BURGEO Burgeo’s deputy Mayor Barbara Barter said the notion of the provincial government saving $1,000 by closing the circuit court in her community is difficult to comprehend.
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons questioned Justice Minister Darin King on the matter this week at estimates committee, an informal mechanism in the House of Assembly where opposition MHAs can dig into specific budget decisions. Parsons said he was gobsmacked when he heard say the government was closing the circuit court to save $1,000.
While the government is saving that little amount, Barter said the cost to the people of the area is much more, especially when it comes to meeting court schedules that are arranged beyond the community.
She said some people on the southwest coast — residents of Francois, Grey River, and Ramea, for example — have to get a boat to Burgeo, then drive more than two hours to Stephenville or Corner Brook to pay a fine.
“It’s ridiculous for a person to have to do that,” Barter said. “It’s a denigration of government services to the community.”
It’s one thing to regionalize, she said, but this is the stripping away of rural communities. She said there are people who cannot afford to travel, and government is taking away a service that has been in place for as long as she can remember.
“You can’t rationalize cost efficiencies alone and determine an efficiency of service,” she said.
She believes MHAs should speak up against this, and feels that Parsons has been doing a fine job as the voice of government for the Burgeo area.
King had said the main budgetary cost for the circuit court is in renting the space, along with travel costs. By taking lawyers, judges and court staff out of their regular courts, it puts a strain on the system, the justice minister said.
The chief justice made the decision that it’s just not worth it in certain places, King added.
“Rural Newfoundland is shrinking, and hopefully, whatever else we’re doing in our province we’re working to keep crime down,” he said. “So we have to make choices how long we can provide those types of services in communities before we make a decision.”
Barter said government could become more creative by looking at things like tele-court in lieu of stripping smaller communities of their services.