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Provincial court judges' pay hike approved

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Manitoba's provincial court judges are getting a raise.

The pay hike, recommended by the independent Judicial Compensation Committee (JCC) was approved by an all-party legislative committee Monday after weeks of hemming and hawing.

In July, the JCC recommended provincial court judges' pay increases in 2012 and 2013 be based on the annual percentage increase in average weekly earnings (AWE) in Manitoba for the previous calendar year.

Under that formula, the AWE percentage change was 2.7 per cent in 2012, meaning as of April 1 the annual salaries for the provincial court judges increased to $230,155 ($8,822.59 biweekly). The 43 provincial court judges will also see slight tweaks to some of their benefits, such as a five per cent northern living allowance and that judges participate in the same life insurance plan available to all public servants.

The decision to accept the JCC's recommendation, read out by Finance Minister Stan Struthers in a carefully worded motion, is the latest chapter in an at-times strained relationship between the province's judges and the government.

Struthers said the pay increase was fair, but at the same time the province has to remain mindful of what ordinary Manitobans earn each year. Judges' salaries in Manitoba are also partly based on what judges in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan earn. Despite the increase, their salaries are below what their counterparts are paid in larger provinces.

"We don't want to have a disconnect between what we pay and what the average Manitoban is paid," Struthers said after the meeting.

In approving the salary increases, the committee rejected the province paying interest on any retroactive salary increases and pay interest on any retroactive life insurance premium refund. The committee also rejected a professional allowance fund of $2,000 per senior judge being set up and each senior judge getting an educational allowance of $3,000.

"The standing committee is of the view that judges, as a recognized third level of government, should not be treated differently than any other level of government," Struthers said in his motion.

More than three years ago, the same committee rejected a JCC report that recommended provincial court judges get five per cent pay raises for each of 2009 and 2010.

The committee, through a motion tabled by then-finance minister Rosann Wowchuk, said the recommended increase would "foster a perception that judges are not shouldering their fair share of the burden in difficult economic times."

Citing the recession and a poor economy, the committee then substituted its own 2.9 per cent increase over the two years instead.

The association that represents judges challenged that decision in the courts. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Jeffery Oliphant agreed with them, calling the actions of the committee a "total sham" that usurped the established JCC process. Oliphant ordered the government to pay the salary differentials along with the judges' court costs.

The province challenged Oliphant's decision in the Appeal Court. A decision is pending.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2013 A11

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