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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

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Hull—Aylmer mentioned something important, which is access to justice. Access to justice is something very important for the constituents in our various ridings. Access to justice is certainly related to bilingualism. We ensure that the judges appointed will be able to provide services for Canadians in the language spoken by those Canadians.

The government constantly talks about bilingualism and regularly throws around related words, as though it were the defender and saviour of bilingualism, but that is absolutely not the case. The Conservatives' actions clearly show official language minority communities that the government thinks nothing of those who need services in the language of their choice.

Could my colleague tell us whether this attitude from the Conservative government undermines what we refer to as access to justice? Does being unable to appear before the court in the language of their choice undermine access to justice for official language minority communities, the francophones outside of Quebec, or the anglophones in Quebec?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche for his very relevant question. My colleague is obviously from New Brunswick, where everyone is also very aware of what it means when a judge cannot allow an accused or someone in the judicial system to address the court in his or her preferred official language.

I spoke earlier about judges who were appointed in Ontario by this minority Conservative government, which failed to show good judgment by making sure that those judges were bilingual—perhaps not all those judges, but a majority of them. It would be entirely inconceivable that a judge appointed by the federal government to the Superior Court of Quebec, for example, could not hear a case in English. However, it is a different matter when we talk about francophones outside Quebec. I do not need to spell it out.

There are francophones throughout New Brunswick and Ontario. The same is true in Manitoba, where there are francophones in the Winnipeg area and elsewhere. There may not be as many in Saskatchewan, but there are still quite a few.

You know the area, Mr. Speaker, and it is certainly useful for you to be able to speak French because you have francophone constituents. Obviously, there are many francophones in Alberta, right up into the northern part of the province.

I had an uncle who had a wonderful name, the same as mine. He was a missionary in northern Alberta, where he seldom spoke English. He spoke French in the diocese north of Edmonton. Members will say that there are fewer francophones in British Columbia, but I went there recently and spoke to people in French.

Obviously, the government is doing the same thing in these provinces. I can tell you what happened to me when I went to the Northwest Territories in 1995 or 1996. I met with people, including a very interesting woman. As we talked, I learned that her mother had been raised in L'Orignal, the beautiful little town in eastern Ontario where I grew up. In short, there are francophones all across the country. It is very important that the government enable these people to use the official language of their choice.

To answer my colleague's question, it is very important that bilingual judges be appointed across Canada so that people everywhere have access to a bilingual legal system. Every time the government gives bilingualism short shrift, it makes a serious mistake. As was reported in this House not long ago, the minority Conservative government has made mistakes in Ontario recently.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There is one minute left for questions and comments. With a very brief question or comment, the hon. member for York West.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I note for my hon. colleague that the whole issue of bilingual judges is extremely important. I have only a short time for this question, but in respect to the current government looking at the pool of names it would have, is the hon. member confident that there are sufficient names for the committee to be able to review the appointments of judges to ensure that the judges are bilingual?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understand correctly, my colleague would like to know whether the government has the means—I am not talking about financial means, but human resources means—to be able to properly evaluate whether a judge is bilingual.

At the beginning of my speech, 15 or 20 minutes ago, I spoke about the advisory councils in the provinces. These councils are made up of representatives from the government, the bar, the province and so on. Obviously these councils have the human resources to ensure that the candidates or the judges appointed are bilingual and that they can continue to offer services in one of this country's official languages, based on the choice of the people involved.

Mr. Speaker, you seem to be impatient about my response. I am finished, and I thank you very much.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

I have been in this place long enough to know that there are times when bills are presented to the House by the government and the argument is made that it is a housekeeping bill, that there really should be no delay and that it should be passed quickly by the House. In some cases that is true, but it is not always the case. Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to find out exactly what the piece of legislation purports to do.

I must say when I look at this bill there is a certain logic to it. However, if we put it in the broader context of the Conservative government and how it has approached appointments generally, it does cause one to pause and to reflect somewhat.

I am thinking of a number of things. One of them is the government's initiative to set up a public appointments commission. This was a plank in the 2006 election. The idea, as I understood it, was that the Conservative Party was going to have a non-partisan system of appointments. It was going to set up an arm's length commission and have all the major appointments go through this commission. I am not sure that appointment of judges would go through that particular commission, but the subject is appointments, generally.

The government picked three members for the commission. In fact a very good friend of mine, Roy MacLaren, was asked if he would serve. The government selected Mr. Gwyn Morgan as the chair of the public appointments commission. Mr. Morgan went before a committee of the House of Commons. He was subjected to some questioning. In fact the committee decided in the end that it was not comfortable with Mr. Morgan's appointment as the chairman of the public appointments commission, notwithstanding Mr. Morgan's very strong record in the private sector, in the oil and gas industry, as president and CEO of EnCana. He had said some things that raised the ire of a number of the members of the committee. It was no secret at the time that Mr. Morgan was an active fundraiser for the Conservative Party. His appointment went to the committee. The committee did not like the appointment of Mr. Gwyn Morgan and the committee said no.

That did not need to stop that whole process, if there was some need to have a public appointments commission. If the government could have achieved this laudable objective of having completely non-partisan appointments, something which I think the cynics in town and across Canada would argue and debate, but nonetheless a very laudable objective, if it actually had decided to pursue that, what would have been the problem with the government saying that Mr. Morgan did not make the cut, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians who would be qualified to chair such a commission. Instead the Conservatives picked up their toys, ran out of the sandbox and said, “If you are not going to play with our toys, we are not playing with you”. That was the end of the public appointments commission, notwithstanding that this was a party plank of some importance.

Of course the Conservatives use it as an opportunity to blame the committee and blame the Liberals, and say, “We are getting the job done”. I am so tired of that expression. They have been in power now for over two years, but we do not get a decent answer in question period; it is always about the 13 years the Liberals were in power, blah, blah, blah.

In any case, they could have proceeded with the public appointments commission and demonstrated that they wanted a non-partisan process for appointments and picked someone else, notwithstanding Mr. Gwyn Morgan's career and his very good qualifications in the sense of the private sector, someone who was not perhaps so actively involved in a partisan way. But no, they did not. They picked up their toys and off they went and said, “It is those old Liberals again. They are obstructionist”.

I begin to wonder when I look at the bill before us today what is really behind an act to amend the Judges Act and the appointments. Not many people in the House would argue that we have a backlog in appointment of judges, but we also have a backlog in immigration. Many people should be appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board. In fact, I was told by one of my colleagues that there are something like 30 vacancies outstanding, perhaps more. These are the people who adjudicate on refugee claims and they get involved with appeals and a whole range of other issues. What is stopping the Conservative government from appointing these Immigration and Refugee Board judges?

When I look at the bill before us I wonder what really is going on behind this seemingly innocuous bill to amend the Judges Act. We know we have backlogs in immigration. In fact the government, if I might, sneakily put changes to the immigration policy of this country into the budget implementation act, Bill C-50. The government added it in at one of the clauses at the end, almost as an afterthought, but it is not an afterthought. It fundamentally changes the way we deal with immigration policy.

We know there are ways of dealing with backlogs, such as to hire more people and put them into missions abroad. That is what the Liberal government was trying to do. We went to committee and the committee rejected the proposal in the estimates, so there we are. But that is the way to deal with the backlog. The idea that the minister would have complete discretion should raise some hackles, as should Bill C-31 because it raises similar issues.

I would like to talk also about the Senate. When we are talking about appointments, I know there are those opposite and indeed some on this side of the House who would like to see the Senate reformed, but we all know as reasonable people that the Senate will only be reformed through constitutional change.

While Conservative Party members go on and on about how bills are delayed in the Senate and the Senate is obstructing the will of Parliament, the Conservatives have the ability now to appoint, I am not sure exactly how many senators, but they could appoint a stack of Conservative senators. The way the Constitution of this--

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, perhaps the member needs a lesson on how to filibuster. He has to be talking about Bill C-31. He cannot just mention Bill C-31 and change from filibustering and talk about immigration. Then he says Bill C-31 which makes it all right for him to go into a bit of a diatribe on what he thinks about Senate reform. This has to stop at this point. The member must be relevant on talking about Bill C-31 if he indeed wants to continue this filibuster.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank the parliamentary secretary for raising the point. Perhaps if the member for Etobicoke North could bring his remarks back to the contents of the bill as it is as third reading, he could continue on with his remarks.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must say I object to this being characterized as a filibustering effort. There is no such thing involved at all. The member opposite tries to conjure up these conspiracy theories, but he knows full well that we have a serious bill before us, Bill C-31, and as responsible members of the House of Commons, we are here to debate it. That is exactly what I will do.

I was trying to put the appointment of judges in the broader context of appointments, appointments with respect to the Senate, appointments with respect to the Immigration and Refugee Board and appointments that were supposedly going to be handled through a public appointments commission that never happened.

I am coming now to the question more specifically before us with respect to judges. First of all we need to understand that judges have to be non-partisan. It does not necessarily mean that judges do not bring their own personal perspectives to the job. This is obviously the case. A judge who is going to be appointed will have a certain bias toward--

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I hate to do this to the hon. member in the middle of his speech, but I have to read this into the record before five o'clock. It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Welland, Environment Canada.

I regret having had to do that, but the hon. member for Etobicoke North can continue.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is quite acceptable. I know you have your job to do as well. I was glad to hear of the adjournment motion later on this evening and I will be sure to attend.

There is a need for an impartial and non-partisan judiciary. Of course, every judge brings his or her own ideas and experience to the table--we cannot debate that--but a judge certainly should not be involved in partisan activities.

Canada is blessed with a very competent judiciary and we want to keep it that way. One of the things we are not so troubled with in Canada, but it is evident in many countries around the world is a corrupt judiciary. If I might, I would like to tell a little story about the time I was in Nairobi, Kenya.

Daniel arap Moi was president at the time. There was an election and Mr. Kibaki was elected as president of Kenya. He had run on an anti-corruption ticket and the moment he was elected, he fired about 40% of the judges in Kenya. We were quite excited about that, because it was a fairly well-known fact that in Kenya there was a list and if someone wanted to get off a burglary charge, it cost so many Kenyan shillings and if someone wanted to get off another charge, it was so many Kenyan shillings. It was a menu. It was the most astounding egregious thing I had ever seen. When President Kibaki fired 40% of the judges, we all thought it was a very positive development. However, what happened was that about a year later the president ended up being more corrupt than President Daniel arap Moi.

The point is that we do not have a corrupt judiciary in this country and we want to keep it that way. We have to be very careful, therefore, in the way we appoint judges. We need to ensure they are people of the highest calibre and highest personal integrity. How do countries prosecute corrupt elected officials if there is a corrupt judiciary? It just does not happen. People get off and there is a perpetual cycle of corruption.

I have a very good friend who is a Federal Court judge and he tells me stories. He had a very successful career in the private sector as a lawyer. He wanted to be a judge. He loves the law. He loves debating law. He became a Federal Court judge. When I speak to him today, he tells me about how he loves his work, but how the workload at the Federal Court is absolutely incredible. Of course, Federal Court judges travel across the country. He is a very competent lawyer and judge.

We should also be appointing more Federal Court judges. This bill is derelict in that regard, I would submit. It deals with the Superior Court backlog in appointments but it does not deal with the Federal Court.

The Federal Court is very important in our country. It deals with a whole range of things, immigration law, taxation law, aeronautics law. In fact, there was a milestone case recently with respect to Canada Post and pay equity. Issues like that go before the Federal Court. It is very important that we have a full complement of Federal Court judges, as we should also have a full complement of Superior Court judges. The Superior Court is also responsible for many of the specific claims that are brought forward by our first nations people.

This is another issue that needs to be resolved. In fairness to the government, I think it is trying to expedite some of the land claim cases. It is very important because the mining industry and the natural resource sector are trying to move forward and develop opportunities, revenues, create jobs, and the land claim sort of hangs over the whole affair and creates uncertainty. It is not a very positive investment climate.

It is a good thing that the Conservative government is moving aggressively to try to solve those land claims, but there are many other issues for our first nations people. We are not here to debate the Kelowna accord, of course, but I know that my colleague from LaSalle—Émard feels very strongly, as do all of us on this side, that we should help our first nations people with their infrastructure, schooling, housing and water. That is why we need good judges in the superior courts. They should also reflect the diversity of this country. I presume that when we appoint the judges there will be fair opportunity for women and for people who are bilingual, and fair opportunity for first nations people to become judges, because for many it is a very honourable thing to be a judge.

Many judges face great sacrifices. In many instances, they can earn a lot more money in the private sector by being a trial lawyer or a corporate lawyer, for example. However, judges have decided that they want to serve their country and participate in the judicial process. I take my hat off to all those people.

Sometimes we have situations like the one we had in the last Parliament with respect to the DNA lab at the RCMP headquarters. When I went there one day, I was told that the lab was getting only 50% of the DNA samples it was supposed to be getting. We checked it out and found out what had happened. It was a relatively new concept and prosecutors and judges were supposed to make decisions around forwarding DNA samples to the RCMP lab. The more DNA samples the RCMP labs have, the easier it is to solve crimes and prevent crimes. I was perplexed and troubled by the fact that the DNA labs were not getting all the DNA samples that they should have been.

What we discovered was that because it was a relatively new concept, the prosecutors had to make the case to the judge that the DNA samples should be submitted to the lab. In some cases the prosecutors were not doing that. In some cases the judges were neither asking for nor demanding the information on whether the DNA samples should go to the lab.

Therefore, at committee we made some changes to the DNA law. I think they were positive changes, adopted finally by the House and by the Senate, in which we recommended that for those most heinous of crimes, such as murder, rape and crimes of that nature, where there is a convicted person, the judge would have no discretion and the DNA samples would automatically be referred to the DNA lab. This is not to say that judges lack the wisdom to decide whether DNA samples should be sent to the lab. It just made it absolutely crystal clear that when the most heinous of crimes were involved, the court would be prescribed to submit the DNA samples to the RCMP lab.

That tells a story about the importance of quality judges and the role parliamentarians can have in reviewing bills and legislation such as Bill C-31. I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak. I hope the government follows through on some of these appointments. It is fine to have a bill, but even if the bill is passed by Parliament, the government still has to appoint judges. It has to appoint Immigration and Refugee Board judges. It still has to appoint senators. It cannot sit on its hands. The government has to actually do it. It is one thing to have the legislation, but then the legislation has to be implemented.

If the bill does pass, I hope the government will act on it, fill some of the vacancies and appoint the judges who are needed for this country to be governed properly.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 14th, 2008 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before moving on to questions and comments, I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 97.1(2) I am designating Tuesday, May 13, as the day fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. The report contains a recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).

The motion shall be debated for one hour immediately after private members' business on that day, after which the House will proceed to the adjournment debate pursuant to Standing Order 38.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the third time and passed.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I would like to compliment the member for Etobicoke North on his past service to the House. I understand he has decided that when we reach the point of going to a general election he will not run again. I would like to acknowledge the fact that he has been a consistently solid contributor to the affairs of the nation.

It is within that spirit that I wonder if he might want to reconsider some comments he made. I say this with the deepest sincerity. The member was talking about the fact that a Mr. Gwyn Morgan, who had been given the job of becoming involved in the appointments process, ended up not being confirmed by the opposition. This was immensely regrettable because of the standing of Mr. Morgan within the corporate community of Canada and indeed within his own community around Calgary.

It really gives us a good reason for why many people of exceptionally high calibre who could be contributing to public life in Canada choose to stay away. As a matter of fact, he was given the appointment by our current Prime Minister and was going to be getting the princely sum of $1 per year in order to carry out this function. In fact, it did not happen.

I wonder if the member might want to reconsider his comments, because certainly a person of the immensely high calibre of Gwyn Morgan, whether he happened to have been associated with our party, the member's party or any other party, is really quite irrelevant. He would have brought a tremendous asset base to this chamber and was prepared to do it virtually as a volunteer, obviously, for a $1 fee. I wonder if the member, who I know is a very honourable gentleman, might want to reconsider his inference toward Mr. Morgan.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kootenay—Columbia, the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, for his kind words. Over the years we have worked together at committee or in different venues and have always had a good rapport and a good understanding of each other.

However, I am somewhat puzzled, I must say, by his request that I would retract something I have said.

Here is the reality. In fact, I met Mr. Gwyn Morgan. As a businessman he did some amazing things with EnCana. I worked with EnCana on some policy issues and I have a lot of respect for Mr. Gwyn Morgan, but the point I was trying to make was not really a comment on Mr. Gwyn Morgan's capabilities or otherwise. The reality is that he was a Conservative fundraiser, but the other part is that he made some comments that people found distasteful.

Irrespective of all of that, the committee said that in its wisdom it did not want to confirm Mr. Gwyn Morgan. What would have been the problem, then, for the Conservative government to say that the public appointments commission is really a good idea, we thought it was the best batter, but the batter struck out, so let us find another batter and let us get on with this if we really are committed to this notion of non-partisan appointments? I think it is a very laudable objective.

Whether it could have been achieved with a public appointments commission, I am not so sure, because we would have to sort of unravel the whole political history and political economy of Canada to reach that point. The reality, and we all know it, is that when we get down to the short list there are many people who are equally qualified. There might be a person with excellent qualifications and another person with excellent qualifications, and the way the system works is that for two people of equal qualifications the Prime Minister has the discretion to do what he or she wishes.

That is how it works in this country. If the government wants to change that, it should advance this public appointments commission instead of running away with its toys, packing up its tent and going home.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

I thank my colleague for his eloquence in addressing Bill C-31.

In examining this bill more closely, we must also ensure certain elements are present. We know that, throughout the country, we are in great need of judges and we owe no thanks to the Conservative government as we attempt to resolve the situation.

In light of Bill C-31 and the 20 additional judges, it is clear that, in terms of judicial appointments, we must ensure that certain elements are present and that there is respect, in order for the judiciary to be highly regarded by Canadians. One of the elements when making judicial appointments is balance because Canadians, in turn, expect balance when decisions are made.

I would like to ask my colleague a question. Does the Conservative government's approach to making appointments, whether for various committees or other bodies, result in balance? Or is the Conservative government trying rather to imbue the judiciary with its ideology? Will this lead to certain problems in future?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Madawaska—Restigouche.

In my opinion, this member is making a very important point. Our judges must be competent, honest and there must be balance when judges are appointed in Canada.

My colleague made another important point, which I developed somewhat in my earlier remarks. The judiciary has to be totally non-partisan. While the Conservatives on the other side of the House talk about non-partisan appointments, that is not what we on this side of the House have seen to date. We have seen a predominance of Conservative loyalists being appointed. That is the way this is going.

Frankly, when we set objectives as a government or as a party, we should be realistic about whether they can be attained. The reality is that in our current Constitution the Prime Minister of Canada has discretion. It is folly for the Conservatives to argue that they are not going to make any partisan appointments in the context of Canada, our current political climate and our Constitution. What we have seen to date, based on the evidence, is that their appointments are highly charged and highly partisan. We have seen no change with respect to that.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased this afternoon to speak to Bill C-31. As I already mentioned earlier, this bill is extremely important if we look at the needs of our judicial system across the country. It is also very important because of the current vacancies within the judiciary. The government has come up with Bill C-31 to appoint 20 extra judges.

The government certainly has its share of the responsibility for the current situation with respect to judicial appointments. When we look at the situation, the Conservatives are certainly the only ones to blame. They cannot blame anyone else but themselves in this case.

As far as the appointment of 20 extra judges is concerned, as I have said, we must make sure that Canadians receive the services to which they are entitled. This is not just a matter of people appearing in court or before a judge because they have done something wrong. Canadians also appear before a judge or judges because they want to fight for their rights.

We have a rather concrete example, which I just gave, of a woman, who, thanks to the court challenges program, was able to fight for her right to be served in French by the RCMP. The court ruled that the woman's complaint was well-founded. As the House can see, Canadians do not just appear before a judge when they have done something wrong, but also when they want to stand up for their rights, the fundamental rights of this country that cannot be denied any Canadian citizen. One of the great things about our country is also the fact that we are free to speak up for ourselves, which is possible because of the judicial system.

We need extra judges, but we also have to wonder about Bill C-31. Since January 2006, since the Conservatives have been in power in Ottawa, we have had to wonder quite a bit. What we hear and what the Conservatives say are rarely the same thing. That is why I wonder about certain aspects of the bill.

One of the aspects is ensuring the independence of the judiciary. That is what the government tries to say, but the opposite happens when it comes time to make a decision. A number of examples show that we should still be worried. Sometimes, when the government introduces a bill, we wonder if they are acting with utmost sincerity or if they have a hidden agenda. I will not go on and on. I know that some members of the government will say that I am off topic, but let us look at the example of Bill C-10 and the question of censorship. That is flagrant proof that the government is trying to introduce bills containing elements that make us believe they are sincere, while in reality they are hiding elements from us.

I spoke earlier about the importance of the independence of the judiciary. I have serious issues with certain elements—I am thinking about the members of the provincial advisory councils. The Conservatives decided to appoint people in order to obtain power. In northern New Brunswick, they appear to have stacked the deck in an attempt to control the judicial system. The Conservative government is wrong to do that. The other element in terms of Canadian judicial system appointments has to do with the appointment of people who are influential within the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives say that it is important that the best people be appointed.

Yes, it is important to appoint the most qualified people, and that should guide all of the government's decisions every day. However, a closer look at the situation suggests that it might be more than coincidence.

The Conservatives have just said that the best, most qualified people should be appointed, but we have to wonder. As it happens, the Prime Minister's former campaign director for New Brunswick, the former president of the Conservative Party in Quebec, and the former chief Conservative Party fundraiser for Alberta were all awarded judgeships.

As it also happens, the Conservative government said that there must be transparency—especially on the part of the government—that the best people must be appointed and that the most qualified people must get the job. This is about fairness and about giving people a reason to have faith in the system.

However, it just so happens that high-ranking Conservative Party members got lucky. It is quite the coincidence that these people were appointed and the others were rejected.

We might think that from time to time, party supporters might get lucky and be appointed, but that is because they are the best candidates with the best qualifications, people who can demonstrate that they have the best skills for the job.

We should take a look at the situation in the provinces. I gave just a few examples earlier of very high-ranking Conservative Party members who were appointed to the Canadian judicial system.

I find these elements very troubling. The Canadian people also have concerns about this party, which is easy to understand when things like this come up. The government is trying to make itself look as though it is transparent, as though it is the political party, the government, that wants to do things with as much clarity and transparency as possible. The sad truth is that it is filling up the room and filling up the committees via the back door. What does the Conservative government want the appointees to abide by? By Conservative ideology, of course.

Canadians have every reason to fear the Conservatives. In fact, Canadians have every reason to fear the Conservative ideology, because the future of the country in many respects is certainly not currently in the right hands. People in my riding say so all the time. There are things going on, and people are afraid of the Conservatives.

When we say, myself included, that Conservatives are not transparent, that they try to slip things in through the back door, that they add things to bills to bring them in line with the Conservative ideology, we need to be prepared to back this up. Moreover, we must be able to provide even more proof to Canadians that the Conservative government is making decisions not for the well-being of the Canadian people or of minorities, but solely for the well-being of the political party currently in power.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

An hon. member

That is what they are doing.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

It certainly is. It is exactly what they are doing.

Back to the appointment of judges. The Conservative Party regularly says that it is pro-bilingualism. To be pro-bilingualism, the government needs to do more than simply say so. It needs to take concrete action so that Canadians will trust politicians. Then Canadians will find that these are good laws and that our parliamentarians are being fair so that each and every Canadian can benefit.

As for bilingualism, it is a matter of access to justice. Access to justice is a concept that is very easy to explain and understand. It means that each citizen can be served in the language of their choice and be treated fairly. That is access to justice. But when it comes to bilingualism, access to justice is another worry that Canadians have about the Conservatives.

It is crucial that francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec have access to justice. The government cannot just say it is going to appoint judges and allow them to sit and do their work, regardless of their ability to express themselves in one of the official languages. People who need a service and who defend their rights in the language of their choice may not receive the same service. It is scary to see what the Conservatives are doing. Yet they tell us, through the media, that they are in favour of bilingualism and want to give francophone minorities outside Quebec every possible opportunity.

I live in New Brunswick, a province that is in this situation. Where I live, francophones are in the minority. That is the reality. We need services in our language. But when we look at realities such as the abolition of the court challenges program, it is too bad, but it is a prime example of what I am talking about. The government cuts a program that costs peanuts and helps people defend their rights in court and gain access to services.

In my books, the government is not sincere when it says one thing and then turns around and cuts a program like that. When we say something, we have to be able to walk the talk. Our actions have to be consistent with what we say. At present, the Conservatives are saying one thing, but they are doing another by eliminating access to services for francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec. They are doing this to all minorities.

The court challenges program was not just in place to defend language rights. Everyone knows that it also helped people with special needs, persons with disabilities and women. It is slightly illogical to consider women a minority since they account for a large proportion of Canada's population, but this reflects a reality we can see.

When it comes to access to justice, it is very hard to really have confidence in the government. The Conservatives have said they want to have additional positions. The government and the Conservative members should stand up and walk the talk.

First, we, the members in this House, would be in a position to trust the Conservatives a little more, because, after all, we must not exaggerate. Thus, we could trust the Conservatives a little more and Canadians could also trust them a little more, because at this time, they do not trust them, specifically because any time the members of the Conservative government speak in this House or speak to the media, they say the exact opposite of what they actually do.

However, if, as parliamentarians, we can prove to Canadians that members of this House are doing the job for which they are paid, defending the interests of their constituents, only then will citizens no longer feel like they come last and will they be inclined to show greater support for their politicians and representatives in the polls. In addition, our actions will be fair and consistent with our words when it is time to set policy and make decisions. The Conservatives, however, do just the opposite.

I spoke earlier about bilingualism and the court challenges program. Consider for example the New Brunswick woman who could not be served in French by the RCMP and who was able to defend her rights thanks to a court decision and the court challenges program. Let us imagine this woman's situation if, in addition to not being able to access services in her language in New Brunswick, she also had to deal with a judicial system that did not allow her access to justice in her language. That would be ridiculous. That really is the direction being taken by the Conservatives and this is reflected in their actions. Canadian are afraid of their actions. This is one reason why Canadians have many fears about the Conservatives.

Let us now imagine if this woman, in addition to not being served in her language—and the court ruled that she should have been served in her language—did not even have access to judicial services in her language.

It really would be incredible. It would make no sense. I am convinced that my colleagues on this side of the House agree with me. It would also be interesting if the Conservative government were to acknowledge this. Citizens would have a little more trust in the government. At the very least, one thing is certain. We, the Liberals, rise to keep the Conservatives in check because Canadians have faith in the Liberals. We have established many programs over the years and over the decades. We established the criteria and the rules to ensure that Canadians are treated fairly.

I will go back to the example given a little earlier: the court challenges program. The results of this program speak for themselves. There was the case of Montfort Hospital in the national capital region. This program also made it possible for French-language schools to be opened in some provinces where there are few francophones. And there are other examples.

As I was saying earlier, what they say and do are two different things. As we know, the court challenges program was eliminated twice. By what kind of government? Not by the Liberals, but by the Conservatives. For this reason, Canadians trust the Liberals. That is also why Canadians want change. The Conservatives say one thing to the people, the media and the House of Commons and then do another.

At some point, we will take over from the Conservatives. I can guarantee you that the time will come for the Conservatives to face the music. Then the Liberals will ensure that Canadians are treated equitably and that they have equal access to justice. Canadians will not fear their government as is the case today.

Bill C-31 is necessary for increasing the number of judges in the country. However, as one can guess by all the examples I have given, there are many things that can make us fear the worst, that can change the entire face of the judiciary and, in fact, the entire face of the country within a few yeas. The Conservatives do not want to go in a direction of greater fairness. They do not want to ensure that the machinery of government or the judicial system is fairer. They are trying to stack the deck to gain control, to allow their Conservative ideology to prevail instead of allowing fairness and equity to prevail. We talk about equity on many levels: pay equity, equity among peoples. These are magic words all hon. members should keep in mind. When we are fair, everyone wins.

They want to favour certain people. As I was saying earlier, who does the Conservative government just happen to be favouring? As luck would have it, they are favouring senior Conservative Party members within the different provinces. That is quite the coincidence.

Sometimes a person is appointed. One might think that person is possibly the best candidate to be appointed, with the best skills and qualifications. At the second appointment, there begin to be some serious doubts. We start to wonder whether the Conservative way of doing things is just to ensure that the Conservative ideology is spread far and wide. At the third appointment, we have more than just doubts. We wonder what is happening and whether they are in the process of so completely changing the face of Canada that Canadians will no longer recognize themselves.

Bill C-31 is certainly important for increasing the number of judges. Nonetheless, access to justice must prevail above all.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the member opposite, I had to go back to today's projected order of business to find out exactly what we were debating because he seemed to be wandering a bit.

He went on at length as to why it took our government two years to deal with this amendment to the Judges Act.

The act was last amended in 1998 by the Liberal government. In the subsequent six or eight years that it was in the position of government, it did nothing else on it. It is a little disingenuous to say that two years is too long a period of time when the Liberals did not touch it for eight years.

He also mentioned that Canadians do not have a very high opinion of politicians. I think we are even second last to lawyers. However, I wonder if some of the actions of previous Liberal governments, for example the sponsorship scandal and some of the images that Canadians had of money changing hands in brown bags, if that might have had something to do with that opinion.

To get back to what we are debating here today, Bill C-31, an amendment to the Judges Act, perhaps he could comment on why the Liberals did not act on it for eight years when they were in government.

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is ironic to hear my colleague ask questions and wonder whether I talked about the bill at all.

My colleague opposite started giving examples of some situations that happened in the past. I will be reasonable and remind him of certain questionable facts involving his party that surfaced in the past weeks and months. But I will stop there. The truth is that I talked about Bill C-31 because I truly believe that we have to take a very close look at it.

Perhaps these words will ring a bell for the member: the Cadman affair, NAFTAgate, the Elections Canada in and out scheme, the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. Does the member want me to go on?

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5:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Yes, yes.

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Yes? My colleagues want me to go on.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out one thing: I have provided enough examples for them to understand that they have been caught up in the system for the past few weeks and months. We have no idea where the scandals involving the Conservative Party will end.

Let us take a look at what has happened over a little more than the past two years. For 26 or 27 months now, we have been governed by the Conservative government. We are now heading into our third year, which is too long. The truth is that during that time, the Conservative government has been asleep at the switch. I will explain why.

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5:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.