Legal Aid funding to increase in Alberta

The Alberta government has committed $5.5 million to increase access to a cash-strapped Legal Aid system. Premier Jim Prentice says more low income Albertans will qualify for the program.

Province commits more money and will increase upper income level for eligibility

Premier Jim Prentice says more low income Albertans will qualify for the program. (CBC )

The Alberta government is committing an additional $5.5 million to increase access to Legal Aid.  

Premier Jim Prentice says the provincial government will commit more funds to the program and will also increase the maximum income level for assistance.

The new income cut-off for Legal Aid will be $1,588 per month, which is an increase from the current limit of $1,338 per month for a single individual. The change means all recipients of the Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program would qualify for legal assistance.

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis says he will continue to push for increased federal contributions to the Legal Aid program. (CBC )

Derek Cranna, the chair of the Legal Aid Alberta board, welcomed the government's announcement.

"We look forward to building on this positive step to achieve a long-term, sustainable funding strategy for Legal Aid," he said in statement.

Jonathan Denis, Alberta's minister of justice and solicitor general, reversed an earlier position and said the province would go it alone after unsuccessfully lobbying the federal government for increased Legal Aid funding.

Legal Aid funding

"I will continue to advocate for the federal government's contribution to fully reflect its partnership position," Denis said in a statement.

Premier Jim Prentice sent a mandate letter to Denis in September, which ordered him to "ensure appropriate funding for Legal Aid."

Similar letters were sent out to all of his newly-appointed ministers to outline his expectations and priorities for each portfolio.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said even with the new income cut-off, someone making minimum wage would not qualify for Legal Aid.

"That's in the context of this province having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country and a minimum wage that is well below what most experts believe to be a living wage," she said. "And yet those are the people that this government would have pay for their own lawyer."

The funding problems at Legal Aid have been simmering for several months.

In June, an ongoing funding crunch forced Legal Aid — a non-profit agency that provides legal services to people in need — to cut a dozen jobs and close six offices across the province. 

In August, judges around the province began invoking their seldom-used authority to order the government to pay for lawyers for those who could not afford one.