Libby speaks up for fair compensation for veterans

House of Commons
February 10, 2012

View Libby’s speech at:

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, the member who just spoke in this House raised a very relevant and pertinent question. Where are the Conservatives who are speaking on this bill? If they do not agree with it, at least they could participate and tell us what is wrong with this bill and why they cannot support it in principle, because that is what we are debating today, whether or not this bill should be supported in principle so that it can go to committee. That is a very good question and maybe we will see a few Conservatives get up now and speak to the bill.

First, I want to express gratitude to the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore because, as the previous members and others have said, he has worked diligently and with great honour and integrity on these issues affecting veterans. I know that since he was elected in this House in 1997, he has brought this file forward and exposed the inequalities and issues and grievances that exist within Veterans Affairs Canada and for all of the pensioners across the country who receive these pensions. It is a real testament to what an individual member can do with a private member’s bill, and also beyond, working within the community. As we have heard today, there are over 100,000 people who have signed a petition supporting this bill. That is an enormous number of people. It is quite incredible. All of us would love to have a petition of 100,000 people, the result of years of work on this bill and reaching out and hearing from people about their legitimate concerns.

Bill C-215 is very straightforward. It deals with an injustice. It deals with an inequity in our system. When people look at this issue, the first thing they would ask is why people who have served in the Canadian armed forces or the RCMP would lose a portion of their service pension when they reach age 65 and get their CPP or their CPP disability pension. They earned that service pension.

In British Columbia, where we also have a superannuation plan, I am not aware of any deductions being made. Through their service, people earn their superannuation, which stands on its own. Yet here, federally, we have a claw-back where people forfeit one side of their contribution when another contribution kicks in. That seems to me to be fundamentally unfair.

I am very glad that the member has brought this forward and has tried repeatedly to get this bill through the House of Commons. This bill was first brought forward in 2005. It actually did pass the House of Commons at second reading at one point and went to committee. However, the government has always foiled attempts to rectify this injustice. We have another opportunity here today with this bill to do the right thing, and if there are procedural matters around a royal recommendation, as the member for Halifax just pointed out, there are remedies for that too. There has been a lot of homework done on this bill to show that it can meet the rules and the procedures around private members’ bills.

The most important thing to note is that the government at any point or on any day it wanted to correct this issue could do so by introducing its own bill. Despite all the effort that has gone toward this private member’s bill, let us not forget that the government itself has the mandate and authority to come forward with a bill to ensure that these seniors and pensioners do not lose out on their hard-earned money. Let us not forget that those pensioners had to work 20 years and that they made these contributions to the plan. This is not a go home free day, but a contribution that has been earned as a result of work service. As my colleagues have pointed out, these particular members of society have provided a service that is sometimes risky and very challenging in the Canadian armed forces and the RCMP.

This is a significant issue and it relates to the bigger issue of fundamental fairness. We have had debates in this House and in question period day after day about what is happening to the old age security system.
There are so many people across the country asking what is going to happen to their pensions, if this is going to be taken away from them because of the plans that have been announced by the government.

The Prime Minister did it in such a wonderful way in announcing it in Davos, Switzerland. Maybe he was hoping we would not notice it here in Canada. However, once that message gets through to seniors in this country, a lot of organization starts to happen. We are beginning to see it with the sit-ins at the Conservative members’ offices, and I am sure we are going to see more of that.

This is taking place within a bigger environment of growing inequality in our country. One of the things I find surprising is that we are always told it will cost too much, that this bill is something we cannot really afford. Let us look at the bigger picture. We will have had about $60 billion in corporate tax cuts. We have a public revenue pie and a government that has been hell bent on slashing away while providing tax cuts for profitable corporations. Just look at the six big banks and the billions of dollars in profits they made last year. These corporations can afford to pay their fair share. That is all we are asking for, a fair share, so that the public revenue pie can be properly divided to ensure that essential programs, like pension programs and supports for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities, can actually go ahead.

The issue here is not affordability but the income inequality that has clearly been chosen by public policy decisions of this Conservative government, and governments previous to it as well. However, I am glad to see the Liberals are supporting this bill today. However, let us get the big picture right and recognize that what we are talking about here is not minor. In the big picture, this is something that is entirely supportable, defensible and doable, and it is the right thing to do.

I would echo others who have said in the House today that we should put aside some of the partisan feelings and instead focus on the merits of this bill and recognize that these members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP deserve to have their superannuation contributions recognized and upheld.

I want to make one last point. This does not only affect those individuals who worked and who made contributions, but also their spouses. We should acknowledge that many spouses of military members have difficulty finding and retaining employment because of their frequent moves and postings. That is something we can understand and relate to because they are moving around so much. Therefore, it is very difficult for them to contribute to their own pension plan. That is all the more reason to approve this bill, because we would be assisting the spouses of military and RCMP members and increasing their income level as a result.

There are too many people falling below the poverty line. There are too many people being left behind. We in the NDP have a pretty good track record of bringing forward economically sound proposals, whether on the CPP, OAS, employment insurance, child care or housing. We try to create a better balance on income inequality.

Here is another really fine example of what we can do in the House if we vote for this bill. We can make sure that this injustice is corrected and that those receiving these service pensions are allowed to keep 100% of what they contributed and earned through their work.