Newfoundland and Labrador mulls $32,000 pay hike for judges amid fiscal crunch – CP

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Newfoundland and Labrador mulls $32,000 pay hike for judges amid fiscal crunch – CP

by ahnationtalk on May 9, 2016739 Views

Source: The Canadian Press
May 8, 2016

By Sue Bailey


ST. JOHN’S, N.L. _ As Newfoundland and Labrador’s governing Liberals fend off angry protests over a tax-hiking budget, another pricey item looms on their radar: a $32,000 pay hike for provincial judges.

An independent tribunal has recommended increases totalling 14 per cent from 2013-14 to 2016-17, including accumulated retroactive pay of almost $1 million, a Justice spokesman confirms.

If approved, 23 full-time provincial court judges now earning $215,732 would make $247,546 this year, said Luke Joyce in an emailed statement.

Opposition Leader Paul Davis said the pay hike won’t fly.

“It wouldn’t go over at all,” the former Progressive Conservative premier said in an interview. “To see someone who has a salary today of over $200,000 looking at a potential raise that would increase their salary by an amount greater than what many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians earn, I think people would be irate.”

The average salary for a provincial court judge in Atlantic Canada was about $242,000 in 2015, Joyce said. The highest paid provincial court judges in Canada include Alberta, at almost $294,000, and Ontario, at $284,276, according to last year’s Sunshine List.

A judicial pay hike would come as Newfoundland and Labrador is caught in a daunting cash crunch.

Despite sweeping tax and fee increases and a “deficit reduction levy” of up to $900 for top earners, the province is still forecasting a deficit of $1.8 billion this fiscal year. Offshore oil earnings that once provided about 30 per cent of government revenues have plunged to around seven per cent since Brent crude prices crashed.

It’s a jarring economic about-face. The province is now bearing the brunt of tax cuts and spending increases approved in fleeting boom times over the last decade.

Incensed taxpayers have marched in protests across the province as the government braces for contract talks with public sector unions later this year. On top of about 650 job cuts outlined in the budget last month, Finance Minister Cathy Bennett has signalled more pain is coming to create a “sustainable” government workforce.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons declined through the ministry spokesman to comment on judges’ salaries.

“At this point, government has not made a final decision on whether to accept, alter or reject the recommendations from the tribunal,” Joyce said in an emailed statement.

By law, the government must table a resolution by June 1 on the non-binding proposals, he said.

Independent compensation panels are meant to safeguard judicial independence and reliability in good fiscal times and bad, said Trevor Farrow, a law professor and associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

He spoke about general legal principles, not specifically of Newfoundland and Labrador’s tribunal report.

Compensation recommendations can’t be “out of whack” with economic realities, Farrow stressed.

“But I think the conversation needs to be framed less about: Should judges be entitled to a particular salary? And more in the frame of: What are we as citizens wanting them to have in order to ensure that, hard times or easy times, we have a rock solid, independent judiciary?

“Any province or jurisdiction that is thinking about questioning or rejecting that independent panel does need to do so very carefully.”

The Supreme Court of Canada in 1997 ruled that the 1867 Constitution Act calls for a separate process to assess judicial pay. Provincial compensation commissions or tribunals usually include one provincial and one judicial nominee and a chairperson selected to represent both viewpoints.

Cases where provinces blocked related recommendations have repeatedly wound up in court.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, recommendations from the last tribunal were fully accepted by government in May 2011. Judges received retroactive pay increases the following July.

The report of the most recent three-member tribunal chaired by St. John’s lawyer Bradford Wicks says it hopes the province will accept its proposals and avoid delays in appointing future members.

“There must not be political interference or private interest, or the appearance of same, which would place the independence of the judiciary into question,” it says. “This is guaranteed in large part by ensuring the financial security of the judiciary.”

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