Focus On

New president plans a reimagining of CBA

Thursday, August 11, 2016 @ 8:00 PM | By Geoff Kirbyson

You might not recognize the Canadian Bar Association once René Basque is done with it.

The incoming president of the CBA has an ambitious agenda for his one-year term, which starts when he succeeds outgoing president Janet Fuhrer.

A “reimagining” of the CBA is first on the docket as he plans to reposition the organization’s focus on young lawyers and the future of the practice of law. He also wants to reduce the amount of red tape on the governance side of things, which will include shrinking the size of the CBA board. If that wasn’t enough, Basque will also be actively involved in the hiring of the CBA’s new CEO, replacing John Hoyles, who is stepping down this fall.

“These are exciting times. It’s going to be a very active year. Change is the only constant we can count on. It will keep me on my toes,” he says.

Basque, a partner at Actus Law Droit in Moncton, has been a lawyer for nearly three decades, having been called to the bar in 1989. He will be the first Acadian to serve as the CBA’s president and just the fourth New Brunswicker.

A graduate of the Université de Moncton’s law school, the only one in the country to teach exclusively in French, his practice focuses on corporate restructuring, construction law and being an outside counsel.

Access to justice for Canadians will also be a priority for Basque and he’s working in tandem with the Federation of Law Societies to lobby governments to open their purse strings and increase funding for legal aid.

“Every Canadian has the right to be heard and treated equally before the law. Legal aid representation should be affordable and available to Canadian citizens and for lawyers to be able to represent their clients without doing it all pro bono,” he says.

The proof will be in fewer people representing themselves in court, thereby greasing the wheels of justice.

“When you don’t have a person versed in the procedure, often the opponent’s lawyer or the judge [has] to assist them. Delayed justice is no justice,” the new president said.

Basque will be front and centre at the CBA’s Canadian Legal Conference in Ottawa on Aug. 14. One of the highlights will be Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s keynote address, which will provide her points of view on the rule of law as well as federal judicial appointments. The first woman to hold such an important position, she is also the longest-serving chief justice in Canada’s history.

The conference will also feature the first-ever innovation and start-up event, called “The Pitch.” Hosted jointly by the CBA and LegalX, each startup candidate will have 12 minutes to seal the deal — seven minutes to present their ideas, followed by five minutes for questions from the panel of judges. It will all take place in front of a live audience of professionals from the legal and startup industries, as well as potential partners and investors.

The winners will receive a two-week stint at LegalX’s office in Toronto in the MaRS Discovery District where they’ll be given the opportunity to attract potential investors.

“Some of these young lawyers see different ways of serving the client. I wish I was smart enough to have a new start-up idea and then I’d pitch it, too,” Basque says.

Another must-see session is a panel discussion on litigating in the court of public opinion, headlined by Donald Bayne, who represented Mike Duffy in the Senate expenses scandal.

Basque believes Bayne’s message is particularly important today and that law societies across the country should offer professional development courses on dealing with the media.

“The media has a scrum around you, what are you allowed to say to them about the administration of justice? Should the media affect your client?” he says.

Basque first became involved with the CBA as a young lawyer and would attend events as a way of getting contacts and referrals.

“It was good for marketing,” he says.

But after about 15 years, he decided to step back from the organization to concentrate on the business of law. After a 10-year break, he reacquainted himself with the CBA, becoming second vice-president in 2014.

“It rekindled my love of the law. It made me sit there and think, ‘there are some really smart people here. This is where I want to be,’ ” he says.

In his spare time, Basque likes to sail in the summer and play hockey in the winter.

“When I’m on the ice, I smile for an hour. For me, it’s not exercise, it’s fun. When I go jogging, that’s exercise,” he says.

Basque and his wife of 32 years, Donna Gauthier, have two grown daughters, Katia and Virginie.

He has been a member of the CBA since 1989 and was president of CBA-New Brunswick in 2006-2007. He has also been involved with non-profit organizations, the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Moncton Centre-Ville Inc., the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada and the Canadian Bar Insurance Association Board, all in a variety of roles. He is also on several CBA committees.

Basque has received a number of accolades during his career, including the Pro Bono Award from the CBA’s New Brunswick branch for his work in assisting a variety of clients, and the CBA’s Douglas Miller Award for demonstrating “outstanding dedication and team spirit in his or her ongoing involvement with the CBA.”