Legal Aid Ontario will be cutting full-time positions and implementing a hiring freeze in the wake of cuts announced in the recent provincial budget.
In an email to staff Monday morning and obtained by the Star, CEO David Field laid out a number of changes the organization will be making to save money.
“Front-line services provided by LAO will continue and remain strong,” he said in the email. “LAO carefully considered its expenditures in terms of its client service and accountability for public funds and has developed a plan which is guided by those considerations.”
Field said the cutting of full-time jobs will mainly be made through eliminating vacant positions, attrition and voluntary exits, as well as “other arrangements” that he did not specify.
Cutting the positions, along with other administrative changes including a hiring freeze, salary freeze for management, and delaying implementation of IT projects, are projected to save the agency about $ 16.6 million, Field said.
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Field said there would also be a compensation funding freeze for legal clinics, and putting a stop to funding for one-time clinic projects.
In terms of changes to the private bar, which includes private criminal and family lawyers who receive funding from LAO to represent clients, Field said the agency is “exploring regulatory changes to support service improvements, efficiencies and cost savings,” pertaining to issues such as discretion payments, which he defined as payments over and above the regular tariff paid to lawyers for work on a case.
Changes to how it deals with the private bar are expected to save the agency $ 13.9 million, Field said.
“The prior government spent more and more money on legal aid without achieving the results that legal aid’s clients or taxpayers should expect,” Attorney General Caroline Mulroney told the Star in a statement.
“With renewed accountability at legal aid, every dollar saved on lawyers is a dollar we can invest in public health care and education, the services that matter most to people.”
Given that the province said it will no longer provide funding for immigration and refugee cases, Field said in the email that the agency is now solely working within the amount it receives from the federal government, which is about $ 13.5-$ 16 million.
The agency will continue to use provincial transition funding to honour the certificates (payments to lawyers) that were issued in immigration and refugee cases prior to April 16, Field said.
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“I know that the attached announcement will bring questions and concerns for you as staff,” Field said. “I am confident that LAO will continue to be a major force in access to justice now and in the future. Meeting and talking to you is more important to me than ever before. Now is the time for constructive discussion.”
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant