Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the third reading of Bill , a piece of legislation that at least purports to incorporate into law, as is required by legislation, the report of an independent commission with regard to salaries and other compensation for our judiciary at the federal level, all the way from the Supreme Court of Canada to our superior courts across the country, as well as our federal court system. There are approximately 1,100 of those judges across the country.
Historically this has been a very difficult problem for legislatures, at both the federal and the provincial level. The problem we have is because of the structure of our Constitution, which recognizes the independence of our judiciary and, quite frankly, the importance of an independent judiciary to the democracy of Canada. We never have been able to satisfactorily deal with how we compensate those judges and maintain their independence from the legislative and administrative branches of government.
Approximately 10 years ago, a system was developed as a result of several court decisions, and one since then, that required the legislative branch, this House and government, to establish an independent commission, a commission that would be composed of an independent neutral chair, one person delegated from the government and one from the judiciary. That commission was to investigate the compensation paid to judges right across the country at the federal level and make recommendations in the form of a report.
That report then came back, first to the government, and to the House as well, to be dealt with in committee and encompassed in legislation. That is why the bill is before the House at this point. What happened to some significant degree, and I think shamefully, is that the process either has been ignored by the government in its proper sense or has been hijacked to some degree for ideological reasons by the government. I suppose we could use interchangeable terms here.
The report that came back recommended certain compensation levels, straight salary levels, while a number of issues around pensions and fringe benefits, if I can put it in that vernacular, were to be dealt with by way of these recommendations for the government to implement.
One of the travesties of what has gone on here is that this report is almost four years old now. The previous Liberal government, as was so common with that government, dithered on it and did not deal with it other than preparing some legislation to accept it. That government then basically just let it sit, ignoring its constitutional responsibilities to process the commission's recommendations in a reasonable timeframe. That had been part of one of the court decisions, that whatever methodology was deployed it had to be used in a reasonable timeframe. The past Liberal government did not do that.
Then we had the Conservative government. Of course, I think the country generally knows its attitude toward the judiciary. One of the first things it did, in the form of this legislation encompassed in Bill , was to slash the compensation, both in salary and in some of the benefits, by over 25%. To go through the bill's history, it then went to the justice committee. Attempts were made there by me on behalf of the NDP to reinstate the commission's recommendations.
I want to go directly to the intellectual dishonestly of the government with regard to this. The courts, in a series of cases, have said the commission's recommendations are to be accepted and can only be deviated from if set criteria are met. What came forward from the government was a couple of arguments, no more than that. The government tried to characterize them as sound reasons, but they were arguments that were specious and in fact intellectually dishonest.
One of the reasons the government gave for slashing the compensation recommendation was that it had the right to take into account the state of financial circumstances at the federal level when making a determination. One has to appreciate how ridiculous that was, because in the three and a half years when this report was sitting there and not being dealt with, either by the Liberal government or by the Conservative government, there were surpluses in this country that amounted to in excess of $20 billion over that period of time.
This was not money that was going to be spent by either the Liberal or Conservative governments on other programs, on other necessities in the country. It was simply set back and used to pay down the debt. That is what it was used for. The government tried to contrive an argument that somehow it had the right to take into account financial circumstances, but when one looks at the facts that of course was meaningless.
The other argument the government made was that when the commission did its assessment it did not properly take into account incomes of lawyers, because that is one of the tests that we use to set the compensation we pay our judges. The argument was that it did not take into account a broad enough scope. That simply was not true.
In fact, members of the commission appeared before the justice committee and pointed out that they made an assessment of income levels within the legal community right across the country, in large cities, large law firms, small communities, small law firms and individual practitioners of law. They said they had done all that, that they had done their job and done it properly and had reached a consensus among the three of them, the independent chair, the government appointee and the judiciary appointee. They had reached a consensus that this was the proper amount to be dealing with. So the second argument, the second so-called reason, was basically destroyed by the facts of how the commission had conducted its work.
As I said, the NDP, in my person, attempted to bring it back. It was voted down. First there was a decision that the government would not grant the royal prerogative, even though when the minister was in front of the committee he was equivocal as to whether he would accept the recommendation to increase the amount of compensation to what it was originally in the commission's recommendations.
It was ruled out. There has been no indication since then that this will change, and in fact, just the opposite. Very clearly, if those amendments were brought forward to increase the amount to its original level as recommended by the commission, the government would invoke the royal prerogative and would not be prepared to accept those changes.
That is the bill we now have in front of us at third reading for its upcoming final vote in the House.
I have to say very clearly with regard to this process that it was not honoured. It was just the opposite. In terms of the timelines that were applied, it is a disgrace for both governments, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Specifically, the Conservative government's approach or attempt to explain away its reasons for reducing the amount of compensation for judges is, as I said earlier, specious. It is intellectually dishonest. Quite frankly, it is a disgrace to the importance and the significance of having an independent judiciary, because this goes right to the heart of it.
If someone is going to go after judges' compensation in this fashion, both ignoring the process and then trying to undermine it with specious arguments, it really is very difficult not to see that the independence of the judiciary is being attacked by the government.
This is a pattern that we have seen from the government, both as a political party before it became government this last year and since it has been in power. I will go back to that to give other examples of how I have seen the judiciary at the federal level come under attack from that political party.
Before I do that, I want to make one final point with regard to the process. Given that it has taken us so long, we are now at a stage where the government has to appoint a new commission because the cycle for judicial compensation is actually in vogue at this point. The government has not done that but I assume it will be doing it shortly.
However, it begs the question: Are we going to go through the same process, assuming, and one would hope not, that the government will still be in power when the recommendation comes back from the commission? Will the government again ignore an independent commission doing good work, the solid processing of information, to determine what is appropriate compensation for our judiciary?
Given what I have seen go on in this process, I have no reason to believe that the government will not undermine the process if it does not get the recommendation that it believes is appropriate rather than what the independent commission believes is appropriate.
I believe this is part of a pattern. I will just go through a number of points where I see the Conservative Party, which is now government, attacking our judiciary from a number of different vantage points.
When the debate was going on over same sex marriage, the Leader of the Conservative Party, now the , made wild accusations of our judiciary being biased, that they were small “l” liberal appointments appointed by large “L” Liberal governments to specifically enhance the program of rights for the gay and lesbian community in this country. It was a wild accusation, it was offensive to the independence of our judiciary and it was wrong.
One of the leading decisions that came out of the Court of Appeal in Ontario, a three member court, was made by Justice McMurtry, a Conservative cabinet minister in the provincial Government of Ontario at one time, who was appointed to the bench by the Mulroney Conservative government. The court interpreted the Constitution and the Charter of Rights specifically based on equality rights. The Conservative Party did not want to hear that and so the Leader of the Conservative Party made a wild accusation that, ultimately, was factually incorrect.
Near the end of the election campaign, we again heard him say that he saw the judiciary as being one of his opponents if he were elected. His government and his party see the judiciary, not as part of the constitutional structure of this country and not as part of the fundamental support for democracy in this country, but as an ideological opponent to the government and its political party.
Shortly after the election, we had the member for attacking and putting words into the mouth of the Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice alleging she had made certain statements. The member subsequently had to apologize because they were statements that he had made up. What it showed was the attitude of the Conservative Party, now the government, toward the judiciary. It has total disrespect and it is willing to fabricate accusations against the judiciary, all of it based on a strong, ideological bent that it sees the Supreme Court, our superior courts and our Federal Courts as not being supportive.
We hear a number of members from that party constantly attacking the judiciary for making laws, not interpreting them, which is their role and the role they in fact play.
Having practised law in our courts for 27 years before I was appointed here, our judges are better than any judges in the world. I do not hesitate to say that I am proud to be part of a legal community that produces those judges. They are not perfect but they are better than any other judicial branch in the world. It is recognized around the world. If one were to go to Australia, the United States, Britain or any number of other Commonwealth countries with a similar legal structure, that is what we would hear. The decisions our judges make are used repeatedly in other countries because of the respect they have for our judiciaries, but not our government, the Conservative Party, which constantly attacks our judiciary for making laws.
They are not making laws. Their role is to interpret the Constitution and the Charter of Rights, which is what they do and they do it extremely well.
As we saw, once the Conservative Party got into power it cut the court challenges program. The methodology in that is to undermine the role that our judges play. It means that we will have a reduction in the quality and, I might even say, the quantity of cases that go in front of the court that challenge both federal and provincial statutes, practices and policies. If these cases do get there, there will likely to be a lesser quality of argument because the funding for the court challenges program has been cut by the government in a very petty, vindictive way and with absolutely no rationale for it.
We hear the , when he stands in this House, constantly, in his bombastic fashion, attacking the court challenges program, which is really an attack on the judiciary.
The government then cut the Law Commission, which played a role of support for this House, for the committees in this House and for the legal infrastructure, if I can put it that way. It had a very important role in the research that it does and the reports that it produces. It allowed for dialogue to go on, not only within the legal community but also within the political community. It helped foster that dialogue as to where we should be going with our legal system. A great program has been cut and, I think, cut illegally.
The government did not even have the gumption to bring forth a bill, which is what I believe they must do to terminate the Law Commission. It did not do that because it knew that all three of the opposition parties would have voted it down. This is a very clear indication of the government's attitude toward the judiciary and the judicial system. It sees itself as being an opponent of that system and doing whatever it can to undermine it in a variety of ways.
Now we have the appointments of the judges. The government is at a level of hypocrisy that is frightening, as is the minister who, on the justice committee, was very strong about us cleaning up the judicial appointment process and trying depoliticize it as much as possible. We have models at the provincial level where that has been done.
The Conservatives have been in power now for a number of months. They could have done that but we have heard nothing. What we are seeing is that a good third of the appointments that have been made so far at the federal level are appointments of people who have very close ties to the Conservative Party. They may very well be good judges. The minister thinks he may have done even more than those, and it would not surprise me if he has. Maybe we have not identified all of them.
The point is that the Conservatives take a cynical approach toward the judiciary by seeing it as an opponent. They need to take care of the judiciary which means they need to undermine the judges and do whatever they can to lessen their authority.
Ultimately, it brings into disrepute the government and it does attack the very essence of the constitutional structure in this country, the important leg of that, of course, being the independent judiciary.
Mr. Speaker, I think my remarks will pretty much follow along the same context as our colleague who just spoke.
In my remarks today I want capture three separate perspectives on the bill, and not because I am looking in a rear view mirror. The way the government appears to want to handle this matter will likely cause new files to open in the future. The other place, next door to the House of Commons, will undoubtedly be interested in some of these perspectives as it reviews the bill.
As we all know, the Supreme Court of Canada a few years ago decided that the only solution to the ambiguities and imprecision in the matter of setting or adjusting the salaries for judges was the need for an independent commission which would study and recommend what those salary levels should be. The commission has functioned for the last five or ten years. As I recall, the second last report was implemented as the Supreme Court had recommended.
It was a Supreme Court decision, which is a bit more than a recommendation. It created the law in that case in an arguable vacuum, taking into account the contingencies that the court felt were relevant at the time.
The report we are dealing with now is from the independent commission, not from the justice committee. It was introduced a couple of years ago. The last government introduced a bill that would have implemented the recommendations of the commission. That bill fell from the order paper at dissolution of the last Parliament. The new government has now introduced a bill that would substantially reduce the amount recommended by the commission.
Part of the problem identified by the government, which it felt empowered to identify, was that in assessing the costs and what should be paid to judges and the courts, there was a difference between street inflation in Canada and what I would call lawyer-judge inflation. The Supreme Court and the commission recognizes that one of the considerations of setting judicial salaries is the need to attract some of the best legal minds into the judicial profession. In order to attract them, there has to be appropriate amounts paid in salaries. Therefore, the court has accepted that lawyer-judge type inflation is very relevant to the setting of those amounts.
The setting of those amounts do not have very much to do, whether one agrees with this or not, with what a bus driver might make in Winnipeg or what a fish plant worker might make in Nova Scotia. As a result, we have these two different worlds competing. When the independent commission makes its report, it looks at the judicial-lawyer type inflation and the salary amounts that should be paid to continue to attract good people into the profession. As I said, the previous government had followed through on this, but the new government has not.
I want to now turn my attention to the legal infrastructure in this place to deal with the salaries of judges.
Just so the record is clear, section 100 of the Constitution Act says that judges' salaries shall be fixed by the Parliament of Canada. Section 17 of the Constitution Act says there shall be a Parliament of Canada composed of the Queen, the House of Commons and the Senate. Parliament has three heads. I think most would agree the modern manifestation of the Queen would be the Privy Council, which, for all practical purposes, is the cabinet. The cabinet is represented in the House of Commons through the and the other ministers. In dealing with judicial matters it would be the .
There is another section of the Constitution Act which is a bit of a sleeper but very important to us here. Notwithstanding that section 100 says that Parliament shall fix judges' salaries, section 54 of the Constitution Act says that the House of Commons may not pass a bill or motion that involves the expenditure of public money unless the government, the Queen--the Privy Council--has already given a royal recommendation for the expenditure of that amount.
As the House deals with these matters in the ordinary course, the House cannot increase any of the spending of public money without a royal recommendation. That is very important because what has happened in this case is that the consideration of the report of the independent commission is done by this House. While this House under those constitutional rules could reduce the amount recommended by the commission and put it into a bill for adoption, this House could never increase the amount.
The best laid plans of the Supreme Court of Canada in setting up this independent commission which then makes a recommendation to Parliament is handicapped by the fact that there is only one player in the mechanism that has the ability to fairly implement, and that is a government bringing in a bill with a royal recommendation.
I make the point that it looks to me as though section 54 requiring a royal recommendation hobbles, handicaps, is an impediment to the House fairly dealing with the commission report. The independence that the Supreme Court of Canada had hoped for when it went through the Prince Edward Island case and the Bodner case has been lost simply because section 54 requires the existence of a royal recommendation. We have one hand tied behind our backs as we deal with this.
Oddly enough the , confirmed as recently as yesterday by his parliamentary secretary, told the justice committee as it reviewed this report that if the committee wants to increase the amount recommended, it should go ahead. That is essentially what was said. That came from the justice minister. I suggest to the House, in this circumstance knowing the law as he should, and I am looking for an adverb or an adjective, but that position could be described as falling in the spectrum somewhere between ignorance and deceit, with sincerity in the middle.
Surely the justice minister knows that the committee and the House could never recommend an increase or adopt an amount that was in excess of what the Privy Council put into the bill without a royal recommendation. Yet it appears that publicly the government is giving the impression that the government, the Privy Council, is open to Parliament fixing this amount to what Parliament and the House think is appropriate, when all along it knows full well that such an increase could not be implemented, recommended, moved, proposed in committee or in the House because there is no royal recommendation.
I would say today that if the government were sincere in saying it is possible to raise these amounts to what the independent commission had recommended, I challenge the government now, I challenge the minister now, I challenge the members of the Conservative caucus to say they will give a royal recommendation to implement what this House wants, what the committee would have adopted had the proposed amendments to increase the amount in the bill not been ruled out of order at the committee. The amendments to reinstate the commission's report were ruled out of order. If the government were really sincere in its suggestion that the House could increase the amounts, it must say that it is also prepared to provide a royal recommendation, which the government is apparently not prepared to do.
After the bill passes third reading it will move to the other place. There is another rule in the Constitution which says that the other place is not able to initiate a money bill or spending. The only place in the whole world where one could implement an increase in this bill is in this House, but we have one arm tied behind our back because of section 54 which says that we need a royal recommendation and that royal recommendation can only come from the government.
I regret that. I wanted the record to show that. It is most insincere for the attorney general to hold that out, that he and the government are willing to see an increase when they will not come forward and say that they will give a royal recommendation for the increase that might be there.
Now that I have that out of the way, I want to do two more things. The first is to talk about the independent commission mechanism that was set up by the courts. Looking back over that, it occurred within the last 10 years, it seems to me that while the court was sincere in wishing to create the independent mechanism and to have a vehicle that Parliament could make use of, I believe the courts overlooked some of these elements that I have described here today, the incapacity of the House to move anything upward or to make a move without a royal recommendation. At the end of the day, the one component of government that obstructs the court, i.e., the cabinet and the Privy Council, is the one component the court wanted to distance itself from when it set up the mechanism.
The court felt that there should be a degree of judicial independence and it should not be in a position to go cap in hand to the cabinet, to the Privy Council, and yet, after implementing this mechanism, we are still stuck with the problem that was there before. The cabinet, the Privy Council, still has that one piece of paper, the royal recommendation, that prevents Parliament from fulfilling its constitutional obligation.
There was a time at the committee when I was prepared to argue that the royal recommendation provision in section 54 was, I will not say it was unconstitutional, but because there was a conflict between section 100 and section 54, that section 100 empowering Parliament to fix the salaries of judges should prevail over section 54. It is an argument for another day, not here.
I do suggest in the event the court wishes to deal with the matter again, and the court may, given what has happened here with this bill, that an attempt be made to implement an improved dialogue between Parliament and the court just this one time. The courts do not have to come cap in hand here. They are an independent institution and have to be constitutionally.
If they are designing a judicial salary adjustment mechanism, and if Parliament is an integral part of that process, then the mechanism surely must be designed in collaboration with Parliament itself. Had that dialogue occurred 10 or so years ago, the problem we have today might have been avoided.
The last thing I want to do is to connect some dots, and my colleague who spoke just prior to me actually began to do that. It has to do with the position of the current Conservative government that has in one sequence of actions managed to clip the increases to judges' salaries. Some would say the government has not done it very respectfully or at least respected the mechanism already in place. The government has also managed to clip the court challenges program, virtually abolishing it, and the Law Commission.
What do all of these things have in common? I am going to try to connect some dots. I could be wrong; I can only do this by inference. It is very difficult for me to figure out why, in a period of relative prosperity in this country where we have had balanced budgets and surpluses every year for seven or eight years, the government finds the need to get rid of the Law Commission and the court challenges program and to not implement the independent commission's report on judges' salaries. The only thing I can see that these things have in common is disposition over the last two or three years of the same sex marriage issue.
I recall the report from the Law Commission entitled “Beyond Conjugality”. It was a discussion of the law relating to spousal and non-spousal relationships. Part of the discussion dealt with many of the same sex marriage issues which this House has dealt with. I could not help but detect some disfavour on the part of many Conservative members about it. I have seen it at the justice committee. It is not always on the record, but it is there.
The court challenges program brings court charter challenges into the courts. Members will recall the same sex marriage issue, the redevelopment of the definition of civil marriage, was accomplished primarily as a result of litigation charter challenge. I am not certain whether the court challenges program funded any of that; it may have, but it is passing strange. I see a connection there.
I mentioned the Law Commission's report and now the judges who made these decisions that essentially required Parliament to act a year or two ago. I have simply had no choice but to draw the inference that the Conservatives' distaste for those decisions was a prime motivator in this, because I cannot see any economic or fiscal reason to turn attention to these very viable working mechanisms in our judicial sector.
The Law Commission which is being scrapped now was the reincarnation of the old Law Reform Commission, which was scrapped by the previous Conservative government in 1990 or 1991. A very strange thing. The Conservatives do not like law reform commissions. They junk them.
I appreciated the opportunity to make these remarks. I hope they will be helpful for the record.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to once again rise in this House to discuss Bill dealing with the salaries of federally appointed judges across Canada.
It is a delicate matter to discuss the salaries of the judiciary. We agree on that fact. It is important for those who are listening to us and who are trying to understand this, to know that the Bloc Québécois voted against the bill on second reading because we consider that the increase offered to judges by the government is well beyond the norm in all other sectors of Canadian activity where the government and public funds are involved. It is important that we explain to the people why we have adopted this position.
On May 31, 2004, the mechanism for establishing the compensation of judges went into action; the commission presented its report and recommended a salary adjustment of about 10% for judges and parliamentarians. The salaries of parliamentarians had been linked to that of judges by the previous Liberal government—not the government just prior to the last election but the government of Jean Chrétien. At that time, the Liberals had decided, I believe with the unanimous consent of the House, that it was important that not only the salaries of judges but also those of parliamentarians should be removed from public debate.
It became usual, proper and accepted that from then on the salaries of the two groups became linked. Among other principles, it seemed to us unreasonable and illogical that mechanisms should determine that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who holds a very high office, but an office that in terms of hierarchy is not as high as the Prime Minister, and with the passage of time, that other members of the judiciary, should have a much higher salary than the .
All those who are listening to us, who are at home and are of good faith, will certainly want to say that it is perfectly normal and they believe that the salary of the should be higher than the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if only by a single dollar.
Finally, with the acceptance of this mechanism or idea, a link was established between the salaries of judges and those of parliamentarians by concluding that if the mechanism works so well for judges, it should be the same for parliamentarians. So, it was agreed once and for all to stop talking about that because the situation is even more odious for members since they are the ones who have to determine their own salaries. If it is annoying to members to discuss judges’ salaries, you can image how annoying it is to talk about their own salaries.
This means that in our democracy, here in Canada primarily, we have often seen in the past, in the provinces, cases where elected representatives’ salaries were harshly criticized by the public. In some governments, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, people who have good job security, are paid more than ministers, and in some cases than the premier. There should really be some degree of fairness, and the public is entitled to know about these things.
At the initiative of the previous Liberal government, under Jean Chrétien, judges’ salaries were used as the model and the increases that members of Parliament should receive were tied to the increases given to judges.
At the time the report was submitted, the increase was about 10%. The former Liberal prime minister, the one who was in office at the time of the election, the member for who is still a member today, suddenly got excited. It had become unthinkable and horrible that members be given a 10% salary increase. There were headlines in the newspapers and this became something quite shameful. It was indeed a large increase. Everyone thought it was huge, knowing that all of the raises being given in other parts of the economy were 1.5% or 2% or 3% or something of that sort.
How could we justify parliamentarians suddenly being given a 10% raise? This had nothing to do with parliamentarians; in fact it was the mechanism for setting judges’ salaries that had produced a 10% increase in members’ salaries.
Parliamentarians had nothing to do with this. I was told I would be getting a 10% increase. The got all excited and said that this did not make sense, because Canadians did not have the resources to give politicians a 10% raise. Everyone applauded and said that it did not make sense to give a 10% raise. This did not look good, because if other people were getting a 2% raise, why would we get a 10% raise? We agreed.
When the decision was made to break the law that put politicians and judges in the same box, or undo that law, the Bloc Québécois, concerned about fairness to the public, said that if a 10% raise for politicians was scandalous, because people did not have the resources to pay that kind of increase, which was understandable, the public did not have the resources to give judges that kind of increase either. My goodness, there are more judges than members of Parliament.
I am trying to understand the logic followed by the member for , who was the prime minister at the time.
No, Canadians did not have the resources to pay what the mechanism for determining judges’ salaries called for, which was a 10% increase. That was scandalous. Members of Parliament had to be distanced from what was being asked for. We would not give ourselves such a raise; we would make it closer to employees’ salary increase, a raise of 2% or 3%. Everyone agreed to this. Everyone thought that it made sense. In all the living rooms of the land, people applauded.
What people did not know, however, was that the had it in mind that the increase, which was too expensive for Canadians and for the 308 members of this House, was not too expensive for the hundreds and even thousands of judges in Canada. To the Prime Minister’s mind, the resolution no longer worked; the idea no longer worked.
These are the kinds of actions that have put us in the situation we are facing today. We have to re-assess judges' salaries and set aside the recommendations in the mechanism because at one time, politically opportunistic people destroyed the credibility of the mechanism and the process. In an “attempt to win votes”, they tried to make us believe that Canadians would be much poorer if the 308 members of this House and the hundreds or thousands of judges in Canada got a 10% pay raise.
We agreed with the . Nevertheless, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Canadians cannot give a 10% pay raise to members of Parliament—we understand and we agree—they do not have to. But then nobody should get a raise. We cannot give a raise to one half of the people and not the other.
Canadian citizens are too poor to pay their members of Parliament a reasonable salary or to give them a pay raise, yet they are rich enough to give judges a raise? Hold on a second. We like judges well enough and we respect the judiciary, but our priority is justice. We support social justice. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Period. End of discussion.
Citizens made it very clear to the member for what they thought of his decision. The member for , who was Prime Minister at the time, kind of broke the mechanism. Since then, the Bloc Québécois has said that it will not agree to another mechanism unless and until there is a guarantee that judges will be treated fairly with respect to citizens, that is, that their pay raises will match everyone else's.
I would like someone to explain to me why it is that Canadians can afford to grant judges a salary increase of 7%, yet they cannot afford to grant a salary increase of 4% to a deputy minister, a 4% increase to an assistant deputy minister, a 4% increase to a public servant who looks after the cleaning here in Parliament, a 4% increase to any professional who works in the public service—such as an engineer or accountant, for example—and a 4% increase to MPs. Someone please explain this to me. It is taxpayers who must pay and who we are asking to make an effort.
We definitely want the judiciary to have the respect of Canadians, to function independently, and to maintain the trust of Canadians.We must avoid at all cost creating a situation in which judges receive a salary increase that is completely out of line with what other Canadians receive and what they can afford to pay everyone who serves the Government of Canada, at all levels. Judges serve the Government of Canada and Canadian citizens in an independent judicial system that is not isolated from the economic situation of this country. That is the reality.
Rulings have been handed down, such as the Bodner case in Alberta. The court clearly acknowledged that decisions about the allocation of public resources belong to legislatures and to governments. Governments are entitled to reject or modify commission recommendations provided that they have articulated a legitimate reason for doing so—which is fine, that the government’s reasons rely upon a reasonable factual foundation—which is also fine, and that, viewed globally and with deference to the government’s opinion, the commission process has been respected.
The commission has reported, the government believes that the economy does not permit giving anyone much more than the overall increase in the economy as a whole, and the government is able to explain this. It sees to me that that should become the rule. That is what the judgment says. However, governments do not have the courage to apply decisions as they should. They have a bad habit of behaving in one way when public opinion is at stake and another when it is not very much. As an elected representative of the people, I cannot accept that.
I am prepared to meet voters under any circumstances and justify the decisions for which I voted in Parliament. I am prepared to do that at any time. I am not prepared, though, to meet people in my riding to explain an injustice. I am not prepared to meet them and say that the government does not think it has enough money for certain very deserving social causes, it does not have enough money to help older workers who were let go in mass layoffs due to globalization problems.
I cannot say that to forest workers in the riding of Roberval. These are people who are 58 years old and toiled all their lives in a plant or sawmill. Now these people are being let go, and at 60 or 62 years of age, they do not have the necessary pension funds. They are condemned to give up their houses, cottages and cars. They go on welfare until they turn 65 and can get their Canada pension. I cannot in all conscience meet these people and tell them that the government does not have $75 million to spend on all the older workers victimized by mass layoffs in Canada. On the other hand, though, the government does have $75 million to spend on judges all across Canada over three years. It is going to give them annual increases between $14,000 and $20,000.
I hold our judges and parliamentarians in high regard, but I cannot in all conscience and as a member of Parliament tell my voters that I agree with a $14,000 to $20,000 salary increase for judges, who are already earning between $220,000 and $260,000, when the government does not have $12,000 or $14,000 for families that have been reduced to poverty through economic circumstances, globalization and mass layoffs. I am sorry, but I cannot do that. There are some things a person just cannot do in life, and that is one I cannot do.
I have nothing against judges, but let them be subject to the same criteria as parliamentarians, which my Liberal colleague referred to earlier. Let them be subject to the same criteria.
Why should the rule whereby increases in wages and salaries reflect the collective wealth of society not apply to judges?
Would the protection of judges from public opprobrium not be best achieved by ensuring that their salary increases are not sickening to those for whom poverty and misery are a part of their daily lives? Does protecting judges not mean ensuring fair pay, but pay that reflects the increase in collective wealth across the country? Am I to understand that, until this year, the Canadian judiciary was 7% poorer than average Canadians? Absolutely not.
In Canada, the judiciary is well paid, as it should be. It should nevertheless be granted pay increases which reflect a social and economic reality that cannot be ignored.
I do not see why a profoundly human speech in tune with reality, or explaining to people that the mechanism for setting judges' salaries should take into account the increase in collective wealth, would raise opposition on the other side of the House. If I said anything terribly wrong today, let me be chided on the spot. What was wrong with saying that I believe it is not right for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to have a salary set by this House that is higher than that of the ? There is no cause for scandal in that.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: The logic is impeccable.
Mr. Michel Gauthier: It seems to me that the logic is indeed impeccable.
It is the government's duty to establish the guidelines. Imagine what it is like to be a member of a committee convened to discuss the salaries of judges and of MPs—as was the case in the past. First, a judge is appointed to the committee. Naturally, he knows his profession well, and knows the salaries. Second, a lawyer is appointed. We like lawyers, but they work with judges. Some lawyers have fairly substantial incomes. Representatives from the economic sector, usually individuals who have had some success in the business world, the economic world, are also appointed; for them, the salary of a judge or MP is small change. There is a certain degree of openness.
When I was an MPP in Quebec City, I saw some of these people who talked about members' salaries. All these committees always produce reports indicating that they think there should be an increase of around 20%—what do I know?—and an increase of 20% to 25% for elected representatives. That is normal. These people are trying to make a judgment call, except that they have no connection to the daily reality of a parliamentarian. That is the difference. It is the government's duty to establish guidelines.
It is all well and good to let a small committee decide on the most appropriate salary for judges, but the government's duty is also to ensure that the committee takes into account the state of the economy, the usual benchmarks the government sets and the usual progress of increases. This is set out in the Judges Act. If the economy grows by 3% annually, I agree that judges should benefit, as MPs do now, as well as public servants and all those people. An increase of 2% to 3% a year is fine.
But if the economy grows by 2% to 3% a year, I cannot accept that people who are already well paid in this society should receive a 10% increase, plus have their salaries indexed to the cost of living, and later receive another 10%. This has meant that judges' salaries, which were equivalent to MPs' in the early 1980s, have gradually risen to double that amount today.
This has to stop, because the public is paying. It is not that I do not like judges or that I do not believe they should be paid appropriately, but they have to be paid equitably, and that means that we have to look at all the other categories of jobs, at the thousands of employees who work for low salaries in this Parliament and who make sure each day that Parliament runs smoothly. We have to consider the people who do the housekeeping and work every day to make us more comfortable. We have to look at senior officials, who have outstanding skills and who could be lured away to jobs elsewhere.
We have to take all these people into account and think clearly and with respect for the public and for our ability to pay.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her judicious comments.
I would like to clarify one thing. It is not a question of abolishing the mechanism or the structure for determining judges' salaries, but of giving this committee, as the legislation allows, the necessary framework to review, as set out in the legislation, the financial needs of the judiciary in relation to growth in the economy. The government can very well indicate to the commission within which framework it wishes to work. The legislation refers to the state of Canada's economy, the cost of living, the overall financial and economic situation of the government, the role of financial security for the judges, the need to recruit the best candidates and every other objective aspect the commission considers important. This mechanism needs to be maintained, but a framework needs to be in place to guide the work done by these people.
As far as independence is concerned, beyond the mechanism for setting salaries, I do not think judges will be less independent, less fair in their decisions or that they will not do as well in their profession and in interpreting the law, whether they are paid $220,000, $238,000 or $263,000 a year. We must also consider their responsibilities as compared to other professions. There are degrees of responsibility in the machinery of government, even for people who are not in the judiciary. For example, the Deputy Minister of Justice has extremely important duties and certainly a level of education that is equivalent, if not superior, to that of judges.
We must also look at how the government establishes the value of the service provided by these people. I do not believe that the hon. member thinks that the MPs, ministers and the Prime Minister in this House are less independent, less dedicated and less objective when they take decisions because they earn a certain salary and not another. Whether the Prime Minister earns $250,000 or $300,000 a year, I do not think this has much impact on his independence.
We have to maintain, for each individual, a level of income that is more or less equivalent to his or her responsibilities. The Bloc Québécois feels that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court should earn the Prime Minister's salary, less one dollar. It seems to me that this is a reasonable level for a chief justice. The other salaries must be based on this primary responsibility. We do not think that the responsibilities of the chief justice are such that he should earn much more than the Prime Minister, for fear that otherwise he will not be objective or independent. This is totally irrelevant. The salary must be fair and reasonable, but we must also take into consideration the ability to pay that salary.
I am surprised to see this coming from the NDP. Amendments were proposed in committee. The hon. member may not be aware of this, but the NDP suggested to increase judges' salaries more than what the government is proposing, that is to increase them by 10%, instead of 7%, and indexing them to the cost of living. This amounts to about 13%. I have a hard time with the fact that this is from the NDP, because, usually, that party fights for social justice, rather than trying to improve the plight of society's upper echelons.
I would love to get an explanation some day, because I never understood that.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to debate Bill .
Before I begin my remarks, I will note that I have just come from a meeting with a delegation from Mongolia. I certainly commend them for being here. I think we have a lot in common with that country. I am delighted that we were able to meet with the Mongolians, who have made the effort to come to Parliament today.
I would like to briefly comment on the remarks made by the Bloc member who just spoke. I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that a few hours ago I actually made a recommendation for how eloquent a speaker he was. That was certainly upheld by his speech today. I think all parliamentarians should take note of how eloquently he spoke. One of the keys in making an eloquent speech is to make only one or two points. He did that admirably. It was a dynamic speech.
The bad news is that I disagree with the two points the member made.
First, I have always had difficulty talking about the salaries of members of Parliament. I have never thought that salaries should decided by elected officials at any level.
Second, comparing judges and members of Parliament is like comparing apples and oranges. A special independent commission was set up to do the research on a particular occupational group. It did the research and came up with a recommendation that cannot necessarily be applied to other groups because there may be different histories, conditions and situations. It is a more complex situation.
Some members have suggested that it is a delicate topic any time we talk about the salaries of judges in a debate. I am not going to talk about their salaries. It would be a contradiction of the whole point that I am trying to make in this debate, and that is the independence of the legislative branch and the government.
I am not going to comment on whether judges are making too much or not enough, whether the original recommendation was enough, or whether the government's cut is too much. To do so would defeat the whole purpose, which is that we should not have great influence over the judiciary so that it can be independent.
Probably I will vote for Bill , and certainly the Liberals will be supporting it, but only under extreme duress, which I will explain. My point is around the whole argument of the independence of the judiciary.
First, though, I want to reiterate a technical point that I made at the previous reading of the bill. It is related to my jurisdiction as the northern critic for the three northern territories. In the bill, the chief justices in the provinces are so named, but under subsections 22(1), 22(2) and 22(2.1), the bill refers to those who are the chief justices in the territories as senior judges. This is an archaic definition.
There have been no objections in the House to harmonizing these terms. The three territorial governments have suggested that the titles be harmonized. The federal minister of justice at the time and the judicial council also have recommended that this be modernized and updated so that the senior judges in the territories would also be called chief justices. As we see in the bill, they have the same responsibilities and receive the same remuneration. They should also receive the same title. I hope that technicality in the bill can be changed.
I would like to thank the justice minister. After discussions, the has taken this suggestion to the , who apparently has to make that decision. Hopefully he will make this change so that we can get this technical improvement people are asking for and we can change the title of senior judge to chief justice so they are all the same.
As the representative for the north, I am totally in favour of the discussions related to the northern allowance and the added costs of doing business and living in the north that are covered in this bill.
I would like to comment first of all about some of the witnesses. I think the first group of witnesses we had at committee was the commission that determined these salaries. I must say that, just like some of us, they were apoplectic when I talked to them personally about this decision that had been made. They were not apoplectic that their decision had been changed, but that the process had been politicized.
They had given their report to the previous government, which had agreed with the report and was going to maintain that independence of the judiciary with no serious reason to question it. All of a sudden, a new government came in and changed the recommendations. What had changed from one day to the next?
The members of the committee thought that was an exceptional politicization of the process and exactly what was not supposed to occur. They were trying to create the independence of this commission, so it would not have political or legislative interference in the judiciary.
The reason that was given at the time was the cost, that the government could not influence its agenda the way it wanted to. Really, except for a few members on the Conservative side of the House, I do not think anyone could really understand or accept that a minor amount of $3,000 in the scope of the entire Canadian budget would stop a government from implementing its agenda, in particular at a time when there is a $13 billion surplus. It is really ludicrous to even consider that argument.
On top of that, the government has more cash than it ever expected to have. It cut the Kelowna accord which is $5 billion extra. The day care agreements that we had with the provinces would be $10 billion or $15 billion more. The government also let a number of excellent greenhouse gas programs expire, such as EnerGuide, so there was all sorts of extra cash. If we were to go with that rationale, the government would probably have too much cash and should be paying the judges more. It just does not wash.
I would like to present more evidence and more opinions to the same effect.
The way the system has been set up to maintain an independence of the judiciary begins with this independent commission. That commission had a member from the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association and a member from the government. They then chose the chair. This commission makes recommendations regarding benefits for judges. Unless there are serious reasons, and it is very specifically laid out as to the definition of those reasons, Parliament would approve those and make the final decision. However, as I was just suggesting, the government did not give any serious defensible rationale under the guidelines and description that the Supreme Court of Canada gave.
When we were decrying the very sad and senseless cutting of the Law Reform Commission, the justice minister suggested there were a number of other bodies that could give advice to government. One of them that was suggested was the Canadian Bar Association, which, by the way, said at that time that it was shocked that the government would suggest that, because it did not have the resources and time to do all the good work the Law Commission was doing.
Nevertheless, if the government wants to use the Canadian Bar Association instead of the Law Reform Commission, let me just quote what the Canadian Bar Association submitted to the committee on this bill, which backs up what I was just saying.
In its submission, it said:
|| The CBA is concerned that the government response fails to pay adequate heed to the constitutional imperative to depoliticize the process of setting judicial salaries and benefits, in accordance with the principles set out by the Supreme Court of Canada.
So, it is not just coming from me or from this side of the House and some of the other speakers we have heard. It is coming from the Canadian Bar Association, who the minister himself said was an excellent body to provide advice to the government.
It went on:
|| More particularly, the government response fails to provide adequate reasons, and evidence in support of those reasons, to deviate from the salary recommendations in the 2003 commission report.
In fact, it went on further. The whole basis of the point that I am trying to make today reflects on the independence of the judiciary. It is, as the Canadian Bar Association says: “An independent judiciary is a cornerstone of a democratic society”.
I am sure all parliamentarians agree with that basic foundation of our constitutional democracy, of law and order acceptance in Canada, and that there is a total separation of the judiciary and the legislative process. How could we have powerful legislators telling judges or influencing judges in their decisions: who they convicted, what they did, and the types of sentences? Would that be fair? Would that be equal justice before all? Of course not. I am sure every parliamentarian would agree with that.
The independence of the judiciary is referenced in the Constitution and it is just a cornerstone principle. As the Canadian Bar Association went on to say: “An independent judiciary is 'the lifeblood of constitutionalism in democratic societies'”.
So, it is this principle that I am basing my arguments on today. I do not think anyone would suggest that if they were getting paid by someone, someone influencing their salary, that it would not have an influence on their decisions. Certainly, with regard to all the employers I have had over my life that were paying me, I took some deference to their opinions and views. That is exactly why an independent commission was set up that had to have serious reasons for altering its recommendations.
I want to go on to present further comments on the report and those reasons as identified by the Canadian Bar Association.
The CBA believes that the government response is so generalized and so lacking in particulars that it fails to give a meaningful effort to the 2003 commission report.
The government submitted two reasons. The second reason that it provided, a technical reason, and I give it credit, was actually accurate. It was accepted by the bar commission as a potential minor reason for some modification of the report. But it had this as the second reason.
Its first reason, which was given much more prominence in the view of the Canadian Bar Association in its decision, had no waiting specified in its decision, so it would be hard for observers to make an evaluation to that effect. However, it seems to give to the knowledgeable observers far more credibility to the first rationale which was not found to be acceptable and was not found to fall within the Supreme Court guidelines, and was not acceptable as a reason.
So, under those circumstances, the Canadian Bar Association just said that this is not acceptable, this does not maintain the independence of the judiciary and so, these changes are not appropriate. In fact, it suggested the best outcome for the judicial independence would be for Bill to be amended without delay to compare with the recommendations of the 2003 commission report.
I guess in the long run that would be best. However, we live in the real world, the day-to-day world. We also have to take into account other ramifications.
Judges must now wait for three years out of a four year cycle. It is about to start next year again and this decision is holding up the whole process.
Certainly, I personally do not mind doing it on a matter of principle, but on the other hand, through these technicalities, I do not want to hold up the process. The judges need to get on with their lives. The process can start again next year and we hope these considerations will be kept in mind.
I hope that in the future this will be a good warning to those people involved in the process to remember the great Canadian principle, that of modern constitutional democracies, which believe in the rule of law and that the independence of the legislature and the judiciary should be maintained. That is a very important principle of our society.
In conclusion, I have one last reference to a report from the Canadian Bar Association to substantiate that. It says that if we carry on like this with the government bill as is, it further risks damaging the judicial independence and public support for the administration of justice.
We certainly do not want that to happen. As previous speakers have said, we have one of the most honoured justice systems in the world. People from around the world are looking to our retired judges to lead worldwide initiatives. There is great credibility and part of that credibility is based on the independence of the judiciary to do its best. I hope I have made that point strongly today and that it will be thought out carefully in the future when this process comes back to us in the not too distant future.
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on how you direct the proceedings when you are in the chair. Everything runs very smoothly.
I am pleased to speak about Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act and certain other acts in relation to courts, and especially about judges' salaries. First, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois does not support the bill in principle, and I will explain why. I will also explain what we in the Bloc Québécois would suggest.
In their statements before question period and whenever they get the chance, the Conservatives like to say, “Oh, the Bloc is useless, the Bloc doesn't make any proposals”, and so on. I would remind hon. members that the Bloc is not content merely to criticize. It also suggests improvements to legislation proposed by the government. When legislation is acceptable and sounds reasonable, the Bloc Québécois votes for it. We do not want to stoop to petty politics by saying, “We are opposed to that because it comes from the government or another party”. But when legislation does not seem reasonable, the Bloc Québécois is not afraid to strongly condemn it and suggest improvements.
This bill proposes that the government increase judges' salaries by 7.25% effective April 1, 2004. Yes, Mr. Speaker, you heard correctly, 7.25%. I am speaking to the people sitting in the gallery or watching us on the Parliamentary channel. I would like to know whether many of them got a 7.25% increase in the past year.
As my colleague from so aptly pointed out, when we go to seniors' facilities and golden-age clubs, people say to us, “Our old age pension cheque went up last month”. It went up by 18¢ or 47¢, but that does not even buy one cup of coffee a week. It is important to stress that this bill provides for a 7.25% salary increase for judges, who incidentally are not underpaid.
I wish to say right away that the Bloc Québécois did not set out to campaign against judges as individuals or as an institution. What is at issue is legislation which gives judges a 7.25% increase in salary retroactive to April 1, 2004. That is the issue. I would not want anyone to make allegations that the Bloc Québécois has something against judges, because that is not at all the case.
We in the Bloc Québécois believe that this salary increase is completely unreasonable. I will also explain how it came about under the process, what we had before and what happened at the time, and so how we now have a bill which provides solely for increases in judges' salaries.
We also realize that by constantly changing the recommendations of the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission, both the Liberals and the Conservatives unduly politicize the process of setting salaries. In this matter, the Conservative government has chosen to continue this hypocritical tradition instituted in the 13 years of Liberal rule, by continuing not to link the salaries of parliamentarians and judges.
Here is what happened. We realized that it was a delicate matter for parliamentarians to vote on their own salary increases. This could give rise to comments by columnists or the public, citizens who we meet by chance at various activities in our neighbourhoods, at the mall or at social events.
Sometimes people would tell us that it made no sense for us to vote for our own salary increases. That is quite true. The government at the time, the Liberal government, had contacted us about a different process for determining the salaries of parliamentarians and judges. There is a commission that sets the salaries and examines various criteria, including the cost of living, inflation and salaries paid under various collective agreements in Canada. This mechanism is fairly complex and I certainly would not have the time to explain it in detail in a 20-minute speech.
Accordingly, members would no longer have to vote on their own salaries since it would be the role of the commission to make a decision on that subject. This was a body made up of House leaders. Earlier today—at the time I was working in committee—our House leader probably explained that some basic principles were established. For example, to determine the salary of the Prime Minister, one should ask what is the highest office, in terms of hierarchy but also in terms of salary, appointed by the Prime Minister. Who is that? That person is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The question then was whether it was normal, acceptable and realistic that the Prime Minister should earn the same salary as the highest official that he or she appoints. All the parties were represented around the table and all answered “Yes” to that question. That was how it was established that the salary of the Prime Minister should be the same as the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
A second question also arose : is it normal, acceptable and realistic that ministers, who have a little less responsibility than the Prime Minister but a little more responsibility than a constituency member, should receive 75% of the salary paid to the Prime Minister? All parties answered “Yes” to that question, and as a result ministers’ salaries were established. I purposely did not use the words “ordinary member” or “mere member” because even the Prime Minister is a “member” before becoming Prime Minister. The same applies to ministers because we are in a parliamentary system. Unlike us, in other countries the ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister or President without the need to be elected. We are in a parliamentary system with 308 members.
That led to a third question. What about the other members in this House? That includes me, as well as the majority of my colleagues who are here in the House at noon today and who are listening attentively to my remarks. Is it normal that these members should earn 50% of the salary of the Prime Minister and 25% less than a minister because they have fewer responsibilities? Thus, the salary for members was established.
The salary structure of the 308 elected members of this House was tied to the recommendations of this totally independent commission and, through it, the salary of judges was also determined.
Still, through some petty politicking, in 2004, the House leader, and government House leader, when the Liberals were in power, decided that it was no longer appropriate for members’ salaries to be pegged to judges’ salaries, and that we should put an end to that.
The outcome was that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court now earns more money than the . I will explain the figures later, if time allows.
So the most senior public servant appointed by the now earns more money than he does. I worked for 16 years in human resources, in the pulp and paper industry, before becoming an MP. I never saw an employee, a worker, earn more than the plant manager, unless of course he did excessive overtime, spent literally 95 hours a week in the factory and worked all holidays, etc. Industrial health and safety legislation, however, stipulates that employees must not work more than a certain number of consecutive hours, I think it is 16 hours.
So we have before us a totally absurd principle pertaining to salary structure, introduced at the time by the Liberal Party House leader, Tony Valeri, and perpetuated by the Conservative government. What is needed is to separate the remuneration of MPs from the remuneration of judges, which is the point of this bill.
We in the Bloc Québécois, through our House leader, gave our word in good faith. We were in favour of the principles whereby judges’ salaries should be linked to MPs’ salaries.
This is not petty politicking on our part. We are not challenging this out of plain pettiness towards the judiciary. We are acting on the following ground: if the earlier principle was true when it was established, how is it different today?
I remind the House that this year MPs got a 2.4% salary increase. I still have contacts with the private sector and the public sector, and I think that this matches the increases given to union employees in the large private sector companies, whether paper mills, aluminum plants or the automobile industry—which unfortunately we no longer have in Quebec. I consider that this percentage is reasonable and acceptable, but what about the 7.5% that the judges are going to get? It is totally unacceptable.
The Bloc Québécois is proposing an independent salary setting mechanism for parliamentarians as well as for judges, and calling for the government to reintroduce a legislative obligation to link the salaries of parliamentarians to the salaries of judges.
Also, because the indexing of the salaries of judges and parliamentarians has to be reasonable, the Bloc Québécois is asking that the salaries of judges be based on the same indexing mechanism as the salaries of parliamentarians, so that their salaries increase each year in step with those of unionized employees of big corporations in the private sector.
This is what I wanted to say on the matter. For all these reasons, I can tell this House that the Bloc Québécois will not support this bill, at least not in principle. This bill will likely be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, on which I sit.
In due course, we will determine whether amendments should be proposed. This bill is completely unacceptable. Furthermore, I deplore the fact that the Liberals and Conservatives are speaking with one voice on this matter. This is sheer hypocrisy. They are ignoring the facts in order to try to look good.
I would like to repeat once again that our position does not mean that we have anything against judges, either as individuals or as an institution. I would not want there to be any misunderstanding about what we are saying. Bill is before the House and the Bloc Québécois is offering its opinions on this bill. Let no one think that we wish to put certain people in categories.
Mr. Speaker, for once I can disagree with my whip, and I will do it at the beginning of my speech. Because we are at third reading stage, this bill will unfortunately be passed or rejected by this House and therefore cannot be referred back to committee.
As I said, I have rarely disagreed with my whip in this House, and I am doing it now because he thought that we could reconsider Bill , which we have already examined. I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and we examined this bill after second reading, only a few days ago.
It is strange, extremely strange even, how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Liberals had set up the same system for judges, and to avoid upsetting them, upsetting judges or whoever it might be, the Conservatives have decided to go ahead with it.
I will begin by saying that establishing the salaries of federal judges is an obligation set out in the Canadian Constitution. The federal government must pay judges’ salaries, and there have always been problems. We saw this in committee. The appeared before us to explain his view of things, as did senior officials, and everyone is in a quandary.
Do I dare to use the expression? Judges’ salaries, with all due respect for the entire judiciary, are like a hot potato in the hands of the various levels of government, and the various political parties have a little trouble with this. The only party that does not is the Bloc Québécois. We do not aspire to power, and we are in this House until a majority of Quebecers decide to take the path of sovereignty for Quebec. We therefore have no axe to grind. We believe that we can speak to the people of Canada and say: enough is enough.
Listen, Your Honour. Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, if I referred to you as a judge. You would then deserve a much higher salary because, and this is what I was saying, if we give our consent to going ahead with Bill , the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada will be earning more money than the who appointed her. That does not make any sense. I do not and will never agree that the Prime Minister of Canada should earn less money than the top government bureaucrat. I do not agree with this.
The Chief Justice would then earn $298,500, the would earn $295,400 and superior court judges would earn over $240,000 retroactively to January 1, 2004, under this bill. That will result in undue pressure and I am going to try to say it in my own words, by virtue of my 25 years of practice in criminal law.
I have pleaded before provincial judges in Quebec, before Superior Court judges who were presiding over trials, and obviously before the Quebec Court of Appeal. I have pleaded before to the Supreme Court as well, of course. Today, on this splendid November 9, there is a gap of almost $50,000 between the salary of a judge of the Superior Court and a judge of the Quebec Court. That gap will increase. What will happen then? Either there will be a total lack of interest or the governments of the provinces, in particular the Quebec government, will be forced to increase the salaries of their judges to meet, if they can, the salaries of the Superior Court judges. That will cost a lot of money.
The Bloc Québécois does not agree with giving a salary increase of 7.25% effective April 1, 2004, accompanied by legislated indexation on the first of April each year.
Why is the increase 7.25? We did some research and as of April 1, 2004, the increase in the cost of living was 2.5%. Why then give an addition 5%, especially considering the salaries. We are not talking about a salary of $22,000 or $30,000 but an annual salary of almost $250,000; 7.25% of $250,000 is a lot of money.
Even if we were the only ones to say it, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is unacceptable and that the people of Canada do not agree with it. At least, they would not agree if they were well informed, as we are here in this House, as we were at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when all the experts told us that it was much too high.
We would like the judicial compensation and benefits commission to be able to do its work. Here is what happens. Given that the government has a hot potato, it creates the judicial compensation and benefits commission. The commission makes its report, but the government is not satisfied; it rejects the report and asks the commission to start over. Whether they are Liberal or Conservative that is how governments have acted for several years, for far too long.
They had found the solution by creating the judicial compensation and benefits commission. At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, we had the opportunity to hear from the chair of the commission, Mr. McLennan, as well as two members, Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Cherniak. They told us that they had done their work; they investigated all sides of the issue and met with everyone. They made their recommendations.
Why does the government interfere in areas that do not concern it? Let the commission do its work and we will see what happens. Having said that, the commission did its work and we should have adopted their report. That would have solved all the problems.
Like the previous government, the Conservatives were being hypocritical. They refused to recognize the work done by this commission and instead introduced a bill. This bill is very complicated. It creates different classes: appeal court judges, federal court of appeal judges, federal court judges, judges who sit in the North, judges who sit less in the North than those who regularly go there and for less time. They are making Swiss cheese of judges’ salaries. Salaries will be so cut up that no one will be able to figure them out, when the commission had solved the problem.
What we are proposing is an independent procedure for setting salaries, not just for judges but for parliamentarians as well.
There is no question of increasing MPs’ salaries to $300,000—we should not get carried away—but what we have always wanted, and what worked, was that MPs’ salaries would follow the lead of the judicial compensation and benefits commission. MPs’ salaries were added to ensure that they did not vote themselves excessive increases.
I was not in the House at the time but listened to the debate. I was a lawyer practising in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and there was a meeting of the bar where this was discussed. We thought it was a good idea and that MPs, their staffs and judges would no longer be in a conflict of interest. But they decided to cut that.
Judges' compensation will therefore be subject to Bill and, according to what the government says, it will get around to parliamentarians’ salaries when it has time.
We would have wanted judges’ salaries to be based on the same indexing procedure as parliamentarians’ so that they would rise each year at the same rate as the salaries of unionized employees of large businesses in the private sector, so about 2.4%. Everyone should have cost-of-living adjustments.
Why does this government want to put judges in a class of their own with a 7.25% increase retroactive to January 2004, and then add a cost of living adjustment?
The and the came before the committee and told us that the independence of judges had to be protected. For heaven’s sake. I think that at $250,000 a year, judges’ independence is quite nicely protected. Why give them another 7.25% a year, retroactive to January 2004? Judges are going to end up with salaries of nearly $280,000. That is too much in our view.
We will therefore oppose this bill. Even if they are the only ones in this House to do so, the members from the Bloc Québécois will oppose the bill. Sadly, the bill is likely to pass anyway, since the Liberals, who are playing the same politics as the Conservatives, will probably go for generous salary increases for judges. Perhaps some of them harbour ambitions of sitting on the bench. Time will tell, but I do not think that the public will tolerate this kind of thing for very long. Again, as we said before, we want judges' salaries to be determined using the same indexing mechanism used for parliamentarians. Given that our salaries are now subject to a yearly indexation of 2.4%, we cannot see why that same increase could not apply to judges.
Before closing, I want to add that we would like the government to reinstate the statutory obligation to tie the salaries of parliamentarians to those of judges.
I have five minutes remaining. I shall not rush therefore to conclude. Questions will be answered later, as there are ten minutes provided for that. I can see that my hon. colleague from is anxious to put a question to me. I will gladly answer him. I have a pretty good idea of what his question will be.
We have called for a separate method of appointing judges to the Supreme Court. At present, they are appointed by the Prime Minister from a list.
We wanted Quebec, the government of the province concerned, as the case may be, or the region where a position needs to be filled to be able to submit a closed list of candidates to be reviewed by a committee including federal members before being sent to the federal and the for final selection.
The Liberals had grasped that. I hope that the Conservatives will as well. We would like essentially the same method, with committee reviews, to be used for appointing judges to federal courts.
I should remind members that, for the Bloc Québécois, the independence of the judiciary is essential to the safeguarding of our judicial system. I will not denigrate anyone in this House by saying that all parliamentarians believe that the independence of the judiciary is one of the fundamental principles of our judicial system. I think that is what everyone believes.
We would like a system whereby the process for appointing judges, and Superior Court judges in particular, is a non-partisan one.
At present, it is the same as before. In other words, the Liberals appointed Liberals and the Conservatives appoint Conservatives. We had proof at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, when the came to tell us that he had received a list containing only the names of people with Liberal allegiances. He asked the committee to redo its homework, and suddenly there appeared the names of potential judges who had made their careers, helped and worked for the Conservative Party. This is unacceptable.
I sat on the judicial appointment committee in Quebec. Clearly I had no aspiration to be made a judge, but I sat on the committee. It is independent and composed of a member of the bar, the chief justice or deputy judge of the responsible court and a representative of the public. We establish a list and we meet with all the candidates listed, and then we give the minister a list of two to four candidates, and the minister chooses the judges by means of this list.
I have put the question to the minister and I put it now to this House: why could we not have the same system? Also, I had put it to the previous Minister of Justice, the hon. member for , and I have put it to the current . But I still have not received any answers.
The House must reiterate the importance of the independence of the judiciary.
To leave time for questions, and as my hon. colleague from will surely wish to ask me some, as will other colleagues in this House, I will say in closing that we are against this bill and we are going to vote no, in spite of everything. Perhaps we will be the only ones in this House to vote against the bill, but we will have stood steadfast, throughout the time we have been here, and we will do so for as long as we are here.
If it is up to us, we will still be here for the coming years, in view of the survey whose results we saw this morning. Things are going pretty well, after all. We will be here to represent Quebec’s interests and to defend them until sovereignty. One of these interests is that judges should not receive salary increases above the cost of living index, which is currently at about 2.4% annually. I do not see why they should receive more, and no one can give us an explanation.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today about this important bill, which deals with compensation for judges.
When my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I studied and analyzed this bill, we realized that something was drastically wrong. Here are the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill.
This government bill increases judges' salaries by 7.25% effective April 1, 2004 and subsequently introduces legal indexing effective April 1 each year. We feel that this increase is unreasonable. My colleague did a very good job of comparing judges' and MPs' salaries.
In this House, under the former government, a mechanism for setting salaries was put in place, which avoided the emotional, irrational aspect of the issue. Now, though, the government is reverting to this sort of practice.
In my opinion, my colleague gave a very good explanation as to why we should keep a method that would ensure judges and MPs are treated equitably.
I would like to mention something else that I find completely unreasonable. We are living at a time when many people aged 55, 58 or 60 are losing their jobs. In fact we fought to have an older worker adjustment program put in place. The government did not offer these workers a 7% increase. All it did was decide not to implement a program to help them. I find that deplorable and unacceptable.
We cannot have a double standard in our society. In Montmagny, Whirlpool employees lost their jobs. Then, they qualified for severance pay and EI benefits. Today, at the age of 56, 57 or 58, these people are trying to find new jobs, but they are not able to get work. They are moving slowly toward welfare, with a gap of three, four or five years when they will have no income.
By our estimates, such a program would cost $75 million a year. No, it is out of the question. The federal government is refusing categorically to do this for workers.
Yet, in the same month, in the same parliamentary session, they introduce a bill to give judges a 7.5% raise. What is more, that raise is to be indexed every year. We know very well that judges and we members of Parliament are very well paid. This is excessive and totally unacceptable in our society.
This kind of decision on the part of the government angers the people, especially those members of society who are in dire straights and are fighting for justice but are not getting it.
Meanwhile, they want to give judges a 7% raise just like that. I think this is totally unfair and unacceptable.
A society like ours can be judged according to how it creates wealth. This is an important part of how we do things. We must also assess how that wealth is distributed.
There are people who have been contributing to creating wealth for years. They labour in factories and give their lives to the companies they work for. That is how they support their families. When the market forces step in and take away their income, we do nothing to compensate them. Then we turn around and give a 7% raise to judges. That is unreasonable. I think even the judges would agree. In my opinion, this bill is obscene.
This is why we think it is so important to vote against this bill and reject it. The government can still take a stand, make some adjustments and find a more rational, less emotional way to determine salaries that does not break the rules.
It is very surprising to see this Conservative government, which said it wanted to do things differently from the Liberals, behave just like the last Liberal Prime Minister.
Some people in this House criticized the former Liberal prime minister, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. They said he did not play by the rules and that he changed the situation as a purely emotional reaction to what was happening in society,
The Conservatives are now doing the same thing. They want to grant an increase that I find excessive. By constantly modifying the recommendations made by the commission that determines judges' salaries, the Liberals and the Conservatives are making the salary setting process unnecessarily political.
We wanted to move away from this way of doing things and establish a consistent method. The Conservatives are now abandoning this consistent method, which the Liberals had also begun manipulating and changing. One might have expected this government to act differently, but to no avail. Indeed, the Conservative government decided to pursue this somewhat hypocritical Liberal tradition, by still refusing to link the salaries of parliamentarians and the salaries of judges.
Because it is crucial that we establish an independent salary setting mechanism for parliamentarians and judges, the Bloc Québécois is calling upon the government to reintroduce a legislative obligation to link the salaries of parliamentarians to the salaries of judges. This seemed to us to be the best way to prevent an irrational situation.
A fixed mechanism allowed the Prime Minister, for example—the most important elected member of this House, the representative of the entire population—to receive a salary equal to that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and so on. Following the pyramid model, ministers received a salary that corresponded appropriately to that of judges at the various levels.
The Conservative government rejected this practice and is going back to a system that is irrational and unacceptable.
Because the indexing of the salaries of judges and parliamentarians has to be reasonable, the Bloc Québécois is asking that the salaries of judges be based on the same indexing mechanism as the salaries of parliamentarians, so that their salaries increase each year in step with those of unionized employees of big corporations in the private sector, that is, approximately 2.4% for this year.
This is where the inequity comes in. It could be argued that parliamentarians and judges should have roughly the same compensation as the heads of large companies in the private sector. However, some would say that, since our salaries are already high, we could be more reasonable. Let us suppose that this principle, for one, is accepted.
Furthermore, in our society, some individuals do not benefit from indexation and live under an employment insurance system that, for years, has penalized people who want to work— seasonal workers, among others, who go through periods of five, six, eight or ten weeks without any income. These are the individuals who have been made to fight the deficit.
We know that the recipients of employment insurance benefits, contributors to the employment insurance plan—employers and employees—have made the largest contribution to the reduction of the deficit in Canada. These are the people from whom $50 billion dollars in contributions was taken and diverted to repay the national debt, to pay down the deficit. Yet they themselves were never reimbursed. In recent months and past years, no one has talked about a 7% indexation of employment insurance benefits.
No one has spoken about indexation in the case of those who have to make it through the waiting period, as I explained at the beginning of my speech, or for older workers. They do not even have a program.
There are some people who, after having received employment insurance benefits for one year at the most, find themselves without income overnight after being laid off by a company that was not unionized or that was but that did not provide income guarantees or pension benefits. They do not negotiate a 7% salary increase. Even if their salary was increased by 7%, 7% of nothing is nothing.
There is no equity here and it is very unfortunate that the Conservative government has decided to go ahead with this legislation rather than using a more scientific means of setting salaries, one not based on emotion and one that cannot be manipulated to provide a sudden increase to attract the support of these groups.
In the past, in fact, the Conservatives tended to be somewhat contemptuous of the judiciary, and the way they are doing things in this bill reflects the same attitude.
Right now, the Bloc Québécois is speaking for the public as a whole, for people who earn their living, who pay their taxes, whose wage increases are the result of tough bargaining, whether individually or collectively, and who will learn today that the Conservative government has decided to give judges a 7% increase as of April 1, 2004, plus an indexed increase on April 1 every year. Those people are really going to be wondering why there is such a double standard in our society.
I gave the example of older workers and EI benefits for seasonal workers. We might say the same thing about young people who pay into the employment insurance scheme. No one has told them that their benefits would be going up. In fact, the number of hours they have to work in order to qualify has been increased, so they are still being discriminated against by the law. No one decided to reduce the number of hours they were being asked to work before qualifying. And yet if there is anyone in our society whom we should be giving a chance in life, it is those young people.
The position of the Conservative government is not really defensible and does not reflect what society would like to see. I hope that with our presentation we will be able to persuade the government that this bill should be reworked in terms of how it applies, how it works in practice. If we do not succeed with this bill, at least, even if it does not publicly admit it today, it could perhaps do something so that the salary determination method will be more rational in future. It could revisit the principle that was proposed, an increase that uses the comparison between judges and parliamentarians. It would also have to take into account average wage increases in society, to make the method credible, instead of producing the kind of result we are seeing today. This creates a discrepancy between what judges are paid and what parliamentarians are paid, and what is being forgotten is that in our society people are getting nothing like the increases being offered to judges.
I say all this with the greatest respect for the quality of our judges. We are not here to determine whether the judges do their work well or poorly. That decision is of another order. The way in which the government has decided to act on compensation does not appear to us to be in accordance with the will of the public and we hope that the government will reconsider its decision, and that in future it will adopt a much more acceptable method.
In the proposal that was developed by all of the parties represented in the House of Commons, and which seemed reasonable, it was anticipated that the judicial compensation and benefits commission was required by law to propose a reasonable salary, taking into account the state of the economy in Canada, the financial situation of the government, the role of the financial security of judges in preserving judicial independence—we agree—and the need to recruit the best candidates for the judiciary.
Under that method, the would earn the same salary as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; ministers would earn three-quarters of that salary; members would receive an annual sessional allowance of 50% of the annual salary of the Chief Justice of Canada, and so forth. The whole mechanism was spelled out and it produced justified and defensible results that could very well be explained to the public.
The solution was simple and fair. It made it possible to preserve the independence of the judiciary and provided that members of parliament were not asked to set their own salaries. That worked very well until 2004, when the judicial compensation and benefits commission proposed an excessive increase. In a fit of panic, the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition decided to play politics by separating the salaries of members and judges instead of analyzing the situation with a cool head. That is the cause of the whole problem.
If that method had continued to be applied over several years, it would have been clear that this was a totally appropriate mechanism, and salary adjustments could have been proposed regularly, as the commission suggested.
The Conservative government announced that it would not behave like the Liberals. Then it decided to introduce a bill of the same kind, in the same spirit of panic, as the one introduced by the Liberals. The result is what we have before us.
As things stand now, the would earn $3,000 less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the disparity would likely increase over the years. I think it would be interesting in our democracy to see the government accord some minimal recognition to the role played by elected people and parliamentarians, as we have suggested in one method that would be interesting to apply. But that way of doing things is nowhere to be found in the current bill. For this reason, the Bloc Québécois is opposing it.
I will conclude by saying that judges have an important role to play in our society, as we all know. Their compensation should reflect that fact, but those in political power should also show respect for the judiciary, and the method of appointing and compensating judges should be more transparent. The Bloc Québécois believes that the current bill is inadequate from this standpoint. We will therefore be voting against it.
In conclusion, I will repeat the main reasons for our opposition. There is a 7.25% salary increase retroactive to April 1, 2004 and indexing thereafter. The government broke with the old practice of a specific method for associating the salaries of judges with those of elected officials, even though it was the right thing to do. They broke with this procedure and that is one of the reasons why we think that this bill should not pass. They are unduly politicizing the salary setting process. The government adds insult to injury in view of all the people who do not have the minimum protection they deserve. It is unacceptable to me to see judges getting so much more while other people are living in trying circumstances. That is why I and the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill at third reading.