moved that Bill C-30, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-30, the parliamentarians' compensation bill.
The bill is the result of a commitment made by the Prime Minister to the Canadian people. On September 30 the Prime Minister said that the government would delink, or break the link, between the salaries of MPs and those of judges. He also said that the increase in salaries and the increase in MPs salaries would reflect essentially the increases negotiated by Canadians.
What we are doing today, in debating this and having introduced this bill into the House, is taking action on that commitment.
The bill is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated and follows the legislative process in the House of Commons. It is my hope that the legislation will go to committee for review and that it will come back to Parliament for a vote in the new year.
I think all MPs will want to deal with this question in the same straightforward manner. I know that at times issues like this are difficult issues to be debated on the floor of the House, but the government made a commitment to treat the compensation of parliamentarians separately and apart from that of judges. Therefore it is logical that we would take this step and present a bill independent of the Judges Act, which deals only with the compensation increases of parliamentarians, and deal with the question of compensation increases for judges in a subsequent bill.
In determining the compensation increases for parliamentarians, the bill itself describes a measure that tracks private sector wage increases as the benchmark that we would follow. The HRSD, or Human Resources and Skills Development, annual average wage settlement index tracks the wage settlements of the Canadian private sector, and so linking parliamentary compensation increases to this index will mean that parliamentarians will fare neither better nor worse than the people whom parliamentarians represent.
I would like to illustrate for a moment how straightforward and uncomplicated the bill is. The index used to measure the wage change is published every February. It documents the wage changes of the previous calendar year. Under Bill C-30, parliamentarians' compensation would receive the Human Resources and Skills Development index effective April 1, 2004.
There is support for making this move that the government is undertaking. I just want to flag a couple of editorials that reflected this. The following was stated in the Regina Leader-Post back in September:
MPs and cabinet ministers...work long, unsocial hours. However, workers in many other sectors can make the same argument, yet an average pay increase of 2.5 to 3.1 per cent is what most Canadians can expect to receive this year, according to government and private forecasters.
The National Post on October 2 also praised the decision by the Prime Minister to delink compensation increases for judges and MPs by stating:
The Prime Minister has also correctly recognized that there should be no correlation between remuneration for judges and politicians and is acting to correct the policy that arbitrarily weds the two to a single pay scale.
How did we end up with this particular index? We looked at number of indices before settling on the HRSD one. It had a number of advantages. For one, it is the only major index of private sector wage settlements that is widely available and easily accessible. When we look at the index itself and how it is made up, it is readily understood by everyone, and I believe, as I am sure many others will if they have the opportunity to look at this index, that it will be a fair and representative indicator of the general wage settlement trends in the economy.
It is also very important, and this again is an advantage of using this particular index, that we use an index that does not include wage increases negotiated by public servants because Parliament, from time to time, may need to legislate on public service compensation. Thus, using an index with a public sector component could in fact be perceived by some as putting Parliament in a conflict of interest.
Some people have put forward the cost of living index, COLA, which is used by Statistics Canada as a possible measure for linking MP compensation. However, what this particular index does is it tracks the prices as they rise and as they decline of the goods and services in the economy. It does not reflect the changes in wage increases received by Canadians across the country. The prices of commodities can rise and fall dramatically depending on trends in the economy. Therefore we believe that we should base salary changes for MPs on what is happening to Canadians in the economy, not on the supply and demand curves of goods and services.
For those reasons the government has chosen to use the private sector wage settlement index that is published by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development as it is an authoritative index. Both the government and industry use it. It is a data source that many use in analyzing wage settlement trends in our economy. It is published monthly in the Wage Settlements Bulletin and quarterly in the Workplace Gazette.
Therefore there is a lot of accessibility and there is I believe an understanding of what this index actually does and what it means for the economy. It covers a broad economy: primary industries, construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, transportation, education and health services, finance and professional services.
The index itself measures the average annual salary increase negotiated by collective bargaining for private sector units with 500 or more people. It is comprised of over 430 collective agreements in the private sector and these agreements apply across private sector units of 500 or more people. It means that the wage settlement data that we expect to use as an index are really reflective of what more than 8,000 people across the country are getting in terms of wage increases. It represents mostly a unionized workforce but it also has a very significant component of non-unionized employees as well, so there is that mix in this index.
For the reasons that I have laid out before the House, we think this index meets the test of linking the increases in compensation for parliamentarians to the increases obtained by Canadians. By aligning future compensation increases with changes in the private sector wage settlements, parliamentarians can be assured and will be assured that their salary increases will be the same as those of other Canadians.
The way it would work is that we would look at the average wage increase for the previous calendar year, which is published in February, and have an assessment We would then have the change reflected in the compensation for members of Parliament.
I would like to provide some background. As members know, parliamentarians received a 1.3% increase on April 1, 2004 based on the industrial aggregate average, which is also an index that is used to calculate annual changes in the compensation for judges. The base salary for MPs in 2003 had been $139,200. With this increase under the industrial aggregate average, it moved up to approximately $141,000, which is an increase of about 1.3% or $1,800.
Under the parliamentarians' compensation bill, Bill C-30, parliamentarians would receive increases in line with the HRSD index for 2003 with an effective date of April 1, 2004. The HRSD index itself for 2003, which was published in February 2004, was 1.5%, not 1.3%. If we were to apply Bill C-30, that would mean an increase of about $2,000 to MPs' salaries, or MPs' compensation, rather than the $1,800. I wanted to make that clear because there has been some confusion on this.
The new index would provide for a slightly higher increase than is provided for under the current legislation but that increase reflects the increases received in the private sector in Canada. In effect, it means that parliamentarians would be getting the same increase as the people who they represent.
As we go forward into the future, the legislation would establish a system for receiving salary increases in what I think will be a very uncomplicated and straightforward manner. This is a commitment the Prime Minister made to Canadians and it is a commitment fulfilled. It is an example of another commitment that we are following through on.
The government has a track record of following through on commitments. We believe that Canadians can benefit from strong communities, a strong economy and from a nation that is a strong player on the international stage.
When we talk about commitments we not only talk about that commitment, but we can also talk in the context of what the government has accomplished and what the government is intending to do. We can look at the health care commitment of $41.3 billion in an agreement with the provinces and territories. It is a deal that will enhance health care for the next decade. It will also provide benchmarks for performance, which is something the Prime Minister talked about and committed to. This will ultimately result in reduced patient wait times for diagnosis and treatment.
Canadians have the commitment with respect to this legislation on parliamentary salaries, the commitment in health care and the commitment, which we are following through on, in the early childhood development and lifelong learning. We are laying the groundwork, which has been laid in conjunction with the provinces and territories. Dialogue is ongoing and ultimately we will end up with a program of early learning and child care.
When we talk about commitments with respect to Bill C-30, commitments in health care, commitments in early learning, in the economy, when we think of the reduction in debt and the $100 billion tax cut, all of these are commitments that we have maintained. What I am suggesting to the House is that the government is committed to fulfilling and seeing this legislation become law.
Through this particular act we have acted on our other commitments, whether it is in health care or on the $100 million investment in the redevelopment of Ford Motor Company in Oakville, or the new deal for cities, we are fulfilling the commitments.
While we talk about our domestic goals and fulfilling those domestic commitments, and this is certainly one of them, it is also fair to say that we also strive as part of our overall objective to strengthen Canada's influence in the world. We have seen a lot of work to that end very recently with the Prime Minister in different parts of the world ensuring that Canada's voice is heard in building and rebuilding fractured states and ensuring that democracy is alive and well, whether it is Ukraine or whether in going to Iraq. We are committed to meeting our goals and objectives.
Bill C-30 is pretty straightforward. There is an index. It will reflect Canadian wage settlements. It will essentially reflect the wage increases that Canadians receive. We represent these Canadians. I believe parliamentarians work very hard and are very dedicated, as are Canadians. They also work very hard and are very dedicated in whatever sector they work.
We have taken the opportunity to bring forward legislation to tie this index to the salaries of members of Parliament. The legislation makes sense. It is clear, straightforward and very transparent.
I do think that we are on the right track on this. That is reflected in a number of editorials. I am hopeful that when others get up to speak on this particular piece of legislation they will look at the legislation for what it is and send it to committee.
This bill will follow the regular process. This is not about bringing a bill into the House just to have it proceed very quickly because it is about MPs' compensation. It is about putting this on the floor of the House to put in place a very transparent and simple, straightforward way of dealing with this issue. I think that in fact this is what Bill C-30 does.
As I have said, this is a commitment that was made by the Prime Minister this September to delink increases in parliamentary salaries from those received by judges. It links them to those received by Canadians in the private sector.
We have moved quickly on that commitment and have introduced this bill, Bill C-30. Members of the House will now have the opportunity to fulfill that commitment made to the Canadian people.
I think I should also be very clear and say that this is up to Parliament. Parliamentarians will decide whether this legislation will proceed. I do believe that once the legislation is reviewed and once we hear from others in the House we will build some support and a consensus that this legislation go through. I believe it is the right thing to do and I certainly hope the members of the House on all sides will come together and help us do just that.