THE recent ruling by the Manitoba Court of Appeal to hike the pay of provincial court judges shows just what a public relations gesture was the legislature's bid to keep the judges' salaries frozen. The appeal court ruled a legislative committee should have accepted the raises recommended by an independent committee for 2009 and 2010, noting the MLAs essentially conceded as much when they awarded another increase last April.
The four-year battle revealed the root problem of attempts to freeze public compensation for a number of publicly paid groups. By rule, the salaries for Manitoba judges are to keep pace with those in three other provinces. This is a formula-based approach that renders negotiation nearly meaningless and something the NDP government has turned into a trend, having adopted the same approach to salary hikes for doctors and nurses.
The government ties its own hands, setting salaries by default, allowing a principle of jurisdictional parity to trump economic conditions. This is not governing, but managing, and in a way that favours unions and professional groups over the interests of taxpayers' ability to pay.