Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Legal Aid Top Priority for Albertans?

Forgive me for being cynical...and I sure hope I just don't have the "pulse of the province" on this one...but I'm having a tough time believing the numbers of a recent poll conducted for the Legal Aid Society of Alberta.

Albertan's Show Overwhelming Support for Legal Aid

As those of us who do significant amounts of Legal Aid work know, the remuneration is often minimal and there are a significant number of applicants who can't really afford to hire a lawyer, but can't qualify for Legal Aid.

Now, I will say that Southern Appeals Committee makes significant efforts to grant extra hours and other coverage extensions (where you show the need for it on a file and they can find the room in their budget), but at the end of the day, it remains very difficult to represent Legal Aid clients to your fullest ability when you are always running into tariff restrictions.

So, while it is a very encouraging statistic that "65% of respondents agreed that legal aid should be given the same funding priority as other vital social services such as health care, education, welfare, and child protection" if those same people were asked if they would cut back on certain health care and education budgets to give the Legal Aid Society some desperately needed additional funding I have serious doubts that the same level of support would be expressed.

I guess my concern is that the "support" that an apparent 96% of Albertans show for Legal Aid is abstract and ideological...almost everybody agrees that extensive, well-funded Legal Aid programs are a good idea. But when the time comes to actually put dollars behind the people who are desperately trying to provide the programs and services to Albertans on a daily basis those same people who think it's a good idea will be looking over their shoulders to find the people who ought to pay for it.

As I said, I hope I'm wrong...I hope this poll gives some traction to the Society when it goes to government officials to make its case for better funding. Who knows, given the current Federal Government approach to "law and order" issues, maybe these results can even help to convince the very soon to be chosen new Premier to make Legal Aid a priority in the overall push to improve the justice system.

We'll keep our finger's crossed...


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