Mr. Chairman, I should like to make a few remarks on this important item concerning the minister and his staff before proceeding with some criticisms which I intend to make. First, I want to express my appreciation of the courtesy extended by the minister on several occasions and his interest in the veterans welfare. I appreciate also the courtesy extended by the parliamentary assistant and his work as chairman of the special committee on veterans affairs. While some of us often question his judgment on certain phases of veterans legislation, I think all members of the committee will say that he means well.
I wish also to express my appreciation of the work done by the senior officials, and their courtesy in attending to everything that was brought to their attention. Reference should be made also to the work of the departmental officials throughout the country. More and more I have had brought to my attention the good work done by the junior officials who travel across the country investigating various cases coming under the Pension Act, and the various pieces of veterans legislation. I have had several difficult cases brought to my attention in my constituency, and the officials have shown unusual patience and have gone to great lengths in attempting to solve, to the advantage of the veterans or dependents concerned, the problems that were brought to their attention.
Having said that, I must now strike a somewhat different note. In 1948 the cost of living index stood at 155-0. It will be remembered that at that time legislation was passed to increase the basic rate of pension twenty-five per cent. That increase was generally acceptable to members of the house and to the veterans of Canada. It was given on the general understanding that the cost of living index was going to level off. Although that twenty-five per cent increase was not sufficient when considered in relation to the wages being paid and the cost of living at that time as against the time when the pension was made permanent, it was considered to be generally satisfactory.
But conditions have changed for the pensioners of Canada. By November of last year the cost of living index had reached 170-7. That increase resulted in representatives of the major veterans organizations making representations to the federal cabinet, and later to the special parliamentary committee on veterans affairs, urging a 33J per cent increase in the basic rate of disability pensions. On any sound calculation no one can deny that that was not a reasonable and sound approach to the whole problem. Even 33s per cent would not completely compensate pensioners for the increased cost of living or bring their pension compensation into proper relationship with the cost of living and the wage structure of the country.
Representations were made by the Canadian Legion to the cabinet on November 10. Representations were also made by the national council of veterans. Both these organizations later made complete proposals to the special parliamentary committee on veterans affairs. I think it was the general opinion of members of the committee that they established a very good case and that the witnesses answered in a most satisfactory manner the questions put to them by members of the committee. I suppose this departure in policy by the government in providing for supplementary unemployability allowance for approximately 6,000 of the 160,000 pensioners has caused more difference of opinion among veteran members of the committee than has ever arisen before in the life of the parliamentary committees on veterans affairs. When the government's proposals were made known there was an immediate reaction from the veterans organizations and veterans generally. That was evidenced by the representations made by their national representatives, and it was evidenced by the letters and telegrams received from branches all across Canada by members of this house.
So far as my constituency is concerned, I received correspondence and telegrams from every Canadian Legion branch in the constituency, supporting their national officers and the national council of veterans in their unified request for an extension of the terms of reference of the committee to permit the committee to give consideration to an increase in the basic rate of pension, and to the needs of those receiving the war veterans allowance. There is no question about that. There is no doubt that there was a Canadawide demand on the part of the veterans. A good many members of the committee supported the proposals of the veterans organizations, because we considered they were sound and just.
Supply-Veterans Affairs I am sure if government members will review the history of the representations made by veterans organizations in Canada they will admit that their requests have always been temperate, sound, and realistically related to the circumstances of the time. We in this group are very much opposed to this departure from the established practice of pensions in Canada, namely, the proposal to pay an unemployability allowance to certain disability pensioners. That practice was established as a result of legislation, as a result of co-operation between veterans organizations, other persons in Canada interested in veterans problems, and the government. We are very sorry indeed to see the government depart from the basic principle which has been so generally accepted, because it is considered fair by the great majority of the Canadian people.
We in this group oppose the proposal first of all because of the violation of the accepted pension principle established in Canada. Second, we oppose it because this new unemployability allowance-I see the hon. member for Spadina watching me like a hawk-provides a means test. There is no question about that. First of all, the veteran has to pass a medical test. He has to prove that his condition is such that he comes within the ambit of this provision. In addition, he has to pass an unemployability test, some sort of welfare test. He has to prove he cannot obtain employment, or is unable to work. He also has to pass a financial test. There is no question about that, because, as was evidenced by the answers of the officials to questions by members of the committee, everyone who makes application must be asked certain questions.
As the hon. member for Royal said, one man could have a million dollars in the bank and receive the supplementary allowance, and another could be denied it if he was receiving $35 a month by way of superannuation or industrial pension. Therefore every applicant for the allowance must be asked the question: Have you a superannuation allowance, or have you an industrial pension? If he has either of these, then according to the explanation given by the officials the pensioner in question would not receive the unemployability allowance. That is a financial test. We object very strongly to that principle being introduced into the question of assisting disability pensioners.
In the third place, we cannot agree that the war casualties of Canada, who are the responsibility of the dominion government, should be treated in any different manner
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Supply-Veterans Affairs from the civilian casualties of Canada. No one ever heard of a workmen's compensation board in any province suggesting that a civilian casualty should be paid a certain rate of pension and then, if he was in difficult circumstances, that he should receive an allowance as the result of a triple means test. All civilian casualties are compensated according to the rate of their disability under the terms of the legislation in effect in the province in question. We believe that our war casualties should receive at least the same treatment by way of compensation for their disabilities as that accorded civilian casualties.
As I said before, there has been strong opposition to this proposal from the veterans organizations. The apposition not only comes from the national officers, but, without doubt, as expressed in recent provincial conventions and through the many telegrams and letters received, I presume, by all members of the house, from the rank and file of the veterans organizations in Canada.
I might say further that I have received evidence from my constituency that there are others not directly connected with veterans organizations who think that the government is taking a wrong step in introducing this new principle. In order to indicate the depth of feeling on this question on the part of members of the Canadian Legion, I wish to quote briefly from the June issue of The Legionary. The Legionary is the national organ of the Canadian Legion, and no one questions the fact that the editorials written in the monthly issues represent the considered opinion and policy of the Canadian Legion. In the June issue there is the following:
It now remains to be seen whether the committee, composed entirely of ex-service M.P.'s . . . will accept or reject the government's bill. If they reject it, as the legion hopes they will, the government may reconsider the whole matter . . .
I could go on at greater length, but I think that editorial distinctly reflects the opinion of the Canadian Legion with respect to this legislation, and I think that in this case the government has made a most unfortunate mistake. We believe, as the hon. member for Royal mentioned, that the good features of this proposal should be incorporated in the War Veterans Allowance Act so that there would be an opportunity in that way to assist those who require a special form of assistance. By doing that we would leave intact the principle of paying disability pensioners on a strictly compensation basis.
In addition, Mr. Chairman, we in this group are very sorry that the terms of reference of the committee were so narrow
as not to permit the discussion of the amendments to the War Veterans Allowance Act. It is obvious that there are many veterans and their dependents in Canada who are now receiving an allowance under the terms of that excellent act who should receive some consideration. I am sure all members of this committee have met cases in which people on war veterans allowance are finding it most difficult to exist under present circumstances, particularly those who are unable to supplement their earnings in any way, or have, shall I say, no other minor source of income. We in this group regret very much that the terms of reference were not wider. A number of the members of the special committee did try to get the terms broadened, as suggested by the Canadian Legion and the national council of veterans, but we w'ere not successful.
In passing I might say that whether we agreed or disagreed on the special committee, I am quite sure that all the members of that committee, who are all veterans, are concerned about veterans problems and their welfare. There is a keen difference of opinion largely based on inexperience. Some members really believe that this proposal will be satisfactory and will bring some advantage to some pensioners. We who object to the proposal believe it is an unfortunate departure from Canadian practice and will create new difficulties in the administration of Canadian pension legislation.
In conclusion, may I say that we urge the government to give further consideration to the representations of the veterans organizations in Canada concerning this most important question, and to give consideration to their proposal with respect to an increase of 33J per cent in the basic rate of pension, as well as to the various and obvious needs of thousands in Canada who are receiving allowances under the War Veterans Allowance Act.