Alberta politicians need to commit to increased investment in justice system: bar association

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (May 8, 2023, 9:37 AM EDT) -- With the writs dropped and the candidates on the hustings in the Alberta election, the provincial bar association is calling on all political parties to commit to increasing resources for the justice system.

Albertans head to the polls May 29, in a tight race between Premier Danielle Smith’s governing United Conservative Party (UCP) and the New Democrats led by former premier Rachel Notley. Most voters have placed issues like health care and energy at the top of their lists, but the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Alberta branch is saying the chronic underfunding of the justice system by politicians of all political stripes is one that also requires attention.

Branch president Amanda Lindberg said investments like the recent increase in legal aid roster lawyers’ tariff rates are welcome, but a lot more needs to be done. She said the threshold to qualify for legal aid is unacceptably low, noting that the funding eligibility guideline of just over $22,000 in annual income for a single person is less than what a person gets working full time at the minimum wage.

Amanda Lindberg, president of CBA Alberta branch

Amanda Lindberg, president of CBA Alberta branch

“We need to support low-income people because they tend to be the marginalized people in society and the ones who need legal support the most,” she said. “But we are definitely not supporting them to the extent that we really ought to.”

A recent economic analysis says an investment between $4 million to $6 million in Alberta legal aid could provide a net savings for $11 million for the justice system, primarily because it would reduce self-represented litigants. Lindberg said the reasons a person may choose to self-represent are varied, but one of them is the inability to afford a lawyer.

“There is nothing to say you absolutely have to have a lawyer, but I don’t think anybody who would say having a lawyer wasn’t helpful in some way,” she said. “But unfortunately there has been a correlation between self-represented litigants and things taking longer to go through the system — you tend to go to court more often, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the matter progresses as quickly. If we improve the legal aid situation there would be fewer self-represented people and less time spent in court, so those judges will be able to spend more time on other matters.”

Another big concern is a perpetual shortage of judges, said Lindberg,

“The chronic underfunding comes in several areas, and one important issue is a perpetual shortage of judges. “I know the provincial government is trying to improve that situation, but this is both a federal and provincial issue,” she said. “And there are simply not enough judges being appointed to keep up with our growing population.”

In addition to increased funding for legal aid and addressing the judge shortage, CBA Alberta is also calling for more support for specialized courts and resources to modernize justice system infrastructure. And Lindberg also said that “innovative approaches” need to be taken.

“And that innovation could come from many different areas — there could be innovation in how we deal with legal aid cases, and they are talking right now about unifying the family courts because there is concurrent jurisdiction between different levels of court, and that could result in more efficiency,” she said. “Also, we can explore the concept of legal emergency insurance, because chances are that someone is going to have to deal with a divorce or a criminal matter, or even just a contract dispute, at some point in their lives.”

And despite the uncertainty of the election results, Lindberg said she feels confident both major parties are receptive to the CBA’s concerns.

“I have had meetings both with the current government and the opposition, and based on those discussions one I would say we have a good relationship, and they are keen with engaging with us,” she said. “They have acknowledged the arguments and advocacy that we are bringing forward on behalf of our members and the public, so I do think that they will be receptive to the points we are advocating on.”

More information about CBA Alberta’s agenda for justice can be found here.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada please contact Ian Burns at or call 905-415-5906.