Mr. Speaker, we are now at the second reading stage of Bill C-106, an act to create, or rather to exhume, the Law Commission of Canada. The Minister of Justice now wants to revive this useless creature, which cost
taxpayers $105 million over its 20 years of existence and which made only a few recommendations that were adopted by Parliament.
The Law Reform Commission created in 1971 was responsible for reviewing Canada's laws on an on-going and systematic basis. The research work done by the former commission was divided into three main areas: substantive criminal law, criminal procedure, and administrative law. In its last year of existence, the commission had a budget of $5 million.
In addition to its members and employees, the commission hired a number of outside consultants.
The commission spent over 82 per cent of its budget on salaries and on special and professional services. This small organization was very costly. Most of its staff consisted of university researchers and lawyers hired as consultants for short periods. The emphasis was on research and not on efficient management. Research programs that were out of touch with reality and astronomical costs were the two main reasons why the government of the day pulled the plug on the old commission.
With Bill C-106, the Minister of Justice is about to make a monumental mistake. The minister is showing the federal government's inability to manage responsibly. Therefore, he is giving us another good reason to vote Yes on October 30.
The Minister of Justice intends to sink millions of dollars into a revived law reform commission. This shameful waste must be vigorously denounced.
I am appalled to see that the Minister of Justice has still not recovered from acute consultitis. Not only has he been consulting left and right since receiving his mandate but he now wants to create an organization dedicated to consulting. As silly as this may sound, the Minister of Justice is nonetheless taking himself seriously.
Let me read you the first paragraph of the bill's preamble. It reads: "whereas, after extensive national consultations, the Government of Canada has determined that it is desirable to establish a commission to provide independent advice on improvements, modernization and reform of the law of Canada, which advice would be based on the knowledge and experience of a wide range of groups and individuals".
The government of Canada has determined that it is desirable to waste $3 million per year on this consulting commission. It has determined that it is desirable to appoint 29 of its federalist friends to this commission.
It seems obvious to me that the Minister of Justice and his government are taking us for fools. Let me tell you that, whatever the consultation minister's views on the matter, Bloc Quebecois members will not let him table something as half baked as this without denouncing it.
Did he expect that we would be too busy during the referendum to notice he was pulling a fast one on us? Perhaps he assumed that the miller could not look after the mill and the oven at the same time.
As I said a moment ago, the minister's condition is going from bad to worse. His bill provides that all those involved are to consult one another. I consult you, you consult me, we consult each other. At a cost of $3 million per year, this makes for a very expensive consultation process.
Clause 5 of Bill C-106 states, and I quote:
(1) The Commission shall a ) consult with the Minister of Justice with respect to the annual program of studies that it proposes to undertake; b ) prepare such reports as the Minister, after consultation with the Commission and taking into consideration the workload and resources of the Commission, may require;
And that is not all. Clause 18 provides for the establishment of the Law Commission of Canada Advisory Council, and clause 19 states, and I quote:
The Council shall-advise the Commission on any matter relating to the purpose of the Commission, including the Commission's strategic directions and long-term program of studies and the review of the Commission's performance.
This silliness goes on in clause 20, which reads, and I quote:
For the purpose of advising and assisting the Commission in any particular project, the Commission may establish a study panel presided over by a Commissioner and consisting of persons having specialized knowledge in, or particularly affected by, the matter to be studied.
Between obtaining advice, consulting and acting on this advice and the results of consultations, I wonder when the commissioners will find the time to do their job, to justify an annual budget of $3 million. This is outrageous.
This bill does not even have the merit of being an original piece of legislation. It is almost a carbon copy of the Law Reform Commission Act, which was repealed three years ago. The two texts are so similar that you might think they are one and the same. For example, the provisions dealing with the goals and objectives of the commissions, both the former one and the one being proposed, are substantially identical. I hope that the minister is not serious when he claims that the future commission will be different from the old one, because their goals and objectives are identical. The only difference is the purported independence of the new commission. I will get back to this.
If you read the two legal texts side by side, you come to the following conclusion. The former commission's mandate was to
study and review Canada's acts and legal rules, while the proposed commission will study and review Canada's law.
The former commission was set up to eliminate anachronisms and flaws in the law, while the proposed commission will provide advice to eliminate the rules of law which have become obsolete, as well as the flaws in the law.
The former commission was to develop new methods and concepts related to the law, while the proposed commission will provide advice to develop new legal perspectives and concepts.
It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. We were told that justice department officials worked on this legislation for two years. It is unthinkable that they would have spent so much time to come up with this result. The only new element proposed by the minister is the commission's advisory body, which will include 24 members. The minister wants to bring back to life an organization which should not be revived.
The reasons the previous government disbanded the former commission are essentially the ones for which the Bloc Quebecois cannot now support such a waste of public money. The previous government had come to the conclusion that the services provided by the former commission could be adequately obtained by transferring to the justice department the responsibility of commissioning research work from non governmental organizations, under specific mandates. The Minister of Justice and his department were to seek the opinion of researchers and professionals on a factual basis. Consequently, the Law Reform Commission was disbanded and the resources to be kept were transferred to the justice department.
Interestingly, that department currently has a division called the Law Reform Division. This division was formed after the old commission disappeared. The financial resources of the former commission were therefore added to the budget of Justice. The division had an budget of $1.5 million the first year and $2 million the next. At the present time it has three full time employees and one part time.
The minister wishes to create a new commission when there are already competent staff in place capable of meeting the government's requirements. The law reform division does a good job of carrying out the task for which it is intended. The minister can very readily mandate this law reform division to carry out all projects focussing on orienting or reforming Canadian law or to seek innovative solutions to endemic problems. Ironically, in May 1994 it was this division which assumed responsibility for distribution of a questionnaire to 884 individuals or organizations concerning the creation of a new law reform commission.
The department got back 126 responses to its mailing of 884 questionnaires. So much for the extensive consultations referred to in the preamble to the bill.
The minister would have us believe that his commission will be independent in nature. This is clearly indicated in clause 3, which states as follows:
The purpose of the Commission is to study-the concepts-of the common law and civil law systems-with a view to providing independent advice on improvements, modernization and reform-
This is total nonsense. The partisan character of the process to appoint the five commissioners is obvious. These positions are clearly rewards for good and faithful service. The five commissioners will in fact be appointed by the Prime Minister on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. It goes without saying that these commissioners will be paid royally. Certainly, the annual commission budget is evaluated at $3 million. As well, the commissioners' appointments will be during pleasure, in other words they can be dismissed if they are found unsuitable and do not toe the party line.
After appointment, the commissioners will in turn appoint the members of the advisory council. There will be 24 of them, and they also will hold office during pleasure.
These 29 persons will therefore make up the Law Commission of Canada. With 29 partisan appointments, the Minister of Justice is setting up his own fan club. To be a member, all you have to do is be in the good graces of the Minister of Justice and be willing to go through three million dollars a year. This will be a fan club of intellectuals philosophizing on legal niceties. They will be so disconnected from reality that the Minister of Justice will not take long to realize his error and will put an end to this nonsense.
In looking at the reasons the old commission was dissolved we can understand why there ought not to be another. The old one was strongly criticized by the office of the Auditor General of Canada in the House. In 1985, it carried out an in depth analysis of the operations and administration of the defunct commission. In his report, the auditor general was critical of the commission's project management.
The following is very illuminating: "Since 1972, the commission has not revised its original research program or submitted a supplementary or a second program, despite extensive changes in its work. Also significant delays have occurred in carrying out its research program and significantly more resources have been committed to it than were envisaged in 1972. For example, none of the estimated completion dates was met, and many of the original projects are still in progress 10 years after their originally stated completion dates".
The auditor general went on to say that the program's effectiveness was not measured, there was a lack of guidelines concerning project management and a lack of control and supervision.
Clearly, the Minister of Justice never bothered to read the auditor general's report. He should have. The former commission, however, was rather proud of its record. In 1991, in the commission's twentieth annual report, the president at the time, Gilles Létourneau, eager to justify the commission's existence, wrote that on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary, the commission could be proud of the impressive number of its achievements, especially in the legislative field, that the commission was far more than an agency that made recommendations to Parliament on how to improve Canadian laws, that, in fact, it had initiated extensive research in various areas of the law, producing 33 reports, 63 working papers, 78 published studies and more than 300 supporting documents.
I would be curious to know where all those documents are gathering dust. It is all very well to say that the commission produced reams of documents, but to what purpose? In 20 years only three proposals for legislation were accepted by Parliament. The explanation is simple. A commission that operates in tandem with governments cannot hope to amend or improve the law if its amendments or reforms are not part of the legislative agenda of the government of the day.
The auditor general's report is very informative about this aspect as well, and I quote: "The commission, however, is not satisfied with its impact on legislative changes and readily acknowledges its modest record in comparison with that of other law reform commissions. Because of its statutory independence, it establishes its own programs and has not been asked by the Minister of Justice to carry out specific research activities. Therefore, the commission's areas of research and study often have not been high priority areas for government legislative agendas".
The dissatisfaction of the commissioners at the time seems to indicate that the former commission was more in need of direction and controls than independence and broad, poorly defined mandates. The Department of Justice never played its role as a supervisory body. The situation was allowed to deteriorate to the point that the government no longer had a choice. It had to get rid of the commission and merge some of its resources with the Department of Justice, leading to the creation of the law reform division.
I must say the approach taken by the Minister of Justice is not very sound. He calls the future commission a new and improved law reform commission of Canada. If he really wanted improvements, he would leave things as they are. He already has a new and improved commission within his own department. I fail to understand the justification provided by the Minister of Justice, because, aside from handing out goodies to friends, the future commission has no reason to exist.
Upon tabling the bill, the minister stated that Canada's legal system faced complex problems that deserved more than a legal solution. Effective and long-term solutions required an approach that considered legal, social, economic and other aspects. The federal government was of the opinion that an independent and multidisciplinary law reform body was essential to this process.
The future commission will never be independent, since it will be a fan club of the Minister of Justice. Even assuming that appointments to the commission would not be partisan, the Minister of Justice is heading straight for disaster. A more or less independent commission would operate exactly like the former commission, in other words, without controls and without supervision.
The Minister of Justice has not learned from the mistakes of the former commission. He preferred to ignore the auditor general's report which was very critical of the commission. He still does not realize that his department already has a division that is concerned specifically with law reform.
Those who ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. And that is exactly what the Minister of Justice is doing today. His ignorance will cost us three millions dollars annually. Another good reason to say yes on October 30.