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BILL C-27 : PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYMENT ACT (THIRD READING)

I am pleased to rise again today to speak on the important changes which will further enhance job opportunities for members of the Canadian Forces and our veterans.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank my colleagues on the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee for their support in bringing this bill back to the chamber. We are all united, I believe, in our commitment to ensuring veterans, serving members and their families have the supports they need to successfully transition to civilian life.

This legislation was introduced with the intention of giving our men and women in uniform, our veterans, more of the tools they will need to transition successfully to civilian life. Our government understands that a large part of a successful transition is opportunities for stable employment and a new career. For this reason, I believe it's important the bill be brought into force as soon as possible so that our veterans and serving members are not delayed in gaining all the benefits this legislation will afford them.

Our committee heard from a number of very knowledgeable witnesses who gave useful testimony on how best to expand access to government jobs for current and former members of the forces.

One consistent theme in the testimony was the overwhelming support our witnesses had for the spirit of the proposed legislation and the opportunities it will afford our veterans and serving members.

Some witnesses raised concerns about the adjudication process that will be necessary for determining the designation of a service-related injury or medical condition. I welcome the insights and view them as part of our government's continuum of opportunities to improve the services and benefits for our veterans.

Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence are committed to working together in close collaboration toward eliminating the red tape that hampers individuals from receiving the benefits they are owed. I believe the adjudication issues raised by our witnesses will be resolved by this collaborative effort being engaged between both departments.

As one example, when the minister appeared before our committee, he noted the government had already responded to a House of Commons recommendation with this intention in mind. We've instituted a policy that no one will be released from the Canadian Forces until their medical condition has stabilized and VAC has been engaged in a meaningful way for the benefit of the veteran. Actions like this work towards easing the transition burden and promise a continuum of care, which is so important to those returning to civilian life.

Just as an aside, I spoke with former serving member Walt Natynczyk today, and he was very pleased that this bill is before us because it has always been his belief that providing the security for employment post-service is the key to helping families, and if you have a mental health issue, this is the key. That's where the government is moving and I am so glad that we're able to move this along.

In principle, I believe the hiring process referred to in Bill C-27 should be as simple as possible and that the administrative mechanisms put in place must reflect this and not be onerous to our veterans. This is all part of the consistency our government has shown in its commitment to ensuring veterans and their families have access to the support and services they need.

Recently, we introduced a number of measures to improve the way we care for those in uniform. Last week we announced that we are honoring our commitment to give part-time reservists the same support as full-time reservists and regular force soldiers. Beginning next month, injured part-time Reserve Force personnel will receive the same minimum income support payment through the Earnings Loss Benefit program as all soldiers do. The support will be calculated using their actual military salary, commensurate with their rank and duration of service, rather than the per-day payment that part-time reservists receive.

We are also moving to provide lifetime financial support for injured veterans and their families through the proposed Retirement Income Security Benefit. This benefit will provide for seriously injured veterans with ongoing monthly income support beginning at the age of 65. In total, it will ensure that an eligible veteran's annual income will be at least 70 per cent of what they received in benefits before the age of 65.

We also announced that we are expanding the eligibility of the Permanent Impairment Allowance so that more veterans with serious injuries will receive assistance. With broader eligibility, veterans and their families can have confidence that they will have the support they need to manage their medical conditions as they transition to civilian life.

We're also introducing a new Family Caregiver Relief Benefit. This benefit will provide an annual tax-free grant of more than $7,000. This grant will provide the necessary compensation to allow caregivers in the home to be replaced by another family member, a friend or any other professional of the veteran's choice. This benefit will be provided in addition to all the other benefits already in place to support a veteran's health care needs.

Without doubt, Bill C-27 will add to these measures by expanding the financial security and quality of life for members of the Armed Forces who are transitioning.

Our men and women in uniform reflect the very best of who we are as Canadians and are admired for their leadership and dedication, both at home and abroad. More important, they have the skills, training and experience necessary to make them perfect candidates for federal public sector jobs. Businesses and organizations across the country are realizing that hiring a veteran is not just a patriotic sentiment. Our government's Hire a Veteran initiative has been very successful, partnering with organizations such as CN, Cenovus and 3M Canada. All of these companies and employers fully recognize the value and expertise of those who have served. Our government, with Bill C-27, is walking the walk and not just asking others to do it for us.

Our veterans are individuals who come back to civilian life with a wealth of acquired practical knowledge and the professional maturity necessary to deal with a wide range of situations. Bill C-27 will give qualified veterans with at least three years of service preference in advertised external hiring processes within the public service for up to five years after their release. Witnesses before our committee indicated that roughly one in six hirings by the federal government is pursued through this mechanism.

Canadian Forces personnel and veterans meeting the same criteria with at least three years of military service will also be able to participate in advertised internal hiring processes for up to five years after their release.

The exact number of jobs available fluctuates from year to year depending on the level of hiring. With this in mind, our witnesses indicated that this mechanism represents the vast majority of public service hirings.

Our witnesses also generally agreed that a five-year window provides sufficient time for releasing members of the forces to become ready for entry to the civilian workforce. This period provides veterans and serving members with adequate time to get their post-military life in order, while also providing them with a reasonable amount of time to take action to advance their careers.

Our government believes that veterans who are injured in the line of duty should have the first opportunity for any job in the federal public service. Bill C-27 does exactly that by proposing to legislate a hiring priority for veterans who are medically released for service-related reasons. This priority will continue for five years once activated by a veteran and will extend retroactively to April 2012.

Our government is also exploring future actions that will further benefit veterans and serving members. For example, speaking of lifetime pension provisions, we are looking at options for ensuring that reservists, who benefit from this proposed legislation, are able to convert their existing pension contributions to the defined benefit Public Service Pension Plan.

Returning to the guiding spirit of the bill, the successful passage of this proposed legislation will result in greater security for releasing members of the Canadian Forces and our veterans. Without doubt, this will ease many of the problems that veterans face in the transition process and help to improve the overall situation of veterans and their families.

I ask my honourable colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-27 and pass it so that we can move forward with these important changes for our veterans.