Mr. Chairman, I should like to join with the two hon. members who have preceded me in urging that the committee on veterans affairs be made a standing com-
mittee. Under rapidly changing conditions it becomes important that we have a review from year to year of the various acts affecting veterans, to find out whether or not they are adequate to deal with the problems involved. We might also make a careful check on the administration of those acts.
Whether or not the government would care to make the veterans committee a standing committee of the house, I urge that a committee be set up at this session, because there is a good deal of unfinished business which should be dealt with as soon as possible.
I should like to make a brief review of some of the recommendations of former committees on veterans affairs.
The chairman of the committee which sat last will recall that when the pensions bill was reported to the house I congratulated him upon the manner in which the affairs of that committee had been conducted. Throughout its sittings a splendid spirit was shown. I complimented him on the fact that at no time during the deliberations of the committee was any attempt made to plug a vote by bringing to the committee Liberal members who had not taken an active part in its proceedings, merely for the purpose of defeating in a vote those members who had attended regularly and listened to all the evidence. While that condition was not so evident in 1946, I believe it is only fair to say that it is what happened in 1948. Indeed at times I believe the results were somewhat embarrassing to the government.
The final report of the committee which sat in 1948 was a good one, although it did not always go as far as some of us would have liked it to go. We were hoping the government would give sympathetic and careful consideration to that report-and I do not for a moment doubt that the government believed that they did that very thing. Unfortunately, however, they were not willing, apparently, to adopt many of the recommendations the committee had made.
I should like to deal briefly with some of those recommendations. Going back to the committee which sat in 1946, we find that it made certain recommendations concerning the corps of Canadian firefighters, the Canadian Red Cross Society, and ferry command. May I read from the report in this connection:
That the government consider the advisability of introducing a bill providing that:
1. The supervisors of the auxiliary service and fire fighters of the corps of Canadian fire fighters dispatched overseas, and members of the Canadian Red Cross Society and St. John Ambulance brigade who served in an actual theatre of war, be accorded all benefits, pensions, rehabilitation rights and income tax exemptions as members of the armed forces.
As former members of the special committee will recall, the government refused to implement this recommendation. When the committee was set up in 1948 we listened to briefs submitted by these three organizations, and became convinced of the soundness of the stand we had taken in 1946. Therefore we again brought down recommendations urging similar action. Again the government did not see fit to take action.
I believe the committee was insistent that the Canadian firefighters should be treated in the same way as members of the armed services, because at the time of their enlistment they were assured by the then deputy minister of defence, General LaFleche, that they would be considered a fourth arm of the services and receive the same treatment. In 1946, therefore, we voted to give them the same benefits as members of the armed services, and we voted the same way in 1948.
As to the Canadian Red Cross girls, I think there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the type of service they performed and the pay they received. In order to clarify this point I should like to read briefly from the final report of the veterans affairs committee of 1948. The part dealing with these girls reads as follows:
The young women who left Canada under the auspices of these two organizations-
I am referring to former members of the Canadian Red Cross Society and the St. John Ambulance brigade.
-served with the armed forces in Great Britain, on the continent of Europe and in other theatres of actual war. They acted as nursing assistants, ambulance drivers, etc., were attached to military units under the discipline of the officers commanding, and shared hardship and danger with the members of the forces without sharing their privileges or receiving sufficient remuneration to meet the minimum costs of maintenance: they were all volunteers and many were overseas long before the women's corps of the armed forces were organized in Canada. Your committee recommends:
That overseas welfare workers, as defined in paragraph (a) of section 53 of the Civilian War Pensions Act, be granted
(a) if pensionable, eligibility for vocational training as provided for veterans, or equivalent educational training; and
(b) a gratuity of fifteen dollars for every thirty days of service in an actual theatre of war.
The veterans affairs committee gave the matter careful consideration and arrived at that decision after hearing all the evidence. But apparently the government has not seen fit to implement this recommendation.
Then there is the ferry command. The 1948 report of the veterans affairs committee recommended that they should be given the following benefits: (a) vocational and educational training as for veterans; (b) benefits under the Veterans Land Act, 1942; (c) a gratuity on the same basis as awarded to
Supply-Veterans Affairs the armed forces; (d) re-establishment credits as for veterans; (e) eligibility for insurance under the Veterans Insurance Act.
So far as I know the government has not taken any action to implement these recommendations. The matters they deal with should be reviewed by the veterans affairs committee. It may be argued: Why do this, when the veterans affairs committee has already, on two different occasions, made recommendations covering these people, and the government has failed to act? Nevertheless it is very important that the veterans who were on the veterans affairs committee, if they are still satisfied that action should be taken, should do all in their power to impress upon the government the fact that we have not fulfilled our obligation to these people. As to the firefighters, the definite promise made to them by the deputy minister upon their enlistment should be upheld.
I want to say a few words about the old soldier settlers. As the older members of the house know, the hon. member for Battle River (Mr. Fair) has always taken much interest in this matter. I am an old soldier settler myself, but I am not referring to myself because I do not owe the government any money. I think we all realize that the soldier settler had a pretty tough proposition under the old Soldier Settlement Act. The act did not go nearly as far as the Veterans Land Act, and even under the Veterans Land Act many of our young veterans are having plenty of difficulty in meeting their obligations.
In 1948 the veterans affairs committee recommended that the old soldier settlers be given a clear title. Apparently the government have decided not to take action on that recommendation, but I frankly admit that they have at least gone part of the way in helping to relieve what is a tragic situation so far as the old soldier settlers are concerned. Supplementary estimates were brought down in 1948, I believe, in the amount of $150,000, to reduce their indebtedness, and I see that in the present estimates there is another item of $150,000 for this purpose.
I am aware of a number of the new agreements that have been offered the soldier settlers. Many of them provide for a considerable reduction in the debt, but in order to take advantage of that reduction they must meet their payments as they come due. They are told that if they do not meet their payments the agreement will no longer be effective. In view of the crop failures in various parts of western Canada this year, I hope that when these veterans fail to meet their payments under the new agreements, as some of them are bound to do, the agreements will be extended so that the soldier settlers may still receive the benefit of the reduction. In
other words, I hope that the department will extend the time during which payments can be made. I do not doubt for a moment that this will be done, but I have received several letters, some of which I have already taken up with the department. I am quite satisfied with the attitude of the department, but on the other hand they point out that in order that the soldier settler may get the benefits of the new agreement, these payments must be made.
There are one or two other questions I should like to deal with. Two hon. members who spoke previously referred to the War Veterans Allowance Act. I have always looked upon the War Veterans Allowance Act as one of the most important pieces of legislation administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many veterans who are one hundred per cent incapacitated depend upon the War Veterans Allowance Act because they are not able to receive a pension owing to some technicality in the Pension Act. Many of those men are having a pretty tough time. I well remember that when the War Veterans Allowance Act was first introduced it was stated that the age at which a war veteran could obtain an old age pension would be reduced by ten years. In other words, we took the stand that war veterans were prematurely aged by ten years, and that they should obtain the old age pension at the age of sixty instead of seventy.
Various changes made in the act since that time have broadened it considerably; nevertheless the war veterans allowance provides a smaller amount of assistance than the old age pension. I believe a married veteran may receive only $70, whereas under the Old Age Pensions Act he would get $80, and supplementary payments by the provinces would make it more than that. Under the War Veterans Allowance Act the maximum is $70 a month, apart from the assistance fund; but there are comparatively few veterans who can obtain help under that special fund which was created last fall or early this spring. I believe all veterans organizations have urged that the amount of the war veterans allowance should be increased to $50 a month for a single man, and that a married war veteran should receive at least $85, and some have urged $100.
In addition, as a previous speaker pointed out, the veterans have urged that England be made a theatre of war for world war I. They have also urged that action be taken to make imperial veterans, who were not domiciled in Canada prior to world war I but who have resided in Canada for twenty years or more, eligible to participate in the benefits of the War Veterans Allowance Act.
With respect to the Pension Act, one provision has received probably more consideration than any other in the various veterans committees; that is the question of disability of pre-enlistment origin. Committee after committee has tried to deal with that situation in such a way that veterans who were graded as A-l upon enlistment may be able to get pensions for any deterioration which has taken place. An amendment was suggested in 1946 striking out the words "wilfully concealed", but at that time the government was not prepared to accept it. A similar amendment was suggested again in 1948, when I am glad to say it was accepted by the government. I understand that as a result a revision of all pension cases has been carried out to ascertain whether any veterans may benefit as a result of those words having been taken out of the act. I hope that at some later date the minister will tell us just how many cases have been reviewed and how many veterans have benefited as a result of that change. Judging from some cases that have come to my attention I am afraid we still have not solved that difficulty. There still seem to be many veterans who should be entitled to pension but who are denied it on the ground that their disability is of pre-enlistment origin.
Then there is the question of benefit of the doubt, which has also received a great deal of consideration in the various veterans committees. In 1946 we suggested a very minor amendment to section 62. In 1948 we were still convinced that the situation was unsatisfactory, and suggested another amendment. I would remind hon. members that in its report the McCann commission stated that not in all cases were veterans getting the full benefit of the doubt under that section. It was hoped that as a result of the amendment suggested in 1948, and following the discussion that took place, there would be a broader interpretation of that provision. Mind you, in making these remarks I am not criticizing the pension commission, because I realize that they are bound by the act. If we are not satisfied with what can be done under the act the only remedy is to amend the act to permit the pension commission to deal with these matters in a broader way. Personally I am still satisfied that we have not amended in a proper manner the provisions with respect to the benefit of the doubt and disability of pre-enlistment origin, and I believe further changes will have to be made before these cases can be dealt with satisfactorily.
That is all I intend to say at this time, but I hope the minister will be able to assure us that this committee will be set up this session, and moreover that it will be a standing committee of this house.