“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet” — Bobby Unser (Indy 500 racer)
With this, my last president’s BarTalk column, I reflect back on my first column and the things I hoped we’d accomplish. As my term draws to a close, I reflect on whether we stayed the course, and how far along it we came.
As predicted, the 2017 provincial election was a main focus, and we put our efforts into bringing justice and law reform issues into the campaign arena. What I (in fact, no one) predicted was the convoluted and history-making nature of that election. But we were ready with our Agenda for Justice containing some 30 proposals for justice improvements. We received much public and media attention on our calls for increased funding for legal aid and for court staffing and infrastructure. The CBABC has fought for years to restore proper government funding in these areas, but previous governments generally turned a deaf ear. This time we persisted in many media stories, one-on-one conversations with political candidates and in public forums. We made inroads, as first the NDP supported $55 million in additional spending in the next three years, and then, when it briefly formed a minority government, the Liberals promised a 25% funding increase. While there are many political reasons that led to this “epiphany” by both parties, I believe our consistent, very public pressing of the issues was a significant factor. We used this opportunity to exert influence to ensure more people who cannot afford legal services will have assistance to obtain them. We will stay the course until the budget is released to see that both our new government and opposition keep their promises.
A second goal was to determine how we respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report’s calls to action. Working with our Aboriginal Lawyers Forum (“ALF”) and Indigenous members, we amended our bylaws so a member of the ALF sits on our Executive Committee. We have established a working group with Tina Dion, QC as chair, and a broad cross-section of members, to make recommendations on what we should do as an organization, and how we can best assist our members to take action. I believe we will better serve our Indigenous, and in fact all members, as a result of this work.
Another goal was to assist new lawyers and lawyers in smaller communities. We’ve had another successful year placing law students into smaller communities through our REAL program, and we have had meetings with key players in the former and present governments on our student loan forgiveness program for new lawyers in rural communities. We are moving forward with pilot projects in partnership with a couple of communities that we believe will gain government support.
The last goal was to improve governance and service to members. As the CBA nationally continues to transform itself, I have had the responsibility of sitting on the last of the “old boards” composed of Branch presidents and Section chairs. We now have a BC director elected directly to the national board, along with her colleagues similarly elected from each jurisdiction in Canada. From now on, Branch presidents can focus on their Branches and not do double duty (in particular, with no more trips to Ottawa in February!). I am pleased with what my fellow Branch presidents and I were able to accomplish on a national level, and believe we leave the CBA stronger as a result.
Our Branch will now determine the changes we should make to better govern ourselves and serve you, and we are in the planning stages for a Branch governance review that will bear its fruit in the months ahead. We are a strong Branch that commands respect from government, the courts and the public, but we can do better and we will.
All said, and due to good work by our member volunteers and staff, we met the marks we set, and that measures up to a successful year.