Mr. Speaker, on the Royal Internet site about the Queen, it says:
As a constitutional monarch, The Queen abides by the decisions of the Canadian Government, but she continues to play important ceremonial and symbolic roles.
As for the Governor General's role, it is primarily representative. He represents both the Queen in Canada and Canadians abroad. If we define the Queen's role as symbolic and historical, the same is true for the Governor General.
Indeed, the Canadian political system is both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. The powers of the Queen, and therefore of the Governor General, are thus limited not by tradition, but by the Constitution. Canada is a sovereign nation.
In short, regardless of our opinion on the issue, the Canadian monarchy bears first and foremost the mantle of this nation’s traditions and history, rather than that of real executive powers. If we go back to the distant past—well, not so distant, in fact—when Canada was but a vulgar Dominion, it is understandable that it was inconceivable at the time to tax the Queen or her representatives. Not being sovereign, Canada could not have made this decision.
Members will agree that things have changed and that the government will not cause a diplomatic chill between the United Kingdom and Canada by taxing the Governor General's salary. I do not think that the Prime Minister has been threatened in any way by London after having revealed his intention to determine the Governor General's salary in Bill C-38. Moreover, since 1993, the Queen herself has consented, quite voluntarily, to pay taxes.
The Prime Minister, especially since achieving his majority in the House, seems to have taken his admiration for royalty up a notch. Without putting words in his mouth, I believe that the Conservative party is afraid to be perceived as lacking respect for tradition and the institutions that forged this country. The monarchy will always be part of our history, whether we like it or not, but nothing is forcing us to perpetuate illogical and archaic traditions. In fact, I do not think that the transition to a sovereign nation could have been more respectful and peaceful, despite everything, than it actually was.
Basically, the Queen's representative is being asked to participate in this transition and to follow the example of the Queen, who has made a choice and is participating in a more equitable and fairer society by paying taxes. No one is above the law in this country. In any case, nobody should be. Behind the image of the welfare state and assistance and the development of a more egalitarian society, there is the law. No one is beyond its reach, and the Governor General should not be either. The Prime Minister has finally given in.
The New Democratic Party, like all progressive forces in Canada, believes in a fairer and more egalitarian society in which everyone can do their share. Without wishing to upset anyone, I believe that this government has already shown a great deal of respect by perpetuating the very existence of the position, which is also remunerated.
It must not be forgotten that of the 54 Commonwealth countries, only 16 continue to acknowledge the monarch as the head of state. Their citizens should not have to bear even the slightest additional burden to allow the head of state to shirk her or his civic duty with impunity. Yes, I consider that a shirking of responsibility. I come from a union background and know it well. As a political party that supports workers, the NDP will never come out against people fighting for and succeeding in obtaining better working conditions.
But in a context in which everyone needs to tighten their belt and where for many, there is not much left of the belt to tighten, altering the Governor General's salary so that there is no net impact as a result of paying taxes shows a lack of respect for all workers and unemployed people who are victims of this budget's austerity measures.
If this government were to increase personal income tax one day, would the Treasury Board increase the salaries of public servants so that they would not have to bear the burden of the increase? Of course not. Similarly, it would not exempt them from an income tax increase if a salary increase meant they would have to pay more taxes. This would be illogical and run counter to the very principle of taxation.
But in particular, it runs counter to the principle of equity, which requires those who are better off to pay a little more to enable everyone to have access to public services. Why should the Governor General be entitled to more favourable treatment at a time when this government is planning to dismiss 19,000 people and penalize I don't know how many thousands of others through its employment insurance, pension plan and old age security measures?
The concept of equity is very important because it underpins the fundamental principle of every progressive society, in which those whose level of economic well-being is identical are treated identically under the taxation system.
Similarly, of course, those who are at different levels economically will not be treated identically from the taxation standpoint. Taxation is the principal way in which governments can collect income and redistribute it. From this standpoint, it remains the strategic key to achieving equity in Canada and in many other progressive democratic countries.
So the New Democratic Party is not criticizing the salary increase as such, but rather the fact that the measures proposed in Bill C-38, the budget implementation bill, do not observe the principle of equity to which all other citizens are subject.
And now, I would like to conclude by speaking about the impact of Bill C-38, which we are currently considering, and which I have currently been studying as a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. In connection with this, the specific provision concerning the Governor General’s salary does raise a problem.
We tried to propose a significant amendment that would fix the Governor General's salary at a certain level. The amendment in the government bill to the provision dealing with the Governor General's salary actually brings his salary up, presumably so as to keep it at the same level. We do not agree with the arguments that the Governor General's salary is not going to go up with this bill. Actually, if we quickly do the math, we can anticipate seeing a real increase in the Governor General's salary. Moreover, there are currently other provisions that favour the Governor General. He is exempted from paying sales tax, the harmonized tax in most provinces across the country. Currently, the Governor General, who should really be a citizen like everyone else, who holds an honorary position, who represents the Queen in our constitutional monarchy and democracy, receives special treatment compared to everyone else, treatment that even the Queen does not get in the United Kingdom.
We feel that, if we have to deal with this issue, we should not do so under the radar, allowing the Governor General to get more favours than he used to have. We have to set conditions that will make it possible to go back to the way the position and salary were before.
That is why we introduced an amendment fixing the Governor General's salary at exactly what he earned previously. Our amendment was defeated.
In this sense, we are currently following the example of Australia and New Zealand in taxing the Governor General's income, but granting him an increase relative to what he presently earns. Of course, we must also consider the fact that the Governor General will also have sources of income that are not generally considered part of the salary. It may be investment income, accommodation allowances and so on. That must be taken into consideration.
However, the position, as important as it may be in a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy like ours, remains an honorary one. We have a good example of that, I feel, with the famous episode in 2008 when we went through what some might consider a political crisis in this country. The Governor General at the time received advice that she could have opposed the government's attempt at prorogation. But she chose not to do so, simply because her position is recognized first and foremost as honorary, with no executive power attached to it at all.
In that sense, I think that the Governor General's salary prior to the amendment proposed in Bill C-38 was quite appropriate given his responsibilities. His position is honorific and comes with many benefits, including the respect that other countries and our international partners pay when he travels as the country's representative, which is a reward in itself.
The government's proposal in Bill C-38 seems out of step with reality. Bill C-38 does not provide for a specific salary, but offers the Governor General a salary which will determine his or her income tax rate. This will give him pay raises that we consider unacceptable given that thousands of workers are being told to tighten their belts, and the federal government has announced plans to fire or lay off over 19,000 people across the country. Many organizations have suggested that number could be as high as 30,000.
In that sense, we understand the motion that was put forward and we support the spirit of the motion. We would have liked to see the government get on board with the proposed amendment to Bill C-38, but that did not happen.