Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to address Bill C-12, an act to amend the Judges Act and to amend another act in consequence.
Before I begin this opportunity to address government legislation for the first time, I should like to thank my constituents in the riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre for having granted me the opportunity and honour of representing them in this notable House.
Bill C-12 proposes an 11.2% salary increase for 1,013 federally appointed judges retroactive to April 2000. No one can be faulted for requesting a pay raise. Let us be honest. Who would not like a pay raise? What bothers me is our federal government's willingness to grant substantial pay increases to individuals who are already making what most Canadians would see as a very good living.
In the meantime, one of the mainstays of our Canadian economy, Canadian farmers, including many in my own riding, time and again have to come to the federal government for the funds needed simply to stay alive.
Back in my home province of Saskatchewan, the 2000 net farm income is projected to be 35% of the five year average taken from 1995 to 1999, and that was a bad five years. That is a 65% decrease. For 2001, total net income is projected to drop further, from $251 million to $141 million. This is only 20% of the 1995 to 1999 average, or an 80% decrease in income. The five year average, as I mentioned, already has two bad years of income included in it.
The government's attempt to get support to farmers, the AIDA program, has failed the majority of our farm families. This is why the farmers have and will continue to come to have their voices heard on the Hill. Only 60% of that emergency aid has even reached the farmers. Over a quarter of the claims for 1999 remain unprocessed by the federal government and the farmers want to know why it is taking so long. The money promised over two years ago by the minister of agriculture for losses in 1998 and 1999 needs to be delivered, but they still do not have their money. Because of the years of farm policy failure by the Liberal government, farm families need an immediate cash injection. They demanded this. The funds that were given were merely an insult to them.
I know it seems that I have wandered from the topic as I mention the farm crisis, but Bill C-12 seems to reward some people who are already doing very well and are not in a crisis at all. We are able to easily come up with money to hand to them. The apparent contrast of these two issues begs the question: where are the government's priorities?
Many constituents of mine in the riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre are disillusioned with the government due to its uncanny ability to make decisions that fail to address the real issues affecting real people.
I want to be clear. I am not saying that judges are not real people, that they do not have real needs and that they do not have a right to have the government's attention for their real and often valid concerns. What I am saying is that to the majority of my constituents and, I would venture to assume, to the majority of Canadians, granting federal judges a salary increase of almost 20% in a three year period is not an important priority.
How can the government justify giving its federal court judges an additional salary increase of 11.2% over and above the already given 8.2% increase that they received in 1997? How will this proposed pay increase help fix the current backlog in federal court cases? Will the federal court be 11.2% more efficient in dealing with the current backlog of court cases?
The Auditor General of Canada recently stated in his February 2001 report that government departments must do a better job at providing value for money. In other words, the auditor general is asking government departments if taxpayers are getting true value for the government's spending of their tax dollars.
This very day I attended on the Hill a symposium in which we were told that value for money would be a valid criteria by which we should judge government actions and government programs. I ask this question of the government with respect to proposed Bill C-12: how will this pay increase provide value for money for Canadians and for their taxpayer dollars? How will giving the average judge an increase of approximately $19,000 to $20,000 in salary address the roots of the problem the federal courts are facing today?
Although I am no economist, I did a little math to try to shed some light on the amount of dollars being spent on this legislation. If one takes the salary of the lowest paid judge, according to Bill C-12 itself, and adds an 11.2% increase, it means a minimum salary increase of nearly $20,000 to every federal court judge. If we multiply $20,000 by the number of federal court judges whose salaries will be increased, there is a total salary increase of over $19 million. Is this money, $19 million for only 1,000 people, well spent?
There is a need for an improved judiciary system. As my colleague has mentioned already, there are plenty of lawyers to fill these positions; the Prime Minister has a list. Yet all he can think about is increasing their salaries. The problem requires more imagination than simply adding money. More money in the hands of judges does nothing to address any of the problems.
In closing, I do not support Bill C-12 on the basis of four points. First, it fails to address the vital questions of integrity and honesty regarding the appointment process used by the Prime Minister and the government. Second, it fails to meet the reasonable expectations of Canadians in regard to how their judicial system should serve them. Third, the bill fails to address any backlogs presently being experienced. Fourth, it fails to meet the taxpayers' demand for a reasonable return on their hard earned tax money.