Dion pledges to return, bolster axed court-challenges program

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion pledged Tuesday not only to restore the cancelled $3 million federal court-challenges program if elected prime minister, but to double its funding.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion pledged Tuesday to restore funding for the federal court-challenges program if elected prime minister, and to double it, saying its cancellation by the Conservatives was "damaging the fabric of our society."

The program set aside $3 million a year to pay the legal fees of groups that wanted to challenge government decisions that affected their rights as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It was cancelled by the Conservative government in 2006 as part of a package of federal budget cuts.

Dion said the program was cancelled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for ideological reasons, not to save money.

"This is the Canada he wants to build — laissez-faire, I don't care, fend for yourself, the federal government should not have to help you," Dion said during a campaign appearance Tuesday in the Quebec riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

"We will not accept this kind of Canada."

'Heir' to Trudeau, Chrétien: Dion

Dion said a Liberal government would reinstate the program, and pump $6 million into it.

Invoking the names of former Liberal prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, Dion said he was the "heir" to their legacy as leader of the party that gave the Charter of Rights to Canadians.

He cited the successes of the court-challenges program, including helping seniors in getting employment insurance, women getting pay equity and helping disabled groups secure access from Via Rail.

The program was created in 1978 for minority linguistic groups to defend and guarantee the services they need in the language of their choice. It was later expanded to other minority groups seeking equality.

In 1984, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney cancelled the program, only to see the Liberals to restore it under Chrétien in 1993.

Its critics have questioned whether it made sense for government to give money to people who want to challenge government decisions.