Don’t know who to vote for? Cast your ballot for a lawyer
Turkey, family, politics, and playoff baseball. For some, like myself, there are few more exciting combinations. For others, they may as well be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Debates over niqabs, cranberry sauce recipes, and appropriate use of starting pitchers in relief situations likely reigned in many of your houses over this past weekend.
There was also one statement you or one of your family members likely said, “I know it’s important to vote, but the parties are all so bad that I can’t bring myself to vote for any of them.”
As U of T’s David Schneiderman noted in his presentation at the international constitutional conference held at Queen’s Law two weeks ago, the notion of voting for a party or a leader is a distinctly American concept. In Canada, we vote for individual Members of Parliament. If you don’t like a particular party, you can still feel good about your vote by choosing a good individual to represent you in the House of Commons.
I want to offer a way to feel good about your vote, regardless of who you choose. Vote for a lawyer.
We all have an idea in our minds that Parliament is made up exclusively of lawyers. To a certain extent, that is true, as 17 of our 22 Prime Ministers have been lawyers. The number of lawyers in the House, however, numbered only 14 per cent immediately after the election in 2011, and it has been in decline for the past three decades. Divided by party at dissolution the numbers are: 15 per cent of Conservative MPs; 9 per cent of NDP MPs; 25 per cent of Liberal MPs; and half of the Green Party Caucus, Elizabeth May. The Bloc had no lawyers in their caucus as of dissolution.
You might think this isn’t a problem, surely our Parliament should represent all walks of life— rather than simply elite lawyers out of touch with the lives of everyday Canadians. I won’t argue with you on that. When you go to the polls, however, there are a number of things that will be nearly guaranteed if you mark your X next to a lawyer’s name.
First is an understanding and a respect for the Constitution, the Charter and the Courts. The latter half of the Harper majority government has time and time again seen legislation fall by the wayside on grounds of unconstitutionality. It is difficult to recall a government in our history that has so emphatically clashed with the Supreme Court. Mr. Harper’s public criticism of Chief Justice McLachlin is not just unbecoming of a leader but might raise doubts about his understanding of the role of the nation’s top jurist vis-à-vis the executive and the legislature. Would a lawyer PM do the same? Possibly. Would it hurt to elect more lawyers with the ability to speak up at caucus and Cabinet meetings? Definitely not.
Most lawyers also know a winning case from a losing one. Walk into a lawyer’s offices with a case that has no chance of success and they’ll likely tell you not to waste your time and money with it. Knowing when to fight and when not to is part of our professional ethical code. Those decisions are based on knowledge of the law, rather than political expediency. The government’s use of political lawyers rather than the Attorney General’s office in the ongoing Duffy saga is further proof that under Harper, politics has trumped law. As UOttawa Law Professor Adam Dodek wrote in the Globe and Mail in August—something to which many employees of the Department of Justice will undoubtedly agree—“the Office of the Attorney General has a long and proud history that predates Confederation. It is sad to see that it has become so marginalized.” Perhaps greater use—and deference to the views of—government lawyers could avoid the government’s frequent rebuffs by the Supreme Court. If anything, it could save the country millions of dollars in legal fees.
All lawyers know that you can’t win without evidence. Over the past decade, it has often felt like ideology has eclipsed evidence in terms of government decision making. The Conservative’s disregard for science and statistics, most clearly illustrated by the government’s policy on climate change and the scrapping of the long-form census, leaves Canada in a position where we may no longer be able to access the evidence we need to make sound decisions.
Above all, what we want most is leaders who represent us with integrity. Lawyers are bound by professional ethical codes that extend beyond the courtroom or the law office. Commentary on Law Society of Upper Canada Section 2.1 – Integrity reads as follows:
“Dishonourable or questionable conduct on the part of a lawyer in either private life or professional practice will reflect adversely upon the integrity of the profession and the administration of justice. Whether within or outside the professional sphere, if the conduct is such that knowledge of it would be likely to impair a client’s trust in the lawyer, the Law Society may be justified in taking disciplinary action.”
No lawyer would ever be sanctioned for voting for an unconstitutional bill in the House, for example, but one would hope that the standards to which lawyers hold themselves also hold true when acting in a political capacity.
On October 19th, I don’t care which party you vote for, but I hope you join me in voting for representatives who will fiercely uphold our Constitution, use evidence in decision-making, and conduct themselves with the utmost integrity. If you haven’t yet made up your mind and there’s one on your ballot, vote for a lawyer.
Adam Sadinsky is Editor-in-Chief of Juris Diction. He is a 3L student.