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House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Sure he does. We have a coalition government.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

He in fact has a minority and the difference between this minority Parliament and Lester Pearson's minority Parliament was when he was prime minister, he realized he did not have a majority and he went about working with the other parties to bring in something that the majority could accept. That is why we had so much progressive legislation from Prime Minister Pearson, in those—

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

We just have to tell you.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. Just because some members are sitting at the other end of the chamber does not mean the Speaker cannot hear them when they interrupt the hon. member for Malpeque. If members could let him finish off and if anyone else has a question or a comment, they can do so after.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The heckling from the other side, Mr. Speaker, was because they really did not want me to explain how a minority government should operate and how in Lester Pearson's time everything was not a confidence motion. By working together to get things done, we passed so much progressive legislation by the former Liberal prime minister, whether it was the Canada pension plan, medicare, employment insurance and so on. It showed what could be done in a minority Parliament and Prime Minister Pearson showed us the way. It is too bad the present Prime Minister would not work cooperatively with the other parties. As my colleague said earlier, the government itself is even filibustering so many committees.

However, I am getting off my topic. The government members on the other side derailed my line of thought, and that is not necessarily a good thing. However, it is a good thing to explain how well Prime Minister Pearson governed and did so many positive things as compared to the current Prime Minister when it is either his way or the highway.

I will get back to Bill C-31. I will use several examples of our worries about the bill. My colleague from York West mentioned some of them, but they are important enough to mention again.

The bill does nothing to address the concerns our party has raised in the past regarding Conservative government attacks on judicial independence. My colleague from York West used an example and I will use another one. The attacks on the judiciary by some ideologically driven folks on the other side even had the Chief Justice feeling that she had reason to criticize the government for its attacks on judicial independence. That should not happen.

First, we have a judicial system in our country because of the good appointments in the past. Because of that strong independence, it is seen as one of the best judicial systems in the world. It is a system that really has not allowed a great deal of politics to enter into it to date. I know there are some efforts on the other side to do that, but we would hope that independence remains.

The second worry is the same Conservative government stacked the judicial advisory councils to ensure the justice minister's chosen representatives would have a majority voice on every provincial judiciary advisory board. When it comes to stacking judiciary advisory councils, then that is leading the appointment process to get those in place. Maybe they are qualified, but maybe they lean in a certain political direction, and that has us worried as well.

Third, this is also the same government that has gone out of its way to make a large number of patronage appointments to Canada's judiciary, including the Prime Minister's former campaign manager in New Brunswick, a former president of the Conservative Party in Quebec and the party's former chief money raiser in Alberta. We sometimes call them bagmen, but in any event he was the chief money raiser in Alberta. It is funny he happened to end up appointed.

Therefore, we do have some worries.

However, I want to come back to the point that in general we have, even with these new appointments, a judicial process that is second to none in the world in terms of qualified people. It is a process that is independent of the political process and the executive branch of government as well. Our judicial process is seen around the world as among the best and included in that is the independence of the judiciary. One of the difficulties with our current court system is the cost.

I remember when I used to be involved in the farm movement and a friend of mine in the United States said of its justice system, “justice is justice, but it is just U.S.”. Only those with the economic ability to pay and political power, “just U.S.” meant them getting fairness under the system.

The previous government put in place the court challenges program, which provided federal government funding to organizations and groups, such as the Status of Women, so they could challenge decisions through the court system and get independent rulings and effective legislation on them. Therefore, those without economic power could get some justice in the system.

The leader of the Liberal Party spoke for a considerable time the other evening on a private member's bill to reintroduce the court challenges program to allow people without economic power to challenge the system. Members opposite were part and parcel of the Conservative government's cancellation of the court challenges program, and that was seen as disgraceful around the world. Many around the world looked at our court challenges program as a model to be emulated elsewhere and Canada was recognized in good stead around the world for it.

I hope those members have now seen the error of their ways, so to speak, and will look at the private member's bill of our leader to bring the court challenges program back. Even with the additional appointments, which are so important, it would make our court system work better and be fairer to all.

Although I agree with increasing the number of judges, as I said earlier, there are other points about which I am worried.

One of the benefits of our system is that if the Prime Minister does not like somebody in the system, he cannot up and fire that individual. We must retain that benefit. We have seen other areas where that has happened. Independent authorities have had highly qualified people fired because the Prime Minister wanted to silence their criticism.

The Conservative government is driven by ideology. I will give the House some examples of critics who have been silenced and fired because they did not allay themselves with the government's policy.

One example would be Adrian Measner, who was the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board. The government fired Linda Keen, an independent authority in terms of nuclear regulations, who did not agree with the government. The government did it to Kingsley, Shapiro and Reid. Even through the appointments process to the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board, the government managed to do it to a lower level employee, Deanna Allen.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Nonsense.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The member opposite says “nonsense”, Mr. Speaker. The fact is the firings have happened.

Thank goodness we have the independence of the judiciary and the protection in the judiciary because if they were to ever make a wrong decision, the Prime Minister, by his record, has shown that they probably would be up for firing. There are many examples in that regard.

I would like to give another example that is actually close to my heart in terms of the importance of the judiciary. Adding new judges is important because it will give the judiciary time to make quicker decisions. The example that is used is how the government has tried to get around the law by doing certain things against the law, which has been stopped by the courts. Members opposite should be getting reasonably familiar with the example I will use, which is the whole attempt by the Government of Canada, based on the Prime Minister's ideological position against the Canadian Wheat Board, to make changes to it that really were in violation of the laws of the land.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order, I am calling for relevance. It seems to me that if our friends are going to filibuster the least they could do would be to stay on topic. He may be familiar with the Wheat Board because that is his one song that he sings constantly in the House, but surely to goodness he has enough information on this topic to conduct an intelligent filibuster rather than just drifting off into any old topic that he wants.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would remind the hon. for Malpeque that we are on third reading of Bill C-31, so if he could come back to the point of the main tenets of the bill, the House would appreciate that.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I beg to differ. My point is all about the independence of the judiciary when adding new judges to the court so that decisions can be made.

The point I wanted to make by example is the fact that when the government tried to break the law, and I can give the judge's name and decision, it is the court that stood up to the ideological drive of the Prime Minister and stopped him down in his tracks. We want to appoint new judges so that there are more of them to take on the government when it tries to get around the laws, as it tried to do in that case.

Just so it is clear on the record, I must point out that in this case, on July 31, it was the last process that Canadian citizens could utilize to stop the government in its tracks and they did. This is the power of the courts and why they need to be entirely independent. I said earlier that there was a need for that independence. Adding more judges to the court and having that independence would certainly be important.

Just so everyone knows it is a fact, I will read Judge Dolores Hansen's ruling against the Government of Canada, which shows how important that independence is. In her conclusion, she stated:

For the above reasons, I conclude that the new Regulation is ultra vires and of no force and effect.

That was her judgment against the Government of Canada. It shows the need for the system and the importance for it to be adequately resourced in terms of individuals.

What makes that decision more scary is that we know, in terms of our political process and Parliament, that the top individual is the leader of the governing party, the Prime Minister. He has the power of the Prime Minister's Office and all those things, so he is very important and there needs to be a vehicle that has the authority and the independence to stand up to that individual.

In fact, within two days of that ruling, the current Prime Minister said that one way or the other the government would get to what it called barley marketing freedom or choice, which is a little spin on the words. What it is really doing is taking away the choice of farmers for collective marketing.

The members opposite can complain if they like but I make all those points because people need to understand that the independence of the judiciary and having it adequately resourced is what is very important as we go down this road.

I want to make a couple of more points on this bill. There needs to be adequate resources. This is moving us ahead somewhat toward getting more human resources to do the job. There are a lot of courts to cover here and a lot of decisions to be made. There are civil cases, criminal cases and family law cases.

I know that the current government is in favour of bilingual judges. I would remind the government that it is extremely important as we go down this road, in terms of the human resources to meet the qualifications of Bill C-31, that there be adequate consideration given to bilingual judges to cover off the courts that need them to do their job.

Our party does support the bill. We believe the amendment to the Judges Act authorizing the appointments of 20 new judges, bringing the total up to 50, is a good move forward.

As I said in my remarks, it certainly is not without some worries, and I have outlined them. A lot of those worries were expressed in the words of the Prime Minister after Judge Hansen made the decision to go against the government. She challenged the government and said that its laws were ultra vires and the Prime Minister reacted immediately.

In fact, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Agriculture went to the appeals court and they were turned down there as well. As members opposite know, they brought a law into this Parliament to find a way around the court's decision. It shows the kind of sneaky business that the government may be up to. If it does not get its way one way, it will certainly try it another.

With those few remarks, I will conclude by saying that we are in support of the legislation but I have outlined my concerns.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I must say that this has been a very humorous afternoon, particularly because the member has been talking about the fact that he does not understand a party that would actually have principle. I can understand that. The Conservatives come to these and many other issues, be they criminal justice, economic reform, things to do with satellites or whatever the issues are, with principles. Of course he would not understand, being a Liberal, because he does not have any principles as it would relate to this issue.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The issue was raised earlier about us sticking to the principles of what we are talking about, so let us stay away from the partisan attacks and stay focused on the issue of Bill C-31.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Implying that another hon. member does not have principles may in fact be unparliamentary so I might ask the hon. parliamentary secretary to withdraw those remarks and continue on with his question.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, out of respect to you and this House, I withdraw those remarks. Unfortunately, I did go over the top.

I must admit, though, that I am somewhat frustrated when we have a bill here that everybody seems to be in agreement with, and the Liberals, for some reason, are doing nothing but filibustering. I find it deeply regrettable because we could be getting on with other House business.

They will go out in front of the House here with Don Newman or Mike Duffy and get on these panels and say that nothing is happening in the House. Of course nothing is happening in the House because the Liberals are filibustering a bill that they happen to agree with.

I wonder if the member could possibly explain that to us. It just seems completely illogical.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, my golly, was the member not listening to my remarks?

I outlined for him that we supported the bill but that we had several worries about the bill. I outlined for the member opposite the things that the Prime Minister said he would do in terms of the appointment process so that there would be absolute independence of the appointments of the judiciary. If the member had been listening, he would understand that we would be concerned about that.

Our remarks are now on the record and we would hope that the Minister of Justice and others on the other side would look at those remarks, take them seriously and maybe start to mend their ways and do what they claim they do.

I accept that the member went a little over the top. That is not unusual in this place. It is a place where emotions run high. However, I do want to make a point on principles because this party is principled.

I will come back to the example of the Canadian Wheat Board that I used. There we have ideology. The Prime Minister claims that he wants to give people choice in marketing when, in effect, what he is really doing is taking away the farmers' right to collective choice, which is where ideology is overruling principles on that side of the House.

Let us be clear. We are the party of medicare, the party of the Canada pension plan and the party of principle in terms of trying to ensure there are economic and social programs for people who really matter in this country. We are not just ideological. We are principled and we will stand by our principles when we get into the next election and do the best that we can for Canadians against what I claim is a very right wing agenda on the other side of the House.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have three questions, but I will ask one at a time to give other people a chance.

It is humorous this afternoon that there has been criticism after criticism of the government on aspects of the judiciary and possible corrections needed to the bill and there has not been any defence of it. The government members just say to get on with it and leave the flaws there. They are not defending themselves, which is very bizarre.

One of the defences for their stonewalling and filibustering was that they felt a decision made by a committee chair was accurate. I want the member to comment on correct procedures. Is it not true that according to the Standing Orders committee chairs get to rule--

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

How is that relevant?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

It was a Conservative member that brought it up, so the member should ask him about relevance.

A committee chair can rule on issues but the chair can be challenged. At that time the chair must call the vote right away. Is that not the procedures of the House of Commons, in particular the procedure that the Conservative chair of the justice committee has broken four times in a row?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I wonder if the hon. member for Malpeque could answer that question by relating it back to Bill C-31.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Yukon is absolutely correct. Committees as we well know in the House are masters of their own destiny. Regardless of what some of the members opposite said about filibustering in the House, that is not the case. We are trying to give examples of our worries about the bill. There are legitimate examples to substantiate our worries of how the government in power today sometimes goes beyond what we would expect a government in a democratic society would do and in terms of the traditions of our judiciary as they have been in the past.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, a number of members opposite have suggested that they would like to move quickly on the bill. They could have certainly helped by answering the question that we asked through the development of the bill. If we are going to appoint these 20 new judges, what is the distribution plan regionally? There are many regional requirements by the provinces and territories, in particular six of them. We asked a long time ago what the plan was for distributing these judges.

I do not know if the member has heard of a plan or not, but perhaps the members opposite could provide us with a plan and it would not slow the bill's progress.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, one of the difficulties around this place is having the time to get to every committee. I was not on the justice committee, although I paid attention to what happened during the debate.

As I understand it at the moment there is a grave need for additional superior court judges in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut. They are experiencing growing backlogs. Nunavut faces severe challenges in providing access to justice for its aboriginal communities.

In fairness and to the credit of the government on this one, by moving ahead with the additional judges, it does give the opportunity to be heard in a fair and impartial court.

We all know in this place that if one does not have access to justice, in effect it is justice denied. It is important to have the human resources to have timely trials and timely decision making in order to have fairness under the law.

The accused is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but once a charge is laid, it certainly is a black mark against the individual. It is important to have the human resources, the financing of the courts to get rid of the backlogs so that the system can work in a timely fashion to ensure that justice is not just perceived to be done, but is actually done.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-31, which aims to increase the number of judges in the provincial and territorial superior trial courts by 20.

Everyone in this House can agree that we do not have enough judges and that this addition would allow the provincial and territorial superior trial courts to serve Canadians better. Indeed, the waiting periods for trials are often so long that one might be inclined to wonder if our justice system is working properly and if it meets the standards of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We support these efforts to ensure that more judges are appointed in order to clear up the backlog that is accumulating in superior courts. I would like to point out that it was this Conservative government that interfered with the judicial advisory committee to ensure that the representatives chosen by the Minister of Justice would hold the majority of votes for each provincial judicial advisory committee.

We are all familiar with how these advisory committees operate in the provinces. Ideally, we hope that all judicial appointments are carried out in an non-partisan manner. Unfortunately, when the Conservative government insists—and uses its back-door methods to require—that all members of these committees be its chosen representatives, we must question its good faith.

It is also this same Conservative government that went to great lengths to fill the Canadian judicial system with its cronies. This was mentioned earlier, but I was unfortunately not in the House at the time, and I want to make sure that everyone knows about it. I am referring specifically to the Prime Minister's former campaign manager for New Brunswick, the former president of the Conservative Party of Quebec and the former Conservative Party fundraising manager in Alberta. The Honourable Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, even criticized this government's failure to act on judicial matters.

In recent weeks and months, we have alluded in this House to this government's lack of seriousness in appointing judges in Ontario recently. We are all aware of the importance of bilingualism in Canada's courts of justice, especially in Ontario, where the Conservative government decided to circumvent the rules. In many, if not all, cases, the minority Conservative government appointed judges without making sure they were bilingual. Obviously, I am talking about these judges' ability to understand and speak French. Certainly, the Conservative government never would have dreamed of appointing a judge who did not speak English. They did the opposite in this case, appointing judges who are very comfortable in English but cannot speak French.

I would like to take a little trip down memory lane. As hon. members know, I come from a beautiful town on the south shore of the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario. This town, which is called L'Orignal, is the administrative seat of the county or judicial district of Prescott-Russell.

I learned about the law growing up in this charming village where my father practised law. He was a crown prosecutor for the Government of Ontario for many years in this part of eastern Ontario, where the francophone community has always had a strong presence.

This region was one of the first in Ontario to provide bilingual legal services in court. The proceedings for an accused who was to appear in court could be conducted in French. My father was a francophone by birth and the Ontario government had appointed judges who were francophones and who, naturally, had a good command of English. I remember that, at the time, there was Judge Joffre Archambault and then Judge Louis Cécile. The courts could function equally well in French or English.

As a result of several recent appointments by the Conservative government, unfortunately, individuals who are accused or who must use the services of the court in various districts in Ontario will not necessarily be able to seek justice in their language, that is, in French. It is a sign of bad faith on the part of this minority government with respect to our judicial system.

I would remind you that the Conservative government is claiming to table this bill to help clear the backlog in the provincial and territorial courts and to appoint additional judges to independent tribunals that are being set up to deal with the first nations specific land claims.

This bill seeks to amend subsection 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act to authorize the appointment of 20 additional judges to superior courts in the provinces and territories. In particular, the superior courts in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut have backlogs and are experiencing ever growing delays. I would like to mention parenthetically that in my riding, Hull—Aylmer, located in the judicial district of Hull, there is definitely a need and the court delays are long.

Nunavut in particular is having a great deal of difficulty in providing access to justice for its aboriginal communities. The provinces lack resources, particularly in relation to family law, because of population growth.

On January 24, 2008—not so long ago—there were 24 judicial vacancies that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has the responsibility to fill. British Columbia currently has the largest number of vacancies, 10 in all, in its court of appeal and its supreme court.

The first nations specific claims tribunal has presented specific claims that will meet with a refusal for negotiation, or for which the negotiations will fail. Judging by the caseload for the specific claims, the federal government estimates that the new tribunal will need the equivalent of six full-time judges to manage roughly 40 claims a year. These claims come from across the country, but most started in British Columbia and some of the most complex claims are from Ontario and Quebec.

Six new judges are to be appointed to the superior courts of those provinces, proportional to their respective share of the number of specific claims. New judicial resources are to be assigned in order to allow certain superior courts to free up their experienced judges and appoint them to the specific claims tribunal.

This tribunal could be composed of 18 judges, who will be appointed to the tribunal by the governor in council on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. The chairperson of the tribunal, in consultation with the chief justices of the jurisdictions involved, will assign these judges, probably part time, to specific claims.

Although we support the efforts to appoint extra judges, I must tell the House—as some of my colleagues have already done—that we regret that the bill does not address in any way matters related to the independence of the judiciary. I deplore this destructive attitude of the Conservative minority government.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest. I wonder if the hon. member, who has talked about the amendment to the bill, knows, first, when the Judges Act was last amended to reflect Canadian needs.

Second, and more importantly, I listened to the other speakers, who always talked about two or three appointed people who likely were Conservatives, so I suspect they believe that every judge appointed should be a Liberal. There are those connotations. I really wonder, though, if they are saying that, do they really believe that the appointed judges are not qualified people?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his question. It seems that he is trying to bring my alleged objection to judges from Conservative circles into the discussion. He is trying to make people believe that I would like judges to come from Liberal circles only. That is not at all how I operate.

On the contrary, it was as essential, as crucial, when we were in power as it is now that the minority Conservative government is in power to appoint the best candidates to the bench, whether they are appointed by the federal government or provincial governments, or whether they are appointed to an administrative role. In my opinion, neither a Liberal government nor a Conservative one should appoint a person to such an important, key position in our democracy without ensuring that the appointee is the most competent candidate with a sense of judgment good enough to do the job.

My colleague is wrong to suggest that I think all appointees should be Liberals. This is about appointing competent people. If my colleague were to be honest with himself and with me, he would admit that, in general, Liberal candidates are less inclined to the right or the extreme right, which leaves room for fairer rulings. However, this is not at all about thinking that appointees should all be one or the other.