MacKay moves in to Justice

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a “smart cabinet shuffle” in moving people like Peter MacKay into senior posts like the minister of Justice, according to a Toronto lawyer.

“I think it’s a move in the right direction,” says Jeremy Richler, a Toronto corporate, immigration, real estate, and estate planning lawyer who regularly writes on political issues and identifies with the Liberal party.

“Having been a Crown prosecutor, I think he’s in a good position to do it,” says Richler of MacKay.

He notes MacKay should help put a more moderate face on the justice file as a key member of the Progressive Conservative wing of the governing party.

“His law-and-order agenda is very important to him, but I think it’s been very poorly communicated,” says Richler in reference to Harper.

Shortly after the announcement, MacKay tweeted: “As a former Crown prosecutor and defence counsel, I am honoured to have been given the Justice portafolio. I look forward to the job ahead.”

Harper announced eight new members of his cabinet this morning. Key changes of interest to the legal profession include MacKay’s switch with former AG Rob Nicholson in the Defence portfolio; former ambassador Chris Alexander’s appointment to the immigration file as Jason Kenney becomes minister of Employment and Social Development; and Quebec MP Steven Blaney’s move to Public Safety Canada.

While Kenney had a reputation for making critical comments about lawyers, Richler says he did a good job in that portfolio.

“He did a lot of good work in immigration,” he says, noting he’s not entirely sure about Alexander as he sees him as overly partisan. “I haven’t been all that impressed.”

Overall, however, Richler suggests the new faces, many of whom are women, represent a good strategic move for the Conservative government given its recent troubles. Harper, he says, needed a younger cabinet “that’s not as crusty and curmudgeonly.”

So with people like former Public Safety minister Vic Toews and Nicholson out of the key legal portfolios, Richler suggests there may be less demonizing of the government’s opponents on the law-and-order file. But, he notes, the overall agenda will likely remain the same.

“I think they’re still going to stick to that message,” he says.

Richler isn’t the only member of the legal profession welcoming MacKay’s appointment. This morning, the Canadian Bar Association released a statement on the appointment. “The CBA looks forward to meeting the new minister in the coming weeks to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest,” said CBA president Robert Brun.

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