Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this bill on the remedial measures in relation to administrative tribunals. It makes us realize that the government missed a great opportunity to transform the administrative tribunals and ensure their impartiality.
For several years now, whenever decisions have been made, we have realized that maybe people were appointed members of administrative tribunals without having the required qualifications, that maybe they were appointed because of their political affiliation, because of their party background during the years preceding their appointment. With this bill, the government had the opportunity to rectify some important aspects of the administrative tribunals, to clarify the situation and to ensure the independence of members of these tribunals.
At first, one might think that administrative tribunals is a rather uninteresting subject, but when one considers which tribunals are involved and what they deal with, one realizes how important these tribunals are. For example, let us take the agricultural products review board, the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, the Competition Tribunal, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.
Speaking of the CRTC, let us not forget the controversial decisions taken last year, which raised questions about the connections between the government and the companies who were presenting projects, about how they were able to influence the government, to lobby. This example alone should suffice to show that with this bill the government has missed an opportunity to get rid of patronage appointments and restore the independence of these tribunals.
The measures provided for by the President of the Treasury Board are of two kinds. First, they increase political influence on the removal for cause of members of these tribunals, the so called disciplinary measures. It will work this way: The chairperson of a tribunal will request an investigation and make a recommendation to the minister, who will study it at leisure. Nothing in the act compels the minister to go along with the recommendation if certain criteria are met.
There is no such condition, even if there were a recommendation by the chairperson of a tribunal saying that an individual is in a difficult situation because he or she has become incapacitated or has acted dishonourably or irresponsibly, or because his or her responsibilities and other activities were incompatible. Even if such a recommendation were made by the chairperson of a tribunal to the minister, the minister is free to decide whether to act on it or not.
In that sense, the government did not live up to its responsibilities because it did not specify what criteria the minister must use in approving recommendations made by the committees.
So, there seems to be some illusion in this, a little smoke screen to hide the facts, which are that the government still has, and has even increased its political control over the appointment and career path of members of administrative tribunals. In that sense, the government goes directly against the recommendations made by senior officials in the administrative process.
For example, on July 8, 1995, the president of the Quebec Bar Association was very clear in that regard when she stated that "the lack of job security may have an unexpected psychological impact on the decisions of a person who may be more concerned about pleasing the government than about rendering a fair judgment". This quote is taken from Le Soleil of July 8, 1995. It is very easy to read between the lines how the government will continue to use disciplinary measures against members of administrative tribunals
or how it will appoint the presidents of these administrative tribunals. The government has included in the legislation an important subtlety: from now on, tribunal presidents will be designated rather than appointed. Therefore, under political pressure, they could be removed at any time by the government. This clearly is an attack on the independence and impartiality of these tribunals.
In our system, it is also important that decisions be fair and appear to be fair so that it can be demonstrated that they were made in a climate and in conditions that are both desirable and acceptable.
When we look at the list, we see that there are all kinds of administrative tribunals. Some, such as the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, will make decisions affecting individuals who are in difficult situations and who do not always have the ability to defend themselves easily. If those having to make these kinds of decisions cannot act independently of the political power and of the people who appointed them, their decisions may be influenced by policies and political pressures.
I think we have seen in the Canadian federation that the more our judicial system is independent of the political power, the better it can play its role and lead to satisfactory results and decisions.
This decision will also have an impact on the future. When we speak of the Competition Tribunal or of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, it will be crucial to appoint people with unquestionable qualifications, and to avoid all political interference through the appointment of people who get these positions as a reward for their involvement in party politics and not because of their qualifications.
We have seen the consequences of this in the past. Decisions of bodies such as the Canadian International Trade Tribunal and the Competition Tribunal will have a great impact on the future.
Let us take example of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal. Let us say that a person is appointed to the tribunal and that, after two or three decisions, it is realized that the person has the tendency to make decisions that are protectionist in favour of Canada, while the government is a proponent of free trade. A recommendation could be made to the president of the tribunal to the effect that the person has failed in his or her duty, that he or she did not seem to be completely independent.
A recommendation could be made to the minister who would be able to decide according to his government's policy and not only to the relevance of having someone who is competent, who can make honest and impartial decisions and who will prove to be competent in the future. A minister may well be tempted for short term considerations to choose someone who think just like him, who will interpret the laws just like he does.
The role of members of administrative tribunals is not to please the government, but to make decisions according to the spirit of the law and giving satisfaction to the parties involved. Whether they win or loose, they must be told that the decision was based on the legislation and is not the result of some secret negotiations or political pressure, which would be unacceptable.
The Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board is another example of affected organizations. Transportation is an area where people need clear, apparent and impartial justice. The proposed changes will not allow that. These changes will rather have the effect of increasing political interference in these appointments and in the disciplinary measures that can be taken against members of administrative tribunals.
This is particularly true of the second aspect where the government is proposing to designate the chairpersons instead of appointing them. The chairperson of an administrative tribunal is somewhat like the director general of a tribunal. He or she is the person who can most influence the actions of these tribunals. If the chairperson is always worried that his or her decisions could irritate the government, he or she will be in a situation where he or she will tend to make decisions that will please the government, but which, in the long run, will tarnish the reputation of the administrative tribunal.
For all these reasons, I move, seconded by the member for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following:
"Bill C-49, An Act to authorize remedial and disciplinary measures in relation to members of certain administrative tribunals, to reorganize and dissolve certain federal agencies and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence."
This will give the parliamentary committee a chance to do its homework so that the government can give us a bill that will be more in line with what is needed to ensure the effectiveness of our administrative tribunals.