Now that Crown lawyers in Ontario will see their salaries rise by up to 60 per cent over the next four years, Department of Justice lawyers want increases of up to 70 per cent to catch up.
However, two groups seeking to represent DOJ lawyers in upcoming collective bargaining are at odds as to which lawyers should receive those increases.
The Association of Justice Counsel (AJC), which represents more than 2,400 federal lawyers, wants all DOJ lawyers across the country to be paid at the same level as Ontario Crowns. The Federal Law Office of the Crown (FLOC), which represents about 400 federal lawyers in Toronto, wants only Toronto-area lawyers to be paid the same as Ontario Crowns.
Both groups are anxiously awaiting a decision by the Public Service Labour Relations Board to see who will be certified to make their own case.
Ontario Crown lawyers ratified their salary deal earlier this month. It will mean that a typical mid-range provincial Crown earning an average of $126,729 a year will have an increase to $184,367, including merit pay, by April 2009.
In comparison, a typical mid-range Toronto federal prosecutor earning $124,940, who receives a 2.5-per-cent economic increase each year, would be making $137,910 by April 2009 ? a gap of almost $50,000 from the provincial Crowns.
The gap is even larger for DOJ lawyers outside Toronto, where a lawyer at the same level, who earns $108,525, would need an increase of 70 per cent to catch up with Ontario Crowns. But can those lawyers outside Toronto, or Ontario, justify being paid the same as an Ontario Crown?
"What the AJC is advocating is a $200-million national solution to a $20-million problem in Toronto," says Chris Leafloor, president of the FLOC.
"Part of the concern that we have, and I think as you can see by saying this I'm perhaps not making myself popular with some of my colleagues across the country, but there doesn't seem to be a justification for that. What's the justification for a 70-per-cent increase across the country?" Leafloor asks.
"If this were to happen it would likely cause difficulties throughout the other provinces. Could you imagine if federal lawyers in various jurisdictions across the country suddenly had a 70-per-cent increase? What effect is that going to have on the provincial colleagues in those provinces?"
Leafloor explains that there has been a differential pay scale for Toronto DOJ lawyers for the past 16 years to help combat retention and recruitment issues, a situation that Leafloor says continues to this day.
"When this was all unfolding 16 years ago, they were having such difficulty hiring and retaining lawyers, the turnover was something like 25 per cent per year," he says.
"It was so bad that apparently there was serious discussion about whether they should just close the Toronto office altogether. It's hard to imagine that people could have even contemplated that. How would you deal with ongoing legal proceedings? Would they hire outside counsel? Would they fly in people from Ottawa on a daily basis? It's hard to know."
Patrick Jette, who is leading the ACJ, says he's quite confident the AJC will be certified because it has a good case. Ontario Crowns have always been the historical comparator, and of the 2,900 or so DOJ lawyers, 63 per cent are in Ontario (50 per cent in Ottawa, 13 per cent in Toronto) and 80 per cent of all DOJ lawyers are in Ontario, Montreal, or Vancouver.
Jette says there may be some parts of the country where a 70-per-cent increase doesn't make sense because of cost-of-living disparity, but there are very few DOJ lawyers who would be in that situation anyway. Plus, booming cities are seeing large increases to cost of living.
"Look at Calgary, everything is rising," he says. "Yes, there are some parts of the country, everybody thinks about the Atlantic, where some people would make a lot money compared to the regional economy, but that's 77 lawyers out of 2,900 lawyers."
Leafloor says the risk in having all DOJ lawyers being brought up to the same level as Ontario Crowns is it would cause a chain reaction of other provincial Crowns wanting increases as well. Jette doesn't see this as a bad thing.
"We certainly hope our provincial counterparts will also get that kind of salary," he says.
One thing both groups agree on is that a Labour Relations Board decision either way would be welcome as soon as possible. The decision has been reserved since