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Record of Discussion – Policy Advisory Group

St. Laurent Room - Lord Elgin Hotel
100 Elgin Street Ottawa, Ontario
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
08:30–16:00 (EDT)

Policy Advisory Group Members

  • Keith McAllister, Veterans UN-NATO Canada (for Michel Bessette)
  • Major (Retired) Mark Campbell
  • Steven Clark, Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) (for Brad White)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor Campbell, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) - (for Lieutenant-General Stephen Bowes
  • Luc O’Bomsawin, Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones
  • Brigadier General (Retired) Joe Sharpe
  • Commodore (Retired) Andrea Siew (Co-Chair)

Regrets

  • Brian Forbes, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada (Co-chair)
  • Master Warrant Officer (Retired) William MacDonald

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Minister Lawrence MacAulay
  • John Embury, Director of Communications

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) Officials

  • Steven Harris, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy and Commemoration (VAC Co-chair)
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Karen Rose, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Presenters (via teleconference)

  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research
  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Service Delivery Modernization
  • Fiona Jones, Manager, Program Policy, Policy and Research
  • Amy Meunier, Central Operations Division

Observer

  • Sharon Squire, Deputy Ombudsman, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Opening Remarks

The VAC Co-chair and the recently appointed Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) for Strategic Policy and Commemoration Branch and the member Co-chair welcomed the members and acknowledged the leadership of the former Co-chair Bernard Butler who retired.

The VAC Co-chair remarks included: highlights from Budget 2019, progress made on VAC’s Ministerial Mandate Letter, recent meetings with the advisory group Co-chairs on renewal, membership, the work plan, as well as the update provided by the Veterans’ Ombudsman on their priority areas.

The member Co-chair remarks included: the complexities of the Pension for Life (PFL) programs and the need to improve communications, the use of social media and how incorrect information is being shared, and the need for the Policy Advisory Group to consider the future of Veterans benefits.

Women Veterans’ Forum

The VAC Co-chair provided a brief overview of the Women Veterans’ Forum to be held in Charlottetown on May 23, 2019. He shared the objectives of the forum as follows:

  1. To present existing research on Canadian women Veterans and discuss directions for future research;
  2. To develop ideas and potential solutions to policy and program challenges facing women Veterans and their families; and
  3. To promote collaboration and build strong networks among women Veterans and stakeholder groups.

It was noted that VAC is working with a Steering Committee to help frame the agenda and the plan for the day.

Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference were reviewed and there was a discussion on the code of conduct. The members agreed to sign the code of conduct, with some minor adjustments to section 3.2.2. related to dismissal. Section 3.2.2. will be updated to reflect - If a member does not meet the expectations outlined by these Terms of Reference, specifically sub-sections 2.3, 3.2, 3.3 and 5.2, or by the Code of Conduct, the Group may provide the member with a warning and counseling from the member Co-chair. If the situation remains unresolved to the Group’s satisfaction, the Minister may proceed in a timely manner with the dismissal of the individual from the membership.

Work Plan

The members reviewed the work plan and some updates were made, including: removing Veterans Survivor Fund, as it is not policy related; and adding a review of the Caregiver Recognition Benefit, an item of interest to both the Mental Health Advisory Group and the Advisory Group on Families. A Caregiver Recognition Benefit was a recommendation the PAG made in 2016. The members also asked that a briefing on the implementation and effectiveness of the Education and Training Benefit be added to the agenda for the next meeting.

Well-Being Framework

The Director General Policy and Research presented on the Well-Being Framework and its seven domains.

Discussion

  • The importance of capturing all Veterans and not just those that receive services from VAC. The steps underway to include a Veteran identifier in the 2021 Census was referenced and the importance of having accurate numbers to better understand the Canadian Veteran population.
  • How success will be measured and the performance indicators that will be used. It was noted that the first surveillance report will be available in the Fall of 2019 which will help determine where the gaps are and potential areas of focus for policy priorities into the future.
  • That the responsibility for well-being is broader than Government and includes volunteer organizations, stakeholder organizations, community, and charities.

During the afternoon, the Director of Research was introduced to the members and the subject of the well-being framework continued with additional discussion on measuring success and the performance indicators. The group was provided with the performance indicators for each of the seven domains and information about the first Well-being Surveillance Report that will be produced in the Fall of 2019. This report can be shared with the group when it becomes available.

Pension For Life

A briefing on Pension for Life (PFL) was provided via teleconference by the Director, Service Delivery Modernization with the participation of representatives from Centralized Operation Division and the Policy and Research Division.

Discussion

  • The complexity of the transition to the PFL benefits.
  • It was clarified that the Additional Monthly Amount was an adjustment for those who had received a Disability Award and is not part of the PFL benefits. The intent was to ensure that those Veterans who had received a Disability Award would not receive less.
  • The complexity of the calculations and the challenges that Veterans are having to understand how VAC arrived at the amount for both the Additional Monthly Amount and the Income Replacement Benefit. The PFL team indicated that work will continue in improving the explanation for the amounts for these benefits.
  • It was confirmed that taxable and non-taxable benefits will be received as separate payments.
  • How misinformation is being circulated on social media. It was noted that VAC responds on a number of social media channels but cannot cover all sites.
  • There were suggestions around improving communications and outreach on the new benefits.
  • Questions were raised about the February 21, 2019 Parliamentary Budget Officer Report: The Cost Differential Between Three Regimes of Veterans Benefits. VAC noted that the data which identified that 5% would receive less was based on projections of Veterans who apply for benefits after April 1, 2019 and that the Department is currently looking into the model that they used.
  • The Supplementary Retirement Benefit ceased to exist under the PFL, however, there is a legislative requirement to payout a one-time lump-sum to those eligible as of March 31, 2019. This payment will be made separately from the taxable and non-taxable benefits noted above.

Roundtable with Minister MacAulay

The session with Minister Lawrence MacAulay began with roundtable introductions followed by remarks from the Minister. The member Co-chair provided an outline of the morning discussions and indicated that the group is interested in future programming for Veterans. She also spoke about one Veteran, one standard, the wellness framework and the complexities of three different regimes of Veterans benefits.

Minister MacAulay noted that he is here to listen, is interested in their feedback as well as feedback from the broader Veteran community. He indicated that he wants to work with advisory group members and Veterans to make improvements.

Advisory Group Recommendations

The Policy Advisory Group’s goal is to present to the Minister in the Fall of 2019 their vision, a framework for their work into the future and recommendations. The member Co-chair requested that a teleconference be organized in the upcoming weeks to consider next steps using the 2016 recommendations as a starting point. A face-to-face meeting in the Fall was also proposed with the approval of VAC.

The member Co-chair outlined details around their priorities in relation to the current work plan with a few updates including the addition of the Caregiver Recognition Benefit. A presentation from the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman on the findings from their financial benefit analysis could also be included in a future meeting.

Roundtable Discussion

  • Productive day, and members are interested in seeing how the implementation of PFL plays out over the coming weeks and months.
  • The need to focus on the well-being framework will help us to be better aligned for the future.
  • Recommend that a teleconference with the members be held in the coming weeks (before June 14, 2019).
  • Need for more advance notice when meetings and teleconference are being scheduled.
  • The VAC Co-chair agreed to determine how meetings of the Ministerial Advisory Groups would be impacted once the election is called.
  • Agenda for next face-to-face to include the Caregiver Recognition Benefit and the Education and Training Benefit.

The meeting was adjourned.

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