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OTTAWA, Monday, June 5, 2023

The Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations met with videoconference this day at 11:02 a.m. [ET] to review Statutory Instruments.

Mr. Dan Albas and Senator Yuen Pau Woo (Joint Chairs) in the chair.


The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Good morning, colleagues. Welcome to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. Senator Woo has joined us online. I thank my co-chair for being here. I will be chairing today’s meeting. I notice we have a few members who are online; please raise your hand to get my attention. I want to make sure we’re fair to all members here today.

We are pleased to have witnesses from the Department of National Defence, or DND. With us today is Lieutenant-General Bourgon and Brigadier-General Tattersall, and representing Pensions and Social Programs as Director is Steve Irwin. I would like to thank the three of you for your appearance here today and for the work you do every day for Canadians, particularly our men and women in uniform.

Colleagues, we will be giving our guests five minutes for opening remarks. I am going to give them a few extra seconds to make sure they can wrap up, and then we will go into the question-and-answer time. Again, please raise your hand to get my attention, as I know many members would like to get some questions answered.


Lieutenant General Lise Bourgon, Acting Commander, Military Personnel Command, and Acting Chief Military Personnel, Department of National Defence: Good morning. Kwe. My name is Lieutenant General Lise Bourgon, Acting Commander of Military Personnel Command.


Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered here on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg Nation and take this opportunity to remind myself and everyone here with me about our commitment to a meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous leaders and people across the land.

Within the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, I am responsible for recruitment, training, retention, education, career management, policies, pay and benefits, health services, military career transition, morale and welfare programs, and a host of other support services. It is a very busy portfolio. I have with me today Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, who is the Director General of Compensation and Benefits and who is sitting to my right. And to her right is Steve Irwin, Director of Pensions and Social Programs.


I want to begin by thanking the committee for its important work and keeping us honest in our commitments.


The Department of National Defence recognizes the committee’s frustration, and we want to reassure the committee that Defence is committed to addressing parliamentarians’ concerns. I cannot stress enough that we take your concerns very seriously, as does the Minister of National Defence.


My goals here today are the following.


First, I want to provide the committee with clear and concise answers about what has and has not transpired over the last 25 years. Next, I want to re-establish trust between this committee and the Department of National Defence by demonstrating that we are listening to your concerns and are actively working to address them.


I will be honest and frank with you here today.


We acknowledge that in 1997, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces agreed to make amendments to 11 provisions in the Canadian Forces Superannuation Regulations, or CFSR, to rectify the inconsistency in the English and the French versions.


To date, those amendments have not been made.


Since 1997, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Regulations have undergone three major revisions to modernize the pension plan and to ensure consistency with other public pension plans. These revisions focused on de-linking the pension plan from our military terms of service, creating the Reserve Force Pension Plan and making critical, substantive changes necessary for the proper functions of the act and its regulations.


The 11 provisions identified by this committee were omitted from these revisions for predominantly two reasons.


First, the creation of the Reserve Force Pension Plan was a critical priority to ensure that the Reserve Force, for the first time, received the support and pension they deserved, sacrificed and would pay for, in line with those in the Regular Force. The 11 provisions of concern to this committee were simply not in the section of the CFSR that the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces was authorized to revise in those three modernization efforts.


As per the Minister of National Defence’s letters sent to this committee on May 29, and June 1, 2023, we are making these changes now. I recognize the committee has heard this before, but this time is different.


We are currently making broad changes to the CFSR, including to the sections that deal with the Optional Survivor Benefit. The 11 amendments identified by this committee are being merged into this active file, meaning that this task is being prioritized by our department.

A final draft of the regulatory amendment is being prepared in close consultation with Justice Canada and will be finalized by the end of this calendar year. To be clear, this regulatory proposal would change the inconsistencies between the English and French versions and make other changes identified by this committee to the following sections by the end of this year: 59(2), 61, 62, 70(3), 70(4), 62(a), 62(b), 63(1), 63(2), 64 and 66(2).


These will be submitted to the Governor-in-Council for approval in early 2024.


We acknowledge that these amendments are well past due, and I hope that you can see that we are committed to making these changes now.


Thank you again to the committee for its work, its diligence, and for holding us accountable for our commitments. We would be happy to answer your questions now. Thank you.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Thank you for your presentation.


Mr. Noormohamed: Thank you to our witnesses for coming. As you’ve pointed out, this has been something of a source of frustration for this committee that we have gone this long and it has taken this much back and forth. But I think it’s wonderful that you’re here, and I do want to acknowledge the letter we received, the correspondence from the minister as well in this regard.

Obviously, the concern of this committee is trying to make sure that we get to a good place on these things and that we aren’t just having to react without the appropriate information. Can you provide us with some concrete steps and timelines as to how you see this unfolding, how you see responding to these challenges unfolding so that we can work with some degree of confidence in the context of feeling reassured that, indeed, the concerns that have been expressed will be addressed in a meaningful way, but more than that, that there is going to be a response that is satisfactory and advances the work of the Canadian Armed Forces?

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. That is a very valid question. I have with me our pension expert, Mr. Steve Irwin, who can take you all through the steps of what will be happening in the next six to eight months to make sure we are proceeding with those changes.

Steve Irwin, Director, Pensions and Social Programs, Department of National Defence: Thank you for that question. We certainly have taken this and our handling of it as our utmost priority at the moment. We do have regulatory work open already to bring into force provisions that were not previously brought into force and have achieved considerable momentum with the drafters at the Department of Justice toward bringing those into play by the end of this calendar year.

We have already integrated the drafting instructions and provided them to Justice Canada as of Friday, with the aim of having this complete set of regulations completed before the end of this calendar year and submitted for approval early in 2024.

Mr. Davidson: Good morning. Happy Canadian Armed Forces Day! I guess it was yesterday. I have just a couple of questions. I think this is the frustration: just to speak to constituents in my riding and what they’re worried about. In 1997, CTV News went on the air for the first time with the 24-hour news channel, and we got the first camera phone all the way back then, and here we are today with something that isn’t dealt with. This reflects on the state of government today. We’ve had a 30% increase in the public sector, and we’re having worse outcomes. People are feeling that things aren’t getting done. That matters.

You see the reports today about our Canadian soldiers not being outfitted properly. People are becoming more and more concerned about the lack of accountability and things that aren’t being done. The minister was asked to appear here over a year ago, and here we are today. Not to mention this goes all the way back to 1997.

I wonder who accepts responsibility for that. I think that’s what Canadians are more concerned about now — accountability and responsibility that things are getting done. We saw this with the pandemic. I see a new fire truck in a fire hall and I assume that fire truck is outfitted and ready to go, but now we’re seeing that is simply not the case with government. This is government working badly for Canadians. I wonder who accepts responsibility for this.

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. The Minister of National Defence takes this one very seriously. She provided instructions that we move on with these amendments and that we carry through.

This is no excuse, but since 1997, the military has been through a very high tempo. We went to Afghanistan. Of course, we had a culture change. We’ve had reconstitution. We are looking at the priorities of the Canadian Armed Forces, Ukraine and everything else. We tend to be very good in responding to literal fires — no pun intended, since they’re going on right now — but we have to prioritize in sequence and do the best using the resources that we have to the best intent possible. So this is not an excuse that we have been late in doing this.

I think that Mr. Irwin can take you through, if there is time, what has been done with the pension pieces since that time. We’ve not been idle; we’ve been very busy. It is just a matter of prioritizing and sequencing with the resources that we have.

Mr. Irwin: Thank you again for the question. Certainly, in the time — admittedly it is a very long time since those requirements were pointed out — we’ve brought in three sets of very major changes to pension regulations. They’re generally driven by what we’re operationally and urgently required: to maintain the benefit and service to our annuitants, who are all veterans.

In 2003, there was a major change in terms of how pensions were administered in general. That meant that they were previously linked to military terms of service, as opposed to being established according to time actually served. That was a major modernization that had to be done. These changes sound very simple, but they’re actually very complex when you have to dig into the regulations and cross-reference thousands of paragraphs to make that happen. That was very much a focus in 2003.

In 2007, we’re moving forward again and we’re introducing the first new pension plan in 40 years in the federal government, and it’s an incredibly complicated pension plan. It is the only pension plan in the federal universe that is based on total actual earnings as opposed to average earnings. That was a major undertaking.

From 2012 to 2016, we were very consumed by pension modernization, which involved transferring the day-to-day administration from the Department of National Defence to Public Services and Procurement Canada. That again required significant modernization.

We have been working with the other government departments on optional survivor benefits, but that is something we are working on along with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the RCMP because it affects their pension plans as well.

Mr. Davidson: I appreciate that. It’s just the concerns that Canadians have. You talked about trust and you’ve talked about resources and prioritizing. I’m here; help me help you. Are there enough resources in the Canadian Armed Forces now to get the job done? We’re seeing time and time again outdated equipment, no helmets, resources, poor computer systems; it goes on and on. That’s why Canadians come to me and say, “Scot, Canada is broken — look at this.” Do you have the resources to get things done in the forces?

LGen. Bourgon: That’s a very good question. As Chief Military Personnel, my sole focus of existence right now is on reconstitution. How do we recruit more people and how do we retain our members? You’re all tracking in the news that we have a deficit of serving members; we’re about 15% short. I would say 99% of my time is spent looking at initiatives and how to do better on recruitment and retention. That’s our focus.

Mr. Davidson: Thank you.

Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, Director General, Compensation and Benefits, Department of National Defence: If I may, the question is much more complicated than that. When you talk about resources, it’s not just the resources within the Department of National Defence. Because these are legislative and regulatory changes, it also requires work with the Department of Justice and that skill set, both to have the legal officers and to have legal officers with the right background. Pension law is very specific. You can’t take someone who understands criminal law and have them do this particular task.

It’s having the right number of people, which you’ve just heard General Bourgon explain — we’re in a challenging place in the Canadian Armed Forces — but it is also the other departments that help us do this. Again, it is that expert knowledge to be able to do the work that we’re doing. As Mr. Irwin has explained, we’re now working on the not-in-force provisions with respect to the Statutes Repeal Act, for which we’re now bringing this in as part of the drafting instructions so that we can move this forward under a deliberate plan with the goal that early next year, by the time you get through the approval stage, these amendments will have been addressed.

Mr. Davidson: Thank you.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): That’s your time, Mr. Davidson. I’m going to ask committee members and our witnesses today to please be concise. We can’t have three different answers to one question. If one of your colleagues can’t answer, or you can’t answer but they can, please direct it to them right away. We just want to be respectful that everyone who wants to ask questions will have the chance.

Mr. Garrison: Thank you very much to the witnesses for being here today, although I have to say I’m disappointed that we do not have the minister here. In this committee, we are looking at certain technical faults in the regulations, but we’re also looking at other issues in the same sections that are established by regulations, including the Optional Survivor Benefit.

I have a concern that, even though the Supreme Court ruled quite a long time ago that the “marriage over 60” provision was not discrimination, we know, in fact, that the way it operates does discriminate. We have those — and I often use my own example — who may have been together for many years. My partner and I were together for more than 20 years before we actually married. Under these provisions if that existed for members of Parliament, my spouse would not be entitled to a survivor’s pension. What the government created in the Optional Survivor Benefit plan is a way to make the members pay themselves for survivor benefits, which no one else has to do. In other words, if you’re married after 60, you can reduce your pension. Most of them are very modest. You can live in poverty and then self-finance a survivor benefit.

It just doesn’t make any sense to me in terms of creating programs that will help us retain and recruit people in the military that we maintain a provision like this, which has been questioned for over 20 years. I know the answer is that other pension plans do the same thing. That’s not much of an answer for me, because other pension plans don’t have the same problems of retention and recruitment that the military has.

I feel like I have the wrong people here in that it’s something I’m going to ask you and it may be embarrassing, but has the minister asked you to consider the Optional Survivor Benefit and the “marriage over 60” clause as part of the revision of these regulations?

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. When we look at the “marriage after 60” clause, it is a much bigger challenge than the DND and the Canadian Armed Forces. This clause would impact the three big funds from the government.

I would take a second and change the way you see that “marriage after 60” provision, because when we look at a normal pension plan, when you retire from your job, it’s a snapshot of who you are as an individual, your lifestyle and your marriage, and it goes forward. For us in the military, that “marriage after 60” clause is actually an expansion of what other plans have, because we get the chance to retire a little bit sooner.

For me, I was at a retirement age at 42. So at 42, if I were in any of the other plans in Canada, I would have had a snapshot of what my life was at 42, and that would have been what I was entitled to. The “marriage after 60” element gives us the opportunity to take that time when we retire, quite younger, and go all the way to 60.

So we have an expansion. We can’t look at it as discriminatory; it is actually an expansion of what other plans offer as coverage. On top of that, as a choice, people can decide if they marry after 60 to go with the Optional Survivor Benefit to add on into that market.

I think we have to look at it and change the way we look at it. This is a benefit, and this is an expansion of a normal pension plan.

Mr. Garrison: My problem with that is that deductions for pensions are made the same for people whether or not they have a spouse at the time they’re serving. They don’t pay less into their pension plan because they don’t have a spouse.

I would argue, with respect, that if you look at it from the point of view of the person who’s paying into the pension plan, the person who marries after 60 does not get the same benefits as others get from that plan, no matter when they retire. For me, that’s where the discrimination is: You pay in, but if you later marry, you’re expected to provide yourself the survivor benefit plan by taking reduced benefits. That doesn’t seem fair, and it doesn’t seem likely to encourage people to continue to serve in the military.

LGen. Bourgon: Steve, do you want to answer the piece about the pension and the actual evidence?

Mr. Irwin: Yes. Thank you very much for that question.

Certainly, you raise a very good point about potentially single people paying into a benefit. This is a subject of discussion, but it actually leads more in a direction of why we provide survivor benefits to anybody, and it’s not just linked to the one individual paying into it. Granted, that is more of an academic discussion among other pension plans, but from our perspective, we have a very generous system that allows you to enter into a relationship after you’ve retired.

Typically, with pensions in Canada, your entitlement to a pension or a benefit from that pension is built while you’re working. The relationship you’ve entered into after you have retired is over and above what you would have established while you were working.

Those are sort of the underlying arguments behind it, but it is not something we are actively working on at the moment.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): MP Garrison would probably like a supplemental question to his supplemental question, but we will get through our list first and then go to a second round if there is time.


Jean-Denis Garon, MP, Vice-Chair of the Committee: First of all, thank you very much for being with us today. I think you’ll understand that we appreciate it because it has been a long time in coming.

You will understand that the committee is now in a state of mind where there is indeed a loss of confidence. You pointed that out, and rightly so. The work that needs to be done is to determine, for example, which parts of the changes you promised us — since instructions had been given — are from pressure, if not the threats of disallowance made by the committee, and which parts are in good faith.

Promises have been made before. I know that this is not your personal responsibility. I don’t want you to take it as an attack in any way, but it’s hard to trust when promises have been made to us. One broken promise, two broken promises, is one thing. As I said before, I wasn’t eligible to vote when this dispute started. As for the issue of spouses and marriage over 60, it’s been 15 years.

The signals I’m getting are objective, the signals I’m able to test for veracity are the following: In the case of the marriage clause, the Supreme Court’s intervention was not enough. There were delays by the department, by the minister in terms of responding. The committee was ignored; we were not given any answers. When the time came to hear from witnesses here, we received the minister’s letter 30 minutes before the meeting. Finally, it took a motion of disallowance, a threat of disallowance, for something to happen. For anyone watching, these are the signals we’re getting. This suggests that what works is threats. I have no doubt that you were given instructions, but that what it suggests.

I understand that there have been complications, there have been missions. With all due respect to our veterans and the Armed Forces, I understand that you are extremely busy. I understand that this is a complex mission, but it has been 15 years. In 15 years, there have been three amendments to the act. The committee’s concerns, which are supposedly priorities today, have never been implemented. In 15 years, there is time to ask the chief actuary to change the calculations so that these human rights violations can be accommodated. It has been 15 years. There has been time.

We are told that it is complex. I don’t accept all these arguments about complexity. I am quite familiar with the pension issue. The MP pension plan also operates on the basis of total income, rather than average income. There are few, I agree, but other plans operate under those rules. It’s funny, because we have been able to amend the MP pension plan, which is also complex, more than once over the same period.

I have trouble accepting that, and it implies — and I understood clearly in the answer, in the way my colleague Mr. Garrison’s question was answered that, for marriage over 60, this clause will not be resolved in the next regulatory amendment. I take it you weren’t ordered to do it, and it’s been 15 years. In our opinion, what this suggests is that there are financial considerations that make the Department of National Defence unwilling to budge.

These considerations are financial, and when you weigh that up against the fact that there are alleged human rights violations, I get the impression that in 15 years, the actuarial rules could have been changed, that this could have been weighed in the balance, and that there would have been several opportunities to correct the situation because of the particular conditions of service, working conditions, length of service, contributions, and situation of veterans. This would have enabled veterans to anticipate a marriage over 60, to have pensions that are properly funded and actuarial rules that are completely correct. We do not have that today, because nothing has been done.

I think the arguments that it’s complex, that there hasn’t been time, that it doesn’t work, that it’s a particular plan, are difficult to accept.

The message today, when you leave us, is that we are going to have a conversation in a context where the most important change won’t be made in the next regulatory amendment. Did I understand correctly?

LGen. Bourgon: I must say that the Supreme Court came to the conclusion in 1997 that human rights were not being violated. The marriage over 60 clause was discussed at length, but there was never any commitment that it would be changed. There was a lot of discussion, but no direction from the Canadian Armed Forces.

As I said in my previous answer, this is a much bigger and more important issue than just the Canadian Armed Forces. It really goes to the Government of Canada, because it will have an impact on the three major pension plans — ours, that of the public service, and that of the RCMP.

In fact, this is not part of our mandate at this time. We are committed to the 11 clauses. That will be done in the next few months. However, the marriage over 60 clause is not something that is really part of our mandate at this time. That’s part of the overall picture.

Mr. Garon: I will follow up very quickly. You’ll agree that, despite these complexities, 15 years is a long time. If you had wanted to do it, there would have been the time.

LGen. Bourgon: Again, as I said, this is an issue that goes beyond the Canadian Armed Forces. We need direction from the Government of Canada, through the Treasury Board Secretariat, because this has a very far-reaching implications.

Once again, the reason for the marriage over 60 clause, which is again related to the question I answered, can be seen as an expansion of our pension fund and not a restriction. It’s hard to understand that this is something positive for the Canadian Armed Forces.


The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): We are starting to lose time here, and we want to give everyone at least one round. Perhaps there might be a second round if we all respect the time differences.

Ms. Atwin: I will cede my time to Mr. Zuberi.


Sameer Zuberi, MP, Vice-Chair of the Committee: Thank you Lieutenant-General Bourgon and Brigadier-General Tattersall for being with us today.


I was in the reserves between 1997 and 2002 when the 11 sections were first identified for updating — when the regulations, I should say, were marked as needing to be updated. I was in two trades back then: infantry and finance. I did half my time in infantry and the other half in finance. What I learned in the pay office as a simple corporal was that people cared a lot about their pay and having their pay given immediately without delay and being fully given what is due to them.

You have explained why it has taken 25 years for us to iron out these 11 regulations. I’m satisfied that your attention has been seized by this issue now today. For example, today, the minister wrote a letter to all committee members saying that the regulatory work and requisite approvals are expected to be finalized by the end this calendar year, 2023.

I want to reconfirm that you will do your utmost best to see that this happens — is that correct?

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. That’s affirmative. Last week, I saw the regulatory drafting instruction that will be going forward to the drafters to be implemented in the next six to eight months. So as I stated in my address, it will be done early in 2024.

Mr. Zuberi: If I can follow up, I appreciate what you’re doing in terms of retaining personnel. It was an issue back in the day when I was serving, and I’m sure it’s still an issue today.

I know that you have adjusted a lot — as the Armed Forces have over the years — to welcome people from diverse Canadian backgrounds. From what I have heard, you have been doing a good job. I know that there is always more work to do, especially for women serving. There is an important issue of sensitivity and awareness of women serving in uniform, especially depending upon the trade that one is in, which can have varying cultures. I’m sure you’re continuing to be focused on that.

I would like you to comment on women, in particular, in the military or on the updates you have done over the years, keeping in mind, obviously, the mission of the military, which is to be able to enter combat and succeed. This must always remain an essential component of how you train people. How do you balance those two things? I know it’s somewhat of a tangential issue, but maybe you could tie it into regulations at the same time.

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. Mr. Chair, sadly, you are going to have to interrupt me because I can probably talk for hours about diversity and inclusion. I’ve been making the rounds to different committees, talking about the great progress we have made in the last 35 years.

The Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, of today is not the CAF that I joined. I think we are making steps for everyone to feel valued and included across the spectrum. There are many initiatives ongoing.

I’ll stop there because the chair is looking at me with bad eyes.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): I’m just being respectful of my members, but thank you for understanding.

Next up, I have MP Webber. After that, if any other member who has not had the opportunity to ask a question wishes to, we’ll put them first. Then we’ll go through the secondary list that we do have.

Mr. Webber: Thank you for being here today and presenting to us, Lieutenant-General Bourgon. Thank you for your presentation.

You had said in your presentation that National Defence is committed to the important work of our committee here, as is the Minister of National Defence. I don’t want to belabour this issue, but I do have to say that the fact that the minister would not even respond to our letter is disturbing. It was brought forward by my two colleagues on either side of me as well today.

I want to give you some idea. On May 16, 2022, we invited the minister to appear. On May 17, the clerks here wrote a letter to invite the minister. On June 1, 2022, the minister advised us that they were unavailable. On February 13, 2023, the committee instructed the joint chairs to write to the minister again to appear. From February to May of 2023, the joint clerks attempted to confirm a date on which the minister would appear before the committee, and no confirmation was attained. The minister has not provided even a response to our letter, and I just find that unacceptable.

I understand that you have work to do. You mentioned Afghanistan and Ukraine, which are very important issues to prioritize, but we had to go with a procedure of a notice of disallowance in order for the minister to act. That shouldn’t have to be.

Is it common practice that your department and the Liberal minister not respond to our communications?

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. I don’t think I can comment on this. But I can tell you that it has been a busy time in the last 24 months in National Defence with Ukraine, with culture change and with Justice Arbour, et cetera. So the minister has been busy.

What I can tell you is that we are here today. We are here to answer your questions. We take very seriously the top three and the pension world. The minister takes it very seriously also.

Mr. Webber: It doesn’t seem you take it very seriously to this joint committee, this joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate — this Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. That needs to be prioritized up there as well.

Who made the decision not to respond to us? Can you answer that?

LGen. Bourgon: Sorry, Mr. Chair, this is outside my realm of responsibility. The only thing I can tell you is that we had clear direction to be here today and to answer your questions — to re-establish that trust. You know, I went through the binder and I said, “Oh, my God, 25 years?” I’ve been in the job for only 18 months, but ultimately, I’m responsible.

Mr. Webber: Did you see the letter for the minister that we wrote?

LGen. Bourgon: Mr. Chair, I’ve been told that there was a bit of confusion as to where the letter was sent. But the letter was sent, and we are here. We’re here to answer your questions and, hopefully, re-establish that trust — that we are listening and will do those amendments as soon as possible.

Mr. Webber: One last question: Will you commit to providing the committee by June 11, which is next week — because we will be talking about this again if we have that meeting on June 12 — a full and unredacted correspondence log showing how this committee’s letter was handled within your department?

LGen. Bourgon: I will take that for notice because I’m not sure, Mr. Chair, that it is within my authority to agree to this. But my policy adviser will take that, and, hopefully, we can answer your request.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): I’m going to interject briefly just to point out that there was no confusion on this side as to whom we were sending those letters to. If there was confusion, I’ll let it remain there. But it wasn’t from either of our clerks.


Élizabeth Brière, MP: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being with us today. We hope we’ll get it right this time. During the many years we’ve been waiting for the amendments, are you aware of any consequences of the amendments not being made?

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you. That’s a very good question. From what we have observed, the changes you have suggested are more aesthetic in nature, and we applied the anglophone side that offered better coverage than the francophone side. No, there was no impact, but the text still needs to be corrected. That is what we have committed to moving forward.


The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Next up, we’re going to go to people who have gone once before. Let’s keep our questions succinct, and then we may have time for supplemental questions. We want to get to as many people as we can.

Mr. Noormohamed: Thank you, again, to all witnesses for appearing. I think we were doing really well without turning this into a partisan bunfight. Hopefully, we can get back to that place. There have been many defence ministers since this problem was first raised — Liberal and Conservative. We are where we are. So I really do encourage all of us to look at the path forward and figure out how we get to a good outcome on this without turning this committee into what we’re seeing in other places.

I have a simple question. Can you commit to reporting back to this committee on progress at regular intervals? Can we get a commitment from you as to what that cadence would look like? I think it would be very helpful for all of us if you could commit to reporting back to this committee on progress at regular intervals and if you could give us a cadence that we can expect because I think your being here is important. This is about re-establishing trust.

The minister has personally been seized with this. I think we’re all grateful that people are now taking this seriously. If we can get a commitment from you as to what that might look like — for us to document and for us to be able to then track — hopefully, we’ll address some of the concerns that Mr. Davidson raised about constituents and others not feeling as though people are responsive. That’s a great way for us to move forward. I might ask your indulgence in coming back to us with that.

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. Absolutely, we can commit to giving you regular updates. I don’t know if every three months would be acceptable to this committee. You heard from us today what is in progress. I think we could give you an update after the return of the House in September if that’s acceptable for this committee. We are okay to provide regular updates.

Mr. Davidson: This is just a follow-up. This is back to this whole breakdown in time. To my colleague, the facts are the facts. This is the third time I have heard someone say at committee that there was confusion as to where the letter was sent or where the email went. It seems that this committee hears that all the time now from this government. It’s concerning because we see that when Michael Chong’s family was threatened, Minister Blair said that he didn’t get the email. This person didn’t get the letter. This is where Canadians are losing trust. That is what is disturbing to me.

So I find that the minister is responsible. I know you say you take responsibility 100%, but it is the minister’s responsibility. I’m trying to get to that. Who is responsible for this breakdown of how long we have been? If you actually told people that this has been on since 1997, they would look at you cross-eyed, right?

I do appreciate — that’s why I’m getting back to resources. Do you have enough resources? I know there are fires burning with Afghanistan and Ukraine, but, you know, the military has those responsibilities. It is just concerning. Do you have enough resources to get the job done?

LGen. Bourgon: Mr. Chair, that’s a very good question. Again, this started in 1997. I was not where I am today in 1997. There has been a lot of water under that bridge. I hear your frustration. It is frustrating. We are doing the best we can amidst all the priorities and fires of the day to stay up to date on our deliverables. It is a question of capacity, of drafting. As Brigadier-General Tattersall and Mr. Irwin talked about, it is a question of drafters and difficulties. Those who can do it — pension drafters — are like unicorns.

There are many excuses that don’t answer why this has taken so long, but I can tell you that we’re making changes now. I’m here to tell you that those changes will be made, and, hopefully, we can close this file.

Mr. Garrison: I have to say that the “marriage after 60” clause just came to my attention when a constituent approached me who had lost her husband, who had been a veteran, and suddenly her pension was cut off. Neither her spouse nor she had any idea this would happen. She was left in abject poverty. We have to get back to the personal impacts of what we’re doing here.

With respect, again, I’m going to say that I know I don’t have the right people in front of me. But it was said today that it’s not part of your mandate to deal with the “marriage over 60” clause. However, if I’m not mistaken, in the mandate letters to the Minister of Veterans Affairs in 2015 and, I believe, in 2017, the government promised to deal with the “marriage over 60” problem. So it’s in somebody’s mandate. That’s why we need the minister here to respond. I think there was some confusion if you put that in the mandate of the Minister of Veterans Affairs because the Minister of Veterans Affairs is not responsible for the pensions. It should have been the Minister of Defence’s mandate. That’s why we needed to see the minister here — to talk about this issue. I appreciate the difficult position you’re put in when it was something that was at a higher level that you can’t really address today.

I have one short question, and that is about the Optional Survivor Benefit, which was created by regulations. Can you tell me what the uptake has been for that program?

Mr. Irwin: Thank you for that question. The uptake is very small. It varies slightly month to month, but it has been between 140 and 150 out of 120,000 annuitants.

Mr. Garrison: I think that tells the story. Thanks.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Next up, we have MP Garon, and if anyone else wishes to speak a first or second time, please put your hand up. I will prioritize those who haven’t spoken.


Mr. Garon: This is more of a comment than a question. Your presence is as much appreciated as the minister’s absence is unacceptable. It leaves us with mixed feelings. I would like to respond to one of your comments. The balance between the two official languages is not aesthetic. Francophones in Canada have the right to have legislation read and interpreted in French.

I understand that the English version is more generous. When there have been inconsistencies between English and French for decades, I, as a Bloc member, feel particularly concerned. To be told after 25 years that the French language is an aesthetic issue, I would like to have told the minister that it’s not an aesthetic issue, it’s a historical issue. I am both happy and angry to hear you say it, and you said it very candidly, that it isn’t aesthetic, that there’s an inconsistency between the texts in both official languages. I don’t accept the term “aesthetic.” I think we should hold back before saying things like that and correct these problems much more quickly.

LGen. Bourgon: You are right, ultimately, that those terms should have been changed a long time ago. It’s a question of priority between English and French or other clauses such as the reserve force pension plan; priorities were needed based on the resources available. We have always given the advantage to the anglophone side, which removed the stress of making amendments, but you are right.

Often, as a francophone — I can understand, and we’ll do it. It will be done, but it didn’t rise to the top of the priority list, and then we’re here, now, years later, talking about it again, but it will be done.


The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): I see no further hands up. Would anyone like to ask another question, or are we done? I do not see any hands being raised, so before we go, I would like to thank our witnesses for coming and for presenting before the committee today. We appreciate your presence. Thank you.

We’re going to suspend briefly. We have a few little things we have to do to discuss in camera.

(The committee continued in camera.)

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