Thanks, John, and thank you to the committee for giving me this opportunity to speak about what's in front of us.
How we left it last week and what I did for the weekend is what I'm going to talk about today: how the people I represent in Saskatoon—University feel about the work that's getting done in Ottawa or the lack of work.
Most Saturdays, I like to go around to different establishments in Saskatoon. I was at Robin's Donuts on Central Avenue in Sutherland talking to average people about what they're facing in their lives. Without a doubt, if you go out there and talk to seniors, students or people with young families, they're struggling. They're looking to me as their member of Parliament. Especially for the seniors on fixed incomes, it's a tough conversation. They're getting squeezed in every direction. Probably the number one comment they have for me is, “You need to increase my pension. I can't survive on this.”
I don't know what you guys tell people in that situation. We have limited control, obviously, in opposition and out here to affect people's lives, but what I'm hearing is that they're getting squeezed.
There's also another twinge to this. Maybe the guys who aren't from western Canada don't feel this, but every time I talk to someone there's this enraged feeling of neglect and alienation that the rest of Canada doesn't understand us. When I started talking about my work here, I shared with some of the people I represent the work of this committee and what we were discussing last week.
There was outrage that we were considering giving ourselves raises to the tune of thousands of dollars. We're looking at roughly $500 or $600 more a month. You look at these seniors and tell them, yes, this is what we were discussing at committee. It's disgusting. They go back to saying, “What about me? Why can't my pension go up?” I don't have a good answer for them. I don't know if you've had those conversations with the people you represent, but it is disgusting when they understand that we're here debating giving ourselves raises.... That's what ultimately this is. It's about money—or I feel it is.
Six thousand dollars a year for any member who is honoured to become this second vice-chair, it is... I don't know if it's going to make any difference in their lives, but for the people I represent it would be massive. If they could get a $6,000 bump in their pensions, it would be the difference between affording medication and paying rent for that month. For us, $6,000 is a substantial amount of money, but for the average Canadian to receive a bump in pay like that? They would be ecstatic. Also, if they had the power to give themselves that raise...that's where the conversation is a bit of a disconnect with average people. When you start talking about it, they say, okay, so you're on this committee that sets up the rules that govern yourselves in Ottawa, and you have a portion of that committee wanting to spend upwards of $150,000 now? For what?
It's the value for money that average Canadians just couldn't understand, I don't think: that we could potentially give ourselves raises. That goes against, I believe, the convention in this place that members don't do that. It's set to different factors in the economy for our salary and our compensation, and to change that goes against some pretty long-held traditions that we don't do that in this country.
Another thing we don't do, especially since we're a Westminster democracy, is that we don't change the rules unless all parties agree. That's another part of the conversation I had with people back in Saskatoon this weekend. They can't get their heads wrapped around it.
It's like you're playing Monopoly. You have four players. One player has properties here and there, through chance and maybe through good decisions, and they've put themselves in a pretty good position. An analogy is that the other three players want to change the rules. There's no sport, no game, no fair competition that would allow a change of the rules midstream. Ideally, it's before. You set the ground rules of what governs whatever competition, and with consensus.
That's where I have concerns about the direction we're going in at this committee. If we start changing the rules without consensus, then it is a slippery slope. It will be difficult to try to explain this to the people we represent. If this motion passes, ultimately we will end up spending a substantial amount of money on ourselves. I can't, in good faith, go back to the people who elected me and say that this is the good work that we did on this committee.
On the financial side, $6,000 a year to a member of Parliament is a nice bonus. If there's actual work getting done by that individual, I do understand. I support the notion that additional responsibilities warrant additional pay in some circumstances. But this is not normal. Giving ourselves or giving members a raise without consensus is changing the rules without all the players agreeing. I have real concerns about what that leads to in our democracy.
As for the dollars, if you go back this weekend, talk to a senior, to someone who's struggling, about what $6,000, or roughly $500 a month, would do for them. It will be hard to justify why these members are receiving these additional dollars if you look into the eyes of the senior who can't afford his medication and rent and who has to make that tough decision. I can't. I can't support this motion and still go back to that coffee table and explain the work we're doing out here. It's a substantial amount of money.
There's another element to this. Where does this money come from? The money comes from taxpayers. Taxes are important. They pay for important services in our country. But a dollar of overtaxation is theft.
I'll go back to maybe a small business owner in my community who's struggling. They're struggling because of the policies of this government, the policies of this country that aren't working for them. There are people who are going bankrupt right now and laying off people. I'm going to go to that person and say, “Yes, we are also spending an additional $150,000.” It could be that last dollar that put them over the edge and put them in bankruptcy now so that we can afford to give members additional dollars.
I can't square that circle. I don't know how you square that circle if you're talking to a taxpayer, to a senior, to someone struggling, about our reaching into their pockets and taking more taxes that we give to members who sit on a committee. I can't justify that to the people I represent. I don't know how you guys would as well.
Madam Chair, that's the end of my remarks. I'll pass it on to my colleague Eric.