Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I spoke to Motion No. 1, which I moved, and I indicated the Bloc Quebecois' position. Subsequently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice asked me the Bloc's position on the bill. I want to make sure we clearly understand each other and am going to take a few minutes to explain it.
As we are giving judges increases I consider unjustified at the moment because of the state of public finances and because billions of dollars are being taken away from people who need it and as the aim of my motion was to prevent this increase of approximately 13% from being given to the judges, it is understandable that, if my amendment is passed, we will support the bill in its entirety, because there are good things in it, things that are in response to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
I want to set things straight. The basis of this bill is good, because the government is responding to a decision by the Supreme Court. However, since it waters down to such an extent the remarks made by the highest court on the remuneration of judges, we will understandably vote against the bill if the motion is not passed.
That said, I wish to tell the Reform Party that the Bloc Quebecois will support Motion No. 2, since it is important. I think it is more responsive to the Supreme Court decision, and that its aim specifically is to clarify the increases that might be given to federal court justices in the future.
The motion calls for three paragraphs to be added to clause 6 of the bill to ensure greater detail or to involve parliamentarians more. I do not want to play teacher, but I think that, to clearly understand the Reform motion, one must look at the context and, in particular, examine the clause where the amendment is desired.
Clause 6 creates the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission. It is mandated, at intervals set out in the act, to examine the Judges Act in order to determine adequacy of salaries, whether the act needs to be amended and whether the judges have reported comments to this Commission, and then to report to the Minister of Justice.
Paragraph (1) describes the mandate of the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission. Paragraph (2) states that an inquiry is to be held every fourth year, starting with September 1, 1999. Paragraph (3) states that the Commission must report to the Minister of Justice. Paragraph (4) refers to the possibility of initiating inquiries at the minister's request.
Paragraph (5) refers to extensions, in case the commission wants more time before submitting the report. If the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission does not have enough time to produce the report, it may obtain an extension under the act.
Paragraph (6) states as follows:
(6) The Minister shall table a copy of the report in each House of Parliament on any of the first ten days on which that House is sitting after the Minister receives the report.
The Reform Party amendment follows paragraph (6) of this clause and adds the following:
(6.1) A report that is tabled in each House of Parliament under subsection (6) shall, on the day it is tabled or if the House is not sitting on that day, on the day that House next sits, be referred by that House to a committee of that House that is designated or established by that House for the purpose of considering matters relating to Justice.
As we know, the Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the one that would be mandated, or given jurisdiction, to examine the report tabled in this House.
The next paragraph, (6.2) in the Reform amendment to the bill, states:
(6.2) A committee referred to in subsection (6.1) may conduct inquiries or public hearings in respect of a report referred to it under that subsection, and if it does so, the committee shall, not later than ninety sitting days after the report is referred to it, report its findings to the House that designated or established the committee.
This is the important part. A report is submitted to the minister, the minister tables it in this House and the Senate, and everything stops there. Yet, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is authorized to examine it and is very familiar with everything connected with the Judges Act and other related acts.
If the Reform Party's amendments were passed, members of this committee could hold an inquiry and hearings. Why? For one thing, the committee would have the very specific goal of coming up with amendments that would reflect the public's wishes. All members of parliament are elected to represent the constituents in their respective ridings. We are, I believe, very well placed to know how the public feels about a given issue. Right now, I am sure that a 13.8% increase for judges would not fly, when we know that they are earning, on average, $140,000 a year or thereabouts.
The committee tasked with studying the report could report to this House that it had heard such and such a witness from the general public and that the increase was not warranted, or not large enough, because we do not know what shape the public purse will be in in ten years. Perhaps that would be the time to increase the salaries of judges, public servants and people generally.
Once the poverty problem has been solved and the money currently being stolen by the federal government through brutal cuts has been put back into health, education and social assistance, then and only then might it be the right time to consider giving a raise to judges, public servants, deputy ministers and, why not, members of parliament, the Prime Minister and so on. But now is not the time, and if it had given serious consideration to the report, I think the committee would have told the minister not to raise the salaries of judges right now.
Perhaps the parliamentary committee will have to give some thought to the amendment put forward by the Reform Party, which I think also responds to a rather widespread desire among members. We sit regularly on these committees, give a great deal of our time and take our job there very seriously. I for one at least work very hard at the justice committee and, given the time and energy we put into our committee work, we are not involved enough.
I think that, ultimately, an amendment like this one will enhance the role of MPs, perhaps, allowing them to make more of a contribution on a bill or a very specific aspect like the salaries of judges and all the various benefits they get.
I will conclude by repeating that we will vote in favour of the Reform amendment because it supports the objective of transparency demanded by the public and, above all, the contribution the people of my riding and every riding across Canada and in Quebec want their elected representatives make.