House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament September 2007, as Bloc MP for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 45% of the vote.

Statements in the House

The Environment November 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I did not expect that I would have to reply to the questions, but I will do it.

The Bloc Québécois is opposed to the minister's bill because, unlike the Conservatives and the NDP, it firmly believes in Kyoto, like the rest of the world.

The minister's bill only includes targets for the year 2011. This is 2006 and if we wait until 2011, Montreal will not succeed.

Will the minister agree to set targets now?

The Environment November 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I will reply to the Prime Minister by saying that the Bloc Québécois is prepared to join with all the political parties and all the countries that wish to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but not with the Conservative government, which is associated with the NDP.

Montreal is the only place in Canada with a derivatives market. The Montreal stock exchange wants to set up an environmental market. In order to do that, specific standards must be set.

If the Minister of the Environment wants to support Montreal's initiative, what is she waiting for to establish specific standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Judges Act November 9th, 2006

I thank my colleague since this gives me a chance to clarify something. We must be careful not to lapse into demagogy when it comes to salary issues. We could not decide to freeze the salaries of every judge, member of Parliament and minister as long as there is human misery.

This would not be a good way of solving the problem. Still, what I say is that by looking at the problems of the homeless, of senior citizens who receive only a slight increase in their small monthly pension each year and the general enrichment of public servants—which is not very high either—by looking at all these questions, we see that the government can do better for everyone, but do better within its means. So what it can afford should serve as the criterion in all circumstances.

Indeed, within its means, the government could do much more for older workers and homeless people. This is a large number of people, but not such a large number that the government would go bankrupt if it helped them more.

What I mean is that, within its means, the government should do more for the homeless, for older workers who are victims of mass layoffs, perhaps a little more for senior citizens who might well deserve a little better support and for the needy groups of society.

The government could do for judges, as for MPs and public servants, what is fair and reasonable, that is, less than what it is now proposing. It is as clear as that. The homeless, senior citizens, workers who have lost their jobs and MPs all deserve justice. I will end by saying that judges—especially judges—who deserve all our esteem and all our respect, also deserve justice. We must therefore not cut them off from reality.

Judges Act November 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her judicious comments.

I would like to clarify one thing. It is not a question of abolishing the mechanism or the structure for determining judges' salaries, but of giving this committee, as the legislation allows, the necessary framework to review, as set out in the legislation, the financial needs of the judiciary in relation to growth in the economy. The government can very well indicate to the commission within which framework it wishes to work. The legislation refers to the state of Canada's economy, the cost of living, the overall financial and economic situation of the government, the role of financial security for the judges, the need to recruit the best candidates and every other objective aspect the commission considers important. This mechanism needs to be maintained, but a framework needs to be in place to guide the work done by these people.

As far as independence is concerned, beyond the mechanism for setting salaries, I do not think judges will be less independent, less fair in their decisions or that they will not do as well in their profession and in interpreting the law, whether they are paid $220,000, $238,000 or $263,000 a year. We must also consider their responsibilities as compared to other professions. There are degrees of responsibility in the machinery of government, even for people who are not in the judiciary. For example, the Deputy Minister of Justice has extremely important duties and certainly a level of education that is equivalent, if not superior, to that of judges.

We must also look at how the government establishes the value of the service provided by these people. I do not believe that the hon. member thinks that the MPs, ministers and the Prime Minister in this House are less independent, less dedicated and less objective when they take decisions because they earn a certain salary and not another. Whether the Prime Minister earns $250,000 or $300,000 a year, I do not think this has much impact on his independence.

We have to maintain, for each individual, a level of income that is more or less equivalent to his or her responsibilities. The Bloc Québécois feels that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court should earn the Prime Minister's salary, less one dollar. It seems to me that this is a reasonable level for a chief justice. The other salaries must be based on this primary responsibility. We do not think that the responsibilities of the chief justice are such that he should earn much more than the Prime Minister, for fear that otherwise he will not be objective or independent. This is totally irrelevant. The salary must be fair and reasonable, but we must also take into consideration the ability to pay that salary.

I am surprised to see this coming from the NDP. Amendments were proposed in committee. The hon. member may not be aware of this, but the NDP suggested to increase judges' salaries more than what the government is proposing, that is to increase them by 10%, instead of 7%, and indexing them to the cost of living. This amounts to about 13%. I have a hard time with the fact that this is from the NDP, because, usually, that party fights for social justice, rather than trying to improve the plight of society's upper echelons.

I would love to get an explanation some day, because I never understood that.

Judges Act November 9th, 2006

It seems to me that the logic is indeed impeccable.

It is the government's duty to establish the guidelines. Imagine what it is like to be a member of a committee convened to discuss the salaries of judges and of MPs—as was the case in the past. First, a judge is appointed to the committee. Naturally, he knows his profession well, and knows the salaries. Second, a lawyer is appointed. We like lawyers, but they work with judges. Some lawyers have fairly substantial incomes. Representatives from the economic sector, usually individuals who have had some success in the business world, the economic world, are also appointed; for them, the salary of a judge or MP is small change. There is a certain degree of openness.

When I was an MPP in Quebec City, I saw some of these people who talked about members' salaries. All these committees always produce reports indicating that they think there should be an increase of around 20%—what do I know?—and an increase of 20% to 25% for elected representatives. That is normal. These people are trying to make a judgment call, except that they have no connection to the daily reality of a parliamentarian. That is the difference. It is the government's duty to establish guidelines.

It is all well and good to let a small committee decide on the most appropriate salary for judges, but the government's duty is also to ensure that the committee takes into account the state of the economy, the usual benchmarks the government sets and the usual progress of increases. This is set out in the Judges Act. If the economy grows by 3% annually, I agree that judges should benefit, as MPs do now, as well as public servants and all those people. An increase of 2% to 3% a year is fine.

But if the economy grows by 2% to 3% a year, I cannot accept that people who are already well paid in this society should receive a 10% increase, plus have their salaries indexed to the cost of living, and later receive another 10%. This has meant that judges' salaries, which were equivalent to MPs' in the early 1980s, have gradually risen to double that amount today.

This has to stop, because the public is paying. It is not that I do not like judges or that I do not believe they should be paid appropriately, but they have to be paid equitably, and that means that we have to look at all the other categories of jobs, at the thousands of employees who work for low salaries in this Parliament and who make sure each day that Parliament runs smoothly. We have to consider the people who do the housekeeping and work every day to make us more comfortable. We have to look at senior officials, who have outstanding skills and who could be lured away to jobs elsewhere.

We have to take all these people into account and think clearly and with respect for the public and for our ability to pay.

Judges Act November 9th, 2006

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.

Points of Order November 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, during question period, the member for Louis-Hébert asked the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities a question about Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act. The minister misled this House by stating that the Bloc Québécois was opposed to BIll C-22, when the Bloc Québécois has spoken in favour of the bill and will be voting for it.

I demand an apology from the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Don Cherry November 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the anglophone members of this House gave a hero's welcome to Don Cherry, a CBC commentator whose disparaging comments about francophones have already raised questions here in the House of Commons.

This morning, everyone in Quebec is asking questions about the tribute paid to Don Cherry. Clearly, it does not take much to be a hero in English Canada.

Don Cherry was accompanied in the gallery by none other than the Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. We cannot understand why you yourself, Mr. Speaker, bent the rules of the House, a set of rules you helped establish.

I have trouble understanding how you could demonstrate such enthusiasm for a francophone-bashing clown. Maybe it was because the member for Kingston and the Islands temporarily supplanted the Speaker.

The attitude demonstrated in this House was hurtful, and we will learn from this experience.

Canada-EU Summit November 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, like everyone who read the paper this morning, the Bloc Québécois finds it disturbing that, since the government was elected, it has had an anti-Kyoto protocol agenda, has refused to comply with it and has denounced its goals.

Today, on the eve of her departure for Nairobi, the minister announced in Quebec that she supports phase two of the Kyoto protocol and that a carbon exchange will be set up in Montreal.

When are we supposed to believe the government? When it is against the Kyoto protocol or when it is for it, on the eve of the international conference in Nairobi?

Canada-EU Summit November 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to hurt the parliamentary secretary's feelings, but the Conservatives are in government now. It is up to them to make decisions. We would like to know more about this because the Kyoto protocol file is total chaos.

As the Minister of the Environment prepares to represent Canada in Nairobi, does the Prime Minister not think it is his duty to remove any doubt about the position Canada intends to take in Nairobi? After all, do we not have the right to know what she will be talking about on our behalf?