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Editorial: Uh oh, LAO

When it came to light late last year that Legal Aid Ontario was facing a $26-million deficit, a review by Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi was promised.

“From my point of view, and this is where my concern comes in . . . we have seen [an] unprecedented amount of new dollars go into the system. I have questions as to why the deficit exists,” he says.

“I’m not an expert in auditing or accounting, so let’s get experts in.”

But far from direct and definitive, the language in the review is pure bureaucratese.

It refers to a Balanced Budget Plan, which intends to “eliminate its operating deficit across a two-year period with a deficit in year one and a corresponding surplus in year two.”  

But the review underscores that everything is far from certain when it comes to future budgeting.

“. . . [T]here are varying levels of uncertainty associated with many of the mitigation strategies as many are reliant on outcomes which are not exclusively in the power of LAO and are therefore subject to a high risk of volatility (e.g. financial impact of service reductions),” says the review.

“Significant changes are still occurring in the budget based on new information (i.e. funding and results of cost savings) and newly developed strategies, which also increases the unpredictability of LAO achieving its targets.

“In summary, the planned path to balance the operating budget is feasible but not without risks and implementation challenges.”

Critics are right to raise concerns that the review did not cover the operational effectiveness of LAO. More information needs to be released in the coming months outlining how the deficit will be addressed.

Predicted funding woes ahead.

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