In Debate: Bill C-201 treating RCMP and Veteran's Pensions Fairly

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my privilege to participate in this debate (Bill C-201). Like so many members here I have veterans, active service personnel and members of the RCMP in my riding, in my community.

A few years ago, as the House may know, O Division of the RCMP was moved to London, Ontario and so these folks are in our communities doing service, making sure that federal laws are observed.

Interestingly enough just a few months ago RCMP officers from all over the nation went to Vancouver to make sure that people who were visiting our country for the Olympics were safe and secure in that community, making sure that no one could disrupt those remarkable events, taking time away from their families, from their homes to be there when we needed them, to make sure that young women were not being trafficked into Vancouver and made vulnerable by the fact that there were so many people who were visiting the city.

These officers and the veterans who come from the army, navy and air force and those folks who serve at Wolseley Barracks in London all need to know that their government, their community and this nation are going to make sure that when their time comes for a pension they are getting the full pension that they deserve.

That is why I stand in support of the private member's bill proposed by my colleague and want to say very clearly that Bill C-201 is an important test of our will as a community, as a Parliament and as a nation. It is a test. What the bill is saying is that we have to treat veterans and RCMP veterans fairly.

In summary the bill simply says that it seeks to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act to eliminate the deduction of Canada plan benefits from the annuity payable under each of these acts.

This goes back to 1966 when many of us were either very young or perhaps in the case of my colleague not even born. Therefore it goes back quite a long way and compelled the government to split the contributions of deductions to superannuation and to the Canada pension plan.

As was previously mentioned this was never explained to veterans or to those serving in the military. No one was advised of what would happen to them if they were disabled or when they reached the age of 65. This decision was made without their knowledge, without their consent and they did not understand it until many years later when they retired and saw that their superannuation was reduced because they were receiving Canada pension or because they were entitled to disability.

This is not how we treat the people that Parliament and the country says that it reveres, says that it honours, says that it wishes to respect and ensure that there is not poverty in the future of veterans.

We have talked a great deal about the need for pension reform in this country. My colleague from James Bay mentioned this precisely that too many people are falling through the cracks. In fact, I heard a report just recently that 70% of Canadians do not have adequate pension coverage. All they have to look forward to in their old age after years of working, building their neighbourhoods, contributing to the tax base or in the case of the RCMP and veterans providing service and support to our nation. All they have to look forward to is poverty.

We need to act and we need to act now. We need pension reform. We need to look at those private pensions that are collapsing like the Nortel pension. We need to look at the Canada pension plan, the OAS and the GIS because they are simply not adequate. Too many seniors are struggling and many of them are people who have served our country with great distinction.

I want to talk a little bit about what is going on in my riding, and to talk about Parkwood Hospital which is located right in the middle of my riding. It is for veterans. It serves only those veterans who were in World War II or the Korean War. Anyone who served after 1953 cannot utilize the services of Parkwood Hospital. Unfortunately, as we all know, the veterans of World War II and the Korean War are elderly. They are in decline and we are losing many of them. They are simply leaving because they are elderly and are passing on.

The problem is that at Parkwood, they want to close 72 beds. Those are beds, once they are closed, that we will never see re-opened. The truth is, and we all know this, that when health care budgets are under stress and beds are closed, they are closed forever. The incredible staff who serve those beds and who help those veterans, they are lost, too. They are laid off or perhaps they go into other parts of the medical delivery service. We lose important skills that have been accrued over years and years of working with fragile veterans and elderly people. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

The government can make changes to the mandate of veterans' hospitals. It is quite simple. It could simply make a change and allow these hospitals to serve the veterans who came after 1953, those who served our country as peacekeepers or in other deployments. There are all kinds of them. We see them coming back from places like Kandahar. We see RCMP officers who have been wounded and who have risked a great deal in the service of their country.

Those beds should be available for them. As I mentioned before, we have a significant group of personnel, military and RCMP, in London, Ontario. I want to say a little bit about the legions in London, Ontario. We have some quite remarkable veterans and those who have served since 1953 in London at the Victory Branch Legion, at the Duchess of Kent, at the 427 Wing Air Force Legion on Crumlin Road in my riding, and the Navy Legion.

By the way, this is the 100th anniversary of the navy. I think it would behoove all of us to celebrate that anniversary by showing respect to those veterans who served and who served so loyally.

At any rate, these legions provide remarkable support to the veterans at Parkwood. They bring them out on Remembrance Day and at Christmas. The Duchess of Kent is renowned for the efforts they make to make sure that those vets get out of Parkwood for a few hours to know that they are appreciated.