N.S. veto over judges' salaries doesn't compromise independence: minister
Published Thursday, May 5, 2016 3:36PM ADT Last Updated Friday, May 6, 2016 7:27AM ADT
The scales of justice and a judge's gavel are pictured. (File)
HALIFAX -- Legislation that would effectively strip an independent tribunal of its power to set salaries for judges in Nova Scotia would seriously erode judicial independence, the Canadian Bar Association says.
The association's provincial wing said Thursday that amendments included in the Financial Measures Act tabled earlier in the week removes language that ensures salaries and benefits of provincial and family court judges are based on binding recommendations from an independent commission.
Under the proposed changes, cabinet would be given the power to overrule those recommendations, and it would also have control over pension contribution increases for judges.
"There's absolutely no indication that the compensation process is out of control," said Dennis James, the provincial association's vice-president.
"When you look at comparable salaries and compensation across the country, Nova Scotia is near the low end of the scale for provincial court judges."
James said the tribunal process, in place since 1988, is an important safeguard that separates the roles of the government and the judiciary, as mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada.
"He (the finance minister) seems to be equating this to a public sector discussion, and it isn't," said James. "The judiciary is an independent, third tier of government in this country."
Finance Minister Randy Delorey said the change would give the province the option to reject salary increases that it simply can't afford, and he said such a move would in no way infringes on the independence of judges.
"We are entrusted with the responsibility for the public finances," said Delorey. "To have a third party that is not accountable to the people of Nova Scotia have the final say on how resources are spent is the concern we are trying to address here."
Delorey said Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories are the only jurisdictions in the country where binding recommendations are made for judges' salaries.
The bar association said it wants the government to withdraw the changes.
"You can be an outlier for good or for bad reasons and we think, in this case, the Nova Scotia system is working well," James said.
The base salary for Nova Scotia judges is $231,500.
The tribunal set salaries for three years in 2015, and included a 3.8 per cent increase for 2014-15 and cost-of-living increases over the next two years.