Nova Scotia

N.S. Crown attorneys 'blindsided' by legislation introduced by province

Many Nova Scotia Crown prosecutors descended on Province House Wednesday to protest legislation introduced by the Liberals that declares them an essential service and dramatically changes how the province negotiates contracts with its 100 Crown attorneys.

Province tables bill that would make Crown prosecutors an essential service, remove right to arbitration

Perry Borden, president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys Association, says Crown attorneys gave up a lot of concessions during the most recent deal with the province. (CBC)

Many Nova Scotia Crown prosecutors descended on Province House Wednesday to protest legislation introduced by the Liberals that declares them an essential service and dramatically changes how the province negotiates contracts with its 100 Crown attorneys.

The government is in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the Crowns, but the two sides are far apart. The Crowns are asking for a 17 per cent wage increase spread over the life of a four-year deal, while the province is offering seven per cent.

The legislation would declare the Crowns an essential service, meaning that in the event of a strike, some of them would be required to work to keep courtrooms functioning.

Under the legislation, the Crowns could be in a legal strike position by mid-November.

Under existing legislation, the contract dispute would be submitted to an arbitrator, but Finance Minister Karen Casey said the province cannot afford to be bound by a decision they would have no control over, so the legislation includes a clause to remove the right to arbitration for the Crowns. 

"This legislation is not a step we take lightly, but we have never backed away from the tough decisions that will bring about real change in the best interest of Nova Scotians," Casey said.

Finance Minister Karen Casey says the province respects the rights of public sector employees to have a meaningful collective bargaining process, 'but it must be done in the greater context of what is affordable for Nova Scotian taxpayers.' (CBC)

Most Crown attorneys were not in court Wednesday. They had gathered in Dartmouth for their annual fall conference. When they learned about the legislation, they hurried across the harbour to voice their displeasure.

"I feel like that we were blindsided," Perry Borden, president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys Association, said to reporters at Province House.

"You have to remember that the last round of negotiations, we gave up quite a lot to get us to where we are today. And the government, I would submit that they negotiated in bad faith."

Rick Woodburn was one of the Crowns who made the trip to Province House. He's on the bargaining team that's negotiating with the province and is the president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel.

"They don't want an arbitrator to make a decision on their finances, so they'll give you the right up until the point where you want to use it and then they take it away from you," Woodburn said.

"So if they don't like what's going on, they take their toys and go home. You ask yourself, is that the kind of government that you want to look at and say I can trust?"

Opposition Leader Tim Houston said this legislation follows a well-established pattern with this government, which earlier imposed restrictions on salary negotiations with provincial court judges. That move has been appealed to a higher court.

"It's just hard for me to kind of get my head around, on the one hand, you have a government that spends $20 million bucks on a ferry that doesn't leave the wharf. On the other hand, they're willing to go to war with Crown attorneys over $2 million a year," Houston said. "So I think all Nova Scotians should be concerned."

PC Leader Tim Houston says he can't understand why the province is battling with the Crown attorneys when it is spending much higher sums of money on the Yarmouth ferry. (CBC)

NDP Justice critic Claudia Chender echoed the Crowns' complaint about bad-faith bargaining.

"This is classic doublespeak from a government that doesn't care about collective bargaining and that fundamentally does not seem to care about workers," she said.

Casey said the province respects the rights of public sector employees to have a meaningful collective bargaining process, "but it must be done in the greater context of what is affordable for Nova Scotian taxpayers."

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