MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speaking on Bill C-27, Hiring Veterans

41st PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Government Orders

Veterans Hiring Act

The House resumed from November 17 consideration of the motion that 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), be read the third time and passed.

 

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to split my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

I am pleased to rise on a subject that hits close to me.

Bill C-27 is a missed opportunity. Bill C-11 was significantly flawed, and Bill C-27 is flawed as well. There may be some improvements for veterans services at some point, but they will be almost accidental.

I take issue with the parliamentary secretary when he says that to show leadership, we just have to pass the bill. I think he said “symbolism”. No, we need legislation that works for our veterans. We need legislation that would actually get them employed. We need legislation that would change their lives. We need legislation that would let them and their families reach their full potential. We do not need legislation that is just symbolic, like words on a piece of paper, and then put on a shelf somewhere in a book of legislation. It has to translate to something real.

I grew up with some of this. My grandfather was John Clifford Addison. He died on HMS Scorpion during the fall of Burma. My grandmother in London married Fred Attwood, who became my grandfather. He came over to Canada, and he was lucky he came to Canada. I say he was lucky because he had transferable skills. He had been an electrician on a number of different naval ships, including HMS Ark Royal. He got a job at Hiram Walker. Being an electrician gave him a great skill set, and the company needed people.

Before I came to this place, I used to work on behalf of persons with disabilities at the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities of Windsor and Essex County. I dealt with people with different types of disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, brain injury, and a number of different things.

The investment in that program was made during the Mike Harris years. We had to prove, and we did prove, that the government saved money by making a mild investment into the association to have that program running. It was just myself working for the association, and later on we grew to two. We protected the program by showing the type of services offered, whether it was resumé writing, life skills, or on-the-job training. I would go on site and work with an individual, and this gradually paid off over time. I am raising this point because that type of support system was necessary for those individuals to maintain their employment. It also led to better workplaces. Later on I did the same type of work with Youth At Risk. The investment was significant.

Bill C-27 contains some provisions, such as the five-year sunset clause, that could cause structural problems if people need to be retrained. Some people cannot get trained in five years because they need post-secondary education or because the job requires additional education on top of that. If someone is suffering from some sort of problem, he or she might not be capable of taking a full course load 100% of the time, so that individual might divide it up, whether it is college or university or some type of training. I do not like this element of the legislation.

It is important to note that the veterans affairs office was closed in Windsor. I take issue with that, because we have in my riding the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment and HMCS Hunter, two armed forces units that have been strong for this country.

Canada was recruited very heavily for Afghanistan. I remember the billboards. Members of the recruitment office attended festivals, fairs, and a number of different places where that would not normally be seen because Windsor had high unemployment. Windsor has contributed quite a bit, and to lose our veterans office is a shame. According to government data, the office had 2,600 clients with over 4,000 inquiries, generally speaking, so people have been affected by the closure of the office.

It is important for people to understand what a veterans office does. These offices help our veterans facilitate their lives so they can focus on looking for employment or getting into educational programs. I am not speaking only of World War II vets, Korea vets, or our men and women in peace missions. I am also speaking of our Afghanistan vets and Gulf War vets.

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They had a choice, and losing that office was significant. Yes, one staff person was moved over and there is a kiosk. Great. That is not enough. That is not good enough. There were 14 effective people. It was not just me saying it. The legion was saying no, the North Wall Riders were saying no, Afghanistan veterans were saying no, and the City of Windsor resolutions were saying no, all at a time when there was over $1 billion in available funds for veterans.

What were employees doing at the veterans office? They were helping people with pensions, disability or death benefits, economic support in the form of allowances, and health care benefits and services; assessment services for Canadian Forces and Merchant Navy veterans who served in the First World War, Second World War, the Korean War, and the other wars that have taken place, including Afghanistan; civilian war allowances for wartime services; and assistance with filing forms. Those are just some of the things veterans actually got in the Windsor veterans office.

The government closed a bunch of offices around the country, and New Democrats asked what the savings were, because according to the government, it had to close the offices out of fiscal prudence. What did it save? In Charlottetown, it saved less than $1 million; in Corner Brook, it saved around $360,000; in Sydney, it saved less than $1 million; in Windsor, it saved less than $1 million; in Thunder Bay, it saved $650,000; in Kelowna, it saved $667,000; for Prince George, data was not available; in Saskatoon, it saved less than $1 million; and in Brandon, it saved just over $300,000.

That is what happened, and now there is a contraction of other civil service jobs and positions. In Windsor, the most efficient service station in terms of sorting mail at Canada Post, which won awards, was packed up and moved to London, Ontario. Now the mail goes to London on trucks and comes back after being sorted. It is terribly inefficient, and we lost a bunch of jobs. There are also the impending cuts in home delivery. Again, these are missed opportunities for veterans to be part of the civil service.

The Veterans Affairs offices closed, as I talked about already. Veterans could have worked there, but they are closed. The Canadian Forces recruitment office was the first to go. After being poached for so many years, the recruitment office was closed, so there are no jobs there for veterans.

The consulate office in Detroit was a great opportunity. That was a very effective office and did a lot of good work in economic development. A lot of veterans with international experience would be well suited to serve in that office, especially in the Windsor-Detroit corridor.

There is a new border crossing. We have many languages and some of the most diverse cultures in the country and the world. Language skills would have been great, very effective, and important for our economy. There are cuts coming to VIA Rail, and there have been cuts to Service Canada as well.

The bill truly is a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity, because structurally, it is set up in a way that is not going to take full advantage of what we could do for veterans. I am sad about that. I am sad that we are not going to improve that. Again, this cannot be symbolic; it has to have real results. Maybe the government will actually measure the results and do the right thing to fix the legislation when it fails.

 

Mrs. Sadia Groguhé (Saint-Lambert, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

There is no doubt that with Bill C-27, the government has once again created a huge gap between the reality my colleague mentioned, that is, the many cuts to the public service where our veterans should have been able to find work, and this bill, which suggests that these veterans can go work in the public service.

My colleague talked about that during his speech, but he did not mention the fact that the government did not include the RCMP in this bill. What are my colleague's thoughts on that?

 

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Mr. Brian Masse:

Mr. Speaker, I was remiss. It was in my notes to mention that, but I did not.

I think it is unfortunate that the RCMP are not included, because it is a profession with unusual risks and challenges. I think we could do better by including them in the bill, especially given the fact that they have also been asked to go into other theatres internationally to assist with training and development. That could bring some really good skill sets to the table. I am puzzled as to why the RCMP have not been part of this. I wish they were.

 

Mr. Brian Masse:

Mr. Speaker, Bruce Moncur has contributed quite a bit to veterans services. That is the gentleman the hon. member was referring to. I have his paper that outlines the extra cost for veterans travelling, which they will have to front themselves. Often going from places like Thunder Bay to Winnipeg can cost over $1,000.

It is a false choice to suggest that we have to close our veterans offices so we can open up new clinics. There is money there. There is over $1 billion. It is about choices. It is also about respect. It is about going to a community like Windsor, asking the men and women there to serve, and then taking away a service they want.

Generally speaking, there were around 4,000-plus inquiries at the Windsor office per year. Inquiries came from physical visits, emails, and phone calls, but service delivery was being provided by people in confidence.

Now veterans have to go out to Service Canada offices. If they have to deal with stigma, they have to go see a person, and everyone knows. In a small community like Windsor, with 200,000 people, we know each other. We know our histories, we know our issues, and we know our challenges. For the amount of money, the million dollars, the government saved, for the grief it causes people, I say congratulations.