The Ontario Bar Association is privileged to benefit from the expertise of a membership that truly represents the great diversity of our profession. We are an association of over 16,000 lawyers from every practice area, practice type, and geographic region across the province. With a diverse and dedicated membership supported by a profession public affairs staff, the OBA is uniquely positioned to help shape the law on issues that matter to our members. As the voice of the profession, the OBA is an increasingly trusted and sought after advisor to assist decision makers to identify and navigate opportunities for law reform.
The Ontario legislature has enjoyed an extended summer recess since passage of the provincial budget in late July. As Queen’s Park gets back to business this fall, we take a moment to look at the recent impact of three advocacy efforts, and the way in which member engagement through the Policy and Public Affairs department has been critical to success.
In late 2012, the OBA began advocating for a legislative response to the Court of Appeal’s decision in Carrigan v. Carrigan Estate, which changed the longstanding approach to priority for death benefits. With input from our Pensions, Family and Trusts & Estates sections, the OBA placed the spousal issue on the government agenda in the 2013 budget. Two bill introductions and a year later, amendments reflecting the OBA’s advocacy were passed as part of the 2014 provincial budget. The amendments, which came into force on July 24, 2014, clarify the treatment of spouses for pension death benefits and provide protection for lawyers who acted in accordance with industry practice prior to the Court of Appeal’s decision. Having successfully achieved the desired law reform, the contributing sections jointly sponsored a professional development webcast to alert members to the changes.
The provincial budget also reflected OBA advocacy to the Ministry of Finance on the need to support the bar in delivering legal aid. Hardworking lawyers who provide legal aid services at reduced rates know that the public benefits from legal aid funding for certificates. The OBA urged the government to increase legal aid eligibility and associated funding as an important way to increase access to justice and help build an effective legal aid system in Ontario. The budget subsequently introduced a strategy to raise the income eligibility threshold. When fully implemented, the government predicts some 75,000 additional certificates would be issued each year. The OBA will be engaged with government on this commitment as it goes forward to ensure that it will help more Ontarians be served by the bar.
In 2010, the OBA assembled a working group to respond to a consultation by the Law Commission of Ontario with respect to joint and several liability for auditors. In keeping with the OBA submission at the time, the LCO ultimately determined not to recommend any changes. This past spring, the Ministry of the Attorney General requested input from the OBA on proposals to limit the application of joint and several liability pertaining to municipalities. Our members were concerned that the proposed changes would have broad reaching ramifications and, once again, the OBA was able to bring the expertise of leading practitioners together to provide timely and in-depth advice to government. The OBA working group, chaired by Richard Halpern, was comprised of defence and plaintiff bars who worked together to provide advice transcending individual or client related interests. The OBA provided careful analysis of the principles underlying the law of joint and several liability and made compelling arguments for keeping the law as it currently exists. In response, the newly formed majority government recently indicated that it would not be moving forward in reforming the law of joint and several liability with respect to municipalities.
These are just some of the recent examples of OBA advocacy in action. During the legislative recess we have already been reaching out to elected officials to promote the interests of lawyers and the administration of justice. As the next legislative session gets underway at Queen’s Park, we look forward to our continued role as a public policy leader on behalf of our members.