The Society presented on members’ priorities as part of the Ontario government’s consultation ahead of the spring budget.
In her presentation, Secretary-Treasurer Michelle Johnston told Members of Provincial Parliament about the Society’s top three priorities:
Reverse the 30% cut to Legal Aid Ontario in last year’s budget
Since the 30% cut to legal aid was announced in the 2019 budget, there have been significant negative impacts on vulnerable Ontarians, as well as on Society members who work on the front lines at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). While the cuts have reduced LAO’s budget they have increased costs elsewhere. For example, people who eventually get bail are waiting longer and therefore increasing the cost of housing them in jails. Self-representation has increased dramatically in both criminal and family courts, which is known to increase the likelihood of unjust outcomes as well as the cost of conducting hearings.
Fight climate change and invest in low-carbon power
On climate change, the Society noted that Ontario is moving backwards in its efforts to meet its carbon emission reduction targets due to the current government’s policy. It is also apparent that Ontario risks adding more carbon-emitting sources of electricity to our grid as the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station moves toward decommissioning. Given the effort required to move away from coal, the Society is advocating that the government begin the process required to add nuclear capacity rather than resort to fracked natural gas for future energy needs. Canada will rely more and more on provinces’ electricity systems as the country moves toward meeting its 2050 net zero emissions goal.
Invest in high-quality public services our members and communities rely on
The Society urged the government to respect the people who deliver public services and protect Ontario’s valued public services like health care and education. This includes repealing Bill 124, which legislates away public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights. On public services, the Society advocated for, at minimum, adjusting funding to reflect inflation and population growth. Additionally, the Society advocated that the government save money by conducting an assessment of contracted out services to determine where bringing service delivery in-house would be cost-efficient. Finally, the Financial Accountability Officer identified in a recent report that the government’s cuts are so steep that rather than just eliminate the provincial deficit they are forecast to pay for $3 billion tax cut at the end of its term. The Society asked the government to use those funds to invest in services given that Ontario already spends the least amount on public services per capita in Canada.