Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to answer that type of intervention. Certainly I feel at ease when dealing with questions on the public service.
I greatly appreciated my hon. colleague's opening remarks. I must say that, when you are familiar with the civil service, you often get a much better feel for the kind of problems it faces. In recent years, the Government of Quebec has imposed a number of wage freezes and cuts that civil servants did not take too well.
I can understand that. When, as a civil servant, I was seeing the wage gap widen between the public and the private sector, especially at the senior levels, I too found it hard to take.
In the context of the last budget, I think that it is important to see that, with this wage freeze, we are in fact protecting the job security of our civil servants. It was a hard move to make, but given the context, it was clear that cuts were required not only in government programs, but also in operating budgets.
To compensate for wage increases, we would have had to reduce the number of employees in the Public Service. Considering, as I said, that two thirds of private sector employees either had no increase or a negative increase, we determined that the sacrifice asked from federal civil servants was not disproportionate, as compared to those who are seeing their military base close down in Atlantic Canada or those affected by the decision to withdraw from the KAON project in British Columbia or to reduce the level of activity or close military bases in the Prairies and in Ontario.
Under those circumstances, while I agree entirely with my colleague on the principles of good management for a public service, I must say that I fully support the decision made in this budget to freeze wages.