More support for legal aid, specialized courts needed after Alberta election: bar association

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (May 30, 2023, 4:14 PM EDT) -- After a hard-fought election campaign Albertans have decided to stick with the status quo, giving the ruling United Conservative Party (UCP) a second term under Premier Danielle Smith.

According to unofficial results from Elections Alberta, the UCP has won 49 out of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature, compared to 38 for the opposition NDP, led by former premier Rachel Notley.

“Welcome to another miracle on the prairies,” Smith said in her victory speech. “The election is now over. It is time to put partisanship, division and personal political attacks in the rearview mirror.”

Smith also continued her combative stance against the federal government, saying Albertans need to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder against soon to be announced Ottawa policies that would significantly harm our provincial economy.” Although she did not provide many details, she said those policies would include restrictions on generating electricity from natural gas.

“Hopefully the prime minister and his caucus are watching tonight, because this is not a road we can afford to go down,” she said. “If he persists, he will be harming Canadians from coast-to-coast and will strain the patience and goodwill of Albertans in an unprecedented fashion.”

The campaign took an interesting turn in mid-May when the provincial ethics commissioner ruled Smith had breached provincial conflict of interest laws due to a call she made with her justice minister over a COVID-19 related prosecution. At the time, commissioner Marguerite Trussler wrote that she was making no recommendations on sanctions against Smith, but she “reserve[d] the right to make recommendations once the Legislative Assembly is back in session.”

And despite her party’s loss, Notley pledged to stay on as NDP leader.

“We ran a strong, principled campaign, and it was based on our desire to create a better future for all Albertans,” she said. “Now is not the time to let up, now is the time to step up. Now is the time for us to do the work that has been asked of us.”

The results are not set in stone as some ridings were decided by very narrow margins — for example, incumbent Justice Minister Tyler Shandro was defeated by only seven votes and will likely face a recount.

Amanda Lindberg, CBA Alberta branch president

Amanda Lindberg, CBA Alberta branch president

Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Alberta branch president Amanda Lindberg said in a statement that she congratulated “all successful candidates in the election.” She noted the bar association put out its agenda for justice at the start of the election, which contained over 30 recommendations such as increased funding for legal aid, more support for specialized courts and innovation in the family justice system.

“Alberta’s justice system has been systemically underfunded by successive governments, resulting in an aging system with backlogs in the courts, inefficient processes and legal aid funding that is unavailable for a significant number of Albertans who need it,” she said. “Recent investment announcements made prior to the election are welcome, but much more is needed to ensure that the justice system is properly and sustainably funded and functioning efficiently.”

Increased investments in the justice system have the support of the majority of Albertans, said Lindberg.

“The specific recommendations [in the agenda] will not only improve the operation of the system, but also save the government money through increased efficiencies,” she said. “We look forward to working with the new minister of justice to address the recommendations we have made in the Agenda for Justice and advance meaningful change and innovation.

The Law Society of Alberta (LSA) declined to comment for this article. More information about CBA Alberta’s agenda for justice can be found here.

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