Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the government's concurrence motion on Senate amendments to Bill C-37.
For the record, this is the second occasion I have had the opportunity to state Reform's opposition to this bill. This is a bill which grants judges an unprecedented salary increase of 8.3% and establishes a judicial compensation and benefits commission.
The official opposition is grateful for the amendment put forward by our colleague from Crowfoot. We are grateful that it was supported and passed in this House during report stage of Bill C-37.
The Reform amendment ensures that every four years the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has the opportunity to review the report of the commission on judges' salaries and benefits. This task will not be left solely to the Minister of Justice as originally contemplated by the government.
However, this amendment has not swayed our opposition to the bill. It has simply made it more palatable. The Reform Party still stands firmly opposed to Bill C-37.
As stated repeatedly in this House during all stages of the bill, other public servants and Canadians in general have not been afforded the same wage increase as that granted to the judges by Bill C-37. At a time when Canadian incomes continue to decline we cannot support such an unprecedented hike in salary.
According to a June 10 Ottawa Citizen article, family incomes are still dropping and as a result Canadians need to stretch the family budget to keep a roof over their heads. While housing costs eased during the first half of the decade, family income declined even more. That nudged a proportion of Canadians who spend at least 30% of their income on shelter to one in four households, or almost 2.8 million households. These findings, released by Statistics Canada, were derived from the 1996 census.
Another Citizen article, published on the same date, revealed that more and more two-parent families had both parents in the workforce in 1996, while at the same time the number of children left at home was increasing.
Statistics Canada reported that the overall lower income among Canadians in 1996 was the reason both parents were being forced into the labour market. Stats Canada has also reported that the majority of Canadian children, 4.8 million under the age of 15, lived in two parent families in 1996. Of those children 60% had both parents in the workforce, up from 43% in 1981.
In light of this information regarding the income of Canadians, in good conscience the Reform Party cannot support the bill. In the same vein we cannot support the government's concurrence in the Senate amendments.
I recognize the thorough job the Senate did in reviewing the bill and the substantive amendments put forward by the upper house. In particular I single out Liberal Senator Anne Cools for her diligent efforts in revealing the inadequacies of the bill.
Senator Cools rightfully exposed the fact that Bill C-37 effectively allows judges to set their own salaries and perks. In doing so it sets up the possibility of there being a showdown between parliament and the judiciary because it allows judges to appeal parliament's decision regarding a recommended salary increase in the courts. Essentially judges could have the final say over whether parliamentarians are giving them a sufficient raise.
Although former judicial pay commissioner David Scott has said that it is unlikely judges would be setting their own salaries, he has not ruled out the possibility of the judiciary challenging parliament's response to the commission's recommendations.
The judiciary would have to prove, however, in a court that the refusal to increase salaries or a decision to lower them was motivated by a wish to diminish the independence of judges. Mr. Scott said that even if the judges won in such a case the court could only declare parliament's motion on the issue void, which may result in a stalemate.
As pointed out by the Liberal senator this will:
—deprive Canadians of their undoubted constitutional right to the representative assembly's control over the public purse in respect of judicial salaries.
Clearly control of the public purse rests with parliament and not with the judiciary. Section 100 of the 1867 Constitution Act states in part:
The salaries, allowances and pensions of the judges...shall be fixed and provided by the Parliament of Canada.
Clause 6 of Bill C-37 potentially abolishes the true parliamentary role in the fixing of judges salaries. We must obviously question why the Minister of Justice has bestowed such potentially wielding powers on the judiciary in Bill C-37.
One can only surmise, and again I use the thoughts and words of Senator Cools when she said:
The real intent (of Bill C-37) is to remove parliament from the process.... There is a problem in that certain particular judges seem to crave a closeness to certain individuals in the Department of Justice and are trying to cling, closer and closer, to the executive rather than to parliament. In other words, honourable senators, what is happening here is that 200 years of history are being turned on their head, and we are being told in this judgment that, quite frankly, judges prefer their fate to be in the hands of the executive rather than in the hands of parliament. It is a most curious and interesting subject matter.
I will turn specifically to the amendments put forward by the Senate. Amendments 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8 delete all the clauses referring to two spouses. Bill C-37, as originally drafted by the Department of Justice, created a legal right for a judge to have two spouses. The two spouses clause was meant to deal with a circumstance in which a married judge separates from his or her partner, moves into a common law relationship with another person and then dies. Once law, it would allow a judge to have both spouses, married and common law, eligible for the lucrative pension payouts and divide the money between them when the judge dies.
Additionally the common law spouse would collect the one time payout of one-sixth of the judge's annual salary at the time of death.
Former Supreme Court Justice Willard Estey has said that these particular Bill C-37 amendments would give his former colleagues on the bench the right to a kind of home-made harem. It would, Estey said:
—effectively create two separate sets of family law—one for judges and one for everyone else.
It has been well established that situations such as the one contemplated in Bill C-37 are rare. One therefore must question why such a clause was put in Bill C-37. Critics have suggested that this clause was tailor made for Chief Justice LeSage who is separated from his wife and has resided for about one year with Judge Lang. If Chief Justice LeSage were to die, the new amendment would allow both Judge Lang and Mrs. LeSage to qualify as his surviving spouses and share his pension.
As pointed out earlier, Senator Cools, as well as many others, have surmised that Bill C-37 appears tailored to fit particular individuals. Senator Cools said:
We have a situation in the country where certain individuals have access to the legislative writing machine. That is bothersome.
This certainly is not the first time the government has tailor made legislation. Previous amendments to the Judges Act introduced during the last parliament under Bill C-42 set out terms in which Canadian judges could participate in international activities, although it was never explicitly admitted by the government—it was no secret—that those amendments to the Judges Act arose due to the appointment of Madam Justice Louise Arbour to the United Nations as prosecutor for the War Crimes Commission.
I commend the Senate and support those amendments eliminating this tailor made clause of Bill C-37, clauses which, as stated by Senator Cools, “script their sins into the laws of the nation”.
We do not support, however, Amendment No. 3 which adds subclauses to clause 6 of Bill C-37. Clause 6 establishes the judicial compensation and benefits commission. These subclauses effectively expand the powers of the commission, powers which were not contemplated or countenanced in the original bill. Specifically we take issue with section (1.1)(a) which reads:
In conducting its inquiry, the commission shall consider (a) the prevailing economic conditions in Canada, including the cost of living, and the overall economic and current financial position of the federal government.
What exactly does this mean? How expansive are the powers of the commission? Does the reference to the current financial position of the federal government mean the commission will have the power to call the Minister of Finance before it to question him on our financial status? If such powers are vested with the commission, it is setting a dangerous precedent, a precedent the official opposition cannot support.
During his appearance before the Senate committee reviewing Bill C-37 former commission chairman David Scott clearly questioned statutorily defining criteria as proposed by the Senate. In fact Mr. Scott went so far as to say:
I am not sure what the relevant criteria would be.... I am not saying that there should not be any criteria, but once you start down the road of developing criteria, you may create a monster.
Clearly the Senate's amendment goes against the advice of the former commissioner.
As stated earlier, the official opposition does not support the government's concurrence motion. Nor do we support any expansion of the commission's powers, powers which were not originally contemplated by the government and the House.
A decision of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island forced the federal government to establish a judicial compensation commission. Bill C-37, as originally introduced, meets that legal obligation. Senate Amendment No. 3 is therefore unnecessary.
I caution the government's wisdom in accepting all the Senate amendments, particularly given the expanded powers of the commission which may involve additional time and travel for their inquiries, time and travel which may cost additional expenditure of funds that were not originally contemplated by the royal recommendation of Bill C-37. I am not emphatically stating that there is a violation. I am simply raising a flag for the record.
In closing, I reiterate the Reform Party's position. We stand opposed to Senate Amendment No. 3. We stand opposed to the outrageous salary increase for judges at a time when financial pressures on Canadian families continue to increase as their quality of life decreases.
It is incredible that we sit in this place in consideration of a windfall increase in pay for judges while in my home province of British Columbia public safety is being put at risk through reduced law enforcement due to the gutting of RCMP budgets.
In my constituency a police car which sustains more than $4,000 damage is parked because there is no money to get it repaired. There is not enough money to replace worn tires on patrol cars, putting both police and public at risk. Store owners fear loss of business as customers run a gauntlet of crack cocaine dealers because police lack the money and resources to deal effectively with them.
We stand opposed to the concurrence motion.