During the last sitting of the Legislature, I asked the Minister of Justice and Public Safety to allow low-income Islanders access to legal aid lawyers to help them with residential tenancy disputes. In response to my questions, the Minister said he would look into it. So far, the Minister has been silent on his commitment.
This is a big issue, and it’s having a profound impact on people. In my district of Summerside – Wilmot alone there are close to a hundred seniors right now who would benefit tremendously from the kind of legal support they simply cannot afford on their own.
When a 90-year-old woman in my district is notified that her rent could be going up by 36%, she wonders how she’ll afford it. She wonders if she can afford to buy groceries, keep the lights on, or purchase the medicines she needs.
With an increase this big, naturally, there will be a hearing, where her landlord will make the case for why this increase is justified. Unless this senior citizen can go through the evidence line by line, in the short 5-day window she has to review the evidence and refute the claims, there is a very real chance she’ll have to decide between buying the necessities of life or paying rent.
Most senior citizens don’t have the legal knowledge or tools to dispute a residential tenancy claim. However, someone familiar with rental board hearings and the laws on PEI would know exactly what to look for to help her build a defense. Everyone who needs it should have access to this kind of representation. It is the fair and compassionate thing to do.
I am ashamed that our provincial government is choosing to leave seniors completely on their own to try and sort this out. We are already in a housing crisis. Islanders need help and government has the means and ability to provide that help. Making this change would be easy. It’s a simple policy decision. If the Minister wanted to help these seniors right now, he could.
I am again calling on the Minister to immediately expand the scope of legal aid to include tenancy disputes. This will give Islanders the help they need filling out necessary forms, prepping documents, attending hearings, and planning their appeals.
Minister, will you provide Islanders with these critical tools, or are you satisfied with senior citizens being driven out of their homes and deeper into poverty?
Lynne Lund, MLA Summerside – Wilmot
Official Opposition Critic for Justice and Public Safety