Mr. Chairman, the first thing I want to say is that my experience with the senior officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs has always been most pleasant. They have not always given me what I wanted, but I must say they have been most courteous. In so far as the act permitted them to do so they have given me every co-operation and assistance. Only yesterday I visited the Veterans Land Act office, which is under Mr. Rutherford, and I must say to the minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, that the officials there are doing an excellent job in the performance of their duties.
Possibly a lot of the discussion we have had would have been unnecessary if the minister had made a statement at the opening of his estimates. We would not have had the discussion on prisoners in Hong Kong. I think we should have had a full explanation at the start. However, that is the
prerogative of the minister. I do not think anything is going to be gained by a speaker rehashing what has taken place or what has not taken place. I do not think we are going to help the veteran that way. The concern of those of us who are veterans is to endeavour to help our fellow veterans.
We did not have a veterans affairs committee during this session, but I think the first thing the minister should do at the next session is to set up a standing committee on veterans affairs. I believe every hon. member would agree to that. I know the people of Canada would agree, and I know that organizations such as the Legion think we should have it. There are several excellent veteran organizations in Canada. I am biased in favour of the Legion because they have the largest membership and I happen to be a member myself. I think they bring down excellent and reasonable briefs.
The main thing I am going to speak about tonight is the war veterans allowance. I regret exceedingly that no action has been taken this session in connection with this matter. Possibly if the distribution of these veterans had been more even across Canada there would have been some action taken this session. Fortunately or unfortunately-I believe fortunately because we are proud to have them-some 27 per cent of those in receipt of war veterans allowance reside in British Columbia. I am being a little critical when I say that perhaps other hon. members do not take the interest they should in these veterans because they probably are not familiar with their problems. Because of our climate and for other reasons many of these veterans took their discharge in British Columbia at the end of the war, and others have moved to our district since.
I agree with much of what the hon. member for Royal said, but I disagree with other things he said. I believe the ordinary layman and even medical science are beginning to realize that a veteran who had served in the front line was pre-aged by at least ten years. I am not saying that this would apply to the man who served in an administrative capacity in England or at Le Havre, but certainly the man who had the misfortune to serve in the infantry was pre-aged by at least ten years. I feel that that fact should be taken into consideration in connection with these allowances.
I cannot conceive how anyone can defend the means test in connection with war veterans allowance. As has been pointed out already, the casual earnings such as a veteran might make might just as well not be permitted at all. That is just what it amounts
Supply-Veterans Affairs to. If the recipient of a war veterans allowance earns anything he is immediately penalized. Surely it is not the desire of the people of Canada that that should be so. This could be remedied at this session by the simple stroke of a pen to wipe it out.
I do not think the amount of the war veterans allowance is large enough. We have not taken into consideration the increases in the cost of food and everything else. I think we have the finest veterans' legislation in the world, and I am prepared to defend it anywhere; but that does not necessarily say that it is good enough. As one hon. member of the opposition said about another matter, where is the money coming from? The people in my riding object to paying taxes just the same as the people in other ridings. We would prefer to have to pay no taxes at all. If we have to pay them, we want them to be as low as possible.
But I feel that every taxpayer, not only in my riding but in other ridings of British Columbia, would be willing to pay whatever taxes were necessary to see that the veterans, particularly the elderly veterans, are properly cared for. I am not advocating to the government that taxes be kept as high next year or even increased. I certainly intend to be in this seat next year in order to advise the government. Obviously our national defence expenditures will not be as high next year. That is a matter of common sense. We have built all these buildings that are necessary and unless we have actual war we will not need the same amount of money for defence purposes. Let us give some of it to the deserving veterans.
Another matter I should like to bring up in connection with war veterans allowances and in which I think the department has fallen down is the insistence on the repayment of any overpayments that have been made. Before the act was amended many veterans made something through casual employment and their allowance was still paid. They have been called upon to pay that back to the department. I do not think the Department of Veterans Affairs should follow the example of the income tax branch.
If the Department of Veterans Affairs makes a mistake and overpays a veteran, instead of trying to collect it from the veteran they should write it off in their profit and loss account as is done in all government departments as well as in private business. If you are in the farming business you write it all off to loss. To me it is absolutely unfair that these people should be called upon to repay these amounts to the department.
I repeat that I do not think anything is to be gained by rehashing mistakes that have been made in the past. We have good legislation, but it is not good enough. I do not know if I am permitted to refer to the budget debate. I have got through almost to the end of the session without breaking any rules, and I do not want to break one now.
I told the Minister of Finance at the time I made my budget speech-I think I am entitled to refer to my own speech even if I do, not refer to his-that he was one of the finest ministers of finance we ever had in Canada, but that he had the opportunity to go down in history as a great minister of finance if he would increase the war veterans allowance. I am glad to see that he is in good humour after his trip, and in excellent physical condition. Before he goes fishing it would be a very simple matter to pass an order in council to rectify his omissions of the past so far as the war veterans allowance is concerned. I can assure him that he will have the support of everybody in the province of British Columbia.
I want to reiterate that in my opinion the first committee that should be set up at the opening of next session is a standing committee on veterans affairs. We have standing committees on agriculture and almost every other conceivable subject. We have a standing committee on printing which I think has met once in 13 years. Yet we do ourselves proud by having the names of the members of that committee printed in an official booklet. I have been honoured by being made chairman of it, and I do not think it has met since. The point I am getting at is that there is nothing for these committees to do. The committee on agriculture only sat in the last four or five days. Agriculture is a big business. Then there is that nonsensical committee that brought in a report the other night on a divorce bill that is costing the taxpayers of Canada $1,200. That committee wastes its time considering such a matter.
Surely a standing committee on veterans affairs could be appointed. I am sure no member of the house can point to anything more important than the veterans of Canada. When we stop to realize that none of us would be sitting here today if our veterans had not been willing to fight in two great wars in the past, then surely we should be able to set up a standing committee to consider veterans affairs. In the past the veterans affairs committee has been made up of members of all parties, and I do not think the members of any committee of the house that has ever met have been more imbued with a spirit of trying to work with one
another irrespective of party politics. As we saw it, we were working together on behalf of the greatest resource Canada has, its veterans and their dependents, the veterans who fought on our behalf.
I am proud of the legislation we have, and I am prepared to defend it on the platform or elsewhere. I am prepared to say it is as good as any in the world; but I still think that, although it is almost the end of the session, something should be done about the war veterans allowance. It certainly is very close to the end of the session so far as I am concerned, although I realize that the house may be able to struggle along for a day or two without my valuable services. However, even now I ask the government to rectify what I think has been a mistake during this parliament, the mistake of not providing a proper reward for war veterans allowance recipients.
Subtopic: EXTERNAL AFFAIRS