Quebec Bar pleased with federal budget, disappointed by provincial budget

A week after Quebec’s legal society commended the federal government’s 2017 budget for investing new monies and resources in the justice system, the Barreau du Québec deplored the “lack of vision” shown by the provincial government in its budget.

The Quebec budget, issued a day after the provincial government announced that a hiring blitz of some 300 people to help curtail mounting delays in the criminal justice system, does little to deal with the lags that are just as prevalent in administrative tribunals and the civil courts, contends the Barreau. Nor does the provincial budget introduce measures to expand financial eligibility thresholds for legal aid, pointed out the Barreau. “Better access to justice is directly linked to a legal aid system adapted to the needs of citizens, their revenues and their capacity to pay,” said Claudia Prémont, the head of the Quebec Bar.

The Barreau is also disappointed that the provincial government did not introduce new reforms in family law courts and did not lower court fees in cases dealing with family law. And it is disenchanted with the absence of measures to deal with problems afflicting the drafting of bills or the translation of rulings. “It’s unfortunate because it was a missed opportunity to highlight Quebec courts and better disseminate its jurisprudence,” said Prémont. And while she is pleased that the budget will inject $54 million over five years to improve access for crime victims, Prémont believes it is high time for the Quebec government to review the Crime Victims Compensation Act to provide better coverage.

The Quebec Bar however was pleased with the federal budget. Ottawa’s plan to invest $55 million over the next five years, and $15.5 million annually thereafter to fund 28 new superior court judgeships (at an annual salary of $314,100, plus benefits) is a “step in the direction,” according to the Barreau. So is the increase of $2.2 million, on top of the $18.9 million Ottawa already spend on family justice services. The Barreau not surprisingly hopes that some of the monies will lead to the creation of an amalgamated family justice tribunal. The Barreau is also content that there will be a strong push to publish decisions in both English and French. The budget will hand the Courts Administration Service for the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court of Canada and the Court Martial Appeal Court $1 million each over the next two fiscal years to help them live up to their obligation to publish decisions in both official languages.

Curiously, the Barreau is silent about the new measure that ends a tax advantage for lawyers. Professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants have been taken aback by the proposal in the federal budget to eliminate their ability to exclude the value of work in progress in computing their income for tax years that begin or after Budget Day. Taxpayers are generally required to include the value of work in progress in computing their income for tax purposes. But some professionals used to have the option to exclude the value of work in progress in computing their income. That allowed them to defer recognition of income (compared to full accrual) while being able to deduct the related expenses in the year they are incurred.

But as a McCarthy Tétrault bulletin points out, the federal government is concerned that this “billed-basis accounting enables these taxpayers to defer tax by permitting the costs associated with work in progress to “be expensed without the matching inclusion of the associated revenues.”

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