The Island Conservative Party recently elected Margaret Ann Walsh as its new interim President.
Walsh is a junior lawyer with the Charlottetown firm Stewart McKelvey, and the scion of an old Conservative family. Her father Leo Walsh was part of the Angus MacLean rural renaissance in the early 1980s, served as Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs for Pat Binns, and held other prominent positions, including regional head of ACOA. Like they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Margaret Ann Walsh grew up in a family steeped in politics.
That is a good thing, and from what I have seen from her involvement as a spokesperson during the past provincial election, the daughter is exceptionally smart, knows the Island well, and possesses organizational skill. I am not even troubled that she is a lawyer, politics and law deeply intertwined, and the legal profession essential to how government is structured, regulated, and controlled.
What does trouble me, however, is that Margaret Ann Walsh is part of the Stewart McKelvey law firm, and that just down the hall in the same law firm, the President of the Island Liberal Party, Scott Barry, hangs his professional hat. That’s right, the presidents of both major political parties work for the same law firm, blending their partisan responsibilities with the firm’s collective goal of attracting clients and making money.
As already stated, there is a legitimate and necessary connection between law and politics, and the administration of government, but that relationship also produces great financial benefits for the lawyer, through securing ongoing legal work from government departments, representing government in court actions, and acting on behalf of businesses and organizations dealing with government at various levels.
A successful Island law firm will maintain connections with both major political parties, by financially contributing to both parties, and by ensuring that someone in the firm has influence within the two party leaderships. This means that regardless of which party forms the government, lucrative files can be retained, and simply moved from office to another, and the gravy train can keep on rolling.
It’s not the first time that the Charlottetown firm of Stewart McKelvey has harbored the presidents of both the Liberal and Conservative parties, or exercised inordinate influence over the political affairs of the province. The alumni of the firm, in its various iterations over the years, includes several party executives, as well as former and present politicians.
For instance, when lawyer Joe Ghiz became Liberal Premier in 1986, founding partner of the firm Alan Scales, a close friend of Ghiz, was the gris eminence of the rival Conservative Party. Since then, Murray Murphy, Geoff Connolly, and Jim Travers, all Stewart McKelvey lawyers, have served as senior officers of the Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island at one time or another, along with Keith Boswell, who is a judge of the federal court.
Now joining those ranks is Margaret Ann Walsh.
On the Liberal side of the political fence, the party executive involvement is no less impressive. Former senior partner Gordon Campbell, now Acting Chief Justice of the PEI Supreme Court, was once President of the Liberals, as was the current MP for Charlottetown, Sean Casey. Other former Liberal Party executive members have included the late Brendan Curley, Spencer Campbell, Scott MacKenzie, and of course Scott Barry. Moreover, it’s just a matter of time I believe before the firm’s current rising star, Jonathan Coady, ascends to a position of party executive authority. He will have to choose blue or red.
The important point to be made here, is that when it comes to Stewart McKelvey as a law firm, there is only one side of the fence, and partisan politics is played out as a zero-sum game, with party allegiances kept for one purpose, to harness and maintain government business and influence within the firm.
In my opinion, such control and influence by a single Charlottetown law firm is not at all in the democratic interests of Prince Edward Islanders. It creates a professional oligarchy that can exercise inordinate power, secretively and without accountability.
Of course, there are other law firms in Charlottetown similarly plugged into party politics. The firm of Carr, Stevenson and MacKay has particular sway with the present MacLauchlan government. Gordon MacKay has known MacLauchlan since high school days, and served on the UPEI Board of Governors during MacLauchlan’s tenure as President. Barb Stevenson, partner in the same firm, has been a prominent member of the Liberal Party for years, and both she and MacKay encouraged our Premier to enter politics. Yet another partner in the firm, Bill Dow, has been chosen by MacLauchlan as the new Liberal fundraising chairperson.
But in the high stakes world of law and government, the spotlight now is very much on Stewart McKelvey, with Scott Barry and Margaret Ann Walsh holding the keys to future patronage, regardless of which political party wins the next election.
Soon the Island Conservatives will choose their new leader.
That person will find it hard to retain any semblance of independence, and avoid being controlled and led around by the lawyers and other members of the Charlottetown oligarchy. They should go back to basics, to borrow the campaign slogan of Brad Trivers, and look for inspiration in the blueberry farmer from Lewes, honorable J. Angus MacLean.
Nobody owned him.
In the meantime, if you are seeking to influence government policy, or need a major political favor, visit the offices of Stewart McKelvey on Kent Street and ask for either Margaret Ann or Scott.
It’s a kind of one stop political shopping.