Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to once again rise in this House to discuss Bill C-17 dealing with the salaries of federally appointed judges across Canada.
It is a delicate matter to discuss the salaries of the judiciary. We agree on that fact. It is important for those who are listening to us and who are trying to understand this, to know that the Bloc Québécois voted against the bill on second reading because we consider that the increase offered to judges by the government is well beyond the norm in all other sectors of Canadian activity where the government and public funds are involved. It is important that we explain to the people why we have adopted this position.
On May 31, 2004, the mechanism for establishing the compensation of judges went into action; the commission presented its report and recommended a salary adjustment of about 10% for judges and parliamentarians. The salaries of parliamentarians had been linked to that of judges by the previous Liberal government—not the government just prior to the last election but the government of Jean Chrétien. At that time, the Liberals had decided, I believe with the unanimous consent of the House, that it was important that not only the salaries of judges but also those of parliamentarians should be removed from public debate.
It became usual, proper and accepted that from then on the salaries of the two groups became linked. Among other principles, it seemed to us unreasonable and illogical that mechanisms should determine that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who holds a very high office, but an office that in terms of hierarchy is not as high as the Prime Minister, and with the passage of time, that other members of the judiciary, should have a much higher salary than the Prime Minister.
All those who are listening to us, who are at home and are of good faith, will certainly want to say that it is perfectly normal and they believe that the salary of the Prime Minister should be higher than the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if only by a single dollar.
Finally, with the acceptance of this mechanism or idea, a link was established between the salaries of judges and those of parliamentarians by concluding that if the mechanism works so well for judges, it should be the same for parliamentarians. So, it was agreed once and for all to stop talking about that because the situation is even more odious for members since they are the ones who have to determine their own salaries. If it is annoying to members to discuss judges’ salaries, you can image how annoying it is to talk about their own salaries.
This means that in our democracy, here in Canada primarily, we have often seen in the past, in the provinces, cases where elected representatives’ salaries were harshly criticized by the public. In some governments, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, people who have good job security, are paid more than ministers, and in some cases than the premier. There should really be some degree of fairness, and the public is entitled to know about these things.
At the initiative of the previous Liberal government, under Jean Chrétien, judges’ salaries were used as the model and the increases that members of Parliament should receive were tied to the increases given to judges.
At the time the report was submitted, the increase was about 10%. The former Liberal prime minister, the one who was in office at the time of the election, the member for LaSalle—Émard who is still a member today, suddenly got excited. It had become unthinkable and horrible that members be given a 10% salary increase. There were headlines in the newspapers and this became something quite shameful. It was indeed a large increase. Everyone thought it was huge, knowing that all of the raises being given in other parts of the economy were 1.5% or 2% or 3% or something of that sort.
How could we justify parliamentarians suddenly being given a 10% raise? This had nothing to do with parliamentarians; in fact it was the mechanism for setting judges’ salaries that had produced a 10% increase in members’ salaries.
Parliamentarians had nothing to do with this. I was told I would be getting a 10% increase. The prime minister got all excited and said that this did not make sense, because Canadians did not have the resources to give politicians a 10% raise. Everyone applauded and said that it did not make sense to give a 10% raise. This did not look good, because if other people were getting a 2% raise, why would we get a 10% raise? We agreed.
When the decision was made to break the law that put politicians and judges in the same box, or undo that law, the Bloc Québécois, concerned about fairness to the public, said that if a 10% raise for politicians was scandalous, because people did not have the resources to pay that kind of increase, which was understandable, the public did not have the resources to give judges that kind of increase either. My goodness, there are more judges than members of Parliament.
I am trying to understand the logic followed by the member for LaSalle—Émard, who was the prime minister at the time.
No, Canadians did not have the resources to pay what the mechanism for determining judges’ salaries called for, which was a 10% increase. That was scandalous. Members of Parliament had to be distanced from what was being asked for. We would not give ourselves such a raise; we would make it closer to employees’ salary increase, a raise of 2% or 3%. Everyone agreed to this. Everyone thought that it made sense. In all the living rooms of the land, people applauded.
What people did not know, however, was that the Prime Minister had it in mind that the increase, which was too expensive for Canadians and for the 308 members of this House, was not too expensive for the hundreds and even thousands of judges in Canada. To the Prime Minister’s mind, the resolution no longer worked; the idea no longer worked.
These are the kinds of actions that have put us in the situation we are facing today. We have to re-assess judges' salaries and set aside the recommendations in the mechanism because at one time, politically opportunistic people destroyed the credibility of the mechanism and the process. In an “attempt to win votes”, they tried to make us believe that Canadians would be much poorer if the 308 members of this House and the hundreds or thousands of judges in Canada got a 10% pay raise.
We agreed with the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Canadians cannot give a 10% pay raise to members of Parliament—we understand and we agree—they do not have to. But then nobody should get a raise. We cannot give a raise to one half of the people and not the other.
Canadian citizens are too poor to pay their members of Parliament a reasonable salary or to give them a pay raise, yet they are rich enough to give judges a raise? Hold on a second. We like judges well enough and we respect the judiciary, but our priority is justice. We support social justice. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Period. End of discussion.
Citizens made it very clear to the member for LaSalle—Émard what they thought of his decision. The member for LaSalle—Émard, who was Prime Minister at the time, kind of broke the mechanism. Since then, the Bloc Québécois has said that it will not agree to another mechanism unless and until there is a guarantee that judges will be treated fairly with respect to citizens, that is, that their pay raises will match everyone else's.
I would like someone to explain to me why it is that Canadians can afford to grant judges a salary increase of 7%, yet they cannot afford to grant a salary increase of 4% to a deputy minister, a 4% increase to an assistant deputy minister, a 4% increase to a public servant who looks after the cleaning here in Parliament, a 4% increase to any professional who works in the public service—such as an engineer or accountant, for example—and a 4% increase to MPs. Someone please explain this to me. It is taxpayers who must pay and who we are asking to make an effort.
We definitely want the judiciary to have the respect of Canadians, to function independently, and to maintain the trust of Canadians.We must avoid at all cost creating a situation in which judges receive a salary increase that is completely out of line with what other Canadians receive and what they can afford to pay everyone who serves the Government of Canada, at all levels. Judges serve the Government of Canada and Canadian citizens in an independent judicial system that is not isolated from the economic situation of this country. That is the reality.
Rulings have been handed down, such as the Bodner case in Alberta. The court clearly acknowledged that decisions about the allocation of public resources belong to legislatures and to governments. Governments are entitled to reject or modify commission recommendations provided that they have articulated a legitimate reason for doing so—which is fine, that the government’s reasons rely upon a reasonable factual foundation—which is also fine, and that, viewed globally and with deference to the government’s opinion, the commission process has been respected.
The commission has reported, the government believes that the economy does not permit giving anyone much more than the overall increase in the economy as a whole, and the government is able to explain this. It sees to me that that should become the rule. That is what the judgment says. However, governments do not have the courage to apply decisions as they should. They have a bad habit of behaving in one way when public opinion is at stake and another when it is not very much. As an elected representative of the people, I cannot accept that.
I am prepared to meet voters under any circumstances and justify the decisions for which I voted in Parliament. I am prepared to do that at any time. I am not prepared, though, to meet people in my riding to explain an injustice. I am not prepared to meet them and say that the government does not think it has enough money for certain very deserving social causes, it does not have enough money to help older workers who were let go in mass layoffs due to globalization problems.
I cannot say that to forest workers in the riding of Roberval. These are people who are 58 years old and toiled all their lives in a plant or sawmill. Now these people are being let go, and at 60 or 62 years of age, they do not have the necessary pension funds. They are condemned to give up their houses, cottages and cars. They go on welfare until they turn 65 and can get their Canada pension. I cannot in all conscience meet these people and tell them that the government does not have $75 million to spend on all the older workers victimized by mass layoffs in Canada. On the other hand, though, the government does have $75 million to spend on judges all across Canada over three years. It is going to give them annual increases between $14,000 and $20,000.
I hold our judges and parliamentarians in high regard, but I cannot in all conscience and as a member of Parliament tell my voters that I agree with a $14,000 to $20,000 salary increase for judges, who are already earning between $220,000 and $260,000, when the government does not have $12,000 or $14,000 for families that have been reduced to poverty through economic circumstances, globalization and mass layoffs. I am sorry, but I cannot do that. There are some things a person just cannot do in life, and that is one I cannot do.
I have nothing against judges, but let them be subject to the same criteria as parliamentarians, which my Liberal colleague referred to earlier. Let them be subject to the same criteria.
Why should the rule whereby increases in wages and salaries reflect the collective wealth of society not apply to judges?
Would the protection of judges from public opprobrium not be best achieved by ensuring that their salary increases are not sickening to those for whom poverty and misery are a part of their daily lives? Does protecting judges not mean ensuring fair pay, but pay that reflects the increase in collective wealth across the country? Am I to understand that, until this year, the Canadian judiciary was 7% poorer than average Canadians? Absolutely not.
In Canada, the judiciary is well paid, as it should be. It should nevertheless be granted pay increases which reflect a social and economic reality that cannot be ignored.
I do not see why a profoundly human speech in tune with reality, or explaining to people that the mechanism for setting judges' salaries should take into account the increase in collective wealth, would raise opposition on the other side of the House. If I said anything terribly wrong today, let me be chided on the spot. What was wrong with saying that I believe it is not right for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to have a salary set by this House that is higher than that of the Prime Minister? There is no cause for scandal in that.