Skip to main content

Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay is joining the Toronto office of the massive United States-based law firm Baker & McKenzie.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

While his name has been floated as a possible federal Conservative leadership contender, former justice minister Peter MacKay says he is now focused on his new job as a partner with U.S.-based global law firm Baker & McKenzie.

On Monday, Baker & McKenzie announced that it was bringing on the former cabinet minister in its Toronto office. However, in an interview, Mr. MacKay would not categorically rule out a run for the leadership of his party, which is to select a permanent successor to Stephen Harper in May, 2017.

Mr. MacKay said he doesn't "burn bridges or slam doors" on what the future holds. But his future, he says, is now in the private sector.

"My intention has always been to return to the practice of law," said Mr. MacKay, a former Crown attorney, adding that leaving politics and joining Baker & McKenzie allows him to "put my family first."

Still, he said nothing has changed from recent public comments that he would not rule out a run, but that it was not in his plans now.

And he said any change to that depends both on the opportunities that arise and his ability, joking that he would take up the chance to play professional hockey too if one came along: "I wouldn't rule out an opportunity to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs."

Mr. MacKay served Mr. Harper in a list of key cabinet portfolios, including Foreign Affairs, Defence and Justice. He was rumoured to be jumping from the Tory ship in 2010 and 2012, with reports that he was in talks with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.

Mr. MacKay said he has had discussions with other Canadian firms since he announced his departure from politics last year.

But he said he chose Baker & McKenzie for its global footprint and its commitment to pro bono work, including the firm's efforts against human trafficking. He said this leaped out at him because of his own experience passing a new prostitution law drafted in response to the Supreme Court of Canada's 2013 declaration that Canada's sex work laws were unconstitutional.

Large law firms have long sought out former politicians, even those who are not lawyers, in order to boast that they can offer clients not just legal help, but "strategic advice" more broadly.

But this is the first such move of its kind in Canada for Baker & McKenzie, which has 77 offices around the world and more than 4,000 lawyers and other professionals. Unlike the newer international entrants in Canada's legal market, it has had a presence in Toronto for decades.

And Kevin Coon, the firm's Toronto managing partner, said its Toronto office has been seeing "double-digit" revenue growth, despite the recent downturn in oil prices and mergers and acquisitions here.

Baker & McKenzie says Mr. MacKay will provide strategic advice to Canadian and international clients, but will focus on the growing area of white-collar crime and anti-corruption enforcement.

With police and prosecutors in Canada, the United States and Britain increasingly targeting multinational companies that may be paying bribes in developing countries, Baker & McKenzie and other law firms have been doing brisk business offering companies advice on "compliance programs" to reduce their risk.

"It's of personal interest to me, having been in parts of the world where corruption is a big problem," Mr. MacKay said, noting his trips to Afghanistan.

He will be based in the Toronto office, where he says he will get an apartment. But he said he plans to keep his house in Nova Scotia. Mr. MacKay, married to Iranian-born human-rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, has two young children.

Mr. MacKay said he has been consulting with Parliament's ethics counsellor since last summer to clear his career plans. He said he has no intention of lobbying the federal government, an activity banned for former cabinet ministers for five years after they leave office, and would continue to consult the ethics counsellor about his work to ensure that he remains in compliance with the rules.