of our young men and women veterans who served in Afghanistan will be
suffering from PTSD. Will the support be there? Is VRAB going to be there to
make sure they are being heard? I'll tell you that that is a very major concern
Senator Chaput: If I understand correctly, one of the big problems is
the backlog. If you could take care of the backlog, would a board of 25 people
be sufficient to do the job? That's what I understood. Am I correct?
Mr. Moore: Yes, senator. The major backlog is at the reconsideration
level, and that definitely has to be looked at. As Ms. Siew said, you need three
different people at that point.
Senator Chaput: I understand.
Well, 25 is in this bill, and I don't think that will change now; the bill
has not passed yet, but it's here in front of us. Have you considered another
way to take care of the backlog? Have you had discussions with the minister for,
I don't know, a special committee or a special group of people to take care of
the backlog and then the board goes on with its work? Have you ever looked at
Ms. Siew: The issue on the backlog was related to the lack of
appointments — the declining numbers were down to 22 last year. They appointed a
new member in July. He has yet to hear a case because he has to go through six
months of training.
We had requests for reconsideration that were sitting in Charlottetown for 18
months waiting to be heard, and it was related to that. That's why we sent the
two letters to the department to have the Governor-in-Council appointments made.
Senator Chaput: I understand. Thank you.
Senator Seidman: There is no question that the Legion does such
wonderful work for the vets at the community level. I am aware of that and I
commend you for it. There is also no question that all Canadians need to honour
their vets and we need to give to them. I concur with that wholeheartedly.
My question is about the numbers. I know that — and I have the transcripts of
testimony by John Larlee, Chair of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, who
testified before the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs in the Senate at the end
of 2011. He was asked questions about the backlog. That would have been the end
of 2011, so almost two years ago. I do understand that.
He very convincingly said there was no backlog. It's a shame in a way that we
don't have the testimony right now of the vet board itself, because I would like
to ask them about that when they appear and hear those numbers.
If I look at the review decisions and appeal decisions that have come before
the board since 2009, on an annual basis it's pretty steady. In fact, I think
Ms. Siew said that the numbers are decreasing — the numbers for review.
Ms. Siew: The numbers of overall files going forward to the VRAB, or
cases being heard, have actually decreased.
Senator Seidman: I'm just trying to reconcile some of this
Ms. Siew: We still have reconsiderations that are outstanding for over
18 months. They are increasing the use of technology at the review level, using
videoconferencing. The last set of appeals we did in Ottawa was for eight cases
only. Every one of them had one member linked in by teleconference.
So despite the number of cases being reduced and despite what they are saying
about the number of cases being heard, teleconferencing, videoconferencing and
waiting to have a case heard for over 18 months — one case is too many.
Senator Seidman: There is no question about that, and it is very
alarming to hear that there is no published service standard for scheduling
hearings once a case is ready to be heard. You're right that it is rather
disturbing that someone would wait a year or more to have their case heard.
Again, I am trying to understand the numbers. We will obviously have to get
down to the bottom of this, because if it's been said that there is no backlog
and you are saying there is —
Mr. Moore: They said that two years ago. There is a backlog.
I met Mr. Larlee on October 26, I believe, for about two hours. At that
meeting, he did tell us directly that there is a major backlog. The exact
numbers I do not have — I wish I did — but Mr. Larlee would be able to answer
The Deputy Chair: That's at reconsideration, is it?
Ms. Siew: At the reconsideration level.
Senator Seidman: As opposed to the first phase, right. So there's the
review and the appeal, and then the reconsideration.
The Deputy Chair: I've got two minutes left for the second round.
Senator Dallaire, it's all yours.
Senator Dallaire: You're being very generous.
I will give you some data. In the last year they saw 4,908 decisions. When
you count the number of people — let's say there were 24 functional adjudicators
there. Divide that; it's about 600, because three of them have to be together,
and then you have about 160 working days. It comes out that if everybody is
working every day, you've got about four cases a day, every day. Now that's a
little heavy. Don't tell me it's not heavy; it's a little heavy.
Out of the 24 or 23, how many are actually functional at any one time? Who
are not sick, lame, or whatever, non- training and so on? Out of that, how many
are really working?
Ms. Siew: That's the issue, sir.
Senator Dallaire: But what's the answer?
Ms. Siew: I don't know that; I can't answer that. They have to answer
that, but they are on vacation, they're sick, they're training.
Senator Dallaire: So it's not 24 functional members. The number is
quite a bit lower because there's a lot of training to prepare them for being
able to do this job.
Mr. Moore: Exactly, and each case they look at depends on the size of
the file. That file can be an inch and a half thick or two and a half feet
thick. They have to go through all that documentation to understand it, so that
takes two or three days.
The Deputy Chair: This will be the last question.
Senator Dallaire: They say it's 161 calendar days for the first, which
is five months, and then they say that it's two and a half months for the final
review. However, they're also saying that they are essentially getting decisions
on about 85 per cent of the cases.
When you look at the total number of cases, that means about 735 a year are
not getting a decision. It's being deferred, and that's cumulative. God knows
how many are still sitting in the hopper waiting to go.
Where is the logic if you believe that every veteran counts? This is not
building a truck that is 85 per cent operational. These are human beings who we
want to help become 100 per cent operational. Where do you see the logic that if
we're not achieving the aim right now — and the potential to increase is there
because those Afghan veterans are barely going to start appearing — that you
actually argue to reduce by four? You never really had more than 24 or 25 in the
first place. Can you tell me what the logic is for that reduction?
Ms. Siew: We can't because we didn't put the proposal forward, but it
is in the budget bill.
Senator Dallaire: Can you understand it?
Ms. Siew: No, we can't.
Senator Dallaire: That's quite interesting because neither can I.
The Deputy Chair: On that note, let me say thank you very much to both
of you for appearing and for the views that you've expressed in answering our
Senators, the third panel will also deal with the Veterans Review and Appeal
Board Act, which is Division 11 of the budget bill.
We have two witnesses from the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, including
the ombudsman himself, Guy Parent, who I knew from my days as Minister of
Defence when he was in the forces. Appearing as an individual today is Harold
Leduc, a former member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. He can give us
some insight into the issues that we've been discussing.
Let me start with the ombudsman. We'll have your opening remarks and then
hear from Mr. Leduc, following which we will go to questions.
Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
Let me begin by thanking you for the good work that you do for the citizens
of Canada, but particularly in this case for veterans and their families. In the
interests of time I will keep my remarks short and to the point.
As indicated in my report entitled Veterans Right to Fair Adjudication,
released in March, 2012, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board plays a critical
role in Veterans Affairs Canada's adjudication process. In fact, since it was
created in 1995, it has rendered in excess of 120,000 decisions.
Because the number of cases with favourable decisions has remained constant
over the years, we know the importance of the role of the board in ensuring that
Veterans are given access to benefits and programs often denied to them through
Veterans Affairs Canada's adjudication process.
Also, the consistency of the number of cases appealed to the Veterans Review
and Appeal Board — on average 4,800 per year between 2010 and 2013 — indicates
that a more efficient process based on a liberal interpretation of veterans'
circumstances by Veterans Affairs Canada adjudicators would in fact diminish the
demands and workload on the board.
The reduction from 29 Veterans Review and Appeal Board members to 25, as
proposed in the amendment to the subject act, is not what I would consider a
change that would negatively affect the board's appeal and review process, as
long as temporary members are allowed.
The board has been functioning with 25 members for the last few years, but as
in most order-in-council appointments, the process is long and arduous. As a
result, the board has often operated at a level below 25 members. In fact, at
the moment, it is functioning with 22 members. In order to maximize the board's
efficiency and provide the necessary training to new board members, efforts
should be made to fill vacancies in a timely manner and maintain the operating
level at 25 members.
In addition, as indicated in my report, an important aspect is the
qualitative factor in appointing members to the board. It is critical that
members appointed have the professional experience to deal with military and
We will be pleased to provide the committee with copies of our follow-up
report on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board when available. I believe we have
distributed copies of our last report.
Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
Harold Leduc, former member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board
Canada, as an individual: Honourable senators, thank you very much for the
opportunity to be here today. I was a former member of the Veterans Review and
Appeal Board. I'm also a disabled veteran, so I can speak to both sides of this
I would like to start by saying that my privacy was breached on the board.
I'm not here to talk about that, but I think it's important to know that. My
privacy was breached while I was on the board. The information about my military
disability was used against me and I was forced off the board, before my time
was up, on medical leave. I mention that here to set the context, because
respect for veterans at the board is not as high as it should be.
With that, I would also like to speak to another issue. The board believes
themselves an entity on their own. Although they have an arm's-length
relationship with the minister for decision making, they have a closer
relationship with the minister for administrative purposes, which includes
behaviour of the board members.
When I first joined the board, I was appointed in November 2005. There were
16 members on the board. We did six cases a day, and we heard cases four days a
week. We had a significant backlog at the time. I was reappointed in 2007, and
we went on from that time to get rid of the backlog. The board ran blitzes to
reduce the backlog, and we significantly reduced it by the thousands.
There's absolutely no excuse for any backlog today on the board. The board
will tell you that the conditions and the cases are more difficult — not true.
We may see more disabilities like gunshot wounds where we typically didn't see
that before except for World War II and Korean veterans. We see that today with
the Afghan veterans and some from the Balkans. There has been an increase in
those kinds of disabilities.
In 2007, board members went from 16 to 30 in number — there was a spike in
the number of appointed members. Of the people they appointed to the board, I
think there were six lawyers. I cast no aspersions on anyone for their
backgrounds, but the Veterans Review and Appeal Board is unique in Canada
because it's the only board or tribunal that is non-adversarial. Lawyers aren't
comfortable working in a non-adversarial process. What happened is they actually
made the application of the process more difficult because they had a greater
number of questions than were required.
From 2005, we were able to do six cases a day within the time frame. Most of
the simpler cases took 10 to 20 minutes while the more difficult ones may have
taken 30 minutes. They were all scheduled for 30 minutes. However, we went in
there with the understanding that we, the board members and the advocates
representing the veterans, were working for the veterans because that's what the
legislation says. That's the way it was then.
After that spike in the numbers, board members changed the interpretation of
the legislation by becoming more curious and extending their duties under the
Inquiries Act rather than just clarifying information. They were cross-
examining, which is inappropriate in a non-adversarial process. As that was
going on, the hearings were taking longer, the decisions started getting longer,
and there was a greater demand. In fact, I think it was in 2008 that we changed
the decision format to make it pages long rather than the two pages we had
before as a general format.
Along with that came a lot more interference from the staff. I think if
there's ever going to be any reduction in the number of positions on the board
it should be in the staff, especially at the legal unit. Two of the members of
the legal unit actually breached my privacy, and there were no consequences for
doing that, which is odd.
They started questioning our decisions and, as a joke, the members of the
board used to say, ``We're wonderful at writing decisions that deny benefits,
but we're very stupid when it comes to writing favourable decisions.'' The
quality assurance people and the legal services unit put our decisions through
such a meat grinder and came back with analyses for the reasons that we
shouldn't grant the entitlements. That increased our workload.
Now, here we are every week on a different road in a different city. Later we
reduced our case load to five decisions a day, but during that week we were also
managing 40-some files from times past — reconsiderations we heard earlier.
There's a problem with scheduling reconsiderations, as we heard. However, the
problem is that we're spread out all over the country. For instance, if I'm out
West, I might have to get up at six o'clock in the morning to attend a
reconsideration. I might do the reconsideration at six o'clock in the morning
and start my day at eight o'clock doing the regular schedule of work. Then
there's work after the fact, because we have to call back to the head office and
deal with the notes that we get constantly.
A question was raised earlier about the backlog. I also testified at another
parliamentary committee. Quite frankly, the committee did not believe what the
board presented or they would not have come up with the recommendations they
came up with.
The Deputy Chair: Can I ask you to wrap it up soon?
Mr. Leduc: Yes, I'm going to.
Essentially, the board hasn't filled its full complement of members. They
left four spaces empty. They used the money in the budget for those four members
for regular operating costs, which is absolutely inappropriate. Had we had more
members, we could have been out on the road hearing more cases. It's as simple
as that. Also we could have had more time to deal with the inappropriate
interference that is happening on a daily basis. Because of the short number of
members, we don't have the time.
I'll stop there. I will probably do a better service by answering questions.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much for your comments.
Senator Dallaire: Welcome. I'm looking at both the conclusion and
recommendations of your report, Mr. Parent, and I'm knowledgeable of your case,
The statistics are rather interesting inasmuch as they say that the board
issues favourable decisions in 50 per cent of the 3,600 finalized review cases,
and in 29 per cent of the 1,072 finalized appeal cases. That is 29 per cent in
favour of the individual. I go to your report where you say that in 60 per cent
of board decisions reviewed by the Federal Court, because we can still go to
Federal Court, the court ruled that the board has failed to do its duty in
regard to fairness for the individual according to the Veterans Review and
Appeal Board Act; and that the board continues to repeat the same errors over
extended time periods.
We've had a board that is not necessarily favourable to the members. We've
had an increase in the legal dimensions of this versus the information flow. We
sense from what you're saying that the benefit of the doubt is no more in the
case of the veterans but in the case of the organization. The 50/50 will fall
Would there not be a much more deliberate process if you had more people
going through the cases in a more reasonable amount of time? If I'm looking at
these statistics and I'm saying it's not really the case of helping the
veterans, would I not want to increase the number of adjudicators to give a
fairer break and ensure that we are playing according to the Veterans Review and
Appeal Board Act?
Mr. Parent: The issue that we actually found significant in our report
is the fact that the Federal Court found that a lot of decisions were not based
on fact and were not recognizing the medical evidence at its just value.
What's important there is if that wasn't recognized in the Federal Court and
in the appeal and review process, and there was no added evidence or anything
like that, well, that evidence was present at the initial adjudication, which
was exactly my point in my opening remarks. The fact is that this evidence
should have been recognized right from the start. Why is it that 50 per cent at
the review and 30 per cent at the appeal — you know, the decision has changed
because the adjudicator had the same decision in front of them most of the time.
In odd cases there was some added evidence, but most of the time it was there
from the start. Is it just a matter of not enough people on the board or just a
matter of the adjudication process needing to be cleaned from the starting
We have very few complaints in the office against the board. Of course, we
have no jurisdiction. I want to state the fact that I am not involved in the
process of the board, so I can't answer any questions on that, but certainly
that's our biggest concern right now, namely that the evidence that's there from
the start is not being recognized.
Mr. Leduc: I would add to that by saying quite simply that there are
people appointed to the board who simply do not agree with the generous
provisions of the legislation or accept the benefit of the doubt clauses. It's
as simple as that.
Senator Dallaire: I'm trying to get a feel for the number crunching of
cases, of time to do each case, of members being qualified or not to handle
these cases, of the training. Do we actually have a body that is sufficient to
meet the requirement of this Veterans Review and Appeal Board, or are we
low-balling it and in so doing maybe cases are not being assessed appropriately
because there's not enough competency, or capability, or time, particularly, to
do the proper assessment?
Mr. Parent: My point in my opening address was that if you set a level
and you maintain it at that level, that's fine. However, I know that the
appointment process is so arduous and takes so long that, for instance, very
often positions on the board are vacant for months on end, fully knowing that
some board members are either going to be retiring or not be renewed. They know
that quite in advance, yet it takes months before people are actually appointed
to vacant positions. I believe there is a four-month training cycle, if I
The important thing is not to set numbers but to make sure that those numbers
are functional numbers and that the board always has 25 working members on the
road. The minister has the capacity to appoint temporary members for a period of
two years, so we have to make sure that this is not touched by any changes to
Mr. Leduc: Yes. The more members there are, the less likely you're
going to have negative decisions.
Not every case should be found favourable; I'm not saying that. But when
there's a panel of review members, there are two. The way the law works is the
one most favourable to the veteran is the decision of the board, so more members
will help balance out the negative members that are there, per se.
I heard you ask this question earlier, and Mr. Parent touched on it. With
leave, sickness and whatever, probably five members are not functional at any
one time. So if there are only 23, you're down to a lower number.
Senator Dallaire: My very last point is why would the President of the
VRAB not be standing on the minister's desk and screaming for a full complement
of staff to achieve all the great words that we're saying and to make sure every
veteran is taken care of? What is the background of the president for not
wanting or not having succeeded in doing that and now even seeing that number
Mr. Parent: Mr. Chair, I believe that question could probably be
answered by the president. I'd rather not venture to answer on that. Perhaps Mr.
Mr. Leduc: I will venture into those waters.
As I said earlier, they typically withheld four positions to use that funding
for operating costs.
Senator Dallaire: So that's deliberate.
Mr. Leduc: I believe so. The chair was appointed directly outside of
the board, with no public service experience at all.
Senator Dallaire: By cutting those positions, they're cutting O and M
costs and saving money and meeting the budget reductions.
Mr. Leduc: Absolutely.
Senator Stewart Olsen: Good to see you again, Mr. Parent. Mr. Leduc,
it's nice to meet you.
I'm not so much concerned about the number of board members as to actually
looking at the number of backlogs, the number of cases that need to be reviewed,
and perhaps taking a new look at how we can do this better.
I'm not sure sometimes that just putting more members on a board that hasn't
been able to keep up with the workload — and I'm not sure why, but I think all
of those things have to be looked at — is the solution. I'd rather see a
different look at how we respond to these cases.
I liked what you said. You did blitzes and you worked through them because
you knew you had that imperative, namely that we have veterans in need and they
deserve their answers. I'd just like a brief comment and a new look and a
different way of doing things.
Mr. Parent: Thank you for the question.
I think what is important here is — again I agree with you that it's not
necessarily the quantity but the quality of process — the quality of the
membership of the board.
I appreciate what Mr. Leduc was saying, that things slowed down when we
brought in lawyers. Well, I don't think it's just a matter of big lawyers. It's
a fact that big issues with decisions to be made during adjudication, decision
or appeal have to do with the causality of injury to service. The people who can
understand that are military people and people from a medical background. I
believe if the majority of the board were from some of those backgrounds there
would be a lot less asking, ``How does this work?'' I've been at some hearings,
and a lot of questions were aimed at trying to understand the circumstances
related to the cause. That would be my point on that.
Mr. Leduc: I could add to that, and I have a slightly different view.
The standard of review from the federal courts and established by the
tribunals is fairness and reasonableness. It doesn't take an ex-service person
to be fair or reasonable. It doesn't take an ex-lawyer or a lawyer.
With regard to profession, it's important to have military people on the
board, ex-military people, ex-RCMP, a smattering of society. It all comes down
to having people on the board that can make reasonable and fair decisions.
That's the part that has the board not respecting the ombudsman's reports; not
respecting federal reports. They're not fair and reasonable people.
Senator Segal: If I understand you correctly, a big reason for the
backlog is either the incompetence of the members of the board or the undue
interference of the staff of the board and the legal department of the board. I
want to make sure because those are serious things important to have on the
record, and I want to make sure that's precisely what you're saying.
Mr. Leduc: From my experience, not all — we can't paint everybody with
a broad brush — but generally, yes. I don't know if it's the incompetence or the
inappropriate interpretation of the legislation, but definitely interference
from the staff; absolutely.
Senator Segal: Can I conclude from the way both of you have talked
about the undue legalization of the process that to some extent our problem is
that the legal staff are working with members of the board to encourage a kind
of cross- examination approach, perhaps to protect the federal treasury from
spending too much money, rather than the consensual approach of understanding a
veteran's circumstance and trying to engage positively to assist that individual
based on the substance of their appeal? Is that a fair rendition of where you're
Mr. Leduc: I stopped one of the members of our legal unit from doing
that. I used to get analysis from them that said if you grant this person, this
Canadian Forces veteran this benefit, you will be giving them more than a World
War II or Korea veteran. That's not the standard of review. Everybody is equal
under the law, but that was the type of advice we'd get.
There was a case one time where it was taken out of our hands by the legal
unit for a year and a half; completely out of our hands. I and a presiding
member could do nothing to wrestle it back.
Senator Segal: Mr. Parent, I understand that you have no
responsibility for the board; it's outside your frame of reference. In your
judgment is it the legitimate expectation of veterans that this organization
operate as a quasi-judicial interpretive board that makes appeal decisions when
appeals are launched before it? Is that the operative frame of reference, or is
it seen as something that is simply another extension of the department and
whatever budgetary problems the department may have that quarter? Budget cuts
may come from the centre. The board has to become an instrument in the
implementation of those cuts, whatever the impact on a particular veteran
appearing before them on a particular matter.
Mr. Parent: We found that some of the veterans in front of the board
expressed that they felt they were treated like they were in a criminal court,
not with respect and dignity and not as if they were there seeking an
entitlement. Fortunately, the research we've done to date in preparing for the
follow-up to our report indicates that that's changed a bit, so hopefully it is
heading in the right direction, but I think it is an important aspect of it. It
does not need to be changed to a court, not necessarily quasi-judicial. It is a
decision board more than a justice-type board.
Senator Enverga: Mr. Parent, you said that the change would not have a
negative effect as long as we allow temporary members of the board. Are they
volunteers, by the way, or temporary workers getting paid?
Mr. Leduc: They are paid.
Senator Enverga: They are paid.
Senator Segal: Is it salary or per diem?
Mr. Leduc: It's salary.
Mr. Parent: It's a VAC appointment.
Senator Enverga: They support a regular member of the board except
that they are temporary?
Mr. Parent: That's right, for two years I understand.
Mr. Leduc: Two years, and they have no voting rights.
Senator Enverga: Do they have the same qualifications and experience
as the rest of the board? Would you say they are competent enough to handle
Mr. Parent: I'm not that familiar with the selection process, but they
go through the same selection process as the others, I believe.
I think what is important there is that the act states that there are a
certain number of full-time members and then the capacity for temporary numbers
to be selected and nominated by the minister according to the workload of the
Senator Enverga: But that will not affect the quality of the
Mr. Parent: I believe that in some cases ex-members are called in to
be temporary members, but, again, I am not really in a position to give you
details on that. You will have to talk to members of the board or the chair of
Mr. Leduc: I can tell you, sir, that it takes two years. There is a
three-month training program, but it takes two years for a board member to be
fully trained and fully comprehend their job. A temporary member is only
appointed for two years. During that time, they have no voting rights and are
not part of the structure of the board in that sense. They are there as extra
workers, if you will. It takes two years, and once their two years is up, they
may not necessarily be reappointed. A permanent member starts off with a
Senator Enverga: Are they using these temporary replacements as
eventual permanent members of the board? How does it work?
Mr. Leduc: The last time a temporary member was appointed, I think it
was me. That was in November 2005, and then I was reappointed under a different
government as a permanent member for a longer term.
Senator Enverga: Basically it does not affect the proceedings. It
doesn't affect anything. Is that what you are saying? Can they perhaps hire more
temporary workers to make sure that all of the backlog is gone?
Mr. Parent: My point and my discussions with Mr. Larlee, who is the
chair of the board, is that the board operates now with 22 or so members. I go
back to what I said before; you need to maintain the operating level. You can't
let it drop down to three while people are training or being appointed. It needs
to be maintained at 25, and it will be 25. I think that is the important aspect
Senator Enverga: Okay, thank you.
Mr. Leduc: The service standard has suffered. When I first got on the
board in 2005, we told people clearly, ``Within four weeks, you will have a
decision.'' That changed in about 2007, 2008 to us telling them, ``Between four
to six weeks.'' Now they tell them eight weeks, so the quality of work has
The Deputy Chair: Let me ask you about something that the Legion
raised, and that is the video or teleconferencing. They say the use of this is
increasing. They don't think it's in the best interests of the veterans, who
they think in most cases want to come face-to-face with the review panel.
What is your sense of that? Is it increasing? They also said that it's
optional. They don't have to take it, but are they being pressured into taking
it? Are they being told, ``Your case can be dealt with faster if you go the
teleconferencing or videoconferencing route''? What is your take on this?
Mr. Parent: I've discussed the issue recently with members of the
Bureau of Pensions Advocates, which, as you know, represents clients during the
review process. The statement they made to me was that it works but is not for
everybody. It's been particularly useful for people suffering from invisible
injuries, such as PTSD, who are not comfortable in a crowd environment. For
them, it might work very well. Again, it's the assessment before proceeding to
videoconferencing that would be critical. It works in some cases but maybe not
Mr. Leduc: My experience is that the board members were not asked
about their opinion when this was developed. It was created by the staff and
board management. We had one board member who actually worked on that committee
with them. We were not brought into it and asked our views on it at all.
Personally, I like the human approach because, for a veteran coming into a
setting similar to this, it's a court martial. They are already ill at ease, and
no matter how you try to put them at ease, it is difficult. Sometimes you just
need that human approach.
One time, I did a case where a person with severe PTSD could not come into a
room, so I suggested to my colleague, ``Let's take off our jackets and ties,
roll up our sleeves and go talk to him informally and ask the questions
informally.'' It worked.
I also dealt with elderly veterans who were partially blind and could not
hear. Instead of sitting this far apart, I moved my chair right across from the
veteran and asked the questions that way.
You need that personal touch. You lose so much through the videoconferencing.
You absolutely lose the dynamics of the hearing. It's just another way to save
Yes, the veterans are asked, but are they given all the options?
The Deputy Chair: Are they pressured?
Mr. Leduc: I don't know about pressure. I think they are not given
many options. If they are using video conferencing in a certain city now, there
goes your ability to have a personal hearing. They probably don't even know that
they can ask for one. At the end of day, according to the law, it's their right
to have that hearing.
The Deputy Chair: I understand that this initial hearing situation is
not a problem in terms of backlog. The reconsideration is where the backlog is
occurring. Some people are waiting more than a year to have their
reconsideration decision. Have I got this characterized correctly?
Mr. Leduc: Pretty much. That's a scheduling issue, as I mentioned.
The Deputy Chair: It is on the reconsideration matter where the delay
and backlog comes in?
Mr. Leduc: Before coming to this hearing today I asked a number of
veterans if they were satisfied with the timelines, and I got a sense of it.
Generally they are satisfied with how things are rolling along.
Things changed significantly in 1995. Before 1995, the applications were
prepared by the Bureau of Pensions Advocates, and they were brought through to
the Canadian Pension Commission; but in 1995 they wanted to speed it up for the
older veterans, so they put the first level of the application in the
bureaucrats' hands. With the administrative process, and when it comes to the
lawyers sometimes, they are starting with a broken application because it's not
them who started it. There can be some delays at the front end as well.
Mr. Parent: As well, I think the reconsideration is a finished
process, and the veterans are actually asking to re-enter the process. So they
go at the bottom of the list for the people who are in line for review and
appeals, obviously, to be fair to the people who have been waiting for their own
review and appeal, and this is why that other list builds up as well. That is
why there is a big backlog on reconsideration.
Mr. Leduc: Reconsideration is not the end-all either, because
oftentimes the members — depending — will look at it and say, ``How dare you
question my decision?'' That's in the back of some people's minds as well.
Senator Dallaire: Gentlemen, two things: First, I was taken aback by
the response from the Legion representatives who handle 15 per cent of all the
cases that the bad opinion of this final arbiter, which establishes the
atmosphere of the whole process — in the end, if people feel they have a fair
shake, then your whole process is considered to be fair, but if, in the last
dimension, people consider that body to be unfair, then that means the whole
system can be felt to be unfair. It was articulated as being perception versus
What is the position of the veterans at large, what you've seen particularly,
Mr. Parent? You said you had not had a lot of cases brought to you. Of course
that's out of your realm, but is there a perception of the VRAB out there?
Mr. Parent: I think there was and in some cases probably still is. I
think what is happening is the fact that if you are treated with respect and
dignity throughout the process, if the issues are addressed in a timely manner,
if the decision letters are clear, then you accept the decision and you accept
the process. But if any of these things are flawed, then of course you are
already frustrated with what is happening and even more so if you are suffering
from invisible injuries because your patience is not as good as someone who is
Obviously, these are the things that are important. It is not necessarily the
decision but how they arrived at the decision. This is why in a lot of our
reports we are saying it is important how you communicate the message. Some
people will accept a ``no'' with the right wording as much as they will accept a
``yes,'' as long as they feel they have been treated with dignity throughout the
process and the process was fair throughout.
Senator Dallaire: I'm looking for your opinion on a system that has
impressive numbers and statistics. They have pie charts and all kinds of stuff
that say we are achieving 82 per cent of review decisions and 86 per cent of
appeal decisions. I used the figure earlier on that, of the number of decisions,
so that's about 750 people who don't get the decisions.
If you've got a delta like that on these human beings who are veterans and
are injured, do you consider that a strong enough argument to reduce the number
of people working, whether they are better qualified? Like Minister Blaney
brought in four ex-military to change the nature of that beast. Do you feel
that's a warranted position to be able to reduce the capability versus maybe
increasing the output?
Mr. Leduc: Are those statistics favourable decisions on the review of
Senator Dallaire: Not favourable — just decisions taken.
Mr. Leduc: The legislation is clear that decisions will be made
expeditiously or hearings will be held expeditiously and decisions taken that
way. Any delay to any veteran is absolutely unacceptable, in my view.
Mr. Parent: I would have to agree that it's not necessarily whether
the decision is favourable or not but how many actually are processed; again,
that is what we're talking about. Indications are that that can be done and as
long as it is maintained at 25, but the important thing is not to have a number
that changes every six months because two members are finished their terms with
the board. That is the important part of it.
Senator Dallaire: These are Governor-in-Council appointments. These
are direct government decisions of wanting to fill those jobs or not, and so if
they're not filled because somebody is taking the decision not to fill them —
and, on top of that, we want to eliminate four of them. Is there a logic you see
in meeting the challenges of the veterans and possibly an increased number of
veterans who are injured coming before them?
Mr. Parent: It is dependent, again, on maintaining that 25 at all
times. What is happening now is they wait until a member has actually finished
his term before they start to process another one, and there is a four-month
training period. We are looking at a vacant position for six or seven months.
Mr. Leduc: I would like to build on that and say I have been involved
in veterans' issues since 1992, since I left the service, and I see this as part
of the ongoing general erosion of benefits and services to veterans.
The Deputy Chair: This brings the meeting to a close. I thank Mr.
Parent and Mr. Leduc for being here and giving us the information they have.
We resume tomorrow on Division 5, which deals with the changes to the Labour
(The committee adjourned.)