ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A $32,000 pay hike for provincial court judges is too rich, says a resolution to be voted on in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons gave notice Tuesday of the resolution rejecting the 14 per cent salary increase recommended by an independent tribunal.
“While the province appreciates and recognizes the vital and unique role provincial court judges play in the operation of the justice system, its ability to remunerate judges is not without limit,” it says.
“Compensation must not only be fair and reasonable, but it must also conform with the economic realities of this province. There are substantial financial obstacles to overcome.”
Debate is expected Thursday before a vote which should easily pass. The governing Liberals hold majority power and Opposition Leader Paul Davis, the former Progressive Conservative premier, has said such a raise would make the electorate “irate.”
The resolution rejects the increase for 23 full-time provincial court judges and says they will continue to earn just under $216,000 through this fiscal year.
A three-person tribunal chaired by St. John’s lawyer Bradford Wicks had recommended raises totalling 14 per cent from 2013-14 to 2016-17, including accumulated retroactive pay of almost $1 million.
The resolution says the province’s finances are much worse since the previous Tory government appointed and reported to the tribunal.
Lower prices have eroded offshore oil revenues as the province forecasts a $1.8-billion deficit this year despite tax and fee hikes.
“In the existing climate many difficult decisions have been necessary,” says the resolution. “The effects are universal; every Newfoundlander and Labradorian has been impacted.
“In such a climate, to accept the recommendation to increase the salary of provincial court judges would be so contrary to the fiscal restraint measures to which the general population is subject that it could bring the courts, the judiciary and possibly the administration of justice in the province into disrepute.”
It remains to be seen whether rejection of that particular recommendation would lead to litigation.
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.
In the past, cases where provinces blocked resulting recommendations have repeatedly landed in court.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the last tribunal’s report was fully accepted by government in May 2011. Judges got retroactive salary hikes the following July.
The most recent tribunal recommendations, if approved, would have brought judges’ salaries in the province to $247,546 this year. That compares to an average salary last year of about $242,000 for provincial court judges in Atlantic Canada, and almost $294,000 for those at the high end of the spectrum in Alberta.