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Masters’ remuneration ‘inadequate,’ says report

|Written By Neil Etienne

For more than 20 years, case management masters haven’t been paid what they deserve, says according to the head of a commission looking into their compensation.

Colleen Bauman says case management masters ‘have to be recognized as full judicial officers.’

The head of the First Case Management Masters Remuneration Commission found compensation for the position has long been “inadequate in relation to their level of authority and responsibilities.”

For most of the past 20 years, the masters have “shouldered more than their fair share of the burden during difficult economic times and have been grossly undercompensated during periods of economic prosperity,” found inquiry commissioner Larry Banack in his “Report of the First Case Management Masters Remuneration Commission: A Way Forward,” a nearly 200-page tome released the week of Dec. 10.

He recommended salaries for case management masters should be increased to the level of provincial court judges, which is what traditional masters were paid until the last of them retired this year.

Banack wrote in the recommendations that paying them the same as provincial court judges is necessary to ensure “the minimal level of financial security that is a constitutional imperative.” Any less “would represent a threat to the integrity of our system of justice” and would be inconsistent with the principles of judicial independence.

“I emphasize that this level of salary is the minimum adequate level for Case Management Masters, who exercise a much greater range of judicial duties than Traditional Masters,” Banack wrote.

Calling the commission report a major next -step in a long process that began with calls for financial equality between case management and traditional masters in 2000, Colleen Bauman of Goldblatt Partners LLP, who acted on behalf of the Masters’ Association of Ontario in the inquiry, says the recommendations are a vindication.

“It’s clearly a strong affirmation and vindication of the value of the master’s work and its importance and the fact [that] for far too long the masters have been sorely undercompensated in violation of key constitutional principles of judicial independence,” she said.

“That needs to be addressed and rectified immediately.”

The provincial government’s Treasury Board Secretariat will have four months to craft a response to the report and Bauman hopes it will accept all of Banack’s recommendations.

The inquiry commission was established to investigate the compensation for case management masters who essentially perform the same tasks as their traditional master predecessors, if not a substantially increased workload, according to Bauman. Yet, as of 2015, they earn about $94,000 less in salary and about $100,000 less annually in pensions.

Banack recommended salaries be set at to $262,000 as of April 2011 and indexed equivalently to those of provincial court judges for each subsequent year.

“The types of work they do has increased over the years, particularly in comparison to what was the traditional master,” Bauman explained. “The report clearly recognizes they have taken over the complete role of the traditional master plus more and that it is both unfair and unconstitutional to be paying them the low level they have been compensated. They have to be recognized as full judicial officers.”

The inquiry made recommendations on the time period starting in April 2011, when case management masters received their last increase, to March 31, 2016.

Along with the increase in salaries, the commissioner also recommended masters be moved into the Provincial Judges Pension Plan. Banack noted that masters are currently part of the public service pension programs, which are inadequate for judicial officers.

He said the fact their pensions were so much lower than other judicial officers performing similar functions, was “inexplicable.”

“Government has benefited from years of savings during which Case Management Masters were provided with unsuitably low pensions,” Banack wrote. “The expense that must now be incurred is necessary to provide Case Management Masters with a constitutionally appropriate level of financial security. A continuation of the current disparity in pension entitlement cannot be justified.”

Along with the more formal recommendations, Banack also suggested the government make “an immediate change to the title of this judicial office from ‘Case Management Master’ to simply ‘Master,’,” saying the current title is a gross misrepresentation of the role and that it “offends against the dignity and history of this important judicial office.”

“Despite these difficult situations in regards to the remuneration, masters have shown an incredible dedication and commitment to making our civil justice system work,” Bauman said. “The name is really a misnomer;, although they do some case management work, that is only a portion of the work that they do and they truly are masters as the traditional masters were.”

Brendan Bowles, managing partner with Glaholt LLP and chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s construction and infrastructure law section, frequently appears in front of lien masters on complex matters of construction law and said the role they play deserves the increased remuneration.

“Obviously, there’s a gap between what the masters are paid and what a provincial court judge would be paid and I think, easily, they are the equivalent in terms of their importance to the system, their workload, and the complexity of the matters that they’re asked to handle,” he said. “It seems to me it’s only fair to pay them what they’re due for the important work they do for the system.”

Ciaran Ganley, spokesperson for Ontario’s Treasury Board Secretariat, which acts as the employer for masters, confirmed the department has received the report but said it was too early to comment.

“We are still reviewing the report and we’ll be issuing a response once that review is completed,” he said.

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