Queen’s Park returns, ready for business
Premier Kathleen Wynne, having won a majority mandate on June 12th, has since then been moving quickly, first appointing a new Cabinet on June 24 and recalling the Legislature by July 2.
The first order of business was to be to re-introduce the exact same May 2nd budget that prompted the election in the first place. The new budget had not been introduced at press time, but the May 2nd budget contained three notable justice-sector items, two of which were directly advocated for by the Ontario Bar Association.
Having helped put these justice initiatives on the government’s agenda in the first place, the OBA will be working to ensure they move forward to be implemented.
Legal Aid: In a pre-budget submission, the OBA urged the Minister of Finance to raise the Legal Aid financial eligibility threshold as an important way to increase access to justice and help build a sustainable legal aid system in Ontario. The May 2nd budget committed to raising the threshold, which would result in an additional one million low-income Ontarians being eligible for legal aid services. The proposal to issue an additional 75,000 certificates is of course good news for the private bar and the hardworking lawyers who provide legal aid services at reduced rates.
Family Law: The May 2nd budget proposed a new on-line service for parents to apply for changes in child support amounts without going to court. People using the service would be charged a fee, with the amount not defined. The initiative would include associated changes to the Family Law Act, the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act and the Ministry of Revenue Act. The OBA was pleased to be consulted on this item by the Ministry of the Attorney General, and we look forward to helping develop this initiative in the future.
New Toronto courthouse: The May 2nd budget announced the government’s intention to build a new downtown Toronto courthouse to replace five old, existing courthouses, spread out across the downtown. Unofficial indications were that the government was considering a location near the Superior Court of Justice at 361 University Ave. The budget says this would save $700-million over 30 years in lease fees. A modern consolidated facility is also likely welcome news for lawyers and their clients who use the courts on a daily basis.
Of course, with the dissolution of the legislature in May, all pending legislation died on the order paper.
Prominent among the dozens of government bills was Bill 83, Protection for Public Participation Act which was intended to discourage litigation that is brought for the sole purpose of stifling public debate, sometimes referred to Strategic Lawsuits Against Litigation, or SLAPP. While there is no guarantee that the anti-SLAPP bill will be re-introduced, the initiative had enjoyed support within all three parties and would represent a quick win that has no impact on the treasury.
Our members will also be interested that voters returned all incumbent MPPs who are lawyers to Queen's Park, including Liberals Madeleine Meilleur, Yasir Naqvi, David Zimmer, Bob Chiarelli, and Lorenzo Berardinetti. Christine Elliott and Jagmeet Singh were re-elected to the PC and NDP caucuses respectively.
The OBA’s policy and public affairs department will be closely monitoring the legislative agenda of the new government and will continue to advocate on behalf of our members on the issues that are important to them.