Transfer of the CBA Chain of Office

  • September 27, 2018


Transfer of the CBA Chain of Office
Halifax, September 27, 2018

I’ve been president for nearly a month but it doesn’t feel real until you put the bling on. When they mention the “weight of office” I’m sure they’re talking about this chain.

If you had told me two years ago that I’d be president of the CBA, I might have thought you were dreaming in Technicolor. I’ve been a CBA member 21 years. I chaired the provincial tax section more than a decade ago, and sat on the national joint tax committee, and I’ve even spoken at some CBA events, but I was never the model of an engaged member, one of those few thousand volunteers the Association relies on to get things done.

Standing here today with this chain, speaking to my family, friends, and fellow CBA members, is so surreal because of where I was two years ago.  I was at my lowest point in the fall of 2016.  I was recuperating from open heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm and still carrying around my Heart Association pillow to cope with the pain of coughing, sneezing and even laughing.  I was suffering from depression, a common complication of bypass surgery, which had me confined to my recliner, my couch and my beds.  I could barely contemplate a shower and frequently wondered, while blankly staring at the television, if that was how I would be spending the remainder of my life.

I am lucky that my wife April recognized the signs and helped me get help – both therapy and drugs.  Returning to work was still a daily mental struggle because I had not yet found a purpose to replace the purpose I felt prior to the surgery.

Then I decided to jump into the deep end of the CBA pond, which I’m told makes me a bit of an odd duck. I went from disengaged member to the Board of Directors, and then three months later dove even deeper by running for the Vice-Presidency. I found a purpose – help make this profession better for my daughters.  Over the last year and a half, with help from people like Kerry, Rene Basque, Cheryl Farrow, Tina Tucker, and too many others to name, I’ve been able to get my bearings and formed many new friendships along the way.

I realized quickly that I was climbing a steep learning curve – it was almost like taking an immersion course to learn a new language while the language itself quickly evolved.

Being on the Board that implemented the new governance structure, and which made some hard decisions regarding the Association’s budget, I learned first-hand the challenges facing the Association – and also the opportunities. I plan to take a lot of that process forward into my term, concentrating on enhancing member value and member satisfaction – two of the overall priorities for the Board as a whole.

As you know we’ve been conducting quarterly surveys of the membership this past year. At this point, each member will have been contacted for two surveys. We’ve asked members questions about what they value in the Association, what advocacy they want the CBA to focus on, and how they like to get their news. The short answers to those three questions are: advocacy and professional development … access to justice … and send us news by email – but stop sending us email.

This year the Board has chosen two big-picture advocacy priorities based on those surveys – access to justice and solicitor-client privilege. We’ll work with members to develop action plans to move these two issues forward, and figure out which issues inside these over-arching priorities to take on. For example, with access to justice we can talk about providing adequate resources to the courts, including filling judicial vacancies and making the courts more tech-friendly. We’ve made submissions in the past on ways to streamline court processes – for example, unified family courts – and we could expand on those.

In terms of solicitor-client privilege, a common-interest privilege case we intervened in last fall at the Federal Court of Appeal level – IGGillis Holdings – is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. We’ll likely seek to intervene at that level if leave is granted. We’ve also made submissions on privacy law legislation at provincial and federal levels, stressing the need for properly written legislation to protect privilege.

CBA Presidents are also expected to set their own, personal priorities for their year. I’ve told you that I have two daughters who plan to enter the legal profession. Like any protective father I want to make sure it’s a good place for them to grow and thrive and be all they want to be. Because of them, and because it’s the right thing to do, I want to use this year to champion diversity and also inclusivity – because without inclusivity, diversity merely pays lip service to a higher ideal. Without inclusivity you are, to use one of Barack Obama’s analogies, just putting lipstick on a pig.

Diversity and inclusivity aren’t just about my daughters, or your daughters, or people belonging to the mosaic of ethnocultural, socio-economic and sexually diverse backgrounds to be found in this country, though all are important. When I talk about inclusivity I’m also talking about finding a place for understanding and accommodating people who are differently abled. Talking about making conversations about mental health as easy and as common as discussing the flu that hits the office every winter. The CBA advocates for lawyers – I think it should also advocate for mentally healthy environments for lawyers to work in.

Believe me, I understand what this might look like to you – hearing a cis-gendered middle-aged white man up here saying he’s going to work on solving the problem of diversity and inclusivity this year. I’m not about to mansplain a solution – I don’t have one. But I do have skin in this game – not just because of my daughters, but also for myself.

I was an air force brat who felt the pain of exclusion every few years when my folks got a new posting. Layered upon my “new kid in school” status were my preferences for a Rubik’s Cube over a rifle, computers over cars, books over basketball, Coca-Cola over coffee, and chess over everything.  This is not the same pain experienced by someone excluded for their gender identity, sexuality, skin colour or religion, but exclusion nonetheless, based on something I had no control over, at a very sensitive time in my life. I’ve also mentioned my own mental health issues – issues I’m still dealing with two years later. But I live and I learn, and the more I talk to people whose backgrounds are different than my own the more I appreciate the work that has to be done to make this profession a truly inclusive one.

All of us have biases. I took Harvard University’s implicit bias test a while ago and discovered a few I didn’t know I had. The problem isn’t with bias, it’s with not recognizing your own bias when it occurs, and not trying to overcome it once you’ve recognized it. It’s something I’m doing on a personal level, and something I hope to be able to do at the Association level as well.

I’m already working with the Women Lawyers Forum on their compensation initiative this year.  Vice-President Vivene Salmon is leading the creation of our first ever Leadership Conference For Lawyers of Colour in the spring. Together with the CBA’s Communications department I’m creating some podcasts we’re calling Conversations with the President, where I will speak with members about their experiences with exclusion and what steps we can each take to become more inclusive in our lives. If you have any ideas for concrete steps we can take toward diversity and inclusivity, I invite you to share them with us.

Data is an important factor when it comes to diversity and inclusion initiatives. Gathering statistics on our membership will help us gain a clearer understanding of trends in the profession and to develop appropriate programming. I invite you to visit to self-identify.

It’s going to be a busy year. Structurally, the CBA is a different place than it was two years ago. We still have work to do there and our business objective is simple – more members and improved member satisfaction. We’ve chosen important priorities to focus our energies on, all the while keeping member value and member satisfaction firmly in our sights. I’m looking forward to working with all of you this year. Shall we get started?