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House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judiciary.

Topics

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord and to the question that followed.

I would like to specify that the income splitting measure announced by our new government last week will give retirees a billion dollars to help them meet their needs.

I recognize that there has to be a balance between federal and provincial judges' income. I am sure that provincial governments will have the means to make this happen once our government has followed through on its promise to correct the fiscal imbalance.

My question is about something the member mentioned in his speech that I believe to be inaccurate: sometimes employees do earn more than their superiors. I would like to suggest an example.

I think it is important that judges be well paid. I am sure my colleague would agree. As the saying goes, “You pay peanuts, you get monkey”. It is important to have a well-paid judiciary so that it can do its duty freely.

My question is this: A hospital administrator manages doctors, yet gets paid less than they do. In spite of that, the hospital runs well. Does my colleague agree that, since a hospital administrator earns less than doctors, it follows that members of the judiciary could earn more than members of Parliament?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, a distinction must be drawn. I can reply, but it is a matter of judges’ salaries.

Having been director of personnel in a hospital for two years I know that we need to remember that doctors are paid on a fee-for-service basis. In Quebec, there is a health insurance remuneration system. In a hospital, the chief of staff does not earn more, so far as I know, than the president and CEO, even though he is a medical doctor. He is the one who liaises with the medical and dental staff, but he is part of the administration.

When I was the personnel director, I was in category 14, the chief of staff was in category 15, and the president and CEO was in category 21. Indeed physicians are paid on a fee-for-service basis and have hospital privileges. However physicians working in the hospital in Lévis for instance, like Dr. Georges L'Espérance, who did a carpal tunnel operation on me recently, have operating privileges there but are not employees of this hospital. My example was more in relation to the private sector where there is a salary structure for managers and one for unionized employees. I do not think we can go on debating this for very long.

The hon. member should consider something else in regard to this bill. The Bloc Québécois does not necessarily support it at any price. To prove it, the Bloc favours the old system under which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court earns as much as the Prime Minister. Under this bill, the Chief Justice, the most senior public servant appointed by the Prime Minister, will earn $3,000 more than the Prime Minister. We think that is unacceptable.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the chief whip of the Bloc Québécois told us that the previous Liberal government originated the current system for remunerating judges. He also told us that the Liberals are now doing an about-face and supporting this new legislation introduced by the Conservatives.

I would like to ask the chief whip of the Bloc Québécois, who has sat on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for many years, if he would try to explain this radical shift, to say the least, on the part of our Liberal colleagues.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is simply an attempt to play politics with the issue of salary increases for parliamentarians. The committee had suggested a much higher salary increase. In order to look good to the public, if parliamentarians were in the same boat as judges, in terms of salary, then they could say it was common knowledge and that was how things worked.

However, when the independent commission suggested a larger salary increase, the Liberal government of the time panicked and said it was outrageous, that the salary increases were too big and that people would complain. Nonetheless, the commission made its decision and we no longer vote on our own salary increases. We leave it up to this neutral, independent and credible agency. Because it is panicking, the government is now saying that this will be all right for judges, but that it is outrageous for parliamentarians.

The Bloc Québécois is sticking to what it said in 2004. Those who are watching us could conclude that apparently only the Bloc is against this bill. We are against it because we want to be consistent with the position we took at the time.

In 2004, we maintained that what the government wanted to do was outrageous. We were opposed to it since it was not a matter of supporting a salary increase for judges because the government had gone ahead with this reform. We are simply being consistent with what we said then. We said we would react this way when they introduced the bill on increasing judges' salaries. We expected the Conservative government to change its mind and not behave like its Liberal predecessor. However, it is behaving exactly the same way—

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has the floor.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, for once I can disagree with my whip, and I will do it at the beginning of my speech. Because we are at third reading stage, this bill will unfortunately be passed or rejected by this House and therefore cannot be referred back to committee.

As I said, I have rarely disagreed with my whip in this House, and I am doing it now because he thought that we could reconsider Bill C-17, which we have already examined. I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and we examined this bill after second reading, only a few days ago.

It is strange, extremely strange even, how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Liberals had set up the same system for judges, and to avoid upsetting them, upsetting judges or whoever it might be, the Conservatives have decided to go ahead with it.

I will begin by saying that establishing the salaries of federal judges is an obligation set out in the Canadian Constitution. The federal government must pay judges’ salaries, and there have always been problems. We saw this in committee. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada appeared before us to explain his view of things, as did senior officials, and everyone is in a quandary.

Do I dare to use the expression? Judges’ salaries, with all due respect for the entire judiciary, are like a hot potato in the hands of the various levels of government, and the various political parties have a little trouble with this. The only party that does not is the Bloc Québécois. We do not aspire to power, and we are in this House until a majority of Quebecers decide to take the path of sovereignty for Quebec. We therefore have no axe to grind. We believe that we can speak to the people of Canada and say: enough is enough.

Listen, Your Honour. Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, if I referred to you as a judge. You would then deserve a much higher salary because, and this is what I was saying, if we give our consent to going ahead with Bill C-17, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada will be earning more money than the Prime Minister who appointed her. That does not make any sense. I do not and will never agree that the Prime Minister of Canada should earn less money than the top government bureaucrat. I do not agree with this.

The Chief Justice would then earn $298,500, the Prime Minister would earn $295,400 and superior court judges would earn over $240,000 retroactively to January 1, 2004, under this bill. That will result in undue pressure and I am going to try to say it in my own words, by virtue of my 25 years of practice in criminal law.

I have pleaded before provincial judges in Quebec, before Superior Court judges who were presiding over trials, and obviously before the Quebec Court of Appeal. I have pleaded before to the Supreme Court as well, of course. Today, on this splendid November 9, there is a gap of almost $50,000 between the salary of a judge of the Superior Court and a judge of the Quebec Court. That gap will increase. What will happen then? Either there will be a total lack of interest or the governments of the provinces, in particular the Quebec government, will be forced to increase the salaries of their judges to meet, if they can, the salaries of the Superior Court judges. That will cost a lot of money.

The Bloc Québécois does not agree with giving a salary increase of 7.25% effective April 1, 2004, accompanied by legislated indexation on the first of April each year.

Why is the increase 7.25? We did some research and as of April 1, 2004, the increase in the cost of living was 2.5%. Why then give an addition 5%, especially considering the salaries. We are not talking about a salary of $22,000 or $30,000 but an annual salary of almost $250,000; 7.25% of $250,000 is a lot of money.

Even if we were the only ones to say it, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is unacceptable and that the people of Canada do not agree with it. At least, they would not agree if they were well informed, as we are here in this House, as we were at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when all the experts told us that it was much too high.

We would like the judicial compensation and benefits commission to be able to do its work. Here is what happens. Given that the government has a hot potato, it creates the judicial compensation and benefits commission. The commission makes its report, but the government is not satisfied; it rejects the report and asks the commission to start over. Whether they are Liberal or Conservative that is how governments have acted for several years, for far too long.

They had found the solution by creating the judicial compensation and benefits commission. At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, we had the opportunity to hear from the chair of the commission, Mr. McLennan, as well as two members, Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Cherniak. They told us that they had done their work; they investigated all sides of the issue and met with everyone. They made their recommendations.

Why does the government interfere in areas that do not concern it? Let the commission do its work and we will see what happens. Having said that, the commission did its work and we should have adopted their report. That would have solved all the problems.

Like the previous government, the Conservatives were being hypocritical. They refused to recognize the work done by this commission and instead introduced a bill. This bill is very complicated. It creates different classes: appeal court judges, federal court of appeal judges, federal court judges, judges who sit in the North, judges who sit less in the North than those who regularly go there and for less time. They are making Swiss cheese of judges’ salaries. Salaries will be so cut up that no one will be able to figure them out, when the commission had solved the problem.

What we are proposing is an independent procedure for setting salaries, not just for judges but for parliamentarians as well.

There is no question of increasing MPs’ salaries to $300,000—we should not get carried away—but what we have always wanted, and what worked, was that MPs’ salaries would follow the lead of the judicial compensation and benefits commission. MPs’ salaries were added to ensure that they did not vote themselves excessive increases.

I was not in the House at the time but listened to the debate. I was a lawyer practising in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and there was a meeting of the bar where this was discussed. We thought it was a good idea and that MPs, their staffs and judges would no longer be in a conflict of interest. But they decided to cut that.

Judges' compensation will therefore be subject to Bill C-17 and, according to what the government says, it will get around to parliamentarians’ salaries when it has time.

We would have wanted judges’ salaries to be based on the same indexing procedure as parliamentarians’ so that they would rise each year at the same rate as the salaries of unionized employees of large businesses in the private sector, so about 2.4%. Everyone should have cost-of-living adjustments.

Why does this government want to put judges in a class of their own with a 7.25% increase retroactive to January 2004, and then add a cost of living adjustment?

The Minister of Justice and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice came before the committee and told us that the independence of judges had to be protected. For heaven’s sake. I think that at $250,000 a year, judges’ independence is quite nicely protected. Why give them another 7.25% a year, retroactive to January 2004? Judges are going to end up with salaries of nearly $280,000. That is too much in our view.

We will therefore oppose this bill. Even if they are the only ones in this House to do so, the members from the Bloc Québécois will oppose the bill. Sadly, the bill is likely to pass anyway, since the Liberals, who are playing the same politics as the Conservatives, will probably go for generous salary increases for judges. Perhaps some of them harbour ambitions of sitting on the bench. Time will tell, but I do not think that the public will tolerate this kind of thing for very long. Again, as we said before, we want judges' salaries to be determined using the same indexing mechanism used for parliamentarians. Given that our salaries are now subject to a yearly indexation of 2.4%, we cannot see why that same increase could not apply to judges.

Before closing, I want to add that we would like the government to reinstate the statutory obligation to tie the salaries of parliamentarians to those of judges.

I have five minutes remaining. I shall not rush therefore to conclude. Questions will be answered later, as there are ten minutes provided for that. I can see that my hon. colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse is anxious to put a question to me. I will gladly answer him. I have a pretty good idea of what his question will be.

We have called for a separate method of appointing judges to the Supreme Court. At present, they are appointed by the Prime Minister from a list.

We wanted Quebec, the government of the province concerned, as the case may be, or the region where a position needs to be filled to be able to submit a closed list of candidates to be reviewed by a committee including federal members before being sent to the federal Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister for final selection.

The Liberals had grasped that. I hope that the Conservatives will as well. We would like essentially the same method, with committee reviews, to be used for appointing judges to federal courts.

I should remind members that, for the Bloc Québécois, the independence of the judiciary is essential to the safeguarding of our judicial system. I will not denigrate anyone in this House by saying that all parliamentarians believe that the independence of the judiciary is one of the fundamental principles of our judicial system. I think that is what everyone believes.

We would like a system whereby the process for appointing judges, and Superior Court judges in particular, is a non-partisan one.

At present, it is the same as before. In other words, the Liberals appointed Liberals and the Conservatives appoint Conservatives. We had proof at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, when the Minister of Justice came to tell us that he had received a list containing only the names of people with Liberal allegiances. He asked the committee to redo its homework, and suddenly there appeared the names of potential judges who had made their careers, helped and worked for the Conservative Party. This is unacceptable.

I sat on the judicial appointment committee in Quebec. Clearly I had no aspiration to be made a judge, but I sat on the committee. It is independent and composed of a member of the bar, the chief justice or deputy judge of the responsible court and a representative of the public. We establish a list and we meet with all the candidates listed, and then we give the minister a list of two to four candidates, and the minister chooses the judges by means of this list.

I have put the question to the minister and I put it now to this House: why could we not have the same system? Also, I had put it to the previous Minister of Justice, the hon. member for Mount Royal, and I have put it to the current Minister of Justice. But I still have not received any answers.

The House must reiterate the importance of the independence of the judiciary.

To leave time for questions, and as my hon. colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse will surely wish to ask me some, as will other colleagues in this House, I will say in closing that we are against this bill and we are going to vote no, in spite of everything. Perhaps we will be the only ones in this House to vote against the bill, but we will have stood steadfast, throughout the time we have been here, and we will do so for as long as we are here.

If it is up to us, we will still be here for the coming years, in view of the survey whose results we saw this morning. Things are going pretty well, after all. We will be here to represent Quebec’s interests and to defend them until sovereignty. One of these interests is that judges should not receive salary increases above the cost of living index, which is currently at about 2.4% annually. I do not see why they should receive more, and no one can give us an explanation.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I share many of the concerns raised by my colleague from the Bloc regarding judicial appointments and compensation. I found it useful for my colleague to outline the way the selection of judges is undertaken in the province of Quebec.

I should point out that it is kind of mystifying that the current Minister of Justice who comes from the province of Manitoba should deviate so wildly from the practice of selection that is used in the province of Manitoba. The difference is that the committee that recommends judges on the federal scene is established by the minister and exists at the pleasure of the minister. The minister can take the committee's recommendations or not take its recommendations as he sees fit. The commission that puts names forward in the province of Manitoba is in fact appointed by the minister. Those people are selected by the minister from a short list developed by other outside agencies as per the provincial court act. Legal groups, the law society, et cetera, would recommend those names.

What we have heard from the current Minister of Justice is that he would like to begin putting police officers on the commission that recommends the names of judges. Does the member not feel that this is politicizing the judicial selection process in that clearly, the Minister of Justice has made no secret that he is frustrated by what he believes are judges who are soft on crime. In other words, he is trying to put people on the commission who will put forward names of people who will suit his own views to rule in the way that he sees fit. That way, to me, lies danger. Alarms should go off when we see an effort to politicize the judiciary. One of the cornerstones of a free western democracy is an independent judiciary unaffected by the current minister of the day.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. I will try to summarize it and give my answer in two parts.

The Minister of Justice is forgetting something important: the judges before which most people appear in criminal courts in Quebec or elsewhere in the country are appointed by the provinces. For example, in Quebec, they are called Quebec court judges. I would say, if I am not mistaken, that 80% or 90% of everything related to criminal law goes before Quebec court judges.

These judges are recommended by a committee. If there is a vacancy on the bench in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, which is published in the newspapers, candidates with more than 10 years of practice are asked to apply. A committee is then formed, with a representative from the public, a representative from the Quebec Bar and a representative of the chief justice, or the chief justice himself, of the court involved.

What happens next? I can speak from experience because I have sat on these committees at least four times. We receive the candidates and determine which ones are most appropriate to be appointed as a judge by asking ourselves whether we would want to judged by that individual. The response is negative or affirmative. If it is affirmative, we recommend that person to the Minister of Justice and, from the list of recommended candidates, the minister chooses and appoints the judge.

At the federal level, it is a different kettle of fish. It is not at all the same. At the federal level it has always been a little secretive. Allow me to explain. This little secret is not very complicated: if you want to be appointed as a superior court justice, a committee must determine whether you are up to the task. What do you do? You might think that since you have 10 years of practice and experience you would be a good superior court justice and you file your candidacy. Then you receive a telephone call asking you to appear before a committee on a certain date. A committee gathers. Who is on it? We do not know at the moment, and I want to explain. We have asked for someone to look into this committee to ensure that there is a representative from the Quebec bar on it who knows the individual. The aspiring judge is then recommended, highly recommended or not recommended. The Minister of Justice chooses from this list. That is what happened: he made a choice and quite often that choice is a little political.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Conservative Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier, the Bloc Québécois member spoke about the hypocrisy of the Conservatives. I will not get into a war of words, but I will simply say that when a group which does not aspire to anything calls others hypocrites, it should direct these remarks to its own membership.

My question to the hon. member had to do with the relation between salaries, and the fact that the Prime Minister cannot be paid less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I know that in a number of sectors, people with specific skills are sometimes paid more than other employees. For example, in the field of medicine, a surgeon with a specialization will usually earn more than a general practitioner. In sports, coaches are often paid much less than players.

Why should, or why must a prime minister absolutely earn more than a specialist, than someone who has decades of experience in legal matters, including as a judge? Why must there be a connection with the Prime Minister's salary? I wonder if the hon. member could explain to me why this is a requirement.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Louis-Hébert for his question.

First, I will say to him that we have only one goal in this House, to represent Quebec's interests until a majority of Quebeckers decide that Quebec should become a country. We are not here to play games since our role is to defend Quebec's interests.

When I mentioned the word hypocrisy earlier, I did not say that because I think my Conservative colleagues are hypocrites. No, I was just saying—and one has to consider my speech as a whole—that all of a sudden the Conservatives are criticizing the method used by the Liberals to appoint Superior Court judges.

Last year, I sat on the Standing Committee on Justice, along with my colleague from Charlesbourg, and heard the current Minister of Justice criticize the method used to appoint Superior Court judges. And now he just told us flat out, in committee, that he uses the same method. You can use whatever word you want, but I personally chose that one.

That being said, with regard to salaries, it seems to me to be a rather difficult issue. I worked in sports for years and I can talk about it. I know a lot of coaches and some of them earn a higher salary than their athletes. This is true.

When you need a highly specialized opinion, I agree that you must seek the services of an expert and pay that person a salary that is proportionate to his or her competence.

However, at some point, everybody is on the same footing and all Superior Court judges receive a starting salary of $240,000. That is what I find unacceptable. They earn more than the Prime Minister. It is wrong. I can understand that it could be acceptable for the chief justice of the Supreme Court; I could go for that. However, I do not understand how Federal Court and Superior Court judges can earn more than the Prime Minister of Canada. I do not understand that and I never will.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today about this important bill, which deals with compensation for judges.

When my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I studied and analyzed this bill, we realized that something was drastically wrong. Here are the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill.

This government bill increases judges' salaries by 7.25% effective April 1, 2004 and subsequently introduces legal indexing effective April 1 each year. We feel that this increase is unreasonable. My colleague did a very good job of comparing judges' and MPs' salaries.

In this House, under the former government, a mechanism for setting salaries was put in place, which avoided the emotional, irrational aspect of the issue. Now, though, the government is reverting to this sort of practice.

In my opinion, my colleague gave a very good explanation as to why we should keep a method that would ensure judges and MPs are treated equitably.

I would like to mention something else that I find completely unreasonable. We are living at a time when many people aged 55, 58 or 60 are losing their jobs. In fact we fought to have an older worker adjustment program put in place. The government did not offer these workers a 7% increase. All it did was decide not to implement a program to help them. I find that deplorable and unacceptable.

We cannot have a double standard in our society. In Montmagny, Whirlpool employees lost their jobs. Then, they qualified for severance pay and EI benefits. Today, at the age of 56, 57 or 58, these people are trying to find new jobs, but they are not able to get work. They are moving slowly toward welfare, with a gap of three, four or five years when they will have no income.

By our estimates, such a program would cost $75 million a year. No, it is out of the question. The federal government is refusing categorically to do this for workers.

Yet, in the same month, in the same parliamentary session, they introduce a bill to give judges a 7.5% raise. What is more, that raise is to be indexed every year. We know very well that judges and we members of Parliament are very well paid. This is excessive and totally unacceptable in our society.

This kind of decision on the part of the government angers the people, especially those members of society who are in dire straights and are fighting for justice but are not getting it.

Meanwhile, they want to give judges a 7% raise just like that. I think this is totally unfair and unacceptable.

A society like ours can be judged according to how it creates wealth. This is an important part of how we do things. We must also assess how that wealth is distributed.

There are people who have been contributing to creating wealth for years. They labour in factories and give their lives to the companies they work for. That is how they support their families. When the market forces step in and take away their income, we do nothing to compensate them. Then we turn around and give a 7% raise to judges. That is unreasonable. I think even the judges would agree. In my opinion, this bill is obscene.

This is why we think it is so important to vote against this bill and reject it. The government can still take a stand, make some adjustments and find a more rational, less emotional way to determine salaries that does not break the rules.

It is very surprising to see this Conservative government, which said it wanted to do things differently from the Liberals, behave just like the last Liberal Prime Minister.

Some people in this House criticized the former Liberal prime minister, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. They said he did not play by the rules and that he changed the situation as a purely emotional reaction to what was happening in society,

The Conservatives are now doing the same thing. They want to grant an increase that I find excessive. By constantly modifying the recommendations made by the commission that determines judges' salaries, the Liberals and the Conservatives are making the salary setting process unnecessarily political.

We wanted to move away from this way of doing things and establish a consistent method. The Conservatives are now abandoning this consistent method, which the Liberals had also begun manipulating and changing. One might have expected this government to act differently, but to no avail. Indeed, the Conservative government decided to pursue this somewhat hypocritical Liberal tradition, by still refusing to link the salaries of parliamentarians and the salaries of judges.

Because it is crucial that we establish an independent salary setting mechanism for parliamentarians and judges, the Bloc Québécois is calling upon the government to reintroduce a legislative obligation to link the salaries of parliamentarians to the salaries of judges. This seemed to us to be the best way to prevent an irrational situation.

A fixed mechanism allowed the Prime Minister, for example—the most important elected member of this House, the representative of the entire population—to receive a salary equal to that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and so on. Following the pyramid model, ministers received a salary that corresponded appropriately to that of judges at the various levels.

The Conservative government rejected this practice and is going back to a system that is irrational and unacceptable.

Because the indexing of the salaries of judges and parliamentarians has to be reasonable, the Bloc Québécois is asking that the salaries of judges be based on the same indexing mechanism as the salaries of parliamentarians, so that their salaries increase each year in step with those of unionized employees of big corporations in the private sector, that is, approximately 2.4% for this year.

This is where the inequity comes in. It could be argued that parliamentarians and judges should have roughly the same compensation as the heads of large companies in the private sector. However, some would say that, since our salaries are already high, we could be more reasonable. Let us suppose that this principle, for one, is accepted.

Furthermore, in our society, some individuals do not benefit from indexation and live under an employment insurance system that, for years, has penalized people who want to work— seasonal workers, among others, who go through periods of five, six, eight or ten weeks without any income. These are the individuals who have been made to fight the deficit.

We know that the recipients of employment insurance benefits, contributors to the employment insurance plan—employers and employees—have made the largest contribution to the reduction of the deficit in Canada. These are the people from whom $50 billion dollars in contributions was taken and diverted to repay the national debt, to pay down the deficit. Yet they themselves were never reimbursed. In recent months and past years, no one has talked about a 7% indexation of employment insurance benefits.

No one has spoken about indexation in the case of those who have to make it through the waiting period, as I explained at the beginning of my speech, or for older workers. They do not even have a program.

There are some people who, after having received employment insurance benefits for one year at the most, find themselves without income overnight after being laid off by a company that was not unionized or that was but that did not provide income guarantees or pension benefits. They do not negotiate a 7% salary increase. Even if their salary was increased by 7%, 7% of nothing is nothing.

There is no equity here and it is very unfortunate that the Conservative government has decided to go ahead with this legislation rather than using a more scientific means of setting salaries, one not based on emotion and one that cannot be manipulated to provide a sudden increase to attract the support of these groups.

In the past, in fact, the Conservatives tended to be somewhat contemptuous of the judiciary, and the way they are doing things in this bill reflects the same attitude.

Right now, the Bloc Québécois is speaking for the public as a whole, for people who earn their living, who pay their taxes, whose wage increases are the result of tough bargaining, whether individually or collectively, and who will learn today that the Conservative government has decided to give judges a 7% increase as of April 1, 2004, plus an indexed increase on April 1 every year. Those people are really going to be wondering why there is such a double standard in our society.

I gave the example of older workers and EI benefits for seasonal workers. We might say the same thing about young people who pay into the employment insurance scheme. No one has told them that their benefits would be going up. In fact, the number of hours they have to work in order to qualify has been increased, so they are still being discriminated against by the law. No one decided to reduce the number of hours they were being asked to work before qualifying. And yet if there is anyone in our society whom we should be giving a chance in life, it is those young people.

The position of the Conservative government is not really defensible and does not reflect what society would like to see. I hope that with our presentation we will be able to persuade the government that this bill should be reworked in terms of how it applies, how it works in practice. If we do not succeed with this bill, at least, even if it does not publicly admit it today, it could perhaps do something so that the salary determination method will be more rational in future. It could revisit the principle that was proposed, an increase that uses the comparison between judges and parliamentarians. It would also have to take into account average wage increases in society, to make the method credible, instead of producing the kind of result we are seeing today. This creates a discrepancy between what judges are paid and what parliamentarians are paid, and what is being forgotten is that in our society people are getting nothing like the increases being offered to judges.

I say all this with the greatest respect for the quality of our judges. We are not here to determine whether the judges do their work well or poorly. That decision is of another order. The way in which the government has decided to act on compensation does not appear to us to be in accordance with the will of the public and we hope that the government will reconsider its decision, and that in future it will adopt a much more acceptable method.

In the proposal that was developed by all of the parties represented in the House of Commons, and which seemed reasonable, it was anticipated that the judicial compensation and benefits commission was required by law to propose a reasonable salary, taking into account the state of the economy in Canada, the financial situation of the government, the role of the financial security of judges in preserving judicial independence—we agree—and the need to recruit the best candidates for the judiciary.

Under that method, the Prime Minister would earn the same salary as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; ministers would earn three-quarters of that salary; members would receive an annual sessional allowance of 50% of the annual salary of the Chief Justice of Canada, and so forth. The whole mechanism was spelled out and it produced justified and defensible results that could very well be explained to the public.

The solution was simple and fair. It made it possible to preserve the independence of the judiciary and provided that members of parliament were not asked to set their own salaries. That worked very well until 2004, when the judicial compensation and benefits commission proposed an excessive increase. In a fit of panic, the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition decided to play politics by separating the salaries of members and judges instead of analyzing the situation with a cool head. That is the cause of the whole problem.

If that method had continued to be applied over several years, it would have been clear that this was a totally appropriate mechanism, and salary adjustments could have been proposed regularly, as the commission suggested.

The Conservative government announced that it would not behave like the Liberals. Then it decided to introduce a bill of the same kind, in the same spirit of panic, as the one introduced by the Liberals. The result is what we have before us.

As things stand now, the Prime Minister would earn $3,000 less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the disparity would likely increase over the years. I think it would be interesting in our democracy to see the government accord some minimal recognition to the role played by elected people and parliamentarians, as we have suggested in one method that would be interesting to apply. But that way of doing things is nowhere to be found in the current bill. For this reason, the Bloc Québécois is opposing it.

I will conclude by saying that judges have an important role to play in our society, as we all know. Their compensation should reflect that fact, but those in political power should also show respect for the judiciary, and the method of appointing and compensating judges should be more transparent. The Bloc Québécois believes that the current bill is inadequate from this standpoint. We will therefore be voting against it.

In conclusion, I will repeat the main reasons for our opposition. There is a 7.25% salary increase retroactive to April 1, 2004 and indexing thereafter. The government broke with the old practice of a specific method for associating the salaries of judges with those of elected officials, even though it was the right thing to do. They broke with this procedure and that is one of the reasons why we think that this bill should not pass. They are unduly politicizing the salary setting process. The government adds insult to injury in view of all the people who do not have the minimum protection they deserve. It is unacceptable to me to see judges getting so much more while other people are living in trying circumstances. That is why I and the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill at third reading.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the recorded division stands deferred until Tuesday, November 21, at 5:30 p.m.

The House resumed from October 31 consideration of the motion that Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to conclude today the speech I started two weeks ago on Bill C-27, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code so that the courts designate as dangerous offender an individual who is convicted of three serious crimes, unless that person can prove that he or she does not meet that definition.

Just before I was interrupted the last time I spoke to Bill C-27, I was questioning the approach taken by the Conservative government that now wants to automatically determine the extent of the sentence imposed and reverse the burden of proof. In our opinion, this approach is irresponsible because, as my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue so clearly explained, we believe that the justice system must be based on a personalized process that is geared to each case and based on the principle of rehabilitation.

However, with this bill, sentencing is no longer a personalized process but rather an automatic process, and the fundamental principle of rehabilitation is eliminated.

That is not all. The bill goes much further in providing not only for automatic sentencing, but also for the reversal of onus. At present, our legal system rests upon the basic principle that it is up to the Crown to prove that an individual is guilty.

Due to the reversal of the burden of proof, the Bloc Québécois has serious concerns about the constitutionality of the bill. We believe that the reversal of onus will represent a very heavy burden of proof. The fact is that any accused who wishes to challenge the assessment filed in support of finding him to be a dangerous offender will likely have to produce an expensive second assessment. But the Conservatives ought to know that the presumption of innocence was introduced precisely because the accused are all too often destitute and may not even be able to afford counsel to defend them.

Why change the procedure for finding individuals to be dangerous offenders when the existing one is working well? The procedure allows the prosecutor to ask the judge to find an offender to be a dangerous offender after a first offence, instead of the third one—it is not three strikes and you're out—if the brutal nature of the crime is such that there is no hope of rehabilitation.

In Quebec, statistics show that, for repeat offenders, prosecutors prefer the long term offender designation procedure over the dangerous offender designation procedure. Members will recall that, after serving their sentences, long term offenders remain under the supervision of the correctional service for a period of up to ten years upon returning to live in the community. This is more conducive to rehabilitation. Fewer violent crimes per 100,000 of population are committed in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada. This seems to indicate that the Quebec model, which is based on rehabilitation instead of repression only, is working.

The government wants to continue deluding itself into thinking that this bill will be, and I quote, “protecting innocent Canadians from future harm”.

The government is unable to provide us with studies supporting this statement. The Conservatives are trying to convince people that those who oppose their plans do so out of lack of concern for the victims and public safety. That is what the Conservatives are currently saying. But the public knows full well that the changes to the Criminal Code proposed by this government are not real solutions to violence in our society.

I realize that the Conservatives are quite influenced by the U.S. model and that they very much like the U.S. approach, but the hon. members of the government have to understand that it is not by filling our prisons and building new ones that the federal government will reduce the crime rate. It is important to remember that the United States, according to hard statistics, has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's and a homicide rate three times higher than Canada's and four times higher than Quebec's. So why adopt the American model? I am convinced that to better protect the public, we should address the root of the problem, in other words, the causes of crime and violence in our society.

The Conservatives should understand that poverty, inequality and the sense of exclusion are three significant elements of the emergence of crime, which is why it is important to adopt social policies that do more to foster the sharing of wealth, social integration and rehabilitation.

I worked for a number of years at a CLSC, in the early childhood, youth and adult departments and with seniors. Often, prevention measures are already needed early childhood to help young parents properly raise their young children, and to help and support them in their education. If this support is not given in early childhood, quite often these children can, unfortunately, turn to crime.

It is also important to remember—and for the Conservative government to clearly admit—that this bill will entail additional costs for the prison system, which is already overburdened. This is money that will not go toward fighting the deepest source of violence—poverty.

If the government absolutely wants to go ahead with reforms, then it should focus on the parole assessment process so that release is based on the merit principle and on the assurance that the individual no longer represents a danger to society.

Lastly, instead of trying to do something after the fact through reverse onus provisions in the Criminal Code, the government would do better to address the source of the problem by adopting effective social policies and by maintaining the firearms registry, which limits the movement of weapons and increases people's awareness regarding the responsibilities involved in owning a firearm. Clearly, tackling the causes means tackling social policy.

When funding is cut from employment insurance benefits and from literacy programs, when funding is cut from communities in need and their resources taken away, crime rates will rise. Statistics show that when we intervene in communities—and I worked in underprivileged environments for years—crime rates, poverty, social injustice and inequality are all closely related.

In short, the Bloc Québécois does not support this bill, which, we believe, does not promote rehabilitation, but rather an increase in recidivism. I would also like to add that the Criminal Code currently contains all the provisions we need to put away people who commit serious crimes. We are not against punishing serious crimes, as the Conservatives suggest.

To conclude, the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, as usual, the members opposite, in their speeches regarding clamping down on crime and protecting our society, focus on the criminal and his rights, privileges and treatment. I never hear a whole lot from the opposition, particularly the Bloc, about the victims of these people, who are considered to be extremely dangerous because of their proven past.

I do not understand how any human being could think for a moment that extreme, serious consequences should not occur when an adult rapes, murders, or tortures a child. I have a five year old grandchild. If somebody did something like that to my grandchild, I would not care if he ever saw the light of day again. Why should he?

We can look at the root causes all we want, but we have not done very well in the past 13 years with respect to child poverty and all that. We could look at a number of things that could be considered the root cause of a lot of attacks on our children.

For 13 years, I have been trying to get this place to do something serious about child pornography. That group of people on the other side of the House has always balked at getting tough on child pornographers.

Does the member not know that child pornography is a real root cause of a lot of these problems? It affects people's brains. They go out and attack children. They love to attack children. That is their way of life. I do not want to spend one penny trying to rehabilitate somebody with that kind of poisoned mind. I really do not care. I want him off the streets and I want him in a place where he can never hurt another child.

I really get tired of hearing about root causes. I never hear mention of child pornography, a major root cause for attacks on our children. Why do they not grow up, get smart and start to deal with these people the way they ought to be dealt with?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very troubled by the Conservative member's comments. He stated that the Bloc Québécois does not care about the victims of crime. In fact, we have community agencies that work with victims of crime and work to prevent youth crime. These organizations are under-funded.

If the Conservatives are truly interested in helping victims of crime or sexual assault, then I ask the Conservative government to increase provincial transfers for health and social services which would allow us, in Quebec, to better support our agencies that look after victims of crime and sexual assault.

Unfortunately, that is not the case at present because social policies are taking a hit. The Conservative member claims that we do not care about these individuals. The government has just cut social programs.

We are speaking of the Criminal Code. That does not mean that we do not care about victims of crime. On the contrary. Action in this area must be based on programs to support these individuals. The Conservatives are cutting in all areas related to crime prevention. They want to send more people to jail.

The Conservative member should not be lecturing us.

Notice of MotionWays and MeansGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 1:45 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Pursuant to Standing Order 83(1) I wish to table a notice of ways and means motion to introduce an act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts. I am also tabling explanatory notes to legislative proposals on the same subject.

I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of the motion.