Law Matters | Winter 2019-20

On April 19, 2019, Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party won a majority government in the Alberta Provincial election. Campaigning on a platform of fiscal conservativism, many Albertans were unsurprised to hear that significant changes in policy and budget cuts were on the horizon. In this edition of Law Matters, we examine some of these changes and their ramifications on the Alberta justice system, and unavoidably, on Alberta lawyers themselves.

Our first piece by Ola Malik, Ian Savage, Jackie Halpern, Q.C., Shelagh McGregor and Jordan Stuffco is a call for unity. Representing numerous organizations which encompass nearly all lawyers in Alberta, this article  recognizes that the Alberta justice system is facing tremendous challenges, while noting that drastic changes, especially without input from those most intimately connected with the system, may have dire consequences.  It is also a message of hope, that not only can these issues be fixed, but that solutions can be found together.

Our second piece, by the Alberta Counsel, provides a balanced and nuanced perspective on both the positives and negatives of the 2019 budget and its impact on the Alberta justice system. The critiques include discussions of higher costs due to outsourcing of civil legal work and concerns of delays and the haunting consequences of the Jordan decision, juxtaposed with praise for steps towards modernizing an archaic paper-based filing system which will ultimately result in greater efficiencies and decreased costs.

Our third piece, from Danica McLellan, praises numerous aspects of the Alberta 2019 budget while opining on the merits of fiscal restraint and more judicious use of public funds.

Our fourth piece, by Matthew Block of the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association, discusses the ongoing salary freeze with the Crown Prosecution Service including its impact on retention, morale and justice, particularly for rural Albertans and post-Jordan.

Our fifth piece, from Wayne Barkauskas, looks at the human element of economic downturns and their effects on those seeking legal services, including a discussion of the impact of possible delays in establishing a unified family court system.

Our sixth piece, from Loraine Champion, Executive Director of Assist, provides an insightful overview of the correlation between economic downturns and lawyer mental health, while reminding the profession that Assist is here to help.

Our seventh piece, from Scott Chimuk and Amal Tharani, outlines changes to legislation meant to tackle rural crime in Alberta through Bill 27 with tougher fines and changes to civil liability for property owners.

Finally, our eighth and ninth pieces come from Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General and Kathleen Ganley, Justice Critic in response to five questions that we asked them to consider regarding the Alberta 2019 budget. These questions intentionally foster a discussion regarding the hiring of additional Crown prosecutors and funding for Drug Treatment courts, legal education, rural crime initiatives, efficiency within in the system, and Legal Aid funding.

In reading these pieces, it is clear that Alberta has had a difficult and divisive few years, economically and politically. But what is also equally clear is that both progressives and conservatives have a common concern: that our current system cannot and will not be able to meet the ever-growing demands of our province while still providing accessible, fair, and efficient services. Albertans may disagree about the best way to fix our system, but all parties agree that action is needed. At Law Matters we echo the comments of Ola Malik, Ian Savage, Jackie Halpern, Q.C., Shelagh McGregor and Jordan Stuffco, that we can get it done, together.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
Jessica Robertshaw