At the outset I should like to say how much I appreciate the consideration that I have received from the various senior officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs in dealing with cases I have brought before them, especially those concerning the Veterans Land Act, because I am in touch with that very often. I am afraid that I cannot speak with any enthusiasm about the special committee that was set up to study veterans affairs. I was greatly disappointed in the work of that committee. In my opinion the reason the committee failed to execute the kind of work it should have executed is twofold. First of all, the terms of reference were limited to such an extent that it was impossible for the committee to take the action it should have been able to take.
Second, I think the failure was due-I do not want to be misunderstood'-in part to the personnel of the committee. By that I mean to say that there was such an overwhelming majority of Liberals on the committee. Unfortunately a large percentage of those Liberals were members who were not familiar with the work of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Had they had more experience with that department, I believe they would have been prepared to take a different attitude on some of the issues that came before the committee.
When the Canadian Legion and the national council of veterans presented their briefs before the committee, they made it very clear that they bitterly resented the fact that the terms of reference had been narrowed in the way they were. In that regard I need only quote one statement. I am quoting a statement by a man whom we all deeply respect, and that is Colonel Lambert, president of the "Amps". He generally speaks quite passionately, and I quote from page 111 of the report of the proceedings before the committee:
It has been my privilege on previous occasions to come here as dominion president of our organization ever since its inception, and for thirty-two years now, I have been the dominion president of the War Amps of Canada representing the sightless, the armless, the legless veterans of the first war, and' of the second war, and now of the third war, for we already have amputations from Korea. I came with mixed feelings today. It is always left to me to sort of make a passionate appeal on their behalf but I have lost heart to come here to talk to people who are supposed to be able to do the things that are necessary and when we come we find you are so restricted in your thinking that it is useless for us to say anything about it.
That feeling was evident throughout the briefs of the Canadian Legion and national council of veterans associations. Early in the deliberations of the committee, the member for Royal made an attempt to get the terms of reference extended. Unfortunately his motion was voted down. It is at that point I think the lack of experience had its effect. Had the members of that committee had more experience in the workings of the department they would have realized the committee should have had the power to deal with all veterans affairs. In the past, even when the terms of reference seemed to be narrow, they were sufficiently wide to enable us to deal with all matters, including war veterans allowance. Today one of the burning issues amongst veterans is the war veterans allowance, yet we could not even discuss it in this special committee.
At the start of the proceedings of this committee the Minister of Veterans Affairs made a statement, and either intentionally or unintentionally in that statement he left
Supply-Veterans Affairs a definite inference that item 650 in the supplementary estimates of the Department of Finance had been brought down as an alternative to an increase under the Pension Act. I say "either intentionally or unintentionally", and I am not going to argue that.
I am going to read what he said and let everyone judge whether or not that statement is correct. I quote from page 22 of the committee evidence:
Now, the item that is before you as a supplementary estimate implements the intention of the government to provide supplementary allowances for pensioners who are unemployable and whose pensionable disability is a major factor in their unemployability. As you know, representations were made to the department last autumn by the Canadian Legion and by the national council of veterans associations for an increase across the board in the basic rate of pension, and for various other measures of assistance to pensioners and dependents.
Now, after very careful consideration of the representations by responsible veterans organizations, and having made a survey of the situation ourselves, we came to the conclusion that the most pressing problem, or problems, rather, were those of pensioners who were unable to work and who had to consider their pensions, at whatever rate it might have been, as their sole source of income; and similarly that there was hardship in the cases of widows with small children who because of the care they had to give to their children were unable to supplement their pension income.
Consequently the government brought down item 650 instead of increasing that basic rate of pension as had been requested by the major veterans organizations of this dominion. After the minister had made his speech the veterans organizations, in presenting their briefs, made it very clear that they rejected item 650 as an alternative to an increase in the pension.
Some statements have been quoted from the brief. I want to quote a few more, but I shall be careful not to refer to any that were quoted previously in the discussion.
When the hon. member for Royal spoke, he quoted what the president of the Canadian Legion had stated. I want to carry on from where the hon. member for Royal left off in the statement by Mr. Watts, who is president of the Canadian Legion. I quote from page 78 of the minutes of proceedings and evidence of the committee. The hon. member for Royal quoted Mr. Watts as criticizing item 650. Mr. Watts went on to say:
Therefore, the Canadian Legion cannot be satisfied with the legislation before this committee. There are no recommendations for improvement in the basic rate of pensions, nor is there any mention at all of war veterans allowance, the two principal problems affecting veterans today. Worse still, the supplementary estimate of $2 million now before you would alter the tried and proven pension policy in a manner not desirable to the veteran nor, we suggest, to the Canadian public.
Then the president of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, at page 106, had this to say:
We support, gentlemen, as I have told you, the Canadian Legion protest about the unemployability grant-not entirely for the reasons expressed by the Canadian Legion in their brief.
Then a little later he goes on to say:
. . . but as far as we are concerned, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, the practical way to deal with the matter would be to take those good things that are desirable in this scheme and engraft them upon the war veterans allowance scheme and let us have one scheme of war veterans allowances throughout which the test of eligibility will be the same. I am speaking of what is known generally as the means test.
Turning to the next page, we find that he stated:
We feel that this unemployability grant is a mistake. It is another classification and will only make things worse.
Colonel Lambert, to whom I have already referred, had this to say as reported at page 111 of the minutes of proceedings and evidence of the committee:
You bring in this supplementary allowance; it is not a bill but it is some kind of estimate, and we consider this as another contribution to the poverty of the veterans, I would say, and we do not like that.
The hon. member for Kootenay West quoted the paragraph preceding the one quoted from The Legionary. I want to quote the paragraph preceding the one quoted by the hon. member for Kootenay West. It is contained in an editorial entitled "A Burning Issue," and it reads as follows:
The Canadian Legion has taken sharp issue with the government. Its brief to the House of Commons committee on veterans affairs termed the proposed legislation "retrograde, alarming, dangerous and pernicious," and offered sound reasons to prove it. Fully documented with a wealth of relevant statistics, no more impressive brief has ever been submitted by the Legion to a parliamentary committee, and it was presented with great conviction and deep sincerity by the two top men of the organization, Alfred Watts, the dominion president, and Dr. Lumsden, the dominion first vice-president.
Then he goes on to say, as quoted by the hon. member for Kootenay West, that they hope that the committee will reject item 650.
I believe these quotations have been sufficient to prove my contention that the veterans organizations not only resent but oppose the introduction of item 650. The Canadian Legion and the national council of veterans organizations presented a brief to the government and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in that brief they asked for an increase in the basic rate of disability pension, and also an increase in the amount of the war veterans allowance; but as we know now, the government did not take any action at that time. At the start of this session, however, they set up a special committee. Then, strangely
enough, after setting up the committee they denied them the right to investigate the very things that the Legion and the national council of veterans organizations had asked for. Those two associations had asked for an increase in the basic rate of disability pension and an increase in the war veterans allowance. The government sets up a committee and then narrows the terms of reference to such a point that the committee cannot even give consideration to the request of these major veterans organizations.
I now want to say a few words with regard to item 650. There are some good things in it. The veterans organizations have therefore suggested that the good things in it should be grafted on to the War Veterans Allowance Act. It provides for an increase in the pension of a disability pensioner whose disability is less than 35 per cent, if he is single and less than 45 per cent if he is married, provided he is unemployable and is not in receipt of the old age pension or any other form of retirement allowance. That being the case, it definitely contains a form of a means test; unless you are going to suggest that a veteran works for the fun of it. After all, when a man works, he does so in order to try to improve his means of livelihood. Yet if a man is working to improve his means of livelihood, he is denied any benefits under item 650. Furthermore, if he is receiving any benefits through the old age pension or through any other form of retirement allowance, he cannot receive any benefit from item 650. So it is definitely a form of a means test. That is a thing that these veterans organizations bitterly resent. They do not want that in any way, shape or form tied in with the idea of an increase in the basic rate of pension.
Furthermore, I would think it is a highly undesirable form of means test, for this reason. As was pointed out by the previous two speakers, a man may be receiving an income of $3,000 a year from investment; yet he can obtain benefits under item 650 so long as he is not employed. But if he is doing some little job for which he is receiving $30 a month, a total of $360 a year, for his work, he is not entitled to any consideration under item 650. The man receiving $3,000 a year from investments can get benefits under that item, but the man who is working and earning a small income like $360 a year is not entitled to any benefits at all. Therefore I say it is a most undesirable form of means test. It is an extremely mean form.
I think that the veterans organizations fear that this is the first step towards the introduction of an employability test in the Pension Act. There again I would say that, when you give consideration to the speech that was made
by the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the opening sitting of the committee, you could easily come to that conclusion. I want to quote what the minister had to say in that regard. This is to be found at page 23 of the minutes of proceedings and evidence of the committee:
Now, it seems to us there is no question that the present day idea of the working and earning capacity of those who are victims of the most serious disabilities is very different from what it was a few years ago, certainly from what it was ten, twenty and thirty years ago; and it is true that no longer is the man, for instance, who has lost a leg or who has lost an arm considered as being out of the labour market. No longer do people hold the belief that his earning capacity is necessarily circumscribed by his physical disability.
With that idea in mind, one can quite understand why the government brought down item 650, only allowing an increase in the pension provided that a man is unemployable. Naturally the fear is aroused in the minds of the members of the various veterans organizations that in the not too far distant future the government may decide to apply that same test to the whole of the pension legislation and say that any man who is employable and is receiving an income, we will say, of so many thousand dollars a year will not be entitled to a pension under the act because his disability apparently is not depriving him of the ability to earn a living. It is always the first step in an undesirable direction that you have to guard against and try to stop, because once you proceed in a certain direction it is not easy to turn around, and the Canadian Legion makes some caustic remark on that very point.
In 1948 the veterans committee, which in my opinion was one of the best veterans committees we have ever had, dealt with the question of war veterans allowance and with the basic rate of pension. At that time the government had agreed to only a ten per cent increase. Under pressure, they increased it to sixteen per cent, and the Minister of Veterans Affairs told the committee that that was as far as it would go. The committee of that day were men experienced in veterans affairs, and they were not satisfied with the minister's statement that the government would go only as far as sixteen per cent. They continued on for many days and finally the government agreed to increase the basic rate of pension to twenty-five per cent instead of sixteen per cent. That brought the disability pension for one hundred per cent disabled veterans, single, up to $94. The veterans organizations of that day were asking up to $100 a month. I remember that at that time I received many telegrams from boards of trade in my province urging that the basic rate for 100 per cent pensioners be $100 a month. That was
Supply-Veterans Affairs in 1948. Since then there has been an increase in the cost of living of another 27 points. That being the case, if it was considered by boards of trade and veterans organizations that the increase at that time was not sufficient to take care of the situation as it was in 1948, how much more is there need for an increase in the basic rate of pension today when the cost of living has risen another 27 points? Instead of that the government brings down an item merely to provide relief-you might call it some form of relief-to those veterans who are unemployable.
Some members of the committee said: Well, after all, we want to help the man who is in the greatest distress. We want to help the man down at the bottom. Item 650 does not provide any help whatsoever for the man who is down at the bottom, because item 650 will not provide any help for a disability pensioner whose pension disability is less than thirty-five per cent if he is single and forty-five per cent if he is married. There are many men today who are one hundred per cent disabled and bedridden, but whose disability classification is perhaps less than thirty-five per cent, because that disability was not due to war services. Therefore that man today is dependent upon the war veterans allowance, and all he is getting is $40 a month, or perhaps he is getting the supplementary $10 which makes it $50. If he is married he gets $70 a month. These are the men who need help today. But the committee was not even allowed to consider their case.
I think the government made a very serious mistake when they denied the committee the right to investigate the position of these married men who are living on a pitiable $70 a month. No one in this house would argue for one minute that a married man with a wife to support could possibly live on $70 a month in any state of decency. I do not think they could even exist. In most cases I think you will find that where a man and wife are living on $70 a month they are getting supplementary help from other directions. It is true they can get the additional $10 from the government in the form of what might be called relief.
I hope I have made it clear why we in the opposition in the committee oppose item 650. We look upon it as a retrograde step. We look upon it as the first step down the road which will make the pensions subject to a means test. If anybody doubts that, let him read once more what the Minister of Veterans Affairs said in the committee, namely, that today there is a change of opinion and change of attitude regarding pensions. We no longer look upon their disability as being such as to prevent them from working. I think we
Supply-Veterans Affairs all realize, Mr. Chairman, that no amount of money can ever compensate a man for the loss of a limb. Men who have lost their arms or legs can never really be compensated with money. But the least we can do is to give them adequate compensation. That is what the pension is. Give them compensation for their loss of ability to do what any other human being can do who has all his limbs. It is not merely a question of earning a living. The pensioner has to live with that disability twenty-four hours a day. Even though he may be able to earn a living in spite of the disability, he cannot enjoy life in the normal way that anybody else does who has not lost limbs. Therefore I think we are taking a backward step when we make any increase in the pension subject to an employability test.
On the question of war veterans allowance, which we have not had the opportunity to discuss, but which no doubt I shall have something more to say about when we come to that item, I should like to say this. There is a means test in the war veterans allowance. The legislation being what it is, I think most of us appreciate that so long as there is a means test in the old age pension legislation, there has to be one on the war veterans allowance, because after all, the war veterans allowance was paid on the principle that the pensioner was pre-aged ten years. We are therefore paying the old age pension at the age of 60 instead of 70. We have modified that, or rather widened it so that we paid the allowance to a veteran who was unable to work and who had seen service in a theatre of war.
That being the case, it is only natural that the means test in the war veterans allowance should be the same as in the old age pension. Now that we are removing the means test from the old age pension legislation, I trust that legislation will be brought down to remove the means test from the war veterans allowance. I do not think it is satisfactory to say that once a veteran reaches the age of 70 he should stop getting war veterans allowance and start getting the old age pension. I think that when a man has been receiving the war veterans allowance for several years he would prefer to continue receiving the war veterans allowance. If the government is going to remove the means test from old age pensions I can see no reason why it should not be prepared to remove it from the war veterans allowance. At the age of 65 you have a different situation. The means test on the war veterans allowance at 65 should also be removed.
It may be argued, of course, that the veteran at 65 can take the old age pension,
because I understand the means test is going to be modified. But let us not forget that today the war veterans allowance is paid as a federal responsibility. If you say to the war veteran: You can take the old age pension at 65, you are forcing the provinces to pay fifty per cent of the cost. In other words, the federal government is trying to pass on to the provinces part of its responsibility, and I think that would be a mistake.
But what I really started to say was this. While there is a means test in the war veterans allowance, and in the past there may have been some justification for it, I do think that once a veteran gets to a certain age we should close our eyes to the means test. In my constituency there is a veteran who is over eighty years of age and who is blind. He could not live on the war veterans allowance. He has a farm, and he is getting around $300 a year rent for it-some years he does not get that. His wife does a little bit of work for the treasury branch. She gets paid commission on insurance that she sells, and on the accounts that she handles, and that brings her own income to around $350 a year. When that was reported at the end of the year they stopped that man's allowance and told these people that the allowance would not be granted again until that amount was repaid. To repay it was impossible, because the commissions are small, and on the amount that he is getting he could not possibly pay that indebtedness. So for two years he had no more veterans allowance. Then a further application was made, and they reinstated him in the war veterans allowance but deducted $10 a month for repayment of what he owed. Where the veteran is over eighty years of age, it seems to me that a small income of this kind should be called casual earnings. In this case, however, they were not willing to call it casual earnings-why, I do not know. I have taken the case up, but so far there has been no satisfactory settlement of it.
I hope the government will give consideration to the recommendation of the committee that there be an increase in the basic rate of disability pension. If an increase is made in the basic rate of pension, it would be all right in my opinion to adopt item 650. But it would be better to bring it in in connection with the War Veterans Allowance Act, so that there would not be left in anyone's mind the idea that this proposal was introduced for the purpose of instituting an employability test into pension legislation.