Mr. Speaker, there were 400,000 manufacturing jobs were lost on their watch. My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore has always stood up for shipbuilding in our country. We have no lessons to receive from them.
The Conservatives have no plan for cities. Municipalities across the country are faced with crumbling infrastructure, an affordable housing crisis, and gridlock. Mayors are saying the government is not working with them. Last week the Minister of Finance called Canada's premiers “delusional” because they wanted to talk about improving transit.
What we want to know is this: are they going to take the same sort of arrogant attitude with the mayors of the country this afternoon and insult them the way the finance minister did?
moved that Bill S-211, An Act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, rarely in the House one discovers unity around an issue that brings together the people of Canada and their representatives rallied in a common cause. Occasionally, a bill to which we speak already has such broad support that it has gained sweeping support from coast to coast to coast, and sometimes in this chamber we witness a powerful unstoppable energy unleashed when Canadians unite in common cause to defeat a national adversary. It is a great honour to rise on one of those occasions today as I sponsor Bill S-211, an act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians, also known as the national health and fitness day act.
In the remarks that follow, I will outline the health and health care crises that led to this bill and explain how the bill responds to those needs. I will also pay tribute to some champions of health and fitness, and for those who decide to get involved, suggest some practical ways to do so.
We are facing a battle. An implacable adversary is slowly and insidiously killing Canadians and dragging us down as a nation. I say implacable because unlike a human adversary, there is no person or group to target in making the situation better. The adversary is a pattern of behaviour that has progressively undermined Canadians' level of physical fitness. What is it that I am calling our national adversary? Our national adversary is inactivity. It is costing us and it is killing us.
Canada's inactivity problem drives deep. It is rooted in our culture and wedded to the routines we have developed in our schools, our work and our play. The problem relates to the progress we have made in technology which enables us to communicate by computer seated in the comfort of our homes, of our classrooms and our workplaces. Similarly, screen time, whether in front of a TV, computer or smart phone, has taken our kids off playing fields and put them on chairs instead.
Statistics Canada has reported a continuous decline in sports participation which, from 1992 to 2005, went from 45% to 28% among Canadians age 15 and older. That is less than one out of every three Canadian adults who is as active as they should be. Less than 7% of Canadian children and youth meet the guideline of 60 minutes of activity daily six days per week. Among Canadians age 20 and older, two-thirds do not meet the recommended physical activity levels, that is, to be active at least two and a half hours per week to achieve a health benefit. That is only 20 minutes per day to meet the minimum standards for adults and we are not even doing that.
Statistics Canada has delivered more disturbing news. In the period between 1981 and 2009, measured obesity roughly doubled in most age groups for both sexes. Data from 2009 suggests that approximately one in four Canadian adults age 18 years and over is obese. In 2008 the combined overweight and obese proportion was 62.1%. Nearly two out of three adult Canadians is either overweight or obese.
This trend has dramatic implications since children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight as adults. Among other things, studies have shown that adolescents who are overweight have a fourteen-fold increased risk of a heart attack before they turn 50. Excess weight in childhood is increasingly linked to illnesses once seen only in adults, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal blood fats, abnormal blood clotting, and thickening of the arteries.
Psychologically, evidence suggests a positive relationship between physical activity and psychosocial health in employees, including emotional well-being, improved mental health, and reduced depression, anxiety and stress. They have all been associated with regular physical activity as well as reduced symptoms of fatigue, enhanced mood, increased quality of life and life satisfaction.
The support for the bill before us is not related to high-performance athletes, but instead to Canadians who are not necessarily involved in athletics. This is not a sports bill; it is a health and fitness bill.
As I biked to work this morning, I was thinking in fact of those Canadian heroes like Terry Fox and my friend Rick Hansen who have shown the world that participation in physical activity is not just for able-bodied people.
More and more persons with disabilities—I prefer the term “adaptive athletes”—have made the point really clear. Look at Jody Mitic, the Canadian veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan, who runs marathons anyway and is now campaigning to be an Ottawa city councillor along with Matt Fleury, another great champion of health and fitness.
Initiatives such as Soldier On and Ottawa's Army Run bring out many of our wounded warriors and others, inspiring with the realization that one does not have to be Wayne Gretzky or Nancy Greene Raine to participate and improve one's health through physical activity.
Our declining health and fitness rates are clearly an economic problem, not just a matter of life quality. The Public Health Agency of Canada has concluded that costs of obesity are estimated to be $7 billion. That is the total cost of the obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Members may have heard the quote from Roman times that a healthy mind relates to a healthy body.
In addition to direct and indirect health care costs, the quality and productivity of our work in Canada will improve if our people become healthier, if only by decreasing the number of sick days. Indirect costs of poor health include the value of economic output lost due to illness, injury-related work disability, and premature death.
It has been estimated that, on average, compared to an active person an inactive person spends 38% more days in hospital and uses 5.5% more family physician visits, 13% more specialist services, and 12% more nurse visits.
The bill that I sponsor today, Bill S-211, tackles problems that touch every Canadian in terms of our health, our quality of life, and our economy. The bill aims to increase the health of Canadians by increasing our physical participation rates.
Specifically, supporters wish to encourage local governments, non-government organizations, the private sector, and all Canadians to recognize the first Saturday in June as national health and fitness day, or NHFD, a day marked by local, provincial and national events to promote health and fitness.
The bill makes particular mention of local governments as they own and operate many of our nation's health and fitness facilities. NHFD supporters want to encourage local governments more aggressively to promote the use of such facilities. Furthermore, we encourage cities and towns to mark the day with local events and initiatives celebrating and promoting the importance of using local health, recreational, sports and fitness facilities.
People around the world know that Canada's mountains, oceans, lakes, forests, parks, and wilderness also offer recreation and fitness opportunities, and we ought to benefit from what we share collectively.
The month in which NHFD falls, June, is not only a time of great weather, but is also parks and recreation month, a time in the calendar already set aside to foster heightened appreciation of our outdoor assets.
The bill is an amended version of a private member's bill I introduced in this House previously which had widespread support, but for procedural reasons did not progress. To be clear, NHFD is not a legal holiday; it will not incur costs of lost productivity. In fact, it is not just a day at all. It is about a dramatic change in lifestyle.
On a personal level, my wife Donna and my children Shane, Jake, and Meimei have inspired me to promote the bill. Donna is a personal trainer. My children all earned black belts in tae kwon do at an early age and are dedicated athletes. I am a pretty active person myself, finding that physical activity keeps me healthy, energized, and effective in my public service.
With the privilege of representing West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country in B.C., I can say that constituents in the riding I represent are among the most active in the country. Where I live, people love the outdoors and are concerned about the physical inactivity problem Canada is facing. I personally learned much from the people in my community, who have inspired me to promote health and fitness as a gift they give to the rest of our great country. I bring Bill S-211 forward today in paying special tribute to the wonderful role models for health and fitness who live in the riding I represent.
The bill was tabled appropriately by my friend and everyone's athletic icon, Canada's female athlete of the 20th century, Senator Nancy Greene Raine. Senator Greene Raine, who is here today, Nancy to her millions of fans, is a proud British Columbian and an articulate spokeswoman for all Canadians in many areas of public policy, but in promoting health and fitness no one can surpass her. Demonstrating great leadership, Nancy won unanimous support for Bill S-211 in the Senate.
I also thank the Minister of Health and the Minister of State for Sport, who have gone out of their way to support NHFD at every turn.
I also want to thank my colleagues across the floor. This bill already enjoys a rare element of enthusiastic cross-party support.
Another distinctive aspect of the bill is the fact that it has already been implemented on a broad scale well before it has become law. Over 155 cities and towns across Canada have proclaimed the day, including Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, Yellowknife and Pond Inlet. I am especially proud that the earliest adopters included the towns and the cities in the riding I represent: West Vancouver, Whistler, Squamish, Sechelt, Gibsons, Lions Bay, Bowen Island, North Van district and Powell River.
Led by Premier Christy Clark and the energetic MLA, Michelle Stilwell, last spring B.C. became the first province to endorse NHFD, followed quickly by Yukon as the first territory.
On May 30, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a resolution at its annual conference encouraging all member municipalities to proclaim the day, and just two weeks ago, the Union of Quebec Municipalities followed suit.
Members would be amazed at the number and influence of non-government organizations that have endorsed the bill and begun to promote its objectives even before it passes. These include: the Canadian Medical Association; Lisa Ashley and the Canadian Nurses Association; Chris Gray and the Heart and Stroke Foundation; Chris Jones and Physical and Health Education Canada; Bob Elliott and Sport Matters Group; Participaction; Debra Gassewitz and the Sports Information Resource Centre; C. J. Noble and Canadian Parks and Recreation; Richard Way and Canadian Sport for Life; Trisha Sarker and the Fitness Industry Council of Canada; Arne Elias of Canada Bikes; Canadian Interuniversity Sport; Rob McClure and the Ottawa Bicycle Club; Trans Canada Trail, championed by Laureen Harper, Paul LaBarge and Deborah Apps; and one of our recent supporters, Movember.
Additionally, I am grateful to private sector organizations for their support: The Running Room, Canadian Tire and Jumpstart, Kunstadt Sports, Glacier Media, Capital Hill Hotel and Suites, Tractivity, and GoodLife Fitness.
Like most good things in life, the bill comes about due to the efforts of a large team of people over many years. The broad public support for NHFD reflects a unity in this House that began in 2008 during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As a large part of the games was to take part in the riding I represent, I spent much time with people asking what we could do to ensure a lasting positive legacy from the games. While gold medals were a crowning glory, we wanted something that all Canadians could claim as their own on an ongoing basis.
The key tragic event that spurred us on was the untimely death of Tom Hanson, a renowned Canadian Press journalist who died in 2009 while playing pick-up hockey. Tom was a young man, only 41. The Prime Minister took the occasion to remind us that we needed to take care of our health.
I had Mr. Hanson's sad experience in mind along with the Prime Minister's words when I met two great heroes of mine, Pierre Lafontaine and Phil Marsh, who have left an indelible imprint on Canada for their advocacy of health and fitness. Pierre and Phil are the energetic coaches of our parliamentary fitness initiative, which I began in 2009 with the support of the members for Sackville—Eastern Shore and Etobicoke North, each of them from different parties in this House.
When I met Pierre in 2009, he was coach of Canada's national swim team. He continues in his role of promoting national health and fitness now as president of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. Phil Marsh is regional manager of the Running Room in Ottawa, who with his boss, John Stanton, is a major force in promoting fitness for all Canadians. Both Pierre and Phil are great men, generous with their time, who volunteer to coach our MPs and senators in running and swimming, each once a week whenever Parliament is in session.
I have also worked with others to create companion events that have supported NHFD, including Bike Day on the Hill, Bike Day in Canada and National Life Jacket and Swim Day on the Hill.
With all that support and all this national enthusiasm, I have to ask the most important question: will a bill like this make any difference to Canada's battle against inactivity? National health and fitness has far-reaching implications, including physical health, mental illness, life expectancy, school performance, national productivity, economic performance, and health care costs. If we do not change our current patterns, this is the first generation of Canadians who will die at an age younger than our parents. We must change our direction.
Bill S-211 will be Parliament's statement that MPs and senators wish to instill in Canadians an awareness of the significant benefits of physical activity, and to encourage our people to get more active. Supporting NHFD is not the whole solution, but it is part of the solution. I encourage all Canadians to take the field in the battle against inactivity, and to be sure to approach their mayors and councillors if they have not already proclaimed national health and fitness day.
I thank colleagues in this House for their support. I welcome them to join me in the parliamentary fitness initiative, for their own health and to demonstrate their commitment to their constituents. I ask that they support Bill S-211. Canada's health and fitness depends on them.
Mr. Speaker, I think it would be more respectful to veterans and to former RCMP officers as well.
Eric Rebiere, whose 24-year career in the federal police force ended in 2006, two years after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after taking part in NATO policing missions in Croatia and Kosovo, said the government should have one standard for all people who served in military operations, including RCMP officers who volunteered for policing missions.“They have created sub-classes of veterans, and that is discriminatory under the (Veteran) Charter”, Rebiere said. “To say we are not veterans is an insult”.
At a rally on Parliament Hill earlier this month, Rebiere spoke about how the RCMP has for more than a century participated in Canada's military ventures. Like other retired RCMP officers, Rebiere is covered by the Pension Act and receives monthly payments, but can't access many of the programs the Canadian Forces veterans have.
Eric Rebiere pointed to Section 4 of the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, which requires the ministry to be responsible for “the care, treatment, or re-establishment in civil life of any person who served in the Canadian Forces” and “of any person who has otherwise engaged in pursuits relating to war”.
What we have also found among veterans themselves is great support among veterans organizations that have felt often under attack by the government. We have seen the closing of so many veterans offices that the cutbacks in services to veterans have been quite appalling. I know on this side of the House that particularly the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant and the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore have been at the forefront in standing and saying that it is unacceptable. What we need to do is put in place a full array of services for our veterans, but that is not what is happening, and veterans are aware of that.
Even at the Royal Canadian Legion's Dominion Convention in Edmonton on Tuesday, members voted unanimously to amend the Legion's definition of a veteran to include RCMP members and peace officers who serve in special duty areas. There is support from the veterans organizations themselves to say that veterans organizations should include RCMP veterans.
What the NDP motion of instruction is stating is that we instruct the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs “that, during its consideration of Bill C-27, an Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act (enhancing hiring opportunities for certain serving and former members of the Canadian Forces), the Committee be granted the power to expand the scope of the Bill in order to allow members of the RCMP to qualify for the priority hiring program”.
This is no small thing. As Mr. Rebiere has said so eloquently, RCMP veterans are treated even worse than veterans by the government. It is an appalling state. Just two weeks ago, as I was leaving Parliament Hill to go to the airport to take a flight home, I came across a group of Canadian veterans standing at a table in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street. They were selling T-shirts to raise funds for their services. Look at that picture for just a moment. Because of the Conservatives' slashing and cutting of veterans' services, we have veterans selling T-shirts to try to provide services.
These are people who put their lives on the line for Canada. These are people who have said that they are willing to do anything to reinforce and defend Canadian democracy, yet Conservatives are forcing them to sell T-shirts to provide for services. I can think of nothing more despicable and nothing more hypocritical than the Conservative government's actions in the cutbacks to veterans' services and the closure of veterans' services offices right across this country. The hallmark of the government is treating our veterans with disrespect, and we see that constantly.
They are willing to be there when there is a photo-op. They are not willing to be there when it counts, which is where the NDP is every day in the House of Commons fighting for veterans and saying that veterans have the right to be treated with due respect by the Conservatives and have the right to a full array of services when they have been willing to put their lives on the line for their country.
In my riding there is a veterans hospital, George Derby Centre. It is another one of the veterans hospitals that have been subject to cutbacks in the services offered to veterans. I see veterans regularly. Some of them are my friends. When I see the cutbacks being put in place and the services not being offered to the same extent they were even a few years ago, it saddens me.
That is why New Democrats are saying today that we want to engage in a vigorous debate, rather than having the debate shut down, as we just saw happen in the debate on the environment. My seat mate, the member for Halifax, spoke very eloquently about the environment. We wanted to engage the government on the environment, and the government said no, it was not going to talk about the environment in the House of Commons.
Now we have a debate on veterans' services and on expanding the scope of Bill C-27 to allow members of the RCMP to qualify for a priority hiring program. Our hope is that instead of the government shutting down debate, which is the only thing it seems to be able to do these days, it will actually engage in what is an important debate.
Mr. Rebiere was very clear that what is needed is the provision of services for RCMP veterans that match the services offered to veterans. New Democrats go even further. We would say that the services offered to veterans need to be expanded and enhanced, and the cutbacks have to stop. It is fair to say that this motion of instruction, if Conservatives are going to be consistent in what they have been saying, should receive the support of the Conservative members of the House so that they provide RCMP veterans and veterans with the full array of services that should be the entitlement of those who have been willing to put their lives on the line for their country.
When the bill was first introduced, New Democrats said that Bill C-27 simply does not go far enough. It overlooks entire groups of veterans. We thought that in principle, it was a good start, but that is only a first step in providing the full array of services that need to be provided to veterans in this country. We are saying today that we indeed need to expand the purview of Bill C-27 so that RCMP officers are included.
Eric Rebiere, a 24-year veteran of the RCMP, says that he feels like a second-class veteran. When there are veterans outside Parliament Hill selling T-shirts to try to provide some semblance of service because of the cutbacks by the government in terms of veterans' services, it is fair to say that veterans need to be treated better. That includes RCMP veterans. That is why we are offering the motion of instruction today. We hope it will have the support of both sides of the House so that RCMP veterans are no longer treated like second-class veterans and are included within the scope of Bill C-27.
moved that Bill S-211, An Act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians, be read the first time.
Mr. Speaker, in a moment that I think will bring all members of the House together, it is a great honour to give first reading to Bill S-211.
Bill S-211 promises to create a national health and fitness day. The bill received unanimous support in the Senate last week, and it promises to help Canadians achieve higher levels of healthy physical activity, reversing trends of depression, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mounting health care costs. Having worked on this initiative for years, I am pleased to report that over 150 cities have already proclaimed national health and fitness day.
I would like to thank the seconder, the member for Burlington; Senator Nancy Greene Raine, who brought this bill through the Senate; members all around the House who support it, including the members for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Etobicoke North and Saanich—Gulf Islands; the Minister of Health and the Minister of State for Sport; and the incredible volunteer parliamentary fitness coaches, Pierre Lafontaine and Phil Marsh. Together, we will make Canada the fittest nation on Earth.
(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support our government's efforts on behalf of our nation's veterans as well as those still serving and their families.
I am not here to fight with anybody or to pick a fight with anyone because I think everybody in this House is motivated to do the right thing for our veterans. We can disagree about measures taken being too much, too little, the wrong way, or whatever. Our government and the opposition in committee, particularly the members for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Guelph, and others, have been sitting very diligently for some time now, and the results will come tomorrow. I think all members in the House will be pleased with what they see. Inevitably, there will be some who say it is not enough. That is just the nature of the beast.
This is a very big story. It is a very long story. It is not a perfect story. It never will be a perfect story. That is why we have to take measures as we find them, one at a time, preferably more at a time if we can, and hopefully tomorrow will be an example of that. However, we have to keep moving forward. That is what the veterans hiring act does. It is not a panacea. It is not a silver bullet. There is no such thing. It gives our veterans, who have obviously sacrificed, who have put themselves in the line on our behalf and on the behalf of others around the world, in Afghanistan, Libya and wherever else, access to jobs in the federal public service. This is enhanced access to rewarding and meaningful jobs that will allow them to continue to lead and serve their country.
There were questions about qualifications. Of course, somebody has to be qualified to do any particular job. Anything else would make no sense at all. This act will help to ensure that veterans have access to job opportunities, by making an amendment to the Public Service Employment Act.
First and foremost, the five-year hiring preference will be extended to those who are medically released for service-related reasons. This will help to give those veterans the highest level of consideration for jobs in the federal public service. This is a long-term picture. It is not about what is going on in the public service now, or any kind of cutbacks, such as we saw in 1995, such as we have seen more recently in response to economic situations. Governments do what governments have to do. The Liberals did it in 1995, and there was massive criticism then. That is politics. They did what they felt they had to do. This government has done what it felt it had to do, although much less than the previous government did. That is not to say one was good or one was bad. It was different circumstances, with a different reaction by different governments.
This single change in the veterans hiring act demonstrates our understanding that while these men and women may not be able to serve in the Canadian Forces anymore, they still have a lot of things that they can offer to Canada. Whether it is in the public service or other professions, they are still capable of making great contributions in service to their country.
It is the same principle behind our proposal to extend the existing hiring preference for all medically released veterans from two years to five years.
We will take this even further by increasing access to public service jobs for honourably released and still-serving members. It will allow a greater number of veterans and still-serving military to participate in the hiring process for advertised positions in the federal public service. It will give honourably released members, who have at least three years of military service, a preference in advertised external hiring processes for five years from the date of release. This means that they can be appointed if qualified, and obviously it has to be “if qualified”, over other qualified candidates.
In order to ensure that veterans are offered employment opportunities, it will also establish a hiring preference for veterans over other applicants for externally advertised hiring processes. Simply put, if the veteran is equally qualified and has been honourably released with at least three years of service, the veteran will get the job over anyone else.
I believe our veterans and still-serving personnel are ideal candidates for careers in the public service, and many other professions. Their experience has taught them how to organize, prioritize, manage, and make decisions under pressure, all of which are assets in the public service.
After I left the military, it dawned on me more and more that servicemen and women sell themselves short in the military. Whether flying airplanes or loading armaments, fixing electronics or radars, or being a midshipman, whatever they are, they sell themselves short because they focus on the specific skills they have to do that military job.
They very often do not appreciate the transferable nature of those specific skills but, more importantly, the personal qualities they bring from the military to civvy street. These are qualities of integrity, teamwork, leadership, discipline, life experience, and the experience they have dealing with people and incredibly difficult situations, where lives are at stake, the lives of those they are saving.
It can also be a simple quality like showing up on time. One of the things I hear a lot from people on civvy street is that if they could get people who would show up for work on time every day, they would be further ahead. This is a quality of anybody coming out of the military. I often jokingly get criticized for always being early, although it is true that I have been late once or twice. However, it is a habit. In the military, being on time means being five or 10 minutes early.
These are the kinds of qualities that civilian employers value. For anybody in the military who is listening, they should not sell themselves short. They may have a specific MOC in the military, a specific trade, but they can do much more than that, just with the human qualities they have developed in the military and their ability to learn and develop new skills.
I am proud to support these amendments. This is not a panacea. It is not a silver bullet. However, it is one set of measures for one set of conditions, and there are many more that need to be addressed.
As one of my colleagues mentioned earlier, there is a tremendous resource here. We have 7,600 people being released from the military every year on average, and about 1,000 medically released, at an average age of 37. When I was released, I was only 47. That may be old by comparison, but it seems young now.
As I said, this is just one measure. There are many other measures and significant investments that our government has delivered, and there is more to be delivered. There will always be more to be delivered.
Since being elected, our government has invested more than $5 billion in new funding to improve the benefits and services that we provide to veterans and their families. We have committed much more in the 2014 budget in support of Canada's veterans.
The federal budget, delivered this past February, also pledged a further investment in the funeral and burial program, totalling $108.2 million over the next three years. Specifically, the new funding will expand the program's eligibility criteria to ensure that more modern-day veterans of modest means have access to a dignified funeral and burial. This new money is in addition to the $65 million that was announced in last year's budget to simplify the program and increase the reimbursement rates from $3,600 to over $7,300.
As well, budget 2014 commits the Government of Canada to investing almost $2.1 million this year to enhance the Veterans Affairs Canada My VAC account. For those who do not know, My VAC account is a web-based tool, not like monster.com, that allows users to conduct business online with their department at any time of day or night. This means that one can complete a variety of transactions with the government when it is important and convenient for one to do so, such as applying online for the full range of benefits, updating contact information, or tracking the status of a disability program application. Do all of these things need to be made more simple? Yes, they do, and Veterans Affairs is working on that as we speak.
This kind of thing is clearly something that veterans have been waiting for. We already have more than 9,000 registered users on My VAC account, and we expect that number to grow to 25,000 by about 2017.
In short, this investment builds on our efforts to eliminate unnecessary red tape so that veterans can access the programs, services, and benefits they need as quickly and painlessly as possible. I totally agree that over the years we have sometimes made it too difficult to access some of these services and benefits, with too much red tape, too many hoops to jump through, and too many people along the way giving the wrong answer, that being “no”.
We have done a number of things. For example, we introduced up front payments for the veterans independence program, or VIP program, for housekeeping and grounds maintenance. We have made changes to simplify reimbursements for travel costs to and from medical appointments. We have done away with having to submit receipt after receipt. We give them funding up front and then let them go about their business.
Last October, the minister announced similarly important and time-saving changes to the vocational rehabilitation program. By making the program more flexible, we are now able to respond faster and more fully to the specific needs of the more than 1,300 veterans who are currently eligible for the $75,800 in training. We need to further improve that system and streamline access to it, and we are in the process of doing that.
We have also established the veterans bill of rights, something that veterans have been asking for since the 1960s. We created the office of the Veterans Ombudsman to ensure the fair treatment of veterans, their representatives, and their families, in accordance with the veterans bill of rights.
The ombudsman is in a difficult position. He or she is obviously an advocate for veterans and spends a lot of time listening to the issues of veterans, talking to them, trying to make a connection between those issues and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the minister, the parliamentary secretary, the bureaucracy. That person is in a very important but very delicate situation, so it is important that the office be maintained, and obviously it will. It was very important that it was established.
We are also addressing mental health issues that our returning men and women may face, and that is a difficult challenge, as it is for all of our allies. The mental health of Canada's veterans is and has to be a top priority for our government, or any government, particularly those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. That is why, in 2007, we doubled the national network of operational stress injury clinics. The innovative personnel support units have sprung up across the country to address the growing number of veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health conditions.
This weekend, I was in Edmonton. There is an event called “Clara's Big Ride”. That is Clara Hughes, the sixth-time Olympic medal winner in both summer and winter games. She is cycling 12,000 kilometres around the country, counterclockwise, to bring attention to mental health, to the stigma, and getting people to talk about it. That is so important. People in the military are like Clara Hughes. They are A-type personalities, and it is very difficult for them to talk about having a problem.
As I told the crowd then, and it applies equally to the military, it is okay to have a problem. That is normal. One in five Canadians has a mental health problem. It is not okay to not do something about it. It is not okay for any government or any organization that cares about veterans to not try to do something about it. That is what we are trying to do.
In fact, the minister just announced a plan, a pilot project, to assess the benefits and risks of psychiatric service dogs to assist in the treatment of PTSD in veterans. It is a two-and-a-half year pilot project to place about 50 veterans with dogs, to the tune of about $500,000 to cover expenses and new research. Research is extremely important.
Many veterans have called on us to evaluate the benefits of service dogs and other animals, horses, for example, in the treatment of PTSD. I am proud that we are taking steps down that road, and more steps need to be taken.
We continue to work ambitiously to create new employment opportunities for veterans. That is why we have been a proud supporter and financial partner in the Helmets to Hardhats program. That program is providing veterans with opportunities for employment and apprenticeship in the construction industry. That program is relatively new. It will take time for the program to fully develop and reach its full potential.
We heard some criticism that we think the soldiers are only good for turning wrenches or pounding nails. Those jobs are very high tech, very highly skilled, and very highly paid.
That is why we are working with corporate Canada and the Canadian Forces, in partnership with employers across the country, to assist veterans in transitioning into civilian careers, working with companies like 3M, Synovus, Intuit Canada, and many more.
That is why we brought forward the veterans hiring act. It builds on of all these investments and initiatives. It establishes an unprecedented level of commitment to hiring veterans into the federal public service. It delivers real and meaningful new opportunities for Canada's veterans and military personnel who want to start new careers. It is another way that Canada can express its gratitude and respect for these men and women.
As I have said a couple of times, and as others have tried to say, it is only one measure. It is not a panacea. It is not a silver bullet. However, it is one measure. I am pleased to see that the opposition will support this as a step forward. There are many more steps that need to taken, some larger, some smaller. This is just one, but it is an important one.
It is a good piece of legislation. We will take it to committee. If there are amendments that make sense, I assume it would probably go to the Veterans Affairs committee. I am hoping it does. This is the kind of legislation that I can certainly get my head around in terms of pushing it forward, but also in terms of making meaningful amendments to make it even better.
It is all part, in a small way—and the military will not take over the public service—of getting some of the mental capacity, some of the qualities of individuals, into an area where they can benefit, not just their unit in the military, not just a local organization that they might join afterwards, but in service to the entire country through the public service.
Therefore, it is important that we create these job opportunities for our brave men and women to assist them in transitioning to civilian life.
That said, I am not going to dwell on this. It is a little disappointing that a union has spoken out against the initiative. It does not seem to believe that our veterans should be at the front of the line but should be at the back of the line, behind the civil servants. I understand unions supporting their members. That is what unions do and what they should do. However, I think there is a bit of a breakdown in understanding. If retired veterans become members of the public service through those jobs, then they will be members of that union. My advice to the union is to let it happen. They would be new members for the union, and very qualified members. The union would be supporting veterans along the way. It really is the best of both worlds.
I know that the NDP will vote for the bill, so I will not dwell on that anymore. I know that the NDP will support it and that the Liberals will support it, and that is what everyone in the House should do.
We talked a bit about the veterans affairs committee report that will be tabled tomorrow. We would love to tell the member for Guelph, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, and others about it tonight, because we are justifiably proud of what we have done. Will it answer all the questions to everyone's satisfaction? No, there is probably no way we could possibly do that. Will it take some significant steps forward? I think it will.
Members of the committee, on all sides of the House, worked extremely hard together and extremely collaboratively. We all put water in our wine. We all backed off here and there. Everyone got something that most people will applaud. We will see tomorrow. It will be significant progress. The government has to implement it, and I for one will pledge to do my part as a member of the government to get that done. There will be bumps and grinds along the way. We know that. It does not happen overnight. However, it will set the framework for some significant change, and I think most people will enjoy what we present tomorrow.
I retired 20 years ago now. It seems like yesterday. The new veterans today are more educated than they were even when I retired and are certainly more educated than a lot of folks at the end of the Second World War. They are younger, by and large. There are a lot of twenty-somethings coming back from Afghanistan. They are much more aware of their rights and their power, their power to band together in various advocacy organizations and their power to put pressure on government. That is totally what they should be doing. We should do it on all sides, respectfully, based on facts. It is invigorating.
One of our witnesses, Sergeant Bjarne Nielsen, had a wonderful attitude. I know for my colleagues in the House who sat on the committee that it was one of the things we remarked on. He had an IED incident where he lost a good part of one arm. His side was completely opened up. It was many months of surgeries, rehab, and so on, but he had come back. He was starting a very meaningful life for himself and his family, who went through a lot of problems and heartache, but he is coming back. He praised the government programs, admitting that obviously people would like to see more. His point was that government programs can only bring 49%. The other 51% has to come from the veteran. That was a tremendous attitude, and we were all gobsmacked, frankly, by his testimony. He was so positive and so determined that there was no doubt in our minds that there was a young man who was going to succeed in whatever he did because of his attitude.
Attitude goes a long way in all things. Attitude goes a long way in the House when we deal with each other, good or bad. Attitude goes a long way for people in duress or distress and getting them out of that.
We are here to provide the framework to do that through things like the veterans hiring act and other measures we will bring in as time goes by. However, it really is a collaboration, a co-operation, a partnership between us here, veterans, and all the organizations out there committed to doing the right thing, and that is the right thing for our veterans.
Mr. Speaker, I was having a nice quiet time in my office today when I was asked to come and speak to this important legislation. I want to point out that we in the NDP will be supporting the legislation, but let us go over a little history of this.
I am probably one of the few members of Parliament in the House who was here in 2004 and 2005 when work on the new veterans charter started. One of the parameters of the new veterans charter was that priority hiring for veterans would be a key aspect of the charter. What happened was that after eight years, DND and DVA were the only two departments hiring. The other departments were simply not. Now the government is forced to bring in legislation to do such a thing.
I already said in my question that the government wants to hire veterans, but on a premise that they have to be qualified. They have to meet the test of whatever it is they applying for. It does not necessarily mean that as veterans they get jobs. It means that as veterans they may apply for a job in the public service.
Let us not forget that 30 veterans were recently released from the Commissionaires out of the Fire Watch Service at Cape Scott, Halifax. Now the government is saying it wants to hire veterans, but DND is saying it is going to lay them off. In addition, many veterans have been laid off because they were last in, first out, with all the cuts the government has made to the public service across the country. Therefore, the Conservatives are saying to all the veterans out there that they should not to worry, that if they exit the military on a medical premise of any kind, if they meet the qualifications, they may get a job with the public service. That is “if, if and may”. There is no guarantee that will happen.
However, we hope to improve the legislation because we notice that in all the discussions of the Conservatives over there, they have not once mentioned the RCMP. Why should RCMP veterans who apply for their benefits from DVA be excluded from priority hiring when they become disabled and exit the RCMP? We would like to see RCMP disabled veterans included in the legislation.
By the way, there are a lot of Conservatives over there whom I respect tremendously. Today marks the 17th anniversary of my being elected to the House of Commons. I congratulate all those from the class of 1997. I see there is a Saskatchewan member from the class of 1993, a decent guy.
The hon. member for Durham, whom I respect, served his country very well for 12 years. He said the following, and I am quite offended by this because he is absolutely wrong. I will give him a chance to apologize either publicly or privately. He said this of Michael Blais of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, “who works out of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore's office”. That is a blatant fabrication. It is an outright lie. Because he is—
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member very much for his question. I must also thank him for the extraordinary service his colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, provided to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and thank the committee for the work it did to make recommendations to the government.
I want him to know that we listened to the ombudsman's recommendations. The report will be tabled in the House tomorrow, and the government will respond to it in due course, without delay. I am sure the hon. member will be very pleased with the results.
In the meantime, I invite him to support this sensible bill that all veterans, especially those who need better access to federal jobs, will benefit from.
The electoral district of Sackville--Eastern Shore (Nova Scotia) has a population of 86,963 with 67,786 registered voters and 216 polling divisions.
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