Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and put some thoughts on the record with respect to Bill C-75, which is the government's response, we are told, to the Jordan decision, which had to do with lengthy delays in the criminal justice system in Canada. The ruling maintained that cases had to be dealt with in a certain amount of time or the people accused of committing a crime would be off the hook. We have seen across the country instances of people accused of very serious crimes not being tried in court because of a failure to meet deadlines.
It is quite important, I think, that both the government and Parliament take action. This is a long-standing complaint, and not just in some of the most serious crimes and trials. We have also heard from Canadians who have had occasion, one way or another, to deal with court proceedings, especially if they are victims or the families of victims, that they are often outraged at the amount of time it takes to get justice. Of course, justice delayed too often is justice denied. The Jordan decision emphasizes that even more so and raises the stakes in terms of being able to deal with issues in a timely way. If we do not do so now, we will face a situation of people never being tried for the crimes they are accused of having committed.
Our responsibility as parliamentarians is to judge, on balance, this piece of legislation being presented by the government, which was not greatly amended at committee. I know the hon. member for Victoria and the NDP caucus did a lot of great work on this bill and made a lot of proposals at committee that were not accepted by the government, so this really remains a government package of reforms. Our duty as parliamentarians is to decide whether, on balance, this is going to address the issues that were raised in the Jordan decision and expedite our legal processes so that Canadians can expect to get justice through the courts.
One of the ways the government could have done that prior to presenting any legislation in this House would have been to act swiftly to appoint federal judges. It has been an ongoing story of this Parliament in terms of the failure of the justice minister to ensure that the roster of judges is full. We have heard many times in this House that the government ought to have been acting more quickly. Vacancies remain on the bench. The fact of the matter is that even if we have perfect laws, which we do not now and will not after Bill C-75 passes, if we do not have judges to hear the cases, it matters very little what the laws on the books are. It is the judges who hear the cases and the judges who make decisions.
Thus, it is incumbent upon the government to move more quickly on this. It has been three years now. Surely the government is not going to make a case that Canada does not have people qualified to hold those positions. The people are out there. It is a matter of the government making it a priority to actually make those appointments happen. Saying it is a priority is not enough. They have to actually appoint those judges. I do not want to hear government members getting up to talk about how important it is to them. I will wait to see when those positions are filled. That is the true test of how important it is for the government, and so far, it has not been very important.
The other thing we know is that if this is the government's signature justice reform, which it appears to be, a contributing factor to what is at stake with the Jordan decision is the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. That issue was very popular with the previous Conservative government. For a wide range of criminal charges, they brought in mandatory minimum sentences. We know that those are problematic in a number of ways. I think they are problematic in principle.
The fact of the matter is that no two crimes are the same. There are different circumstances depending on the particular crime and who is involved. The people best qualified to make decisions about what is an appropriate time to serve, along with other measures, such as addictions treatment and whatever else is factored into sentencing, are the people who hear the cases. I do not think it is for Parliament to pre-judge, for any case or set of cases, what the appropriate punishment is. That is why we have judges, people who are trained in the legal profession and have seen many different cases and are able to discriminate.
It is appropriate to entrust that work to judges, for whom it is a profession. Mandatory minimum sentences are about taking that away. One of the side effects of that, particularly in cases of smaller charges like minor drug possession and charges of that nature, is that when people know there is going to be a mandatory jail sentence of two, three, four or five years, it is really a disincentive for them to plead guilty. We have tools in order to make sure the most serious cases are heard in a timely way, and that murderers and gang members are not getting off easy because of the Jordan decision. One of those tools is to take some of those smaller cases and plead them out. People are not going to do that if it means serious jail time.
Again, there are people in the courts and the police force who are involved in making those kinds of decisions when they have that discretion. It is important to leave it to judges, prosecutors and the police to prioritize those cases, precisely to make sure that the worst ones and the ones they have the best chance of getting a conviction on are tried. Those people then get justice, and the courts are not bogged down with other kinds of cases without any ability to make a judgment call about what is relatively more or less important.
That was a major problem with changes to the justice system that we saw in the last Parliament. Outside of the Conservative Party and people who supported them in the last election, there was a pretty broad consensus that those things had to be repealed. We do not see that here. That is an obvious thing that is not in this legislation. It would have helped with respect to the Jordan decision, and would have been important to do on principle anyway.
One of the other things the bill does is establish hybrid offences between the provinces and the federal government. There is real concern that this is going to mean we are going to improve federal court wait times at the expense of provincial court wait times. This is classically Liberal, in a certain way.
I do not want to be too partisan about it, but I remember the nineties, when the federal government decided it was going to balance the budget at all costs. It made deep cuts to the health and social transfer. That ended up on the ledger of provincial governments, which now did not have the same funding for health services and other services that they were providing to their populations. Those governments went into deficit or had to take other measures, whether it was cuts to services or raising taxes, in order to be able to maintain what had theretofore been supported by the federal government.
For as much as the federal books looked better, there was only one taxpayer, and those people paid it at the provincial level instead of at the federal level. What looked good on the federal government did not ultimately make a difference to Canadians. They paid for it, either through higher taxes at the provincial level or through serious cuts to service.
Unfortunately, we had a Conservative government in the nineties, and we paid for that in terms of serious cuts to services. We lost nurses and teachers, and the federal government sat pretty while pretending it was not responsible for that. At the end of the day, its budget cuts did that.
We are gearing up for the potential for something similar, where the federal government will say, “Look at us. The wait times for the Federal Court are way down.” However, we have the potential to see those same waits happening at the provincial level, because people who at one time would have faced a charge at the federal level will now instead face a similar charge at the provincial level. We will not get rid of the wait times; we are just shifting the burden from the federal books to the provincial books.
For anyone paying close attention, the Liberals are not fooling anybody. If our job is to make sure those wait times go down and justice is served in a timely way, it is really important that we do it in a way that actually accomplishes that and does not give the federal government a talking point at the expense of the provinces.
I am out of time, but I look forward to questions.