Mr. Speaker, as I was saying only a moment ago, our government today is introducing a bill to implement the May 2004 recommendations of the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission. Two of those recommendations will be implemented in modified form.
Some members will recall that the previous government introduced Bill C-51, which would have implemented all but one of the commission's recommendations, including an increase in judicial salaries of 10.8%, but as was typical of the previous government, it did nothing to move the bill forward and it died on the order paper when the election was called.
When Canadians voted for a change on January 23, they voted for a government that is willing to recognize its responsibilities, make tough decisions and implement them.
There are a number of constitutional principles which guide governments in establishing judicial compensation, both from Supreme Court case law and the Constitution itself. The Constitution specifically provides that it is the role of Parliament to set judicial salaries and benefits. This is accomplished through amendments to the Judges Act.
Judges are prevented from negotiating directly with governments. Instead, independent commissions are established to examine and make recommendations on judicial compensation.
These commissions are an integral part of the process of establishing judicial compensation. Their deliberations and recommendations must be taken seriously, but decisions about the allocation of public resources ultimately belong to legislatures and governments. Governments can reject and modify the recommendations of these commissions, but they must provide legitimate, factually based reasons.
Earlier this week our government released its response to the commission's response. The response addresses the substances of the commission's recommendations fairly and objectively. It is consistent with promoting the effectiveness of the commission process, depoliticizing the establishment of judicial salaries and preserving judicial independence.
The bill introduced today reflects the response. The bottom line is that this government is prepared to accept all of the commission's recommendations, with two modifications. First is the recommended salary increase. Second is the proposal on legal costs for the judicial organizations. On that issue, the government's bill takes the same approach as Bill C-51.
The government has decided to depart from the commission's recommendation of a 10.8% salary increase. Instead, the government is prepared to support a salary increase of 7.25%, or $15,700 retroactive to April 1, 2004 plus the annual cost of living increment.
There are two main reasons that we believe 7.25% is an appropriate increase, which are fully explained in the government's response.
First is the overall economic and financial position of the federal government. This is one of the statutory factors that the commission is required to consider under the Judges Act. The government's view is that the commission gave insufficient consideration to this factor in determining the adequacy of judicial compensation. Because judges are paid from the public purse, judicial compensation must be understood in relation to other legitimate demands on public resources and the economic and social priorities of the government.
Second is the need to attract outstanding candidates to the judiciary, another statutory factor that the commission is required to consider.
In summary, our view is that too much attention was paid to the salaries of lawyers in private practice and in particular, those who practise in large urban centres. There are a significant number of appointees from outside private practice and from outside those large urban centres. This fact needed to be given more weight.
I want to thank the members of the commission for approaching their task in a thoughtful and diligent manner.
Under our Constitution, it is not the government that sets judicial compensation; that is Parliament's job. We therefore call on parliamentarians to carefully discharge their important constitutional responsibilities in an informed and respectful fashion in light of the constitutional and statutory principles that are engaged.
Given the need to move forward on this matter, we will be referring the bill without delay to committee for its immediate consideration.