Mr. Chairman, members of the committee,
The Association of Justice Counsel is pleased to have the opportunity to submit its views concerning Bill C-10.
In the next few minutes, I will briefly describe our concerns with this legislation, and then I will be pleased to answer your questions.
Our association represents over 2,500 lawyers across the country who are employed by the federal government in the Department of Justice, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and in federal agencies. They perform critical tasks in many areas, including prosecution, constitutional law, consumer and regulatory protection, national security, immigration, and commercial law.
In 2005 the Government of Canada extended the right of collective bargaining to the federal government lawyers, and in 2006 we began to negotiate our first collective agreement with the Treasury Board. Three years later, these negotiations have not led to a successful conclusion. As a result, federal lawyers have not had a salary increase since April 1, 2005, and our salaries have been substantially behind those of our provincial counterparts. Our comparative salary levels now rank seventh in the country, even though they used to be either first or second. We're now behind those of Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia.
To provide just one example of the disparity, federal government lawyers today earn between 40% and 60% less than their Ontario provincial counterparts. The salary gap is even more pronounced in comparison with our private sector counterparts, with whom we regularly appear in court in representing the interests of the Government of Canada.
The ongoing failure to redress this profound and growing salary disparity created by Bill C-10, the Expenditure Restraint Act, has given rise to three very serious issues for the administration of justice in Canada.
First, the federal government is having an increasingly difficult time retaining its lawyers. Simply put, our lawyers are leaving their jobs and going elsewhere, that is to say they are either retiring as soon as they can, or going to work for one of the provincial governments, or are simply going into private practice. It's a simple matter for them to cross the street and go work for a provincial government and in the process, earn thousands more a year doing the exact same kind of work they were doing for the federal government.
Second, the disparity in salaries is thoroughly hampering the ability of the federal government to recruit top-notch legal talent to replace those who are leaving.
In some locations and fields of expertise, the lack of qualified lawyers has reached critical levels. For example, in the city of Calgary, which includes the Prime Minister's own riding, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada has lost more than half its lawyers, prosecutors, and has not been able to replace them. It is the same thing in British Columbia, in Ontario, and in other provinces.
Third, as a result of the long-standing salary disparity facing federal government lawyers, morale is at an all-time low.
All these challenges have been documented publicly in the recent annual reports of the Public Prosecution Service and the Department of Justice, and if Bill C-10 passes in its current form, none of these challenges will be addressed.
In addition, federal lawyers will be singled out not only as the only group deprived of the process for negotiating their first collective agreement, but also as the only group not to have a negotiated or arbitrated salary increase for 2006-07.
We must contrast treatment of the AJC with that of another employment group in a similar situation. I am talking here about the border guards who were granted a salary increase of 19.5% three days before.
Finally, we respectfully urge the members of this committee to seriously consider the constitutionality of Bill C-10, especially in its specific and disproportionate impact on lawyers.