In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

A debate on representing our veterans

Posted 4/27/2009 by Senator Grant Mitchell

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The Veterans Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has existed since the 1990s. It has done excellent work for Canadian veterans who have made many sacrifices on behalf of all of us. It is important.

This week there was some very interesting debate about how we should structure this committee.

Senate Committees (there are 17) are shut down when elections are called and cannot be reconstituted until Parliament is sitting. So, several weeks after Parliament returned, the Defence Committee of the Senate was appointed and like in the past, was charged with establishing the Veterans Affairs subcommittee.

One of the most important roles of the Senate is its widely recognized committee work. If you ever talk to someone who has appeared before both a House and a Senate committee, they will invariably say that the Senate committee was much more productive.  The reports done by Senate committees are widely applauded and quite influential.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. First, because the Defence Committee chair is a Liberal, tradition dictates that the chair of the subcommittee should be a Conservative (that is, if the chair is a senator of the opposition side, then the subcommittee chair is a member of the government side). Another important tradition is that no single senator is the chair of two committees.

In the past, Senator Michael Meighen, a Conservative, has been the chair of the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs. But now he is chair of the Banking Committee. The Liberal members of the committee feel that this therefore disqualifies him as chair of the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs.

This has created an impasse and delayed establishing the subcommittee. The Liberals argue that given the importance of the veterans issue now with so many veterans with serious health and readjustment issues, a full Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs is warranted and necessary. This is in contrast to the Subcommittee the Conservatives want established right away. My argument however, is that the Defence Committee has full authority to deal with veterans affairs, and will do so, until a separate committee can be established.

Both sides want to make sure the issues of veterans are dealt with as fully and as soon as possible. I think, however, that we need to make sure that this done right – and a full committee established to represent veterans.

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