Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-49, an act to authorize remedial and disciplinary measures in relation to members of certain administrative tribunals, to reorganize and dissolve certain federal agencies and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Some title!
You will agree that with sentences that long, without a single comma, we have no idea what this bill is supposed to do. Let us try to wade through all this verbiage and see what it all means. We are told that the proposed amendments have the effect of abolishing 271 positions to which appointments are made by the governor in council. This is absolutely ridiculous. The 261 positions mentioned are now vacant. There is no one filling those positions. There is no money to be saved. This is a lot of smoke and mirrors, nothing else.
People often forget that administrative tribunals are above all a court of first resort for the citizen, one of the initial levels where citizens can be heard. We have, for instance, the Employment Insurance Tribunal. If a citizen is dissatisfied with a decision made by a public servant, he can go before an arbitration board before filing an appeal at any other legal level.
There are a host of administrative tribunals that are creatures of the federal government. This bill confirms that many of them are useless, since the government proposes their outright abolition. Others will simply be reorganized, while the majority will not be affected.
So this bill does not cover all administrative tribunals. The government is just giving us a sample. This is not a thorough reform, nor is it an in-depth study of each tribunal.
If the government wants to preserve these administrative tribunals, as is the case here, it should have arranged for these authorities to play a real role. For instance, the Quebec government is also making an inventory of its arbitration boards and its administrative boards, but it is asking the real questions. The real questions are not being asked here, in other words, the independence and impartiality of judges and tribunals. Is the government asking these questions?
Certainly not. The present government prefers to hide its head in the sand instead of asking the real questions. Are the people in these positions really independent? That is one of the questions that keeps coming up in connection with the appointment of the people who sit on these tribunals. I will get back to that later on.
The bill creates a new mechanism to remove from office people sitting on these tribunals. This is a good thing. It is about time the
government realizes that some people it has appointed are simply unfit to sit on an administrative tribunal.
In fact, in a report on the future and mandate of the Canada Post Corporation recently tabled here in the House, under recommandation 28, the author said that the government should only appoint to the board of the Canada Post Corporation people having the necessary expertise and wherewithal to manage a company of that size.
This confirms that political appointments- there are close to 2,000 of them-are not suitable since the appointees are creatures of the government. They are being rewarded for services rendered.
With this bill, the government is establishing a process allowing the chair of an administrative tribunal to ask the minister in charge whether any member of the tribunal should be subject to remedial or disciplinary measures. Of course, this can only be done on grounds such as infirmity, misconduct, failure to properly execute the office, and incompatibility.
We are led to believe that an in-depth inquiry will be held. But we are fully aware that once again it is the minister who will decide. We always go back to the same issue, because it all boils done to this: the independence and impartiality of decision-makers or lack thereof. How can these tribunals be impartial when already the question of appointments is creating a problem? It is having repercussions within the board.
A new provision of this bill also proposes a standard procedure for the appointment of chairpersons of administrative tribunals. It says that, from now on, chairpersons will be designated and not appointed.
Can someone in this House tell me the difference? This is only a charade, smoke and mirrors, pure and simple. Once again this will undermine the credibility of all administrative tribunals. In other words, administrative tribunals are patronage heaven. As the elders in my region used to say, they are «patronage heaven». We could have carried out a true reform of these tribunals or at least of the way they operate.
It is of the utmost importance that these bodies be at arm's length with the government. They are not. These tribunals must absolutely be totally independent from the government. How can that be when they are appointed by the government? We have to admit that these appointments serve as rewards for friends of the government.
You only have to look at the last Hill times ; you will find a full half-page, in very small print, of Liberal patronage designations or appointments, whichever way you chose to call them, a list of
members of the Liberal Party who now hold positions everywhere, in the Senate, MP offices and administrative tribunals. The list goes on and on.
Of course, when someone pays $1,000, $1,200 and up to $3,000 to attend a political event or dinner, one expects at one point, whether they be lobbyists or others, to get something in return. Are these famous administrative tribunals not a way to get something in return?
When these people must take major decisions that would embarrass the government-let us recall the last bill that was discussed earlier-might they not be tempted to go back, to step backwards, because they would have this sword of Damocles over their heads, which could bring about their removal from office?
These people might also be reluctant to develop a case law that would be favourable, for instance, to a particular citizen and, in taking this decision, they could penalize the government. In this structure, in this whole hierarchy, it is not easy for the ordinary individual to finally be heard.
Consequently, it is a measure that ensures the members of an administrative tribunal would be much more inclined to thank whomever appointed them. Of course, if someone embarrasses the government, he will be fired. Let us remember the maxim that says: "Do not bite the hand that feeds you." I think it applies in this case.
The government is going the wrong way with its Bill C-49, because it simply refuses to deal with the thrust of the matter, which is the appointment of people. The government must stop making appointments once for all. I am puzzled at the favouritism it is showing. When I was elected in 1993, some of my constituents came to tell me how there was favouritism in the appointment of some administrative tribunals. Since we were under the Conservative government, we saw a number of heads roll afterwards. They were rolling all over the place and in all the ridings ofof Quebec.
Changes were even made to mandates, as in proceedings before the Federal Court for instance. There were changes in counsel, changes in government, changes in the make-up of administrative tribunals. That is what parliamentary life is all about. Do not come and tell me that there is no connection between those in power and these individuals. As I said and as we know full well, these appointments are made to reward the friends of the government. There are several examples of this.
New returning officers were just appointed by Elections Canada in the various ridings. Just by chance, a former Liberal member was appointed in my riding. What a coincidence. No one will have me believe that this person will be able to remain totally impartial in the performance of his duties.
Looking at other appointments in neighbouring ridings, I realized that the same thing happened there. They have appointed all over the place Liberal candidates defeated in the last election, and God knows there were many Liberal candidates defeated in Quebec. Just take a look at The Hill Times . We would have to be blind not to see that these people will not be able to carry out their duties with all due impartiality.
There is another concern, which we have experienced in this place as a matter of fact. The House will recall how those in charge of taking the census were appointed recently. That was done just recently. The government simply interfered with the process at Statistics Canada by sending its priority list. Do not come and tell me that the purpose of Bill C-49 is a sound reform of administrative tribunals. Patronage is the Liberal government's trademark, but we must not think that the Conservatives are any better. Nothing changes, except the patronage appointees, when one government goes out and a new one comes in.
With this bill, the government retains control over all appointments. This kind of flies in the face of the basic principles of democracy, which are usually the impartiality and independence of administrative tribunals. One could naturally question the legitimacy of certain tribunals. I will address it later or another member of my party will complete my remarks.
Since you are signalling that I have two minutes left, Mr. Speaker, let me just say that I believe this bill should be defeated without further ado. I request the unanimous consent of the House for tabling the following motion:
That Bill C-49, an act to authorize remedial and disciplinary measures in relation to members of certain administrative tribunals, to reorganize and dissolve certain federal agencies and to make consequential amendments to other acts, having been passed by the Liberal majority of this House at second reading, be referred to every standing committee of the House of Commons dealing with an administrative tribunal covered by the bill.