August 03, 2016 - 8:30 AM
VANCOUVER - A British Columbia judge is weighing in on the fairness of a government-proposed pay raise for provincial court judges.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Grauer has quashed the province's three-year pay hike program of 1.0 per cent, 1.0 per cent and 1.5 per cent for the period between 2014 and 2017.
Grauer has ordered the government back to the drawing board to come up with a new compensation package.
It's the latest development in a string of court challenges launched by the Provincial Court Judges' Association of B.C. against the provincial government over pay disputes, which first began in 2010.
The Judicial Compensation Commission, an independent body tasked with overseeing judges' remuneration, had proposed pay increases of 2.9 per cent, 1.5 per cent and 2.0 per cent for the period in question.
Grauer says the government's lower-cost option failed to prove that the commission's initial recommendations were unfair and unreasonable.
However, he also isn't ordering the implementation of the commission's recommendations, which was what the judges' association had wanted.
"It is not for me to set salaries," says Grauer. "That … is the government's responsibility, for which it is answerable to the electorate."
Provincial court judges in B.C. made $242,464 per year as of the beginning of 2013.
Their quest for a pay increase has taken a long legal path. In 2010, following the economic downturn, the commission proposed freezing judges' salary increase for two years before hiking it by 4.9 per cent to match inflation.
The province countered by approving a three-year freeze, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court of B.C.
The government's second offer of a 1.5 per cent increase in the third year was initially upheld in B.C. Supreme Court before being thrown out in an appeal decision that put into effect the commission's original 4.9 per cent proposal.
The dispute officially wrapped up in fall 2015 when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear provincial arguments to overturn the appeal court ruling.
By then, disagreements over the 2013 round of pay increases had already begun.
Now the judicial commission is working on its recommendations for compensation hikes from 2017-2020, a process that started in March even though the previous cycle has not yet been settled.
B.C. is not the only province where blocked recommendations around judges' pay have wound up in court. Judges in Newfoundland and Labrador sued that province earlier this month after the government rejected their professional association's proposal of continuous, independently recommended pay hikes.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016