Ralph Klein’s cost-cutting crusade hit a sensitive nerve when the Alberta premier suggested that a judge should be fired for failing to show up for work. Klein was responding to the actions of a provincial youth court judge, Hugh Landerkin, who had stayed off work for four days to protest the fact that he must take a fiveper-cent cut in his $110,000 annual salary and the perception he said it created that judges are controlled by the provincial government. Lawyers and judges across the province lambasted Klein for what they called a threat to judicial independence. And by week’s end, at least a dozen court cases had been adjourned after defence lawyers argued that judges were under the control of the government and therefore biased.
Klein tried to defuse the controversy by writing all provincial court judges clarifying his remarks. In his letter, the Conservative premier said he in no way intended to impinge on the independence of the judiciary by criticizing Landerkin’s actions. But Klein later made it clear to reporters that he had retracted nothing. Ever the populist, Klein claimed he had public opinion on his side. “Ninety-nine per cent of the people who have been calling here,” he said, “are saying that it just makes a lot of sense that if people are getting paid by the taxpayers, they ought to work for that pay.”
Ironically, one of the cases affected by the controversy involved Liberal MLA Percy Wickman, who was on trial last week on an impaired driving charge. Ruling that Klein had cast doubt on the independence of the provincial o court system, Judge Peter 2 Ayotte granted Wickman an g adjournment to let him decide whether he wanted to challenge the court’s legitimacy.
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