Alberta’s justice minister confirmed Thursday that the province is downsizing its legal services division and that an estimated 90 lawyer positions would be impacted.
“As we plan for the future, we are going to be downsizing our legal services division to make sure that we can hit our budget targets,” Doug Schweitzer said. “We’re going to make sure that we focus their priorities on Alberta’s priorities.”
The minister also said he’ll be encouraging the affected lawyers to apply for the prosecutor positions the government needs to fill.
The Official Opposition said Albertans should be very concerned by the move.
“These civil law lawyers are responsible for making sure Albertans are kept safe,” NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi said. “They enforce child protection — they do orders to get kids out of dangerous situations — they enforce environmental protection acts, building codes, workplace violations.
“These are really critical lawyers to make sure Albertans are safe,” said Pancholi, who was a practising lawyer in Edmonton prior to being elected to the legislature.
Schweitzer said Albertans’ safety will not be compromised.
“We’re going to make sure that we work with different departments that use the legal services division to make sure that they can still meet the needs of the different departments and make sure we satisfy our obligations to make sure children are protected in the province of Alberta. Those are core priorities of ours.
“Different departments will assess their needs as we go forward. Right now, it’s common for governments to outsource legal work as well.
“We’ll assess those on a case-by-case basis, making sure we get the best return on taxpayer dollars for Albertans.”
Pancholi said outsourcing lawyers would likely end up costing more.
“It costs more money than having lawyers who are in-house, who do preventative work to make sure that government does not get caught up in significant legal actions,” she said.
“They are actually a cost-saving and preventative measure but really if they want to wait until they get sued and send it out to outside firms, that’s going to cost taxpayers more.”
She pointed to another big concern with the cuts.
“These lawyers are also very important because they also keep the government accountable. They make sure the government is complying with the rule of law and the constitution. And frankly, right now, that is something that this government needs more than ever.”