Mr. Chairman, this bill No. 78 as it appears before the house to-day is largely amended from the bill as originally introduced. Bill No. 78, in effect, is a bill to reorganize the administration of the pension department. It has nothing to do with pensions in the ordinary sense. It was found that after the amendments to the Pension Act of 1930 the courts as then organized became greatly congested, and in consequence an investigating committee was appointed in 1932 to inquire into the whole procedure. The members of the committee included five officers of the department, five representatives of the returned soldier bodies, and one judge. Unfortunately, perhaps, they disagreed on many points, but in some essential points they were in entire agreement, and based on their report the original Bill No. 78 was introduced and was afterwards sent to a committee of this house of which I had the honour to be chairman.
The unanimous opinion of the committee of 1932 was that there should be only one court of first instance, thus shortening the procedure. This court, according to the bill as it was first presented to this house, was to be completed by an enlargement of the board of pension commissioners. Hon. gentlemen will see by the amended bill that our committee have recommended that a new body be formed to be called the Canadian pensions commission, this body to consist of not less than eight or more than twelve persons, in order that there may be sufficient personnel to carry out the idea of the present quorums and be able to meet the soldier at home. That principle has been consistently followed throughout the bill. Therefore the board of pension commissioners as at present existing and also the tribunal will be done away with by this act.
There are other essential changes, not necessarily amendments, but in the bill itself. I might refer to the reviewing officer, which was
another very important feature and was very thoroughly considered by your committee. The reviewing officer under this bill is a man appointed for the purpose of protecting the public to a certain degree, and also of seeing that justice is done the returned soldier. In the past objection to the judgments of the various quorums has been taken by various persons, largely employees of the board of pension commissioners. This was objected to, and in the original bill it was suggested that the reviewing officer should be placed under the control of the pension appeal board. This would apparently be more satisfactory, but it has been considered better to have an entirely independent officer, and so it will be found that in the amended bill as presented to the house to-day this official is to be appointed directly by the governor in council and to be responsible to no particular body.
So far as the pension appeal court is concerned the recommendation of the committee of last year was followed. It was found that in that court there are at the present time between 1,300 and 1,400 cases awaiting appeal, far too much work for one quorum. This bill therefore provides that ad hoc members may be added, some judge who shall be paid only for the time engaged, thus allowing two quorums to be formed and two courts to be working at the same time, and in this way it is quite possible that they will be able to catch up with the congestion.
The most important part of the whole bill and of this legislation is that we have probably not yet reached the peak of our pension troubles. There are at the present time 1,490 cases already prepared to come before the tribunals, and these cases are coming in at the rate of approximately 3,000 per year. So the committee will understand how necessary it is that these quorums should be able to carry on and help to relieve the congestion at the earliest possible moment. I may also say in passing that if our recommendations are carried out and this measure meets with the approval of this committee a good deal of the red tape in connection with the trial of these cases will be done away with. There will be a great deal less formality and that will be much better for the returned men.
In conclusion, I think I voice the opinion of every member of the committee in saying that the work was done by your committee most earnestly and with no desire except to serve the interests of the public and at the same time the interests of the returned men. Not only that, but I think that in every
change, certainly in every material change, we were absolutely unanimous, and had the entire concurrence of the representatives of each of the veteran bodies, all of whom were present at the hearings.