December 11, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Manitoba's 43 provincial court judges are in for a pay raise.
An independent panel has recommended that judges' base salary be bumped up by 2.9 per cent to $218,000 for this year and be adjusted in each of the next two years, based on the weekly average earnings of Manitobans.
The Judicial Compensation Committee's (JCC) report was handed to the government in July but only tabled in the legislature this week.
Justice Minister Andrew Swan said the increase in base salary is automatic and the government or legislature cannot change it. Only what happens in the following two years can be changed.
"We believe that the Manitoba economy is performing well," JCC chairman Michael Werier said in the report. "However, we accept that the province is dealing with a deficit which they wish to bring under control."
Swan said the increase is keeping with a formula that keeps salaries of provincial court judges on par with what judges earn in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. By law, judges cannot speak out on remuneration or political issues.
Swan added what won't have an impact on the increase is an ongoing court case between the province and its provincial court judges. That case started three years ago when the all-party standing committee on legislative affairs rejected a JCC-recommended pay rise for judges and substituted their own, blaming the economy for holding down pay raises all public servants.
The JCC had recommended provincial court judges get a five per cent raise in each of 2009 and 2010 to bring their base salary up to $211,862 by March 31, 2011.
Provincial court judges sued the province for rejecting that recommended pay raise on the grounds it undermined the work of the JCC and their own independence.
Court of Queen's Bench Judge Jeffery Oliphant agreed with them and described the actions of that committee, including then-finance minister Rosanne Wowchuk, as a "total sham."
Oliphant found Wowchuk and the province supplied no background information for rejecting the JCC's report other than it wanted to send a message to all civil servants that "wage pauses" were required to deal with the recession.
"The government was doing its best, in responding to the JCC's recommendations, to protect its bargaining position with public-sector groups rather than focusing, as it was required to do, on what the appropriate level of compensation for judges should be," Oliphant said in his decision, adding because of it, the government did not fulfil its constitutional obligations to be fair to its judges.
"When the minister of finance pulled that motion out of her euphemistic back pocket at the conclusion of the hearing and when the standing committee adopted that motion, to describe the hearing of the standing committee as a total sham would be fair and reasonable," Oliphant said.
"No platitudinous statement in the world made by the government as to its commitment to the process can pass muster in the face of its conduct. The government, by its conduct, turned the process into one that became politicized."
The province appealed Oliphant's decision. Both sides will be in Manitoba's top court Dec. 13.
"There are some items of contention from the Oliphant decision," Swan said, declining to comment further.
"IT is regrettable that members of the judicial branch of government had to come to court to seek relief and to obtain the remedies they sought.
"What is even more regrettable, however, is the wanton disregard and lack of respect shown by the government for the process the government itself established to settle issues pertaining to judicial salaries and benefits. The best evidence of that wanton disrespect and disregard is to be found in the conduct of the government at the hearing held by the standing committee, a hearing that can only be described as a total sham as a result of the government's conduct."
-- Jeffrey Oliphant
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 A9