Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of a measure that would provide support for the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian veterans, to whom we owe so much. My concern is that while Bill C-27 may provide support for a small number of service members and veterans, it would not do nearly enough.
Bill C-27 is designed to amend the Public Service Employment Act to provide increased access to hiring opportunities in the public service for certain current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. In Random—Burin—St. George's, over 700 men and women are serving in all branches of the military, and it is those young men and women and the repercussions of the experiences they have that I think about whenever we talk about veterans or going to war.
The proposed legislation in Bill C-27 would ensure priority is given to Canadian Armed Forces members who are released because of service-related illness or injury, and would extend eligibility to reservists and Canadian Rangers.
Bill C-27 would also provide increased access to internal public service postings for eligible members and veterans and increase their period of eligibility. This all sounds very good. We can all agree these changes are indeed positive steps.
However, what they are not is a substitute for a real plan to ease the transition of service members and veterans into civilian employment. The government can and must do more to assist veterans in finding work following their military service. Unfortunately, nothing in Bill C-27 actually ensures that veterans will get jobs.
We know that helping veterans find jobs is a crucial step in their return to civilian life and well-being upon release from the military. Under normal circumstances, placing injured veterans at the head of the civil service hiring line and increasing access for veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces would be considered a valuable commitment and something to be applauded. In this instance, however, the promise is being made by a government that has already cut 20,000 public service jobs and is on track to cut 30,000 more.
Regrettably, Bill C-27 appears poised to have little impact on the day-to-day lives of the majority of Canadian veterans. In the words of Jerry Kovacs, a director with Canadian Veterans Advocacy, “In theory, it's a good bill. ... Initiatives to hire veterans are good initiatives. [But] if there are no jobs, how can there be any priority hiring? So it's kind of a hollow promise."
After years of cuts and hiring freezes, there are fewer civil service jobs for veterans to fill than ever before. Bill C-27 would do nothing for veterans who may be too ill or too injured to work.
In his recent report, Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman, stated that “Severely impaired Veterans can face a lifetime of loss of employment and career progression opportunities". Simply put, even injured veterans who are already entitled to government assistance are not receiving it. The Veterans Ombudsman's report indicated that nearly half of the country's most severely disabled ex-soldiers are not receiving a government allowance intended to compensate them for their physical and mental wounds. The ombudsman also concluded that many of those who are receiving the permanent impairment allowance are only being awarded the lowest grade of the benefit, which is the minimum amount.
The federal government also has an obligation to assist injured and ill veterans to find jobs when they are released from the Canadian Armed Forces, but Bill C-27 should not replace the government's responsibility to help injured CAF members stay in the forces when that is their wish.
Furthermore, there is a genuine concern that soldiers may hide health problems so that they will not lose their income. The Conservative government must do everything it can to ensure Canadian Armed Forces personnel suffering from physical and mental injuries need not fear being set adrift and having to keep their wounds secret in order to qualify for their pensions.
Recently released government statistics show that approximately 1,100 of the 6,200 soldiers discharged because of health conditions since 2009 were unable to serve the 10-year minimum required to collect a full pension.
Under the existing policy, many Canadian Armed Forces personnel face the dilemma of having to choose between risking their physical and mental health or risking their financial future. Soldiers suffering from PTSD and other ailments can either avoid seeking help in the hope of making it to pension eligibility, or seek necessary care and risk losing their pensions. Bill C-27 is clearly just the latest example of the Conservative government attempting to hide its inaction on the many issues affecting CAF members and veterans today. The Conservatives boast how much they support our soldiers and care about veterans and their families, but the facts show otherwise. Shamefully, the Conservative government continues to abdicate its responsibility to care for Canadian veterans.
A few months ago the Minister of Veterans Affairs called into question the social and legal responsibility Canada has for its soldiers. On at least two separate occasions since then, the Minister of Veterans Affairs has literally turned his back on veterans and their families who have come to Ottawa to voice their concerns about the lack of respect and support they have been receiving from the Conservative government. When it closed nine regional Veterans Affairs offices throughout the country, including one in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, and committed to eliminating 781 jobs from the Department of Veterans Affairs by 2014-15, it claimed it was doing so in an attempt to cut costs. Meanwhile the Conservative government continues to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on partisan advertising while neglecting Canada's veterans. Then, at the last minute, when it knows the Auditor General's report is coming out, it comes out with a pot of goodies that we know are promises and only promises.
In his report today, the Auditor General concluded that Veterans Affairs is largely unconcerned with how well veterans are being served and whether programs are making a difference in their lives. While $1.13 billion in funding for veterans having gone unspent since the Conservative government took power, veterans have been forced to wait months for the mental health services they so desperately need. According to the Auditor General's report, about 15,000 veterans and serving military personnel were eligible to receive health support from Veterans Affairs through the disability benefits program at the end of last March. The number is expected to increase as more veterans of the Afghanistan campaign leave the military for civilian life in the coming years.
Over the past decade, 160 Canadian Armed Forces members have died by suicide, and 158 died serving in Afghanistan. Many more continue to struggle with mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The Auditor General's report confirms what Liberals have long maintained, that the Conservative government simply is not doing enough to help our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for their country. They have put their lives on the line and some have made the ultimate sacrifice, yet we are not there for them in the way they need us to be.
As Canadians we owe a debt of gratitude to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and their families. They require assistance in so many ways. Unfortunately, because the Conservatives are refusing to respond to the needs of our veterans, the latter are being forced to mobilize in a variety of ways to get their message out about how unfairly they are being treated. Bill C-27 does very little to address a much larger problem. This bill is a step in the right direction, as my colleague has said, but there is much that still needs to be done. It is time for the government to start treating our veterans and their families with the respect they have earned and deserve from those of us who get to live a much better life, and those throughout the world who get to live under better circumstances because of their efforts. This begins by listening to the concerns being raised by those who have already sacrificed so much, instead of ignoring them when they reach out for help, which unfortunately the Conservative government continues to do.
Mr. Speaker, this year the town of Horwood, in Newfoundland and Labrador, celebrates Come Home Year 2014.
I have a petition to present in this House of Commons regarding Canada Post. The reduction in services has caused great concern in many rural communities, especially in this particular community of Horwood. I have around 40 names from that one community. People are deeply concerned about the lack of postal services and the future reduction of services in that community.
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy today to stand in the House to speak to the motion by my hon. colleague from Manicouagan. The people of his riding can be proud of his passionate representation on their behalf. Along with our colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, the member is an outstanding champion for his own Inuit and first nations communities.
I am on my second term as MP for Nickel Belt, but it was in this Parliament, with the election in 2011 under our former leader, Jack Layton, that our party saw the election of so many new young and gifted members from Quebec. This motion today is his commitment to put people and their communities and their rights first and foremost when it comes to natural resources projects.
I come from Nickel Belt and Greater Sudbury, home of the largest nickel basin in the world. I worked for 34 years for Inco, a mining company. I have seen the good and the bad that mining can do in a region. I absolutely support public consultation and real efforts to get public support for these projects. I will address that shortly.
First, as chair of the 20-MP NDP mining caucus, I will say a few words about our strong support for mining when it is done right. My party and I recognize the importance of mining in our communities. In 2013, over 380,000 jobs were in mineral extraction, smelting, fabrication and manufacturing in our country. Mining is an economic and investment driver for Canada, paying $71 billion in taxes and royalties to Canadian governments in the past decade. I am told the mining sector is the largest employer of aboriginal people.
My region of Greater Sudbury is now being called “Canada's mining superstore”, given all of the technology, research and innovation in the Greater Sudbury region. The Mining Association of Canada estimates that upwards of $160 billion in mining projects are presently proposed in Canada, including multi-billion dollar investments in Nunavut; Northwest Territories; B.C.; Alberta, Saskatchewan; Manitoba; Ontario, especially with the Ring of Fire; Quebec; and Newfoundland and Labrador. That underlines the importance of the motion before the House today.
The member speaks often of social licence for those natural resources projects. In plain language, we want people and their communities to have current and future generation concerns addressed before they say yes to these projects. They want to see that the mining companies are taking seriously their responsibilities and understanding all of the implications of mining or other exploration. These holes in the ground, the blasting and the excavation also have consequences for drinking water, our health, our noise, our pollution and much more that touches on the daily lives of citizens. When companies move into a community with their well-paying jobs, they are welcome.
There can be other social and health consequences that are not so good. More and more, I hear mining companies talking about corporate social responsibility, making progress in this regard. That is a good thing. My leader met with the Mining Association of Canada representatives this week. We urged the companies to continue to work on social licence and to continue to work on this corporate social responsibility. We know from news stories about bad behaviour abroad from some Canadian companies. We also have to be vigilant that here at home we hold our companies to higher standards too.
Cases in point are Osisko's Malartic mine, the tensions triggered by the prospect of uranium mining on the north shore in Quebec; the controversial oil pipeline and tanker port projects in British Columbia and Quebec, including the one in Cacouna; and the Mine Arnaud project in Sept-îles, which dealt a blow to the local social climate. I meet with mining company officials, and I hear more and more of their work and their commitment to this responsibility.
Advance public consultation is a positive and innovative measure because it makes it possible for three things to happen.
First, it puts the public at the heart of the decision-making process. Civil society stakeholders have long called for real, direct public consultation and for the public's wishes to be considered in natural resource development projects. This motion would put the public at the heart of the decision-making process as opposed to the public being told about it after the fact.
Second, advance public consultation helps ensure that the federal government's historic commitments to members of the first nations are fulfilled. The federal government must respect first nations' rights on traditional territories and must submit development initiatives to members of the communities affected.
Third, consultation would ensure that economic development is in sync with the public's vision for the land. If the public's wishes are respected, it will help appease the communities that are struggling to make decisions about contested economic development projects, which would thus create a good environment for investment and for promoting better projects that protect the environment and the communities.
The motion fits well with the NDP's basic position on the environment:
Protecting the environment as a common good by creating a legal framework to ensure that people have the right to live in a healthy environment with access to natural spaces.
We say here today that we want what Canadians want in their communities on these projects: transparency, consultation, and consent.
I have introduced a number of private member's bills regarding foreign ownership transactions, the kind my region of Sudbury has experienced. My bills call for this same transparency and public consultation.
I want to say something about consultation.
I am following very closely the Ring of Fire project in northwestern Ontario. There has been nothing more than a back-and-forth blame game going on between the Conservative government here in Ottawa and the Liberal government in the province of Ontario. Northerners are fed up.
Our first nation communities are reminding those governments, yet again, what the duty to consult actually means. It is more than providing information. It is more than giving an hour's notice of big announcements coming out. It is what the NDP and our leader have articulated clearly: a constitutional responsibility to do full, real, and meaningful consultation.
That is why we support a nation-to-nation approach. At the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's mega-convention earlier this year in Toronto, my leader made it clear that he supports the Ring of Fire project, if done this way.
Our leader said:
The Ring of Fire project is an important development for families in Northern Ontario today and for generations to come. Unfortunately, Conservative policies have undermined the government's ability to oversee that all social and environmental regulations are being fully understood and addressed.
Citing his cabinet experience in Quebec, he told the mining companies that the Ring of Fire project can only move forward when public confidence and real partnerships with first nation communities are secured. He also underscored the long-standing NDP commitment to deal nation to nation with first nation governments to build relationships that benefit people, business, and the land.
This not a playing of the economy over and against the environment, as we see the current government do. It is finding a way to be both for the economy and for the environment. This is a win-win situation, especially for first nations and other communities. It makes smart business sense, too, as more mining companies are discovering.
The purpose of the motion is to make it mandatory for the government to consult Canadian citizens and first nation members before implementing a natural resource development project on their territory or in their living environment. Public willingness should be a criterion in obtaining a development permit to the same degree as impacts on human health, ecosystem maintenance, employment, and economic development.
Mr. Speaker, the member is simply wrong. The support our government is proposing for Newfoundland and Labrador is actually focused on mitigating the impacts of eliminating minimum processing requirements. We continue to have dialogue with the province on these issues.
Our trade agreement will open up tariff-free access into the largest fish and seafood market in the world worth $25 billion a year. We have secured the very best fish and seafood package for Canada, one that will dramatically improve the access our Atlantic fisheries and seafood harvesters have to the EU. We encourage them to position themselves now to take advantage of these opportunities.
Mr. Speaker, the small craft harbours program has seen drastic cuts in recent budgets, but the latest action by DFO brings into question the very existence of the program.
Without consultation, DFO is cutting by half the number of area managers in Newfoundland and Labrador, leaving eight people in total responsible for 335 harbours and 205 harbour authorities. Volunteers run harbour authorities. They apply for funding to fix aging federal infrastructure and should receive a timely response.
Why is the government willing to risk the safety of those who earn a living at sea?
The electoral district of Labrador (Newfoundland and Labrador) has a population of 26,364 with 20,175 registered voters and 66 polling divisions.
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