House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employment.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, in relation to its studies on the new Citizenship Legislation, Recognition of Foreign Credentials and Family Reunification, seven members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration be authorized to travel to Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo in February-March 2005, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Earlier I referred to the riding of a certain member during question period. I would like to make a correction in terms of the blues. I referred to the hon. member for Simcoe—Grey, but I meant to refer to the hon. member for Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam. I apologize to the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

December 8th, 2004 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, indeed I listened very carefully to the opening speech on Bill C-30, just made by the House leader for the government, and I have three quick questions I would like to put to him.

The first would be pre-empted by a statement, perhaps, on the fact, if I heard him correctly, that he said the Prime Minister made this commitment to bring forward a bill to delink MPs' compensation, in other words, our salaries, from the judges' compensation. It was his own government in a previous Parliament that had linked the two. Now the government is delinking it. He said the Prime Minister made that commitment in September.

As I recall it, the Prime Minister was under pressure from the Leader of the Opposition, my colleague from Calgary Southwest, who last spring made that commitment to the Canadian people in the lead-up to and during the election campaign.

My leader, the member for Calgary Southwest, stated unequivocally that a Conservative government would not allow a pay package increase to go ahead that would have been 10%, which was what was leaked out of the commission that looks at judges' remuneration. That leaked out last spring. There was quite a debate about it in the media.

So those commitments, I believe, were made quite some time ago, not just in September. At any rate, we are here to debate Bill C-30. The first question I would put to the House leader deals with the actual increase. Certainly I think it makes eminent sense to attach our compensation to some form of cost of living index that other Canadians are faced with, at least when they begin to negotiate their salaries and any increase in their salaries.

But what is the actual increase that we will be getting? Is it half a per cent for this year or is it one and a half per cent? What is it? I ask so that people watching the program at home today will clearly understand what it is that we are talking about.

The second deals with the linkage to the judges. It was this government, as I already have said, that indeed initially linked it to judges' remuneration, so I would simply put this question: why is it that they are not bringing forward the judges' package at the same time instead of waiting until next spring to deal with it? I understand that is about 11% over four years, a substantial increase, and over and above their cost of living increase, I might add.

The third question is again for clarification. It is my understanding that once Bill C-30 passes and MPs' salaries are linked to the cost of living index there will not be a requirement in the future for the members of the House of Commons to debate and vote on our own remuneration.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I counted right there were four questions, but I will try to deal with them as quickly and as directly as possible.

On the first question with respect to the commitment or the comments made by the hon. member's leader, I guess I can take from that, and judging by the comments made, that the leader of the official opposition would be very attracted to this type of legislation and probably would in fact support it, judging from the comments.

The purpose of introducing this legislation is in fact to delink, as I have said. Under the present arrangement there has been a 1.3% increase as a result of an index in the Judges Act, so members of Parliament have received a 1.3% increase, which takes us from about $139,000 to about $141,000.

With Bill C-30, in fact, the difference would be about $200. There would be a $200 difference, and the actual index averaged 1.5% for the previous year, which is published in February, and that would be the number for the year 2004.

With respect to the Judges Act itself, I think it is very clear that the intent here is to delink and that by doing so we have in fact brought forward an independent piece of legislation for the House to deal with specifically on members' salaries.

I might also remind the member that for the judges' salaries it is a bit more than 11%; actually about 16% over four years. This piece of legislation would obviously serve to delink members' salaries from that particular proposal. I think it better reflects, frankly, what Canadians are looking for in MPs' salaries and certainly I think it better reflects the will of Canadians.

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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know the following from the government House leader.

When his government introduced here in the House of Commons the last bill linking the remuneration of judges and members of Parliament, one of the basic principles at issue at the time was that the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada should never exceed that of the Prime Minister. Everyone watching us knows that this is a basic, well established principle. The Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court are paid, for all practical purposes, the same salary.

How can the government House leader justify the fact that, suddenly, through a legislative provision like the one he has today, the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will be $26,000 a year higher than the salary of the Prime Minister, in the first year. That is my first question for the government House leader.

My second question is as follows. If we find ourselves obliged again today to reconsider the remuneration of members of Parliament, is it not because the Prime Minister basically lacked courage when he saw the results of the report? Instead of asking the committee to do its work again, the Prime Minister decided first to say that he would not take his salary increase. Everyone burst out laughing. It is well known that he is a millionaire several times over and does not need this salary. After that, he managed to say: “It is far too much for Canadians.”

So this is my question. If the Prime Minister is honest and sincere when he says that an 11% pay increase for members of Parliament is far too much for Canadians—and I am one of them—how is it this same government thinks, in deciding to introduce a bill like this one reducing the pay increase of members of Parliament to more normal levels, that 10.8% or 11% for judges is not too much? It is too much for Canadians who are paying the salary of members of Parliament, but it is not too much for Canadians who are paying the salary of judges.

I would like to understand where this is fair. I would like to understand the government's logic, if this is not in fact just a bill based on cowardice.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the member's first question and the salary the Chief Justice would receive with respect to parliamentarians, what we all have to understand about this, and I think Canadians do understand, is that ultimately Parliament will decide. If in fact my hon. colleague believes that the Prime Minister can and should receive the same salary as the Chief Justice in this particular circumstance, with this Parliament being a minority Parliament then that could happen.

He suggested in his second question that the Prime Minister brought this forward for some reason. In fact, the reason the Prime Minister brought this forward is that he believes in and is proposing a salary increase that reflects what the average Canadian receives. The average Canadian will look at this and say it makes sense. Why should MPs not receive what average Canadians receive in terms of salary?

If members have difficulty with this, they can certainly argue that this is not what we should be doing in the House. They can stand in their places and argue that members of Parliament should receive a salary increase that is somewhat different. I am prepared to listen to those arguments and I know that my hon. colleagues are prepared to listen to my arguments.

With respect to judges, the Judges Act will come to the House. Parliament will deal with this piece of legislation like any other piece of legislation, and in a minority Parliament, if in fact changes are made, I am sure that parliamentarians on all sides of the floor will take responsibility for those changes.

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. House leader has some curious responses to some curious questions from the Bloc in defending the Prime Minister's salary. This is a new day in the House of Commons.

I was initially filled with some amount of confidence in the House leader's description of this as a simple and very transparent piece of legislation until he made reference to the government's great track record on following through on its commitments. Thoughts of the GST, reviewing NAFTA, the actual implementation of Kyoto and reducing student debt loads came to mind and I started to worry about this commitment. For some strange reason, the House leader then strayed to Iraq and mentioned the idea of going to Iraq. I am not sure why he referenced that with respect to this piece of legislation. I wonder if he could clarify that.

There was an initial decision to tie our salaries to those of judges. The Prime Minister stepped away from that for some reason. I wonder if he could clarify the reason the Prime Minister stepped away from what I assume was a very clear and logical position.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think my answer was clear. The Prime Minister has proposed this piece of legislation because he believes that the salaries and compensation that MPs receive should reflect what the average Canadian receives. My hon. colleague from the NDP has a problem with that. He has a problem in fact that MPs' salary increases should not reflect what the average Canadian receives. He thinks that this index is the wrong index. As a matter of fact it is an index that reflects collective bargaining and that is made up of both union and non-union sectors and represents the broad economy. It is a curious position for my hon. colleague from the NDP.

In any event, the legislation is before the House and I certainly look forward to the positions that the other parties have on it. I look forward to engaging in the debate and I welcome it.

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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be in the House today to listen to my colleague across the floor and also my friend in the Bloc. I think all three of us were here when the House debated not too many years ago the great solution we had to this problem of MPs' salaries. That great solution was that we were going to tie the prime minister's salary to the chief justice's, and everybody thought that was pretty fair. We would live with the independence of the Supreme Court justices and what they were going to get in their salaries. Meanwhile we would all get nice cost of living increases every year, which has brought our salaries up a few thousand dollars a year since that time. Everything was running along pretty well until a report came out.

It is interesting that the government House leader will talk about editorials, saying they all support it and this is a good idea. Yes, I think the average Canadian would think it is a good idea to have our salaries tied into a cost of living that comes from an index of wage settlements of Canadians. It always sounds like a good idea, but it is interesting. I read editorials when we did this last time and all the editorials said that it was very good that parliamentarians were tying their salaries to the judges' and they would no longer decide themselves what the increases would be.

We really have to wonder about some of these editorialists who thought it was a great idea until a 10% figure came along and then we were all terrible and we should knock it back to something different. Nevertheless the government has brought in this bill and my party is going to support this legislation.

The government House leader should know also that when they bring the judges' bill before the House, we are still going to live by the same ideals that we had before. The judges are going to live with the same incomes that we have as members of Parliament. They are going to be put on an index just like we are. If it was a fair thought a few years ago that our salaries should be tied to judges' salaries, then it is a fair thought now and that should never change. I am happy that members on the Liberal side are applauding that.

I would expect that whatever the government puts in the legislation for judges, it better expect it to be amended so it will read exactly the same as for everybody in the House, from the prime minister to members of Parliament. I hate to tell them that at Christmastime in case they have gone out and spent the money already, but 16% would not be accepted by Canadians at any level right now, and they should look at that.

The private sector wage settlement process is a very good one. I think Canadians can accept that. I hope we will never see it in the House again where we have to have another debate on jumping up the salaries. Let us just live with this issue, but give us that increase every year so we do not have to debate it.

I was not going to get into these issues in this speech, but I could not help it. I just wanted to talk about the issue but the House leader opposite talked about all the good things the government has done. I will give him credit, the government has done some good things and we voted for some of those good things.

There was a question in the House today that was answered by the minister of immigration about doctors as immigrants to this country. There are literally hundreds of well qualified doctors in this country who cannot practise their profession because the government is dragging its feet. Also provincial associations, whether they be medical, dental or other professionals, are dragging their feet, but all of these associations only operate with either provincial or federal help and they should be told to speed up their act.

I have a situation in my constituency where there is a surgeon who is operating every day and has been told by immigration that he will be given his landed status once he gets his certificate that he can practise medicine. He has been practising with a temporary permit from his association for two years doing surgery in Powell River, yet he has not been finalized yet. Are they telling me that somewhere along the line this association has taken two years and might take another to finally say he is qualified? What if they say he is not? He has been doing surgery every day in Powell River. There are hundreds like him everywhere in this country. There are also hundreds of others who are doing nothing. They are driving taxi cabs, waiting tables in restaurants, or taking other jobs when they could be out practising medicine.

I would ask the government, instead of debating this issue here today, why not solve that problem? Yes, it talked about putting $41 billion back into medicare but we all know it took out $25 billion, and that is what caused the crisis from 1993 to 2003.

There are other issues. We are going to debate one of them tomorrow, the Fraser River fishery problem and fisheries in general, both on the east coast and the west coat. There is a lack of good scientific evidence. The fisheries have been dying off in a country that is famous for fisheries, not only commercial fisheries but sports fisheries. In my province it is costing people a lot of jobs. Why can the government not solve that problem? Why do we have to bring in a motion from the opposition to get it to debate that issue and get a judicial inquiry going that might solve that problem?

How many thousands of students around this country are having serious problems with their debt loads? Why are we not coming up with a program to make sure that every Canadian citizen can get post-secondary education, whether it is to become a plumber, an electrician, a doctor, or a nurse, to make sure they can do it, not just if their parents have enough money? That should be a guarantee for every Canadian citizen, an education. Why are we not seeing a program for that?

Finally, there is the Prime Minister's travelling road show. We know why he is travelling. He does not want to be here in the House of Commons with us. He does not like those serious questions every day about the issues of the nation. As much as we like to see our Prime Minister in certain things he is doing, when the House is sitting, this is where he should be, answering questions every day.

Mr. Speaker, I should have mentioned at the start of my speech and I forgot, but I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Calgary Centre-North.

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3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

On that issue, the hon. member is on the first round of speeches and he will have to have the unanimous consent of the House to divide his time.

Is there consent in the House to allow the hon. House leader to divide his time with someone else?

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3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is amazing. Minority parliaments work so well.

It has worked well. I see all my colleagues and House leaders are here. We can say that the opposition parties, whether it has been on the throne speech debate or on other issues, have worked very hard to make this government do things and make things happen in this Parliament. We can all go home for Christmas knowing that we have done a good job as members of Parliament, in keeping the government doing business in an honest way and in a way that is good for all Canadians.

I would say that we are not happy about how this whole process took place because we thought we had an agreement. However, we will support this legislation.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

David Kilgour Edmonton—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, what would my colleague think would be reasonable percentages in the circumstances that we are talking about?

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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that if we support this bill it has anything to do with reasonable percentages. We are agreeing that the private sector wage settlement process is something that is coming forth from this government. I am saying that in the last Parliament we all agreed that there would be a process. Now we have changed our minds again. We have to finally get to a system that we all agree to so the public understands it. We thought we had one. It did not work this time.