Former MacKay chief of staff heads new Stewart McKelvey Ottawa practice

Stewart McKelvey is launching a presence in Ottawa as John MacDonell, former chief of staff to Justice Minister Peter MacKay, returns to the firm where he began his career.

“I learned a great deal in the last 7-1/2 years,” says MacDonell of his time in Ottawa since the Conservatives took power in 2006.

“I now get to bring that experience back to the practice of law,” he adds.

MacDonell is no stranger to Stewart McKelvey. He started working for the firm early on in his career and went on to article there and become a partner in 2001. He had also been active in politics since the age of 14, so when the Conservatives took power in 2006, MacKay tapped him for a job in Ottawa. With a minority government in power, MacDonell thought it would be a short assignment but he ended up staying until June just before MacKay’s move from the Department of National Defence to the Department of Justice.

The decision to leave government came in January after, as MacDonell says, “I decided that my first passion is law.”

But having gotten married since moving to Ottawa and with a child on the way, returning to Halifax wasn’t an option. His vision, however, of having an Ottawa presence for Stewart McKelvey “coincided” with the firm’s, he says. So he has now set up office space at the Chateau Laurier where he practises litigation in a variety of areas except tax and criminal matters.

“There’s often a need for a Stewart McKelvey lawyer to be in Ontario or Ottawa for various reasons,” he says, citing occasional Supreme Court appearances or corporate work done by the firm.

“There’s been a very good reception from the Ottawa bar and I’m grateful for that,” he adds.

Nevertheless, he’ll be working under some restrictions given his recent experience in government.

“I don’t lobby. I cannot lobby until 2018 because there’s a five-year post-employment restriction,” he says, noting that while he can’t lobby himself, he can still advise clients on how to do it themselves.

At the same time, while MacDonell has left government himself, he notes he has a keen interest in politics and his new status gives him greater freedom to speak and write about political matters. And he’ll maintain some of his political ties, most notably to his wife, Jenn Gearey, who now works as MacKay’s communications director.

“I miss working for minister MacKay because he’s a great minister,” he says.

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