JUST Causes

  • April 01, 2014

Lawyers in the Legislature

As the number of lawyers in legislature declines, the OBA’s role is more important than ever

It used to be routine for lawyers to enter politics in Ontario—serving either as MPPs, cabinet ministers, or even premiers. David Peterson, Bill Davis, John Robarts and Bob Rae all held law degrees, as did Ontario’s longest serving leader, Oliver Mowat.

But the historically strong tie between law and politics is starting to fray. In 2011, only 12 lawyers were elected to the 107 seat legislature. Since then, four have resigned (Premier Dalton McGuinty, former Attorney General Chris Bentley, and cabinet ministers Laurel Broten and Margarett Best), leaving just eight lawyers in the entire house. John Gerretsen, the current Attorney General of Ontario, has announced he will not run in the next election, potentially reducing the total number of lawyers even more.

Now we have a unique situation in Ontario. For the first time in the post-Second World War period, none of the three mainstream party leaders are lawyers.

Some might not view this as a problem, and there’s a lot to be said for professional diversity in politics. Teachers, farmers, and doctors bring unique backgrounds and outlooks to their posts. But when lawyers disappear from the ranks of elected MPs, something significant is lost. Non-lawyers might not immediately understand the full impact of court decisions; in committee, they might not immediately foresee the multiple consequences a single legislative change might bring.

The OBA is encouraging lawyers to get involved in the political process. Volunteering with a local campaign is a good way to gauge whether you’ve got a taste for political life. But you can also engage with politics at Queen’s Park without ever running for office.

The OBA provides a unique window into the political world. Through the OBA’s Policy and Public Affairs department, each of our practice groups is kept informed of upcoming legal and regulatory changes. Practice groups then have the chance to get in on the legislative ground floor. Members can debate proposed legislation and draft submissions about how a law should be changed, or why it shouldn’t be passed at all.

Formal submissions from the OBA carry a lot of weight at Queen’s Park. It’s just not possible for a minister or ministerial staff to receive a legal submission from the largest voluntary legal group in the province and not afford it serious consideration.

In fact, with so few lawyers in the legislature, the OBA is playing a more important role than ever. We’re keeping our eye on new bills and regulations, both with a view to protecting the profession and protecting the public. We’re often among the first to raise serious concerns about a proposed law or policy shift. And when we point out problems and potential solutions, we’re listened to.

The OBA provides a lot of opportunities for lawyers—networking, ongoing education, and up-to-the-minute news about the profession. But what the OBA is increasingly doing is giving our volunteers the chance to shape policy. In a legislature where the number of lawyers is at an all-time low, this role couldn’t be more critical. Or more interesting.