How one lawyer turned his passion for politics into a niche career.
Prominent Ontario election lawyer Jack Siegel is one of only half a dozen in Canada. His expertise is sought after in municipal, provincial and federal circles. Most recently, Jack spent three exhilarating days (and three months prior) as the Chief Returning Officer for the Ontario Liberal Leadership Convention held January 25-27.
Jack’s interest in election law began in the late 80’s when he was a political volunteer serving as constitution chair in his federal and provincial riding associations. By the early 90’s, his knowledge of the Canada Elections Act had grown and he realized that if he was going to argue toe-to-toe with election officials then he would need to become familiar with the entire Act. Jack’s in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of election matters from recounts to contentious constitutional questions makes him the go-to election guru and brings a hitherto non-existent practice area to his firm, Blaney McMurtry LLP, in Toronto.
Jack’s volunteer work became a bona-fide practice area.
When the Ontario Liberal Leadership race was announced, Jack was the clear choice to assume the tough role of Chief Returning Officer; a role he has filled before and will undoubtedly fill again. Overseeing the entire voting process involved updating the outdated 1996 process, establishing candidate nomination requirements, running delegate election meetings, and overseeing all elements involved with voting at the convention. Although there were hundreds of volunteers, including many OBA members, all final decision points rested with Jack.
“The single toughest decision I had to make at the convention was ending delegate registration,” recalls Jack. A massive pile-up on the 401 led to many delegates not meeting the 11pm registration closing time. The rules did not provide a lot of leeway for extending registration beyond the initial two-hour period. With relatively little dissent from campaigns, the decision was made to keep registration open until the last person known to be in transit was present and accounted for that night – or so it was thought. The next morning, an important party official arrived unregistered, forcing Jack’s team to have to make another tough call where there was no precedent.
“The stakes can be enormous, careers swing in the balance,”
The highlight of the convention for Jack is watching the dynamic on the election floor after announcing ballot results. It is an exhilarating part of the process. Will a candidate withdraw or not? Where will the eliminated candidates’ votes go next? Who will be the next leader?
While announcing future leaders and Premiers is exciting, Jack’s favourite files are voting recounts. “The stakes can be enormous, careers swing in the balance,” says Jack, “Part of that excitement comes from the fact that the entire life of the file is only a week or two.”
Prior to law school, Jack grew up as a self-proclaimed “political keener” helping out in campaign offices from his early teens. It was that political background that influenced his approach to law. He views the law as an act of evolving political process. Bringing his legal expertise back into the political milieu allows Jack to provide assistance to his political colleagues and friends. He understand the frameworks of internal political party process and the ins and outs of election legislation that is not always clear to those solely in the political world.
As you have read on these pages, there is a decreasing number of lawyer members in the legislative chamber. Jack’s combined legal and political expertise will continue to be called upon by those involved in politics from the grass-roots to the highest offices, as lawyers continue to play critical roles in politics.
About the Author
Jason Murray is public affairs advisor in the OBA’s government relations department. firstname.lastname@example.org