My Final BarTalk Column as President

  • August 01, 2018
  • Bill Veenstra

Looking back at the past 11 months in the CBABC

Any discussion of the CBABC begins with its Section and PD programming. Our 76 Sections held more than 350 meetings over the course of the CBA year, making available some 388 hours of creditable PD to members. Approximately 55% of those meetings had a remote attendance option, making them available to CBABC members anywhere in the province. PD programming included 23 in-person events in various locations and eleven formal webinars. One of the highlights was the first ever CBA West conference, bringing CBA members from both BC and Alberta together for a weekend of high quality professional development.

One of the key responsibilities of the President is to be the advocacy voice of the CBABC. I had the honour of speaking out on issues ranging from legal aid and court services funding, to the need for judicial appointments. My work followed up on the strong advocacy of my predecessor, Michael Welsh, QC, with well researched and documented priorities set out in our Agenda for Justice. While there is much work still to be done, the February 2018 budget saw the first significant increase in legal aid funding in many years, which is something to celebrate.

As the year went by, the government announced plans to institute caps on damages for “minor” injury motor vehicle cases, and to transfer significant jurisdiction from the courts to an online tribunal. The CBABC has put forward thoughtful and principled positions in response. Our advocacy work has been grounded in the rule of law, longstanding fundamental principles of personal responsibility through tort law, a public interest that includes the interests of innocent accident victims side-by-side with (rather than subsidiary to) the interests of rate-payers, and the desirability of a system based on fairness rather than arbitrary limits.

Related to our advocacy is work to improve access to justice within BC. There remains a serious access to justice problem, and the Bar needs to be a key part of improving the situation. Several groups within the CBABC are working hard on these issues – among them, our Unbundled Legal Services Section and our Access to Justice Committee – and I have worked hard to ensure that the CBABC remains a key player in this conversation. Access to justice issues are not amenable to simple solutions, and require a balancing of desires for perfect justice and affordable justice. As lawyers, we have direct, practical experience working day-to-day with clients, which gives us important insights, and we need to be part of the hunt for solutions, ensuring that principles of fairness and the rule of law are not obliterated in the name of efficiency, but at the same time being open to improvements that may require us to change some long-standing approaches.

A further area of focus is membership. Concern has been expressed in recent years about the CBA membership fee, and much work has been done to streamline CBA structures and operations, especially at the national level, and to re-think how we allocate and spend the fees collected. Our current national President, Kerry Simmons, QC, has been instrumental in moving that process forward. A concrete result of all of that work is a membership fee reduction that members will see in their 2018-2019 renewal notices this summer – with fees for most regular members in BC having decreased by $100.

One of my great pleasures as President has been to represent the CBABC at legal community events around BC. I am constantly blown away by the number of lawyers and law students who work so hard and give so much of their time to improving the justice system in their communities and to making the Bar a welcoming community.

I want to thank the many volunteers, both with the CBABC and with local and community Bars, across the province. Special thanks as well to our excellent staff at the CBABC office who work so hard to bring the thoughts and ideas of the volunteers to fruition and make us look good in the process. And finally, thank you to the CBABC membership for allowing me the opportunity to be your President for 2017-2018.


 

 

 

Bill Veenstra
president@cbabc.org