Mr. Speaker, the motivation for this bill is very unusual. I want to speak to this bill and to this particular amendment.
I begin by pointing out to the House that when this bill was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights only two witnesses appeared. We had Mr. David W. Scott, the author of the Scott report which had the recommendations that my hon. colleague across the way referred to, and we had the commissioner for federal judicial affairs. Only two witnesses.
We had asked for other witnesses. We asked for two constitutional lawyers who would have been able to answer some of the questions I had concerning the contents of the bill and the motivation for the bill. Even though the committee had time we were denied that. It had originally scheduled time to hear 10 witnesses. It appears that at least six refused to appear to give testimony to the committee on this bill. The witnesses we had asked for were not asked to attend. This was a decision made by the Liberal majority on the committee.
What do we have in this bill? I support my hon. colleague's motion. I will not spend as much time as my colleagues and others in this House will on the raises the judges will be receiving if this bill is passed without this particular amendment.
Over the next two years, the Chief Justice of Canada will receive a $17,000 increase in pay. The other justices will receive the same. The chief justice and associate chief justice of the Federal Court and Tax Court of Canada will receive a $15,000 increase in pay. Justices of the federal court will receive $13,000. When we get to the superior courts, the chief justice and associate chief justice will receive a $15,000 increase in pay over the next two years. Justices of the superior court will receive a $13,000 increase.
I agree with my hon. colleague that that is quite a raise in pay, considering that at this particular time there are families with children who are struggling to make ends meet. They are making $35,000 and less. The chief justices now make $208,200. Other justices of the Supreme Court of Canada make $192,000. I think a lot of Canadians would agree that that is a pretty comfortable salary.
Yes we have to attract top qualified people to the courts but nevertheless this is a subject that should be discussed in this House. I think my hon. colleague brought forward this amendment for that very purpose, to enable this matter to be looked at and debated and not rushed through this House unexamined as the bill was rushed through the justice committee.
I want to touch for a moment on the motivation for this bill in the first place. It was motivated by a ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada on the P.E.I. and Alberta cases where it was determined that a commission must be set up by all provincial governments as well as the federal government to examine the benefits and pay of judges. Recommendations must go to the government.
The problem with this is that it has been determined, if I understand correctly and I believe that I do, that if the government of a province or the federal government does not follow through with the recommendation, it can be taken to court. It can go to the Supreme Court of Canada. If the decision of the supreme court indicates that the decision of that government is not reasonable and that the raise or other benefits should be provided, that can be construed as interference by the Government of Canada or the government of a province into the judicial independence of the courts.
When I read Justice LaForest's dissenting opinion he said clearly what I think the common sense of this country would support. He indicated that any interference in any decision by any government, whether federal or provincial, that deals with judges pay or benefits that is not satisfactory to a court, including the supreme court of this country, ought not to be considered as an interference with the judicial independence of the court.
There is another area of grave concern which this bill raises. If the Parliament of Canada goes along with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, there is also an interference, an abridgement or an encroachment upon the supremacy of parliament to tax because the pay of judges comes from the public purse.
Suppose that the economic conditions of this country are such that everyone must take a pay reduction and the courts feel that that pay reduction is unacceptable or unfair, their subjective assessment is that it is not fair. According to that decision if the governments of this land do not want to face the consequences of the inference that that decision to reduce their pay interferes with the judicial independence of the court, then they are going to have to be guided by a decision of the court to tax the people in order to pay their salaries and benefits.
This is wrong. I agree with the dissenting opinion of Judge LaForest in this particular area. For the House of Commons to bring in this kind of bill in response to that decision of the Supreme Court of Canada is wrong as well. When they do that and refuse to bring in witnesses who could address some of the concerns that I and other members of the committee and perhaps this House have on that issue, this is wrong again.
What we are seeing is an encroachment by the powers of the judiciary into the supremacy of parliament not only to pass laws but also in the area of taxation. This is very serious. This is why I cannot support this bill.
My recommendation to members of the House, certainly my caucus but the rest of the members of this House is that we had better examine this very carefully because of the consequences of moving in concert with that judgment. If it is not challenged, where is it going to end?
I see that my time is up. I appreciate the indulgence of the Chair and the House. I will continue my debate when we arrive at the next amendment to this bill.