House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.


7 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I preface my remarks this evening with the comment that while noble, interesting, exciting and tremendously fulfilling, our work as members of Parliament is also challenging and stressful. If the actual content of our work was not enough, the sheer volume puts huge physical demands on us as we attempt to meet, balance and fulfill our work obligations in Ottawa, as well as in our ridings.

I can only imagine the additional pressures under which ministers must operate, so I approach the question of the behaviour of the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the Ottawa International Airport last month with both humility and, frankly, compassion. While my concern may seem personal, it is not meant at all in that way.

My concern is for a creeping illness that I think has taken over the government. Every government has a degree of “ministeritis” and that is a sense of inflated ego that happens with a swelling that seems to take place when people get appointed to cabinet. However, there seems to be a greater problem and I am going to call it “ministerialosis”.

“Ministerialosis” is part of that outrageous behaviour that we saw the Minister of State for the Status of Women participate in at the Charlottetown Airport last month. It includes the impulsive and somewhat demeaning behaviour of the Minister of Veterans Affairs in Ottawa. He was questioning the integrity of security staff.

However, “ministerialosis” is more than that. It actually is a failure of cabinet ministers to remember they are representatives of the Crown. They are part of the public service of this country dedicated to and offering themselves to public service, the very best of what we have to offer.

“Ministerialosis” has a sense of isolationism. It is the systematic arrogance of ministers to the Crown who have lost touch with common people. They sense that they are beyond the rules and above the law. They think that people no longer care about the truth or are not smart enough to know it when they are being misled.

They have the insatiable desire to hold on to power by politicizing everything that they do and by appealing to the lowest common values and characteristics among us. It demeans people. It is not what government is meant to be about. Public service is a noble calling.

The good news is that “ministerialosis” is actually a treatable disorder. Sometimes isolation is necessary. It may be that the Prime Minister needs to offer a hard pill that will be difficult to swallow. Sometimes it is a time out. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has failed in this matter of health as much as in other matters of health, but it is to his detriment, the detriment of the government, and the detriment of Canada.

Each of us come here as public servants and in the end all we have to offer is ourselves, our integrity, our best intentions. We need to rise up above the stress, rise beyond what is happening in our lives to offer the very best to the Crown, to the government, and the people of Canada.

7:05 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Greg Kerr ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it may be a debate in which I did not necessarily want to get involved but I feel compelled to do so because I know the gentleman opposite thinks he is a wit, and I believe he is half right. He takes on an issue here, uses cute words and makes up little stories as he goes along. If we are doing new terms, I would use the term “pomposity” to describe how he approaches things. I have seen him in action at committees and different places and I know he has a huge respect for his own ego and his own place in the world.

However, if he takes on somebody in public office who works hard on behalf of Canadians and does these devious little side trips he goes on, he not only does a disservice to the minister he is talking about, but actually to himself. A little reflection in the mirror would probably do him a lot of good and a few years in public office may help him in that regard. Who knows, somewhere down the road he may be in a position where he fills one of these offices and may regret the fact that he played around and poked fun at things that he knows in his heart are not accurate.

We know the minister is a gentleman. We also know that at no point did he request any preferential treatment. We also know that he apologized to anybody he might have offended. We also know that he strongly supports the airport security rules, unequivocally. The member opposite understands that and knows that.

It is the lack of respect he has for other members in the House that disturbs me. I do not know why he would go on this way instead of bringing forth something important, dynamic and worthwhile for the people of the country that we both serve. Since we are both involved in veterans affairs issues, he could have talked about many things that could take place and should take place because he knows the Minister of Veterans Affairs is very interested in making the kinds of change that are necessary as we move forward and face the many issues that particularly younger veterans are facing.

Just on this point, I will not speak at length at all. I just want to share how very disappointed I am in him. I really thought there was something more dynamic coming out tonight, something that was intelligent, not pretending to be intelligent, something that was worthwhile for the great place in which we live and something constructive as we move forward as representatives of the Canadian people. My disappointment is real and I hope in his closing comments he will try to adjust that slightly in a more positive way.

7:05 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is precisely why I wanted to raise this issue tonight. The Minister of Veterans Affairs is a man of integrity, and I have seen that, but he failed that day severely, which puts his work on behalf of veterans in jeopardy. That is my concern. My concern is that bad behaviour, although, and I want to be clear, an understandable mistake that day, it does not make it right.

The apology came too late and only after being found out. That is not good enough. It is simply not good enough behaviour because we need to rise above that for the good of the hard work which we do and which I regularly do and am happy to do.

7:05 p.m.


Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I suppose I do need to respond again. I thought maybe he would end on a high note and perhaps even apologize for raising this issue out of the gutter but obviously that is where he will leave himself, down there.

I have said all I want to say about him. I will conclude by saying that I am very proud to be the parliamentary secretary to that minister. I know the work and the hours he is putting in on behalf of our veterans. I can only hope the member opposite will spend even a small part of his time and effort to represent the veterans in a positive way because they deserve the very best from all of us.

7:05 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, that means that we can now go to the airport and throw a tantrum or try to sneak bottles of tequila and that is all right.

In any event, on March 18, 2010, I asked the Minister of Justice a question. I would like to ask the question again.

Mr. Speaker, in 2008, two full-time Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice positions, which had been occupied by bilingual justices, were filled with unilingual anglophone justices. There is now only a single bilingual justice in the court.

Two other positions will need to be filled soon in Yarmouth and Sydney, which have a significant proportion of francophones.

Will the Minister of Justice ensure that representatives of the francophone and Acadian communities in Nova Scotia are part of the nominating committee, and will he promise to appoint two bilingual justices to the court?

The Conservative government says that it respects our country's two official languages. As members know, I presented a bill, that is subject to a vote on Wednesday, requiring the appointment of bilingual judges to the Supreme Court of Canada. I am not asking that judges be Francophone, but that they be bilingual. I am certain that in Nova Scotia, and elsewhere in Canada, there are English judges who are bilingual.

My question was on the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. What is more, the Acadian francophone community is asking to be part of the nominating committee. The end of the minister's response was:

We encourage minority language communities to apply for judicial appointments. It is very important to this country and certainly to the judiciary itself.

If the minister wants people to apply, then it is important to listen to the francophone community of Nova Scotia. What was the reason for this? Two years ago, in Nova Scotia, two bilingual judges retired. They were replaced by two unilingual anglophone judges. There is just one bilingual judge left at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. The concern of the community in Nova Scotia is that the government will turn around and appoint unilingual people during the next appointments.

If the government respects both official languages of the country, then how does it explain that the last appointments to replace two bilingual positions were given to unilingual people? The second last appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada was also given to a unilingual person. That is where I take issue with this.

How can the Conservatives boast about supporting both official languages when they do not appoint bilingual judges to the Supreme Court, whether it is a provincial supreme court, which is under federal jurisdiction, or the Supreme Court of Canada?

7:10 p.m.

Langley B.C.


Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today and affirm this government's commitment to providing access to justice in both official languages.

The Government of Canada is strongly committed to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minorities in Canada and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society, including our justice system.

The hon. member has raised the particular issue of the filling of vacancies in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. We recognize that there must be significant linguistic capacity in our courts to provide equal access to justice in both French and English. I can confirm that bilingualism is already one of the enumerated criteria in the assessment of the judicial candidates by the judicial advisory committees. This ability is evaluated along with 14 other criteria, such as intellectual ability and analytical skills.

I am confident that the current appointment process has been crafted in a way that permits the Minister of Justice to address the need for access to justice in both official languages and to ensure that the federal judiciary linguistic profile provides adequate access to justice in both official language minority communities.

Under the current process, before recommending appointments, the minister confers with the chief justice of the relevant court to determine the court's needs, including linguistic capacity.

As hon. members are likely aware, a court's chief justice's primary responsibility is the overall direction of sitting on his or her court and the assignment of the judges. The chief justice strives to ensure that all cases, especially criminal, are heard in a timely manner.

The chief justice is, therefore, well positioned in terms of understanding the needs of the communities served and identifying particular needs where vacancies arise. As a result, the minister consults with the chief justice of the court for which a candidate is being considered to allow them to bring to his or her attention any particular needs to be addressed, including bilingual capacity.

The minister also welcomes the advice of any group or individuals on considerations which should be taken into account when filling current vacancies. It is important to understand that the federal judicial appointments process operates on the basis of detailed personal applications from interested candidates and, as such, relies primarily on a system of self-identification.

With a view to improving the pool of bilingual judicial candidates, the government invites the French-speaking jurist associations and their national federation to identify and courage individuals with the necessary qualifications to apply and to share their recommendations with the Minister of Justice.

While bilingualism remains an important criterion considered in the appointment process, it is not and should not be an overriding factor in the selection of our judges. The primary consideration in all judicial appointments is legal excellence and merit. Further criteria includes proficiency in the law, judgment, work habits, writing and communication skills, honesty, integrity, fairness and social awareness.

Our current process allows the government to take into account the bilingual capacity of candidates and to address the need for access to justice in both official languages.

7:15 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot understand how the last time, two years ago, the government managed to only find two judges and neither of them were bilingual. In the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, there is only one bilingual judge.

The client has a right to be heard by a person who speaks his or her language. An anglophone before the courts has the right to be heard by a judge who understands English and can speak the language. The same holds true for a francophone; the law is clear about that. According to Canadian law, there are two official languages and they are equal. It is not simply a service that can be translated.

The parliamentary secretary said that the government is ready to listen to members of the francophone community. Then they should be part of the selection committee in order to put forward names, to help the government appoint bilingual people to the court. If not, I do not feel that the government will truly be able to represent both languages in Nova Scotia.

7:15 p.m.


Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government is extremely proud of the quality of appointments made today to our superior courts across the country.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting and assisting the development of the official language minority communities. To that end, in June 2008 the government announced the road map to Canada's linguistic duality, which is an unprecedented government-wide commitment with a budget of $1.1 billion based on the two pillars of participation of all in linguistic duality and support for official language minority communities in the priority sectors of health, justice, immigration, economic development, arts and culture. Unfortunately, the hon. member did not support that budget, but it happened.

As the government has stated in the past, the overriding principle guiding the selection of members of the judiciary, including those of the highest court, is that of merit, and we are proud of that.

7:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:19 p.m.)