House of Commons Hansard #151 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was legislation.

Topics

Judges Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria for the Minister of Justice

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Judges Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37, an act to amend the Judges Act, has come back to this House with amendments from the other House. The Senate and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs gave serious consideration to all aspects of this important bill and heard from a number of witnesses who contributed a range of perspectives on certain issues of concern to the Senate.

On behalf of the government and the Minister of Justice I want to commend the senators for their diligent review of the issues. Here is an example of the necessity of having a Senate to review House legislation. According to this government the Senate did an excellent job.

The key elements of Bill C-37 were passed by the Senate, including important improvements to the judicial compensation and benefits commission process, necessary increases to current judicial salaries after years of salary freezes and a major expansion of unified family courts in Canada.

However, the Senate proposed and passed two substantive changes to Bill C-37 that relate to the definition of surviving spouse and the mandate of the new judicial compensation and benefits commission. The government is prepared to support these amendments for the following reasons.

With respect to survivor benefits, the Senate did not pass the provision in the bill relating to the change in definition of surviving spouse to include common law spouses. The Scott commission recommended that survivors' annuities be extended to common law spouses “where legally appropriate”.

However, the commission did not systematically review all of the ramifications of extending the entitlement to survivors' annuities. It was these ramifications that gave rise to concern and debate at Senate committee.

I want to point out that no one disagrees with extending the benefit to common law spouses. Rather, the issue that caused some public debate and a lot of debate in the Senate is the method by which this recognition is implemented.

In accepting the recommendation made by the Scott commission, the government had to consider its impact on specific cases, including the formula to be used when there are two surviving spouses.

In the public service sector, the solution chosen is to divide the pension between the two surviving spouses. This is the approach taken in the public service pension plan and in the pension plan for members of Parliament and senators. We felt this was a reasonable solution which ensured consistency with other federal pension plans.

However, before the Senate committee there was much discussion and disagreement on what was the best approach to be used in this case.

After due consideration the Senate committee did not feel that all of the issues had been sufficiently resolved and recommended that the new judicial compensation and benefits commission take a fresh look at the issue of judicial pensions and their treatment after marriage breakdown.

The Senate also heard arguments which suggested that the federal government has no constitutional authority to legislate over survivors' annuities.

It is important to indicate that the government's concurrence in this amendment is not to be taken as agreement with such a suggestion. The federal government does have the clear authority to deal with pension matters, including matters ancillary to the creation and administration of those pensions. We do not accept the argument that the government is acting outside of its jurisdiction on this matter.

However, in light of the concerns expressed, we accept that it would be useful to have the new judicial compensation and benefits commission look at possible solutions for the specific case where there are two surviving spouses.

The purpose of this commission is to remove the political element in determining the benefits and compensation to be paid to judges. The commission will hear the opinions of a number of experts in pension plans and family law, and those of other concerned parties, before making recommendations on a formula for surviving spouses that is fair and consistent with the general practices in the area of pensions.

The Senate also gave very careful consideration to and ultimately approved the new commission process in Bill C-37. However, the Senate was of the view that the process would be further strengthened by the inclusion of certain express statutory criteria that would help define and clarify the scope of the mandate of the new judicial compensation and benefits commission.

The Senate amendment will provide, in the statute, for objective criteria that the commission must consider in reaching its recommendations.

The objective criteria cited were the following: the state of Canada's economy, including the cost of living, as well as the government's overall economic and financial situation; the role played by the financial security of judges in maintaining judicial independence; the need to recruit the best candidates for the bench; and any other objective factor it deems pertinent.

As a matter of practice, the mandate letters of prior triennial commissions have always specified express objective criteria that should be considered.

For the government and the minister there was never any doubt that this practice would continue. However, putting these criteria into the statute will make it clear to everyone that objective criteria will continue to be used in coming to recommendations on judicial compensation.

This amendment will, therefore, reinforce the objective nature of the mandate of the new judicial compensation and benefits commission.

The Senate also proposed a number of technical amendments regarding the wording of provisions in the bill, which do not change its content but which clarify the original intention of the bill. The government also supports these amendments.

In conclusion, the government is in favour of these amendments to Bill C-37. Eliminating the definition of surviving spouse will allow the new commission to examine all the options for recognizing common-law spouses and to make recommendations for a fair and logical approach in cases where there are two surviving spouses.

The inclusion of obligatory criteria will help to clarify the mandate of the new judicial compensation and benefits commission and, as a result, will enhance the credibility and independence of this commission.

Bill C-37 will strengthen what is already one of the best judicial systems in the world. The improvements to the judicial compensation process will ensure continued public confidence in the independence of our judiciary.

The bill provides reasonable and fair compensation for our judges consistent with the important role they play in protecting the key values in our democratic society.

Increased judicial resources for unified family courts combined with provincial commitment of support services will improve the way our courts respond to families and children in crisis. The increase in the number of court of appeal judges will improve access to justice generally.

This bill will both enhance the independence of our courts and improve access to justice. These are goals which I am sure all Canadians support.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Cadman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the government's concurrence motion on Senate amendments to Bill C-37.

For the record, this is the second occasion I have had the opportunity to state Reform's opposition to this bill. This is a bill which grants judges an unprecedented salary increase of 8.3% and establishes a judicial compensation and benefits commission.

The official opposition is grateful for the amendment put forward by our colleague from Crowfoot. We are grateful that it was supported and passed in this House during report stage of Bill C-37.

The Reform amendment ensures that every four years the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has the opportunity to review the report of the commission on judges' salaries and benefits. This task will not be left solely to the Minister of Justice as originally contemplated by the government.

However, this amendment has not swayed our opposition to the bill. It has simply made it more palatable. The Reform Party still stands firmly opposed to Bill C-37.

As stated repeatedly in this House during all stages of the bill, other public servants and Canadians in general have not been afforded the same wage increase as that granted to the judges by Bill C-37. At a time when Canadian incomes continue to decline we cannot support such an unprecedented hike in salary.

According to a June 10 Ottawa Citizen article, family incomes are still dropping and as a result Canadians need to stretch the family budget to keep a roof over their heads. While housing costs eased during the first half of the decade, family income declined even more. That nudged a proportion of Canadians who spend at least 30% of their income on shelter to one in four households, or almost 2.8 million households. These findings, released by Statistics Canada, were derived from the 1996 census.

Another Citizen article, published on the same date, revealed that more and more two-parent families had both parents in the workforce in 1996, while at the same time the number of children left at home was increasing.

Statistics Canada reported that the overall lower income among Canadians in 1996 was the reason both parents were being forced into the labour market. Stats Canada has also reported that the majority of Canadian children, 4.8 million under the age of 15, lived in two parent families in 1996. Of those children 60% had both parents in the workforce, up from 43% in 1981.

In light of this information regarding the income of Canadians, in good conscience the Reform Party cannot support the bill. In the same vein we cannot support the government's concurrence in the Senate amendments.

I recognize the thorough job the Senate did in reviewing the bill and the substantive amendments put forward by the upper house. In particular I single out Liberal Senator Anne Cools for her diligent efforts in revealing the inadequacies of the bill.

Senator Cools rightfully exposed the fact that Bill C-37 effectively allows judges to set their own salaries and perks. In doing so it sets up the possibility of there being a showdown between parliament and the judiciary because it allows judges to appeal parliament's decision regarding a recommended salary increase in the courts. Essentially judges could have the final say over whether parliamentarians are giving them a sufficient raise.

Although former judicial pay commissioner David Scott has said that it is unlikely judges would be setting their own salaries, he has not ruled out the possibility of the judiciary challenging parliament's response to the commission's recommendations.

The judiciary would have to prove, however, in a court that the refusal to increase salaries or a decision to lower them was motivated by a wish to diminish the independence of judges. Mr. Scott said that even if the judges won in such a case the court could only declare parliament's motion on the issue void, which may result in a stalemate.

As pointed out by the Liberal senator this will:

—deprive Canadians of their undoubted constitutional right to the representative assembly's control over the public purse in respect of judicial salaries.

Clearly control of the public purse rests with parliament and not with the judiciary. Section 100 of the 1867 Constitution Act states in part:

The salaries, allowances and pensions of the judges...shall be fixed and provided by the Parliament of Canada.

Clause 6 of Bill C-37 potentially abolishes the true parliamentary role in the fixing of judges salaries. We must obviously question why the Minister of Justice has bestowed such potentially wielding powers on the judiciary in Bill C-37.

One can only surmise, and again I use the thoughts and words of Senator Cools when she said:

The real intent (of Bill C-37) is to remove parliament from the process.... There is a problem in that certain particular judges seem to crave a closeness to certain individuals in the Department of Justice and are trying to cling, closer and closer, to the executive rather than to parliament. In other words, honourable senators, what is happening here is that 200 years of history are being turned on their head, and we are being told in this judgment that, quite frankly, judges prefer their fate to be in the hands of the executive rather than in the hands of parliament. It is a most curious and interesting subject matter.

I will turn specifically to the amendments put forward by the Senate. Amendments 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8 delete all the clauses referring to two spouses. Bill C-37, as originally drafted by the Department of Justice, created a legal right for a judge to have two spouses. The two spouses clause was meant to deal with a circumstance in which a married judge separates from his or her partner, moves into a common law relationship with another person and then dies. Once law, it would allow a judge to have both spouses, married and common law, eligible for the lucrative pension payouts and divide the money between them when the judge dies.

Additionally the common law spouse would collect the one time payout of one-sixth of the judge's annual salary at the time of death.

Former Supreme Court Justice Willard Estey has said that these particular Bill C-37 amendments would give his former colleagues on the bench the right to a kind of home-made harem. It would, Estey said:

—effectively create two separate sets of family law—one for judges and one for everyone else.

It has been well established that situations such as the one contemplated in Bill C-37 are rare. One therefore must question why such a clause was put in Bill C-37. Critics have suggested that this clause was tailor made for Chief Justice LeSage who is separated from his wife and has resided for about one year with Judge Lang. If Chief Justice LeSage were to die, the new amendment would allow both Judge Lang and Mrs. LeSage to qualify as his surviving spouses and share his pension.

As pointed out earlier, Senator Cools, as well as many others, have surmised that Bill C-37 appears tailored to fit particular individuals. Senator Cools said:

We have a situation in the country where certain individuals have access to the legislative writing machine. That is bothersome.

This certainly is not the first time the government has tailor made legislation. Previous amendments to the Judges Act introduced during the last parliament under Bill C-42 set out terms in which Canadian judges could participate in international activities, although it was never explicitly admitted by the government—it was no secret—that those amendments to the Judges Act arose due to the appointment of Madam Justice Louise Arbour to the United Nations as prosecutor for the War Crimes Commission.

I commend the Senate and support those amendments eliminating this tailor made clause of Bill C-37, clauses which, as stated by Senator Cools, “script their sins into the laws of the nation”.

We do not support, however, Amendment No. 3 which adds subclauses to clause 6 of Bill C-37. Clause 6 establishes the judicial compensation and benefits commission. These subclauses effectively expand the powers of the commission, powers which were not contemplated or countenanced in the original bill. Specifically we take issue with section (1.1)(a) which reads:

In conducting its inquiry, the commission shall consider (a) the prevailing economic conditions in Canada, including the cost of living, and the overall economic and current financial position of the federal government.

What exactly does this mean? How expansive are the powers of the commission? Does the reference to the current financial position of the federal government mean the commission will have the power to call the Minister of Finance before it to question him on our financial status? If such powers are vested with the commission, it is setting a dangerous precedent, a precedent the official opposition cannot support.

During his appearance before the Senate committee reviewing Bill C-37 former commission chairman David Scott clearly questioned statutorily defining criteria as proposed by the Senate. In fact Mr. Scott went so far as to say:

I am not sure what the relevant criteria would be.... I am not saying that there should not be any criteria, but once you start down the road of developing criteria, you may create a monster.

Clearly the Senate's amendment goes against the advice of the former commissioner.

As stated earlier, the official opposition does not support the government's concurrence motion. Nor do we support any expansion of the commission's powers, powers which were not originally contemplated by the government and the House.

A decision of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island forced the federal government to establish a judicial compensation commission. Bill C-37, as originally introduced, meets that legal obligation. Senate Amendment No. 3 is therefore unnecessary.

I caution the government's wisdom in accepting all the Senate amendments, particularly given the expanded powers of the commission which may involve additional time and travel for their inquiries, time and travel which may cost additional expenditure of funds that were not originally contemplated by the royal recommendation of Bill C-37. I am not emphatically stating that there is a violation. I am simply raising a flag for the record.

In closing, I reiterate the Reform Party's position. We stand opposed to Senate Amendment No. 3. We stand opposed to the outrageous salary increase for judges at a time when financial pressures on Canadian families continue to increase as their quality of life decreases.

It is incredible that we sit in this place in consideration of a windfall increase in pay for judges while in my home province of British Columbia public safety is being put at risk through reduced law enforcement due to the gutting of RCMP budgets.

In my constituency a police car which sustains more than $4,000 damage is parked because there is no money to get it repaired. There is not enough money to replace worn tires on patrol cars, putting both police and public at risk. Store owners fear loss of business as customers run a gauntlet of crack cocaine dealers because police lack the money and resources to deal effectively with them.

We stand opposed to the concurrence motion.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-37, as amended by the Senate.

It is often said that what is clearly understood can be clearly expressed. With this in mind, let me outline the Bloc Quebecois' position. We oppose Bill C-37. However, while the amendments put forward by our brave colleagues in the Senate are a step in the right direction, we think many more amendments would be required and much more work would have to be done on this bill before the Bloc Quebecois could consider supporting it.

On October 22, the Senate made eight amendments to the bill. We are opposed to the principle of raising federal judges' salaries by approximately 13%, which is unacceptable to us in the Bloc Quebecois, and that is why we oppose the bill.

On the other hand, we are in favour of establishing the Judicial Benefits and Compensation Commission. We are also in favour of the Senate amendments for the following reasons: a number of these amendments would bring the French and English versions of the bill more in line with one another, while one other amendment clarifies the mandate of the commission being established by the federal government.

This amendment explicitly sets out what we believe was the implicit mandate of the Judicial Benefits and Compensation Commission. In our view, these explicit criteria are positive and fair.

For the Bloc Quebecois, the most crucial of these amendments is the one deleting clause 1 of Bill C-37. Clause 1 defines the term “surviving spouse” and, for constitutional reasons, we are opposed to the inclusion of surviving spouses in Bill C-37.

In this respect, we support the explanation given to the committee by Professor Jamie Cameron of Osgoode Hall. According to Professor Cameron, while it is the responsibility of the federal government to set benefits for federally appointed judges, the provinces have a similar responsibility with respect to matrimonial property and the division of assets in an estate.

Pensions are included in matrimonial property under family and estate distribution law. This raises the question of whether the federal government has jurisdiction to legislate the division of estate assets by defining the expression “surviving spouse” and with all the rights accorded subsequently in the bill according to the definition of “surviving spouse”.

According to Ms. Cameron, and the Bloc Quebecois completely supports this position, the federal government is encroaching on provincial jurisdiction over matrimonial and estate property.

Accordingly, we support the amendments eliminating clause 1, which defines “surviving spouse” and the clauses pertaining to the rights of surviving spouses.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Judges Act in order to increase judges' salaries and to change the criteria governing pension plan eligibility. The bill also establishes the Judicial Benefits and Compensation Commission.

Finally, the bill provides for more judges in appeal and unified family courts. The bill is the Liberal government's response to the 1995 triennial commission on judges' salaries and benefits, also known as the Scott commission.

In 1981, Parliament provided for the creation of independent commissions with a mandate to confirm that the pay and benefits of judges were sufficient in view of the importance of judicial independence and the unique role given judges by the Canadian Constitution.

On September 18, 1997, in a reference regarding the remuneration of provincial court justices in Prince Edward Island, which pertained to the independence and impartiality of these justices, the Supreme Court stressed the importance of these independent commissions, which establish a vital link between two government powers: the executive and the judicial. The court also pointed out the constitutional obligation to set magistrates' salaries.

The commission's recommendations are not binding on the government, but the court judgment requires a reasonable and public justification to be provided if the recommendations are rejected, before a court of law if necessary.

The 1995 Scott Commission I have already referred to recommended a progressive 8.3% increase, and the Liberal government accepted that recommendation in its bill by proposing 4.1% yearly for two years.

Moreover, in determining what was reasonable, the Scott Commission acknowledged that a complex and broad range of factors needed to be taken into consideration in determining the appropriate pay level, including the need of pay levels capable of attracting and retaining the most qualified candidates for the office of judge.

The report is based on the relationship between judges' salaries and those of lawyers in private practice, since this is the source of most candidates for the office of judge.

Section 25 of the Judges Act calls for annual adjustments to judges' salaries based on the increase in the industrial aggregate, up to a maximum of seven per cent.

Judges' salaries were frozen between December 1992 and March 31, 1997, under the Public Service Compensation Restraint Act.

Our objection to the Scott report is that it is based solely on federal economic activity indicators, and not on the economic sectors most heavily affected since the 1993 cuts. In our opinion, the most fundamental question is whether we should be putting books back into the schools and beds back into the hospitals, or raising the salaries of high court judges already earning $155,800. These are hardly starvation wages, after all.

To sum up the Bloc Quebecois' position on Bill C-37, we think that the Liberal government has already achieved its zero deficit, but we all know it did so on the backs of the provinces, unemployed workers and the most disadvantaged members of our society.

The Minister of Justice may well want to reward judges by increasing their salaries, but she would do better to persuade her colleague, the Minister of Finance, to compensate the provinces for the cuts to health, welfare and post-secondary education transfer payments.

The Bloc Quebecois puts other priorities ahead of raising judges' salaries. None of us is in any doubt that judges work hard, but they are far from the only ones doing so.

It is for these reasons that the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the principle of increasing judges' salaries. We are in favour of creating an independent commission, but we cannot go along with this lapse in solidarity and vision in an economic context where the provinces have borne the brunt of the federal government's fight to eliminate the deficit.

Naturally, we have heard the government's arguments that the most competent lawyers must be attracted to the bench, and we fully agree. But judges too are members of society, and as such must take part in the collective effort. Even though the federal deficit has been eliminated, the $500 billion debt is still hanging over our heads.

Instead of increasing judges' salaries, the government could have given the money to the provinces to buy hospital beds and to help the most disadvantaged members of our society.

The supplementary estimates tabled last Wednesday also indicate that the Canadian unity group at Justice, one of whose responsibilities is the reference to the Supreme Court, is costing Canadian and Quebec taxpayers $700,000. Again, this money could have paid for many hospital beds and many meals on the tables of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

Today, therefore, I am calling on the Minister of Justice to withdraw her bill and to use the money instead to compensate the provinces for the unjust cuts they have suffered since this Liberal government took office.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the Senate amendments to Bill C-37.

I reviewed some of the comments that I made on behalf of my party some time ago when this bill was first introduced. I compared this piece of legislation to a recipe that my grandfather brought to this country from Italy some time ago. I said that as much as my grandfather would try to pass that recipe onto his children, when he would taste the sauce he would say “You got a little bit of it right and whole lot of it wrong”. I said that this bill was very similar to that sauce.

The Senate has added a dash a salt but nothing particularly to improve the flavour of this legislation. What remains tragic is that with this legislation there was an opportunity for the government to address some fundamental issues.

I will pick up on the comments of my colleague from Charlesbourg. He talked about cutbacks in the provinces. He talked about hospital beds. He talked about the kinds of things that matter to Canadians at a time when this government is determined that we should give judges a substantial increase in their salaries.

I am not going to talk so much about hospital beds. I am going to talk about the justice system and where those funds might be better funnelled at a time of increasing demands on the courts, at a time when we are looking at a role for victims to play in the courts, at a time when crown prosecutors who have to enforce the laws are finding their hands tied because of lack of resources, and at a time when the RCMP and law enforcement agencies are finding their budgets slashed.

When we are determining how the very sparse funds have to be divided up, increasing the judges' salary at this point in time when this country has other problems is perhaps not the wisest and most judicial, if you will, use of funds.

I sit on the custody and access committee. One complaint we have heard continually is that when there is a dispute in family law it cannot be resolved for months because of the backlog in cases. There is a lack of legal aid availability for parties who are seeking to bring their matters before the court. There is a lack of court clerks. There is a lack of all kinds of necessary instruments to bring matters to court and to have them resolved quickly. When matters are not resolved quickly before the courts, it results in increased tension between the parties. The parties take matters into their own hands and there is increased concern.

These funds might have been better spent in improving the justice system in the provinces. That is in the family law courts. Let us look at the criminal courts.

More and more powers are being delegated to provincial court judges with fewer and fewer resources. Again this means longer waiting times for court hearings. It does no good for the accused, who lives under a cloud of suspicion while waiting for his or her day in court. It does no good for the victim, who waits for months and months in a system he or she never asked to end up in in the first place.

The cuts to the provinces have resulted in increased waiting times in both the criminal and family courts.

Also, as has been raised by this side of the House, the RCMP training centre out west is being closed down. I am meeting with a group of people in my own riding next Monday when the House is down. Seniors in my riding have been told that when they press an alarm, it will only be responded to if the person pressing the alarm can guarantee that there is a break and enter.

I practised criminal law for some time. It was a rare occasion when one could say to the criminal breaking into the home “Hold on for a minute while I call the police to confirm that you are here. Would you take the phone and let the RCMP know that there is a reason for them to come”. I do not blame the RCMP officers for this. The reality is that they do not have the resources to respond unless they can be sure there is a crime taking place. At the same time that this is happening, we are increasing the wages for some of the wealthiest people in this country. I again question whether that is the best use of resources.

There was also a golden opportunity, which I have spoken to the Minister of Justice about, to review the method of appointment of judges. The parliamentary secretary has said in support of some of the Senate amendments that the criteria in terms of determining judicial compensation ought to be accepted and it is something the government looks favourably on. I would suggest we ought to revamp the criteria for the appointment of judges before we revamp the criteria for increasing their salaries and determining whether they ought to get it.

This country has some very good judges. I do not want to diminish that for a moment. The late Justice Dickson was an example of a fine judge. He moved this country forward in his position as a supreme court justice. There are hundreds of good judges in this country.

Every now and then we hear about an appointment to the court that is simply a patronage appointment. It is well known certainly on the east coast and in the province I come from that part of how one gets to the judiciary is to make the right contributions to the parties in power.

Just this summer there was an appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Prior to her being a judge, she started her career as a lawyer and a keen organizer for the Liberal Party. The reward for that was an appointment to the public utility board in Nova Scotia which paid some $75,000 a year up until the age of 75. This was a pretty nice plum and everybody thought she was satisfied with that. As it turned out, she was a classmate of the Minister of Justice, I think the year behind. She was not too happy on the utility board and found herself appointed to the supreme court. That appointment met with considerable criticism in the province. It was not the only one.

That is unfair to the judges who legitimately serve this country well, who achieve their appointment on merit. We need to have a discussion about this. I have indicated to the Minister of Justice that there ought to be a subcommittee of the justice committee that can explore and ensure a fair method of the appointment of the judiciary. Citizens look to the judiciary in some ways to set the moral standards of the country. They look to parliamentarians. They look to people in authority.

This is a time when we are talking about youth crime and young offenders who appear before judges. It is very difficult to present to them the argument that the society we want them to participate in is one that is fair and just if some of the very people they appear before received their positions on the bench not because of their understanding of criminal, family or contract law, but because of their connections to particular parties. This was a missed opportunity.

Some of the amendments that were put forward by members of the justice committee from the Reform Party and the Bloc party were good. It is too bad that the government could not have supported them. It did support one of those amendments. The amendment put forward by the Bloc which had to do with the actual pay increase would have been well received. It is too bad that the government did not choose to accept that in the same way it accepted the amendments from the Senate.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak on the Senate amendments to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Judges Act and other consequential acts.

It is nice to see the upper chamber bringing forth amendments that we believe will only benefit this bill. This is further proof that the other place continues to play a vital role in Canadian politics. It is also proof that although the Liberal government likes to ram bills through with little consultation, it does not always work.

Nevertheless, our party is encouraged by the provisions contained in Bill C-37. These amendments will improve the independence, the objectivity and the effectiveness of the salary and benefits commission process.

Clause 6 of the proposed amendments will for the most part strengthen the judiciary. For example, the need to attract outstanding candidates to the judiciary will not only enhance the credibility of the judiciary but it will also enhance the process.

The Progressive Conservative Party is encouraged by the provisions which make the appointments less bureaucratic and more democratic.

This commission will consist of three people, of which one will be appointed by the Minister of Justice. The other would be appointed or nominated if you will, by the judiciary, while the chair would be named by the two previously mentioned.

I stand by my remarks from last March when I first spoke on this bill. I believed then as I do now that a better, more accountable way of appointing people to this committee would be to enable the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to nominate a member to sit on the commission Such a process would not only improve the transparency, but it would also eliminate some of the patronage that goes on during these appointments.

As for the deletion of section 45 of the act, the joint and survivor provisions, it will rightfully entitle the respective provincial governments to handle the salary and benefits situation as it relates to spouses according to the province in which the judge respectfully works.

An example of this is in Quebec where common law marriages are not recognized. Should Quebec judges be penalized for working in Quebec? No, they certainly should not be. This amendment will ensure equality for all judges right across the country as it relates to their place of work and residency.

By keeping central control in the confines of the provincial government, we believe it is more practical to apply a case by case process as it pertains to individual judges. Narrowing the scope eliminates the possibility for difficulty and confusion down the road. This legislation has invoked a great deal of passion and provocative commentary within the House, and to some extend a great deal of righteous indignation on the part of some.

It is important to focus on the role of judges and the important tasks they are charged to perform. We have previously debated the important question of the separation of power in society. My party strongly believes judicial independence is the cornerstone of our democracy. There is no question that we as parliamentarians may not always agree with a court's decision, but it is our job to respect and uphold the system in place for the good of the country and the citizens we represent.

However, it cannot be stated strongly enough or with enough emotion the importance of having our judges remain independent of the elected body. We as parliamentarians are elected as opposed to appointed judges. A balance needs to be struck to eliminate the practice of governments, in particular majority governments, using heavy handed measures the judiciary is called to investigate.

My party is comfortable supporting the amendments brought forth today because they give guidelines to the commission that will ultimately strengthen the judiciary and present guidelines for the way salaries are set. Furthermore, we believe in an independent commission setting the judges' salaries. The provisions regarding spousal pension benefits are nothing but beneficial to the law and the process. Therefore I would ask that the other parties here today agree to the amendments brought forth.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Judges Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.