Nova Scotia

Fight over judges' salaries heading back to court after N.S. rejects 12% hike

The long-running salary battle between the Nova Scotia government and provincial court judges is heading back to court.

Province for 2nd time nixes salary recommendations of compensation tribunal

Provincial court judges in Nova Scotia have been locked in a salary battle with the provincial government. (Robert Short/CBC)

The long-running salary battle between the Nova Scotia government and provincial court judges is heading back to court.

For the second time, the government has rejected recommendations from an arm's-length compensation tribunal and instead imposed a lower wage.

Following a hearing last year, the tribunal recommended a 12 per cent increase that would bring the salaries of Nova Scotia judges to $269,198 in the first year of a three-year contract, with cost-of-living adjustments for the final two years.

Last month, the government overruled the tribunal, instead imposing a salary increase of 1.5 per cent in the first year, followed by two per cent in each of the two subsequent years.

The association representing provincial court judges filed a request earlier this month for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to conduct a judicial review of the government's actions. It's hoped dates for the hearing will be set in December.

'Political considerations'

The association said in its court application that the government is "continuing a pattern of disrespect for the Tribunal process which began with the previous (2017-2020) tribunal process."

The association said the government is acting contrary to the Constitution and the Provincial Courts Act and is interfering with the judicial independence of the provincial court and family court.

The association accuses the government of "acting on the basis of political considerations, in order to protect the government's position in ongoing public sector bargaining."

Prior to the increase, Nova Scotia judges were the second-lowest paid judges in Canada, trailing only those in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2016, the government changed the legislation covering the salary tribunal, giving the government the power to overrule its recommendations. It did so in 2017 when it rejected a salary recommendation of 9.5 per cent.

As in the latest case, the judges association asked for a judicial review. As part of that process, the association demanded that the province turn over documentation to support its decision.

The government refused and the argument went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which earlier this year ordered the province to release documentation.

COVID-19 cited

In an order in council on Sept. 8 that dealt with the latest salary recommendation, the province said the tribunal failed to take into account Nova Scotia's economic circumstances.

"There has been a change in circumstance as a result of COVID-19 and new economic and fiscal evidence that was not known when the Tribunal considered this matter and justifies a departure from the Tribunal's recommendation on salary," it said.

The salary tribunal process was supposed to be concluded before COVID-19 became an issue in Nova Scotia.

The province also said the tribunal failed to consider the long-term service awards that judges have been able to collect in addition to their salaries. It cited the example of a judge appointed in 1996 who, if they were to retire this year, would receive an award equal to 24 weeks of pay.