Hansard from BC Legislative Assembly about legal aid cuts

Below is the Hansard transcript from the November 3rd, 2009 Legislative Assembly about the Legal Aid cuts.

LEGAL AID SERVICES
L. Krog: Today we've learned that Legal Services' budget is going to be cut by $2 million. That will have an impact all across this province. Offices are closing in Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Surrey and Victoria. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

At a time when B.C. families struggle and require legal services more than ever, how can the Attorney General possibly justify these cuts now? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. M. de Jong: Actually, he's incorrect about the funding description. Funding has actually gone up significantly this year, by almost $2 million. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
But he is correct about this. The Legal Services Society faces some real pressures, largely as a result of the fact that other sources of funding — the Law Foundation, the Notary Foundation — which make contributions based on interest rates, aren't able to make the same level of contribution. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

What the society is doing is exactly what we would hope they'd do, and that is to reduce administrative costs and channel as much money, as much resources, as possible to front-line services to ensure that people facing criminal charges or involved in family relations disputes have the legal support that they require. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Krog: What incredible hypocrisy. In 2001-2002 the legal aid budget was $96 million. It's $74 million this year. If that isn't a cut, I don't know what is. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
Just yesterday, not 50 feet from this chamber, we honoured his predecessor, Wally Oppal, for, amongst other things, opening the Justice Access Centre in Nanaimo. The first anniversary of that centre is November 6, three days from now. It's going to be closed as a result of these cuts. The access to civil law across this province is essentially gone. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I want to hear from this Attorney General again. What is he going to do to help all those working families in British Columbia who rely on legal aid? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. M. de Jong: Actually, the member is wrong again. The centre is not closing. What the society is doing is recognizing something that I think the hon. member actually knows, which is that a service delivery model built around agents, as opposed to regional offices that have very high overhead costs, will actually accomplish just that — providing legal services, actual lawyer assistance, to the people that need it most. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Difficult decisions. To the people affected, I think in excess of 50, obviously very difficult. But the principle and the priority is to provide legal assistance to the people that need it most. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: The member has a further supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Krog: The government has directed that the Legal Services Society can't access their accumulated surplus in order to meet the genuine and real needs today of people who require legal services in British Columbia. So I'd like for the Attorney General to explain to this House why denying them the ability to access a surplus, to continue to deliver much-needed services to families in British Columbia, is good government policy. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. M. de Jong: Actually, the member is wrong again. Look, these are difficult decisions that the Legal Services Society is taking, brought on by the reality of reduced resources from a number of sources, not government — not government. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
[1400]

But there are pressures, and what the society is doing, in my view, is absolutely the right thing: looking at its administrative costs, reducing them where it is at all possible and channelling those resources [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

HSE - 20091103 PM 007/JBP/1400

government. But there are pressures, and what the society is doing, in my view, is absolutely the right thing — looking at its administrative costs, reducing them where it is at all possible and channelling those resources into front-line services to ensure that people have the legal assistance they require. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

S. Simpson: The reality is: a $22 million budget cut since '01-02 in terms of the legal aid services; five offices will close in this province; a number of critical services that are provided for community advocates and others will be shut down — all of these things that affect our most vulnerable citizens, those ones who cannot afford to go out and pay a lawyer. How on earth is this fairness and equity from this government when those are the services that this minister allows to be cut? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. M. de Jong: Well, here's what the Legal Services Society says in the material they released today. "The changes" — and they are changes — "are part of a long-term strategy to reduce our administrative costs and focus spending on the services we provide to low-income people." That is exactly what they should be doing. At a time when all of us are challenged with finite resources, they are opting for a model of service delivery that is 30 to 50 percent more efficient. That means more people, not less, will have the legal assistance they require — difficult but precisely the right thing to do at this time. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

S. Simpson: "Unbelievable" is the only word to describe this minister's comments. Tell that to the people in Kelowna, in Kamloops, in Prince George, in Surrey or in Victoria, where those offices are closed and they can't be accessed by those people anymore. Explain to people how 22 million less dollars for services for legal aid since this government came to power is good for those vulnerable people. It is unbelievable. Will this Attorney General stand up and for once say: "Vulnerable people, poor people matter, and we will restore that funding"? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. M. de Jong: Well, therein probably lies the difference. I actually have never met a single mother in need of legal assistance who has said to me: "Boy, I wish you had a couple of extra offices." You know what they say to me? They say: "I need legal help. I need a lawyer to help me." [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Just take your seat, Minister. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Continue, Attorney. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. M. de Jong: The member may prioritize a building ahead of the people that deliver the services. We do not. More importantly in this case, the Legal Services Society does not. They are opting for a more efficient, front-line service delivery model. I think it's the right thing to do. At the same time, I recognize that for about 50 people involved, it is a difficult decision. But for the people who require legal aid in this province, it is the right decision. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

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