Laying low the law?

Earlier, we were the first to tell you about rumoured cuts at the Legal Services Society of British Columbia. CKNW has since reported "all but one" of the society's regional offices "will be closed so savings of as much as $2 million can be made." Those are cuts are also expected to "eliminated at least 50 jobs." So what does Attorney General Mike de Jong have to say about those reductions? Well, this is what he told reporters on the way into a caucus meeting.

6 Comments

There is lots of money for anything Gordo wants and to heck with the rest of us. Mike tries to look cute as he BS's his way through question period and tries to show us what a greta job they are doing. Legal aid, no problem folks just don't listen to those folks wh tell us the funding is down around 20 million since Gordo's wrecking crew too over

Thanks Avoter. Let's face it, access to the law was not an issue for defending democracy... and should have been.

This is it for access to the law - the Queen of the North litigation should have served as a warning even General de Jong could hear up in his Fraser Valley cranny and past the jet & prop noise from Langley and the cannons of Fort Langley. But he did not. Ooops.

Sean, what your viewers should note is that, according to the AG, the government did not cut funding to LSS. In fact, the government gave the legal aid organizaton an additional two million bucks this year.

As noted by Mike de Jong, LSS's short-term financial problems result from reduced funding from other sources, notably the Notary Foundation, which LSS normally sucks dry.

Typically, LSS and its allies, e.g. the BCGEU, give the very misleading impression that it is the nasty old Gordon Campbell Liberals who are to blame for its problems. This is false.

One thing is clear: there's never enough money for LSS, no matter how much. The organizaton is, and always has been, bloated and inefficent. Its managers are hugely overpaid. This is no time for the government (i.e. the taxpayers) to rush in and save LSS from itself.

Gordon McLeod wrote: "...according to the AG, the government did not cut funding to LSS. In fact, the government gave the legal aid organizaton an additional two million bucks this year. As noted by Mike de Jong, LSS's short-term financial problems result from reduced funding from other sources, notably the Notary Foundation..."

The AG is misleading voters with this statement. An e-mail circulated to LSS employees by management makes it clear that the government is cutting $2 million from the LSS budget for next year, and has ordered them to reduce their "infrastructure costs" from 20% to as low as 10%. They have also forbid the society from using surpluses to cover shortfalls in funding.

Let's also be clear about funding -- according to the Canadian Bar Association, the government collects "over $100 million" a year from the 7% tax on legal services, which was put in place to fund legal aid services. But they've only transferred roughly two thirds of that money to LSS. Tax payers may well ask: "Where'd all themoney go, Gord?"

Krispy, now you are misleading voters. According to an LSS media release dated November 3, 2009 (available on the LSS website), "In 2009/2010, the government allocated an additional $2 million to the Legal Services Society for major criminal trials. That allocation will not be available in 2010/2011."

Your description of this as a cut-back is spurious. The government's decison not to renew a one-time special funding allocation does not constitute a cut-back.

As for your claim that the government has ordered LSS to reduce their infrastructure costs, well, good for the government if it's true. As I originally posted, LSS is a notoriously bloated and inefficient organization. I'm happy to see that the government has finally decided to force LSS to expend its tax-payer dollars on direct services to the people, and not on top-heavy infrastructure and outrageous management salaries.

Also, good on the government for forbidding LSS from using surpluses to cover deficits. This is an organization that has played a shell & pea game with questionable surpluses and deficits for decades. At stake are millions of tax-payer dollars. Strict rules for LSS are long overdue.

Finally, Krispy, you are right in principle that the entire amount of the 7% tax on legal services should go to fund legal aid (as the NDP government of the day intended but did not deliver.) I'm surprised to learn that two thirds of it actually goes to LSS. Maybe when LSS finally learns to behave responsibly and effectively, they'll get the rest.

Gordon McLeod wrote: "Your description of this as a cut-back is spurious. The government's decison not to renew a one-time special funding allocation does not constitute a cut-back."

FYI - the e-mail sent from the LSS to employees clearly states that the government has cut $2 million from the 2010 budget. This is not a cancellation of the so-called one-time $2 million payment. In fact, there is no official record of that extra payment being made -- it is not included in the LSS' service plan, which shows only a $300,000 increase over 2008/09.

It should also be clear, that the BC Liberal government has pressured the LSS to close all regional offices since the original cuts in 2002. In fact, then the LSS board stated that they could not fulfill their mandate given the government cuts, the Campbell government fired the board, and appointed a trustee to implement the 40% cuts.

Women have been the hardest hit by the cuts. No longer can they access legal aid for important priorities like gaining custody of their children, or enforcing a support order. The only support available is to attain a peace bond if they can document that they are in danger of physical violence, and then only to a maximum of 8 hrs. Ask yourself, how many physically abusive men would be deterred by a paper peace bond, with no resources for enforcement?

The Campbell government has sytematically cut access to legal services for low-income people, and is pocketing tens of millions of dollars in taxes that have been collected specifically to provide legal aid services. It is a travesty of justice and must be reversed if we are to call ourselves a democracy. If citizens can no longer access the legal system to attain justice, we are only a small step away from authoritarian rule.

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