Focus On

Lawyers back with a vengeance, business people will cede power

Thursday, November 05, 2015 @ 7:00 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Liberals and of late Conservatives have laid claim to “natural governing party” status, but lawyers know that mantle really belongs to them.

Since Confederation, the legal profession has sent more of its members to the House of Commons than any other occupational group (1,019 Members of Parliament, not counting those in the newly elected 42nd Parliament).

That time-honoured tradition resumed Oct. 19 when lawyers roared back with the resurgent Liberals, after playing a secondary role in the Harper majority government, where business people outnumbered the 23 lawyers in the Conservative caucus.

Forty-seven Liberal MPs — more than a quarter of the 184-member Liberal caucus — have a law degree, but the legal profession’s comeback goes beyond sheer numbers. Lawyers are expected to wield considerable power in Justin Trudeau’s government and Cabinet (not yet announced at press time). Lawyers re-elected as MPs, such as Trudeau’s close friend Dominic LeBlanc of New Brunswick (seen as a leading contender for the justice portfolio) and former federal finance minister Ralph Goodale are among those considered sure Cabinet bets.

High-profile lawyers elected as MPs for the first time include former federal Crown Marco Mendicino, who prosecuted the Toronto 18, McGill University law professor David Lametti, two-term Alberta MLA Kent Hehr, Montreal mayoralty runner-up Mélanie Joly, paralympian Carla Qualtrough, and First Nations leader Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Among the up and coming legal stars, Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna defied conventional wisdom in defeating NDP stalwart Paul Dewar. The co-founder of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, with expertise in international trade and competition law and a passion for human rights, said her legal training and her competitive swimming background stood her in good stead during the arduous campaign, which she began shortly after winning the Liberal nomination in May 2014.

“I think that my legal training was helpful in that it taught me to be disciplined. It taught me the value of hard work. It taught me the importance of attention to detail on my campaign — making sure that things are going well and that you’re very focused on your goals,” she said.

Noting that some lawyer-MPs were non-practising and used their skills in other pursuits, like she did, McKenna says Parliament benefits from members with a broad range of backgrounds. “Personally I’m excited because there are a number of McGill law graduates, including my former prof from McGill law, David Lametti,” said McKenna.

Wilson-Raybould, widely seen as a potential justice minister, says she and her sister and fellow UBC law graduate, Kory, both followed in the footsteps of their father, lawyer Bill Wilson, the First Nations politician who spearheaded the successful fight to add s. 35 to the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal rights.

“My dad, when I was growing up, was always my hero and I admired him greatly,” she recalled. “I really valued my legal education…I very much enjoyed being a provincial Crown prosecutor at the Main Street criminal courthouse [in Vancouver], and it provided me with a foundation to move forward.”

The Liberals’ legal bench strength is such that the caucus alone could field a full-service mid-size law firm, complete with litigators and solicitors, with some in-house counsel thrown in. Available legal expertise includes aboriginal, criminal (Crown and defence), corporate-commercial, droit civil, environmental, human rights, immigration, international, labour, mergers and acquisitions, trade and tax, administrative and constitutional, including:

Calgary MP Kent Hehr:
At age 21, the former provincial Liberal MLA and Alberta shadow minister for justice, finance and education was shot while riding in a friend’s car, leaving him quadriplegic. While learning to reuse his fingers, he earned his bachelor and law degrees at the University of Calgary. An active community leader, he practised with Fraser Milner Casgrain.

Delta, B.C. MP Carla Qualtrough: The visually impaired human rights lawyer and paralympian and world champion swimmer trounced Conservative Cabinet minister (and lawyer) Kerry-Lynne Findlay. Qualtrough chaired the B.C. minister’s council on employment and accessibility, and was an adjudicator with the provincial Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.

Toronto MP Marco Mendicino:
While a Crown with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the ex-president of the Association of Justice Counsel (the bargaining agent for 2,600 federal government lawyers) prosecuted organized crime and terrorism charges, including against the Toronto 18. Later in private practice, he handled regulatory and labour and employment cases.

Gatineau, Que. MP William Amos:
Director of the University of Ottawa’s Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, the McGill civil/common law graduate is a high-profile advocate for environmental protection and sustainable resource development.

Dorval, Que. MP Anju Dhillon:
The Université de Montréal law graduate is the first Canadian Sikh to practise in the Quebec courts.

Willowdale, Ont. MP Ali Ahsassi: With an LL.B. from Osgoode Hall, and LL.M. from Georgetown, the international trade and arbitration expert has worked for the Ontario and federal governments, as well as in private practice.

Mount Royal, Que. MP Anthony Housefather:
The civil/common law McGill graduate was general counsel with Dialogic Corporation, a multinational technology company. In 2013, the ex-municipal councilor and ex-mayor of Côte Saint-Luc won seven swimming medals at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

York, Ont. MP Ahmed Hussen: The University of Ottawa law graduate and Canadian Somali Congress president, fluent in English, Somali and Swahili, helped revitalize Regent Park, a low-income housing community in Toronto.

Montreal MP David Lametti:
The McGill University property, IP, private and comparative law professor speaks French, English and Italian, and has a masters in law from Yale, and a doctorate in law from Oxford where he co-captained the hockey team with Mark Carney, the current governor of the Bank of England.

Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre: The tax expert, former Ontario human rights commissioner, and jazz enthusiast owns several French-language radio stations and Journal Le Voyageur, a weekly newspaper.