01 April 2015

Rumpole and the Judge’s Wage #nlpoli

How hard can it be to figure out what Provincial Court Judges should get paid to do their work dispensing justice all around the province?

Apparently, it can be quite difficult.

There’s a teeny amendment bill in the House that sets a new date for a report from a commission that has to be set up to figure out the judges’ pay and benefits:

(1.2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the next report required under subsection (1) after September 30, 2010 shall be presented to the minister not later than December 31, 2015.

Once the thing gets through the House,  this “Act is considered to have come into force on September 29, 2014.”

That’s six months ago.

What the heck has been going on all this time?

That’s a very good question. 

Under the Provincial Court Act,  the judges and the government  have to appoint three people to make up a commission.  The judges appoint one among themselves.  The government appoints one.  The two parties then have to agree on the chair,

Attorney General Felix Collins told the House on Monday that the “current tribunal was appointed on December 4, 2014. The members are Bradford Wicks, QC, as the Chairperson; John R. Whalen is another member of the tribunal; and J. David Eaton, QC, is the other member.”

The problem is that they were supposed to appoint that commission and have it issue its next report four years after the last commission report.  That was in September 2010.

Felix offered an explanation for the delay.  He said the whole thing got held up by the pension reform talks with the public sector unions.  “As we all know,”  Felix told the House,  “government and unions negotiated a pension agreement at that time that addressed a huge financial problem that we had with the unfunded pension plan.  …given that judges' pensions are also part of the tribunal's considerations, it was prudent to have those pension discussions and agreements out of the way before we commenced the review of the judges' benefits because pensions will be a part of the review as well.”

That seems rather odd.  Felix gave a lengthy chat at the front end of his speech about the importance of having the judges independent of government as much as possible.  Then Felix explained that they weren’t independent.  The judges had their pensions sorted out by government and the public sector unions.  It’s not clear what the tribunal can now decide since the pensions scheme has been sorted out already.

If Felix and his friends were actually concerned about judicial independence, they’d have gotten this whole thing sorted out long before now.  The judges’ tribunal could have carried on its business since – by definition – their salary and benefits are supposed to be set independently of things like what the public sector unions sort out for themselves.

Some of the sharper lot out there have likely already noticed that the date this panel was supposed to have reported was about the same time that the Conservatives sorted out their leadership mess last year.  That’s more likely why  - or a very big part of why – the judges’ pay tribunal has been so seriously delayed.

The other explanation Felix offered for the delay, namely that they had trouble getting people willing to sit on the panel,  seems a real nose puller.

Just to give you a sense of just how shagged up this process is,  note how Felix explained the amount of time to be covered by this panel’s report.  The last panel was appointed in 2009 and got it’s report together in 2010.  That “tribunal made recommendations to cover up to the 2012-2013 fiscal years, appointed in 2009, and it made recommendations on a compensation package to cover up to 2012-2013.”

Note the year:  2013.  Felix’s explanation for the delay was all about 2014. 

“Now as a result, Felix continued, “this tribunal we are talking about today will report, if this provision is passed, on December 31, 2015; they will make recommendations to retroactively cover 2013, 2014-2015 and part of 2015-2016. It will also cover 2016-2017.”

The amendment backdates the panel to September 2014 and the panel itself will issue a report that backdates salary and benefits to 2013.  Prudent to delay because of the pension talks.  Sure, Felix.  And Bill 29 will improve public access as it restricts public access to information.

It’s hard to know sometimes, which is the more laughable:  that Felix expects people to believe these whoppers given his track record of telling whoppers or that Paul Davis appointed Felix as Attorney General apparently believing people would believe the notorious whopper-teller as he tells whoppers on behalf of Paul.

Take this little tale as a sign of two things.  First of all, it is yet more evidence that this is just one of a great many things that the current crowd have not been able to get done over the last couple of years with their assorted internal problems. Second of all,  this is another one of a string of problems inside the justice department that a string of justice ministers, including Felix, haven’t been able to get a grip on. The provincial court has had all sorts of problems since the Conservatives appointed the current Chief Judge.