March 15, 2007 -- During the Fall Session I, along with the other eleven members of the Veteran Affairs committee, dealt predominately with completing our report on the creation of an Ombudsman for Veterans and their families.
Over the last few years, some veterans and veterans’ organizations have argued that there should be an ombudsman for veterans to help them deal with problems concerning veteran’s benefits and programs such as decisions about disability pensions or disability awards. Some veterans (both older and younger war veterans) believe they need an independent office they can turn to when they cannot obtain a satisfactory decision on benefits or to resolve other problems.
In response to the concerns by those veterans and veterans’ organizations, during the last election, Canada’s Government promised to create an Ombudsman for Veterans and their families.
I am very happy to report that on Thursday, February 22, 2007, the Veterans Affairs Committee tabled our report to Parliament, entitled “A Helping Hand for Veterans: Mandate for a Veterans Ombudsman”. For more information about the report, or to read the contents, please go to the news release found on my website.
As part of our continual learning about issues relating to veterans, members of the committee travelled to two local veterans’ health care facilities. During our visits to St. Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital in Montreal and Pearly-Rideau Centre in Ottawa, we had the opportunity to discuss veterans’ issues with both health care facility staff as well as residents. It was a tremendous learning experience and one that I would repeat if given the chance.
Now that the Spring 2007 Session of Parliament has begun we have turned our focus to the Veterans Bill of Rights. One of our first witnesses called was the Honourable Greg Thompson, Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Now that the various elements of the New Veterans Charter are in place, the government has indicated that a Veterans Bill of Rights governing how veterans will be treated, for example, in disputes concerning their application for a disability pension or award, will be introduced in the coming months. The commitment to introduce a Veterans Bill of Rights has been generally well received by veterans groups such as the National Council of Veterans Association in Canada. The appointment of an Ombudsman is a key element of the proposed Bill of Rights.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Veterans Affairs committee to date and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Bill of Rights.
March 15, 2007 -- I am pleased to continue to be involved in one of the most active committees in Canada’s Parliament: the Public Accounts of the House of Commons. Our role is important to ensuring taxpayer’s dollars are spent wisely by their federal government. We take this role very seriously and I’m pleased to update you on some of the initiatives undertaken during the Fall 2006 Session of Parliament by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Commons.
What follows is a brief description of some of the main issues that the committee examined during the Fall Session:
Drafting of Reports to Parliament: For every Auditor General Report Chapter that the Public Accounts Committee examines and calls witnesses to testify, a report is written. These reports will usually contain recommendations by the Committee for the Government of Canada as well as the Government departments audited. This Session we worked together as a Committee to write reports for at least five different Chapters.
Roles and Responsibilities of the Treasury Board Secretariat: This study lasted several weeks and focused on the Secretariat’s responsibility for providing direction on financial management within the federal government. Through a number of recent controversies, such as the recent accounting for costs of the Firearms Program, the Committee had become concerned that Treasury Board Secretariat was not actively ensuring that departments followed its management policies.
In addition, with the passage of the Federal Accountability Act, deputy ministers are now accounting officers and as such are accountable before parliamentary committees for departmental administration. The Committee believes it is important to develop, in conjunction with the Secretariat, a protocol of how this new role will function.
Canadian Firearms Program (Chap 4, May 2006 Report): This audit followed-up on the 2002 audit of financial reporting and looked at the operations of the Canada Firearms Centre as a whole.
The Auditor General found that progress had been made in setting up a separate agency. However, the Committee is concerned that Parliament does not have adequate information about the performance of the Firearms Program in order to make informed decisions about its design, implementation and future. The Auditor General also raised several concerns about data quality. The Committee is worried about the quality of data and believes the Canadian Firearms Information System (CFIS) is useful only insofar as it contains reliable and accurate information.
Most importantly, the Committee learned that work on an IT project, called CFIS II, has been halted and is not being used, even though it will cost $90 million. The Committee is appalled that so much money will be spent on a system that appears to have not even been necessary.
The Committee recommended that it be kept informed of progress in implementing the Auditor General’s recommendations, actions to be taken to address data quality issues, and the costs of Canadian Firearms Information System.
Military Recruiting and Retention (Chap 2, May 2006 Report): Although the Committee was pleased that the Department of National Defence (the Department) has made progress in responding to a 2002 audit of its recruitment and retention of military personnel, it was concerned that more needs to be done -- and quickly.
The Government has announced plans to expand the size of the Regular Forces from its current level of 62,300 to 70,000 by 2010. In addition, the Canadian Forces (CF) is now deployed on active combat mission in Afghanistan. Problems in the recruitment process combined with a forecast increase in the numbers leaving the CF must therefore be addressed in a timely, effective manner.
The Committee noted that the Department has undertaken corrective measures and has recommended that it keep Parliament informed of its progress. It made twelve recommendations intended to assist the Department as it copes with the difficult challenges involved in recruiting and retaining a capable armed forces.
Relocating Members of the Canadian Forces, RCMP and Federal Public Service (Chap 5, November 2006 Report): The Integrated Relocations Program (IRP) assists members of the Canadian Forces, RCMP and Federal Public Service who have been transferred from one community to another due to work assignments. The IRP handles approximately 15,000 moves annually and in 2005 cost about $272 million.
This audit was conducted at the request of Public Accounts Committee in the 38th Parliament. On the basis of audit results, the Auditor General had concluded that the Canadian Forces and RCMP/Government of Canada contracts for relocation services “were not tendered in a fair and equitable manner.” (see note below)
The actions and practices of the private-sectors bidders were not examined as part of the audit.
As a strong believer in fiscal responsibility, I’m pleased to represent the people of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and all Canadians on the Public Accounts Committee.
During the Spring 2007 Session we will continue to push for accountability and integrity in how your tax dollars are spent.
Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General to the House of Commons, November 2006, Chapter 5, Relocating Members of the Canadian Forces, RCMP and Federal Public Service, paragraph 5.101.
Spring 2006 Summary - PACP
July 3, 2006 -- The Spring 2006 Session was a very busy one for members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Commons.
This committee’s work is vital to the Canadian people as we seek to keep the Canadian Government accountable. And unfortunately, after thirteen years of waste and mismanagement by the previous Government, there is much that we need to clean up.
The main focus of the Spring Session was to examine several key chapters found within the May 2006 Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons. The complete Status Report can be found by clicking here.
The committee called many people in as witnesses; Ms. Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General of Canada being the most frequent guest. Other witnesses included Executive Officers, Financial Officers, the Comptroller General of Canada, Deputy Ministers, Assistant Deputy Ministers and various other Government Public Servants and Officials. They were all called to answer questions and provide explanations about the decisions that their respective departments made.
What follows is a brief description of some of the main issues that the committee examined during the Spring Session:
National Defence - Military Recruiting and Retention (Chapter 2): The Canadian military is embarking on a major transformation that includes an increase of 5,000 Regular Force personnel over the next five years. It has identified this expansion as a priority if it is to meet operational demands. The Committee looked at National Defence’s progress since 2002, when the Auditor General first reported shortages in many military occupations and problems recruiting enough people to meet operational demands.
Canadian Firearms Program (Chapter 4): In 1995, Parliament passed the Firearms Act and this new Act established the Canadian Firearms Program. The Program is intended to control acquisition, possession, and ownership of firearms, regulate the availability of certain types of firearms, and to deter the misuse of firearms.
In the 2002 Audit, the Auditor General tabled a report in Parliament on the implementation cost of the Canadian Firearms Program. The Auditor General found that Parliament was not kept informed about the dramatic increase in costs of the Program. Her conclusion was that Parliament was not given sufficient information to effectively scrutinize the Program and ensure accountability.
Management of Programs for First Nations (Chapter 5): This chapter follows up on the Government’s progress in implementing 37 past recommendations made between the years of 2000 and 2003. These chapters covered housing on reserves, economic development, third party intervention, health care, the food mail program, comprehensive land claims, and reporting requirements for First Nations.
Overall, the audit concluded that progress in addressing the 37 recommendations was unsatisfactory. The audit found that progress was satisfactory on 22 of 37 recommendations reviewed, but these tended to be administrative in nature and had less impact on the lives of First Nations’ people. The audit found unsatisfactory progress in several areas including: mould in housing, analyzing patterns of prescription drug use, comprehensive land agreements, eliminating unnecessary reporting, and addressing gaps in the Third Party Manager Policy.
During the investigation into this chapter, attention was focused on asking Departments about both the safe-drinking water issue and the problem of prescription drug use. Government officials from three departments were pressed to make a decision on which department was going to take control over these two serious issues.
Acquisition of Leased Office Space (Chapter 7): Public Works and Government Services Canada manages 6.6 million square metres of rental space and spends $3 billion annually to manage real property. The Department handles some 500 lease transactions a year. It needs complete, accurate, and timely information to support good decision making, strategic management, and risk management.
In 2002, the Auditor General examined the Department’s strategic planning, its management practices, and its analysis of options for providing office space. The committee examined whether or not the Department had fully considered all options when making decisions in order to identify the most cost-effective office accommodation solution in each case.
Canadian Revenue Agency - Collection of Tax Debts (Chapter 8): Managing and collecting tax debt is a complex activity involving more than 4,000 full-time equivalent staff and many more information technology systems. In 2004-05 the Agency collected tax debts of about $9 billion. The committee examined whether or not the Agency uses efficient and timely processes to collect the unpaid personal tax, corporate tax, goods and services tax, and payroll deductions by employers.
As a strong believer in fiscal responsibility, I’m pleased to represent the people of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and all Canadians on the Public Accounts Committee. During the Fall Session we will continue to push for accountability and integrity in how your tax dollars are spent.
Spring 2006 Summary - ACVA
July 5, 2006 -- The Spring 2006 Session was a full one for members of the Veterans Affairs Committee (ACVA).
I have been honoured, along with eleven other MPs, to serve on this committee in dealing with several key issues relating to veterans and veteran’s services. With input from veterans, veterans’ advocates and other stakeholders, ACVA looked at: the Veteran’s Review and Appeal Board; the Veteran’s Bill of Rights; the idea of an independent Ombudsman for veterans; and the Veteran’s Independence Program. On June 8, 2006, ACVA heard from the Honourable Greg Thompson, Minister of Veteran’s Affairs, as he appeared before the committee to discuss these issues.
What follows is a brief description of each of the issues that the committee examined during the Spring Session:
Review and Appeal Board (VRAB): the VRAB is a quasi-judicial tribunal operating independently of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VRAB comes into play if a veteran’s initial application to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a disability pension or award is not approved (there are several review processes before it goes to VRAB. VRAB is a last resort). If the initial application is denied or only partially accepted, veterans can request a departmental review or opt for the appeal process of the VRAB. A veteran’s application is reviewed by a VRAB review panel and, if a veteran is dissatisfied with its decision, the case can go to the appeal level of the VRAB. The Chair of the VRAB reports to Parliament through the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The mandate of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board is:
“To provide clients with full opportunity to request review and appeal hearings to ensure a fair adjudicative process for disability pension/award and War Veterans Allowance claims.”
Bill of Rights: during the last election campaign, the Conservative Party promised to introduce a Veterans Bill of Rights if it formed the government. After the election, the new government reaffirmed its intention to introduce the Bill of Rights, most notably in the Speech from the Throne. Now that the various elements of the New Veterans Charter are in place, the government has indicated that a Veterans Bill of Rights governing how veterans will be treated, for example, in disputes concerning their application for a disability pension or award, will be introduced in the coming months. The commitment to introduce a Veterans Bill of Rights has been generally well received by veterans groups such as the National Council of Veterans Association in Canada. The appointment of an Ombudsman is a key element of the proposed Bill of Rights.
Ombudsman: one of the main elements of a Veterans Bill of Rights will likely be the appointment of a veteran’s ombudsman. Over the last few years, some veterans have argued that there should be an ombudsman for veterans to help them deal with problems concerning veteran’s benefits and programs such as decisions about disability pensions or disability awards. Some veterans (both older and younger war veterans) believe they need an independent office they can turn to when they cannot obtain a satisfactory decision on benefits or to resolve other problems.
Independence Program: the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) was introduced in 1981 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The goal was to help eligible veterans remain healthy and independent in their own homes or communities and thus delay their admission to veteran’s long term care centres. Many elderly veterans wish, and are encouraged, to stay at home as long as possible before seeking a place in a veteran’s long term care centre where the hospital style routine in some centres and the separation from family sometimes leave veterans depressed. Over the years, the VIP benefits have expanded to cover a wide spectrum of needs including grounds maintenance, housekeeping, personal care, care by health professionals, transportation for social activities, and nursing home care.
I have sincerely enjoyed working on the Veterans Affairs Committee over the past six months and look forward to the Fall Session.