Nfld. & Labrador

Justice minister defends 7.6% pay increase for N.L. judges

Andrew Parsons asked the House of Assembly on Tuesday to accept a report that recommends a raise for provincial court judges, warning of a potential court battle if the the increase is rejected.

Andrew Parsons says the province could end up in court if increase isn't approved

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says the last time the province made changes to recommendations about judges' pay, they ended up in court, and had to pay significant costs. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says the province's judges should get a raise, and warns that if the House of Assembly rejects one, the result could be a legal fight that's even costlier.

Andrew Parsons on Tuesday asked the House of Assembly to accept a report that would give provincial court judges a raise of about 7.6 per cent. 

In a June 2019 report, a tribunal recommended giving judges the raise over four years, retroactively from 2017 to 2020: no raise in 2017 and 2018, but a 1.6 per cent increase in 2019 and a six per cent increase in 2020, reflecting the increase of the consumer price index over the four-year period.

The leader of the Opposition says they won't support the increase. 

"It is with great regret that the official PC opposition cannot support the motion. We are not in favour of the increase," said PC Leader Ches Crosbie.

The NDP, meanwhile, want more time to review it. 

"Right now, we are disinclined to vote for it. There is an awful lot of information that has not been provided to us," said NDP Leader Alison Coffin. 

Could end up in court

Parsons says that if the House rejects the raise, the provincial government could end up in court over the decision, which would be more costly.

"We went through this once before and lost in court."

Parsons said previous governments have also lost in court when they tried to change recommendations from the tribunal.

"The last time we ended up getting court ordered to pay the increases, but we had to pay more because we had to pay the court costs. We had to pay interest."

Province just doesn't have the money: Crosbie

Crosbie said the province's economic situation is drastically different from when the tribunal wrote the report.

"The bottom is gone out of the boat, the arse is out of 'er," he said, adding that judges are reasonable people and would understand the province's economic circumstances.

"The province just doesn't have the money. When the premier of the province writes to the prime minister, as he did on March 20, and says we're out of time and pleads for help from the Bank of Canada to enable us to meet payroll and that's telling you something," he said.

But Parsons warned again about the prospect of a costly legal challenge.

"At the end of the day if we don't do it, the judge is going to do it for us, and it's going to cost us more," Parsons said. "This is not a negotiation."

Parsons adjourned the debate in the House late Tuesday and offered to hold a briefing on the issue with MHAs, asking them to, before making a decision, read the Supreme Court decision that forced the province to adhere to the tribunal's recommendations on judges' pay.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain