Before this item carries, Mr. Chairman, I should like to make a few remarks on veterans affairs. I am sure that all hon. members realize that the estimates of the Department of Veterans Affairs are probably the most important estimates we have coming before the committee, and the estimates which have most to do with the lives of a great many of our people.
At the outset I should like to say that I was pleased indeed that the veterans affairs committee was set up this session. On many occasions I have advocated that there should be a standing committee on veterans affairs in this house, and I am more convinced than ever that this is necessary. The committee had twelve meetings; many important matters
were brought before it, and many suggestions were made for improvements in veterans legislation.
In my opinion the problem of veterans, as it exists today, was just touched on by the committee. Certainly there was a feeling in the committee that our work was not finished. When we came here at the beginning of this session it was obvious to most hon. members that there were certain problems relating to veterans affairs which must have attention, and I am satisfied that many hon. members, and most people in the country, felt that certain matters would be discussed and dealt with. The fact that conditions are changing so rapidly in the country, that the plight of the veteran is changing perhaps more than that of any other class of people, made us realize this fact.
Referring to the desirability of having a permanent veterans affairs committee, I might say that to my knowledge since veterans affairs were first discussed in the house there have been about eighteen veterans affairs committees. Meetings of those committees were held at a time when veterans affairs were perhaps not the serious problem that they are today. Before 1939 and 1940 we had just the veterans of world war I to deal with. Now we have the problem not only of the veterans of world war I-and then-problems are becoming more serious every year as they increase in age-but also of the returned veterans of world war II, and added to those we now have the problems of the men who are serving in the Korean theatre of war.
We had hoped that in the veterans affairs committee the two main problems concerning veterans of today, namely, an increase in the basic rate of pension, and an increase in war veterans allowances, would be discussed. Unfortunately that was not the case. We were not placed in a position to deal with these two very important problems.
Canada is becoming very social-conscious in her welfare legislation. Yesterday we dealt with the matter of old age pensions, and I am sure we are all pleased indeed that this problem is receiving so much attention, and that provisions are being made for more adequate treatment of the old people of this country. We have also heard many times in this house requests for an increase in the cost of living bonus for
Supply-Veterans Affairs civil servants and other employees. We realize that the present wages which they receive are not adequate. We have also noted that there have been great increases in wages in different kinds of employment throughout the country. We also realize that our money is greatly depreciated, to the extent that a dollar which ten or twelve years ago would buy a dollar's worth of goods, today will do little better than buy fifty per cent of that amount on the same basis. Therefore I say, Mr. Chairman, that the lot of the pensioner and the veteran in Canada today is not a very pleasant one. For this reason we in the committee felt-at least some of us-that these matters should receive the first consideration of the veterans affairs committee.
I personally was sorry and disappointed that no increase was made in the basic rate of pension this year. I was also sorry and disappointed that the matter of war veterans allowance was not considered by the veterans affairs committee, and that this serious problem was in no way discussed. I might ask, what alternative to this problem is the government offering the veteran? It is this. We have before us item 650 in the supplementary estimates of the Department of Finance. As hon. members know, it was under long discussion in the veterans affairs committee, and received severe criticism. It was also a matter which was severely criticized not only by the veterans of the veterans affairs committees, but by all veterans organizations across Canada. There was not one veterans organization which appeared before the veterans affairs committee which gave its approval of this item as solving the basic problem of the veterans at this time. Perhaps I might just read the item 650 to which I am referring. It is as follows:
650. To provide financial assistance after the thirty-first of May, 1951, in accordance with regulations to be made by the governor in council, to unemployable veterans who are in receipt of pension under the Pension Act for a disability which is a major factor contributing to their unemployability, $2,000,000.
I might say at the outset, Mr. Chairman, that the word "major" was struck out. The item was amended to that extent, and it should read:
. . . for a disability which is a factor contributing to their unemployability.
This was a wise amendment, and received the unanimous approval of the veterans of the committee. When one reads this item it may sound as if it were not very much astray on the face of it, since it purports to be of help to veterans who are unemployable. It gives it to pensioners, single men who have thirty-five per cent disability and who are
unemployable, and married pensioners with forty-five per cent disability and unemployable.
According to the deputy minister of veterans affairs, some 6,000 pensioners will be benefited in Canada. I would point out, Mr. Chairman, that this is 6,000 out of 162,000 veterans receiving pensions.
As I said a few moments ago, the different veterans organizations throughout Canada appeared before the veterans committee, and they were in accord in their objection to this unemployable allowance. They did not approve this way of handling their problems. For the benefit of the committee I should like to read some of the statements which were made by the leaders of these different organizations. Group Captain Alfred Watts, president of the Canadian Legion, said at page 78 of the proceedings of the committee:
If the proposed supplementary allowances were to be in addition to an adequate pension, they might be worthy of careful study. As has been pointed out, often times, under certain local conditions where physical fitness is a prerequisite for employment, such as in the coal mines or steel works of Cape Breton, a comparatively minor physical disability may result in unemployability. In such a case the proposed legislation might serve a very real need. But if this legislation is proposed in lieu of an adequate pension, as it is, then it is pernicious in the extreme.
Dr. Lumsden, vice-president of the Canadian Legion, a man who has made a very thorough study of Canadian problems and pension legislation, and who is considered throughout Canada as an authority on this matter, had this to say, as set out at page 83 of our proceedings:
It should be obvious that once you repudiate the cost of living and wage indices as norms and make relief contingent on need, then you have in fact introduced the means test into the pension legislation. That is inescapable. The Minister of D.V.A. insists that this supplementary allowance for unemployable veterans does not introduce a means test in the pension. But we would be false to our responsibility as a veterans organization if we did not emphatically assure him that if the total disability pensioner must establish unemployability before he receives a minimal subsistence allowance then it certainly will be regarded as a means test and resented as such. As you see, this introduces a principle of need into the pension system which has been foreign to the Canadian practice and tradition, but it does seem to reflect the practice of Great Britain and some other commonwealth countries, a practice which fortunately Canada up to the present has had foresight enough to avoid.
One of the other outstanding organizations, as hon. members know, is the National Council of Veterans in Canada. Their president, Major A. J. Wickens, an outstanding lawyer and a man who has given years of study to veterans affairs and problems, said this, in presenting his brief to the veterans affairs committee:
We have enough trouble now making veterans understand the classifications that already exist, and
we can see no reason why the good features of this unemployability proposal cannot be engrafted upon the war veterans allowance and war veterans allowance extended to include those for whom this unemployability proposal has been offered. On behalf of those for whom I am speaking and with whom I am associated I wish to say that we appreciate all the thought and consideration and the intention to do something for the welfare of the veterans which lies behind this scheme, but one cannot always accept good intention for the act, and we firmly believe that a greater amount of good can be obtained by an extension of war veterans allowance rather than by the institution of that new provision of unemployability benefit.
My last quotation will be from the president of the War Amputations Association, Rev. S. E. Lambert, who has appeared before the veterans affairs committees for the last twenty or twenty-five years, and whose record and reputation and sympathy for war veterans is well known throughout the country. Speaking with respect to item 650, he said:
If you want to make them all paupers, go ahead. We do not like it; we are not approving of it anyway. That is how the amps feel about it. We are talking to you about fighting men, about men who have been in contact with the enemy in two wars and now in three wars, and I feel somehow that Canada owes them a great deal more than she thinks she does.
There were other outstanding men who expressed the same view. Among these was Colonel Eddie Baker, who, as we know, is a grand veteran who has looked after the interests of blind veterans throughout Canada since the first war. I believe what I have placed on Hansard expresses the views not only of the different veteran organizations, but also of right-thinking people from one end of Canada to the other.
It will be noted that their first point of objection was that a new principle is introduced into pensions in this country, the principle of need instead of right. In the past a pension received has been a pension as of right. There was no question as to financial standing, no question whether a man was employable or unemployable. If he had suffered disability overseas, he received a pension according to the percentage of his disability.
We were told in committee that this principle of unemployable allowance had been introduced in England, New Zealand and Australia. I believe that was said more or less to establish the precedent for introducing it in Canada. My understanding is that the principle is very unpopular in New Zealand today, and unpopular also in England. Time and time again we have boasted that our pension legislation is better than that of England or New Zealand or any other country. We have never held up the veterans legislation of those countries as an example we should follow. It is only in this instance
Supply-Veterans Affairs that we take legislation which has proved to be unpopular and offer it as something to be followed in Canada.
We know that after two world wars Great Britain was bled white, and her financial position was at a very low ebb. We know that in the first world war she lost almost a million men, and that her pension bills were tremendous. In the second world war it was the same thing. The revenues of the country had sunk to a very low point. What England perhaps was compelled to do in the circumstances of that time is certainly nothing that should be held up here as an example of what we should do.
Since pensions were first introduced there have been two outstanding principles. First was the matter of entitlement, where there must be proof of disability and proof that the disability was due to war service. The definition as I remember it, given by one of the witnesses, was the loss of will or power to do a normal or physical act. That was the basis for entitlement. After entitlement was established, two norms were set up as the basis for pension. The first was the wages of labour, the wage of the ordinary labourer at the time. The second was the cost of living. It made no difference whether a man was a lawyer, a minister, or a ditch digger; if he was assessed at a certain disability, that disability was based upon the normal average wage of labour at that time.
Pensions were never considered as handouts to veterans. Once entitlement was established, they were considered as an absolute right. It was considered that the veteran had earned his pension, having suffered some disability. The present unemployability allowance does not recognize compensation for suffering as the basis for pension. It does not recognize the loss of enjoyment of life which the original pensions did recognize. If a young man lost an arm or a leg he was unable to join in sports or in the normal activities that are open to an ordinary man. He was given some compensation. It is only the man who is unemployable who is entitled to an increase in allowance. The cost of living has gone up nearly 190 or 200 per cent, and nothing is being done to increase pensions.
There are certain anomalies in this legislation. If a millionaire is unemployable, he would come under this item 650, but a man who was receiving a pension of $35 from some other source would not be eligible. If a veteran is 70 years of age or over and has accepted an old age pension, he would not get the unemployable allowance.
I have spoken to different veterans organizations throughout the country and they tell me that this provision is going to be difficult
Supply-Veterans Affairs to administer. For instance, it will be hard to say whether a farmer who is unable to carry on farm work is unemployable when he might be able to operate an elevator or do other kinds of work if he were in the town. The question may be asked: How can this matter be handled? I think we all realize that something should be done for the many thousands of veterans who are unemployable. It was suggested by the veterans organizations and by members of the committee that there should be an increase in the basic rate of pension. Then it was suggested, in the statements which I quoted, that there should be a supplemental increase in the war veterans allowance. The matter could have been handled in that way with justice to all veterans.
I should like to repeat what I said at the outset, that the terms of reference to the committee were too narrow. We were circumscribed and handicapped from the beginning; we could not consider matters which we felt should be considered. For instance, we could1 not consider the war veterans allowance. I moved in the house to amend the terms of reference to have this included, but my motion was voted down. During the sittings of the committee we asked repeatedly that the terms of reference be returned to the house and enlarged to include the basic rate of pension.
There are other matters before the committee with which we agreed. We agreed that there should be an increase in the allowances to widows and to children. Those matters were covered by amendments to the Pension Act. Then there are other amendments respecting benefits to members of the Canadian forces which received unanimous support. The amendments suggested to the Veterans Business and Professional Loans Act were agreeable, as were also the amendments suggested to the Veterans Insurance Act and the Returned Soldiers Insurance Act. All these matters were considered as being necessary for the welfare of the veteran and were approved by the committee as good legislation.
I want to conclude by repeating that it was disappointing indeed to the committee not to have an opportunity to deal with the two fundamental matters which are concerning veterans across Canada today. The first was an increase in the basic rate of pension, which is long overdue. It will be recalled that in 1948 there was an increase of twenty-five per cent in the basic rate which was granted because of the increased cost of living. There was no question of unemployability. I remember at that time they came before the committee offering ten per cent,
but that was rejected. Then they offered sixteen per cent, but that was unacceptable. Finally we agreed on a twenty-five per cent increase. As I say, nothing was said at that time about unemployability. The committee concentrated on the basis upon which pensions should be increased at that time, as they should now.
The other fundamental problem was that of veterans allowances. This also was not dealt with in the committee, and we did not even have an opportunity to discuss it.