Hon. Arthur Laing (Minister of Veterans Affairs):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all hon. members who have participated in this debate. I think that the nature, the aims and the objectives of the Department of Veterans Affairs are such that we can keep this kind of debate on a more non-partisan basis than might be the case in the discussion of legislation concerning any other department.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is truly a service department dedicated to the service of human beings who have served this country. I have been with the department long enough to have a great deal of confidence in the department itself and in those in charge of it who discharge their duties honourably and as fairly as they can within the confines of the resources granted them by the government.
I want to pay tribute to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Through the years it has conducted its business on a basis of anxiety to do the best it can without introducing political dispute. The kind of discussion that took place here tonight could have been participated in by members of parties on all sides of the House. Some of it went beyond the content of this bill, but that is understandable because the bill provided an avenue through which members of the House could express their wishes on behalf of the veterans.
I wish to deal with the remarks of the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) who has made a rather deep study of pensions, not only in Veterans Affairs but in other departments of government. He stressed that he was anxious that the increase in the cost of living provision should be no substitute for consideration of the increase in the basic rates of pensions and of war veterans allowances. I made that very clear. I have said before, and I say it in the House now, that when we are distributing some $229 million per year in veterans
May 16, 1972
pensions, and some $79 million in war veterans allowances out of a total operating budget of about $15 billion, that does not frighten me and I do not think it frightens any member of parliament.
The hon. member also suggested that this might be a swan-song policy on the part of the department in the remaining short time that I shall be here. Mr. Speaker, I do not think the government will be magnanimous enough only to make it comfortable for me in the short time that I remain in the department. In any case, I think that the evil one does, just like the good, lives after one and I think that the influence of the legislation we are considering tonight will certainly be an abiding one on the government in the future.
The one concern I have at present is the backlog of cases. The hon. member suggested that there were 5,500 or 6,000. I have to bring him the bad news that as of tonight there are 7,700 cases. Because of the legislation that was introduced by my predecessor, avenues for appeal regarding pensions were opened to a great number of new people, and there has been a revival of a number of old applications made in the past. We are doing the best we can to hurry them along, to catch up with the backlog but at the same time not to disturb or depreciate the calibre of the decisions rendered.
Other hon. members have discussed the basic rates. The hon. member for Edmonton West (Mr. Lambert) took issue with the increase that we are allowing to take care of the cost of living index and said we were all wrong. The hon. member happens to be all wrong, and not us, because he was working from the assumption that the index was 100 per cent whereas the points are 130 and 135, and the increase in the cost of living last year was 4.7 per cent, an increase in points from 130 to 135, which works out to 3.6 per cent on the basis of 100.
I do not want to do any more arithmetic, Mr. Speaker, but we were given some arithmetic by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre. I do not want to suggest that socialist mathematics are accurate, and I do not want to provide any Liberal mathematics except to remind him that somewhere in the Bible that he knows so well where it says, "The liberal doeth liberal things."
I shall rest my case on some mathematics provided me by public servants. In the case that the hon. member cited I would tell him that on the new basis of a war veterans allowance, 100 per cent for a single person will be $180.36. I think that is not far from the computation he made. The ceiling rises from $161 to $165.36 and there is $15 exemption added to that.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: PENSION ACT. WAR VETERANS ALLOWANCE ACT AND OTHER ACTS AMENDMENT TO PROVIDE FOR ANNUAL ADJUSTMENT OF PENSIONS AND ALLOWANCES