I spent most of the last week moderately involved in a somewhat different model of law reform, the annual meetings of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, held this year in Ottawa, hosted by Justice Canada. (The website does not include this year's proceedings, but you can find last year's reports, resolutions and other documents there.) One of our fellow slawyers, a long term ULCC full participant, was also there as an Ontario delegate. The delegate to the ULCC are mainly senior or middle-level bureaucrats from the provincial, territorial and federal governments, but law commission representatives and others (such as a representative from the OBA and one from the CBA) are invited to join their respective delegations).
As just about everyone in the legal community knows, the purpose of the ULCC is to develop uniform statutes that are then forwarded to the provincial and territorial governments for implementation – or not. Until I attended, however, I had only a foggy idea of who is involved in and what goes on at the annual meetings. Whatever I know now really is from the perspective of a representative of a law commission that has not become, at least as yet, an integral part of the ULCC.
The provincial law commissions inevitably play varied roles, mostly determined, it seems by longevity and resources. From the Law Commission of Ontario’s perspective, the meetings are a useful way to find out what delegates across Canada consider to be the important issues of the day, although these are not necessarily, it seems, the ones their governments consider the most important or the most likely to obtain support across the country. A couple of the issues that arose at this year's meeting overlap in part with the LCO's projects on older adults and the Provincial Offences Act. In these cases, the overlap is not sufficient to make me think we should not be undertaking our own project, but in some instances, this is the case. For example, the ULCC has undertaken to develop a uniform Trustee Act (a project proposed by representatives from the BC and Alberta law reform institutes who have otherwise been long participants in the ULCC), modelled on the statute developed by the BC Law Institute; the LCO has not decided to do a project in this area and since it is not pressing, we are unlikely to do so now that the ULCC is carrying the issue forward. But we should be able to contribute to the two projects in which we are doing work.
Of course, the ULCC and the LCO constitute different models of law reform. The ULCC meets once a year and its work is carried out by working groups who do their research and draft statutes over a period, usually, of two or three years, sometimes longer. LCO projects can take that long, but may also be shorter. Members of the working groups include regular attendees at the ULCC, as well as government and other experts in the area, while much of the work of law commissions is carried out by in-house staff or by persons contracted for a particular project. They do consult, but in a more low key way than does the LCO, for which public consultation is crucial. The LCO's projects, while sometimes limited to recommending amendments to statutes, or theoretically enactment of a new statute, often involve multidisciplinary research and non-legislative recommendations directed not only at government, but also at semi-public and private actors. The provincial commissions make efforts to collaborate and there has been some success in this, but not a great deal; the whole point of the ULCC, of course, is harmonization.
Finally, reliant as it is on volunteer labour and with only an annual meeting of all delegates, the ULCC has a rather lower budget than any "permanent" (I use the term loosely) provincial law commission, all of which have a permanent staff, however small, and the general costs of an on-going enterprise that releases full reports. But maybe that is why commissions have an erratic history and the ULCC, flying under the radar as it does, has been in existence since 1918. Still, even though some commissions may engage in activity similar to the ULCC (at a provincial level), these law reform bodies are not interchangeable.