Alberta's solicitor general is vowing to fight to restore funding for restorative justice programs in the face of mounting criticism from his party and a retired chief justice.

"I will fight to restore it," Frank Oberle told CBC News. "I'm going to fight to restore the grant money next year." 

Oberle said he was forced to eliminate the $350,000 grant for the program to reach budget targets.

His department is responsible for jails in Alberta and most of his budget is taken up by salaries where there is no room to cut.

"How we supervise prisoners is defined by union contract and court decisions and and staffing models," he said.

Minister supports program goals

Oberle said he supports the concept of restorative justice which brings victims and criminals face-to-face with the goal of making amends.

"It has real value to the victim," said Oberle. "That is a key point here. It allows the victim to have ownership in the justice system."

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Tory leadership candidate Doug Griffiths vows to reinstate restorative justice funding if he wins. (CBC)

Oberle's comments come after the former chief justice of Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench and Progressive Conservative leadership candidates publicly expressed bewilderment and dismay over his decision, which was first reported by CBC News Monday.

"It was very positive legislation," said former chief justice Allan Wachowich. "It was constructive. It was progressive, innovative and it was visionary."

Wachowich said he was surprised and disappointed when he learned the restorative justice programs would not be funded.

"I can see no justification," he said. "I think they have to re-examine it."

Leadership candidates would restore money

All six leadership candidates vying to replace Premier Ed Stelmach spoke in support of the program during a party debate in Red Deer Thursday.

Most said they would reinstate funding if they became premier.

"I don't know the logic behind this," said Doug Griffiths during a party debate in Red Deer Thursday night. "I can't possibly imagine there is any."

The program eases the burden on the courts and has a huge impact on perpetrators, he said.

"There are a lot of young people who have made a mistake, who get to see exactly what that mistake means to somebody in the community and make amends and save them from getting a court record or just getting a slap on the wrist and turned out without any real idea what harm was caused."

"When I'm premier, after I win this, I will restore (funding) immediately," said Griffiths.

"We will no longer attack programs like this to save pennies when they cost lives."

All three opposition parties are also calling for the reinstatement of the program.