Former Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan says his most dramatic moment in the treasurer's job came on a Friday in late October, 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, when he got a call at his home from the head of Chrysler Canada, asking for a weekend meeting.
"It was an extraordinary request. He basically informed me that they were in deep financial trouble, that they may not be able to meet their payroll as of December," Mr. Duncan recalls, saying the next day he headed to meetings at Chrysler's world headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. "At that point in time, there was no certainty that the U.S. financial system would stay standing."
Soon after, Ontario, as well as the Canadian and U.S. governments, would extend a $70-billion lifeline to Chrysler and GM in a bid to save the North American auto industry, and its hundreds of thousands of workers, from a catastrophic collapse.
Mr. Duncan, 54, who announced plans to step aside and relinquish his Windsor seat as an MPP before the arrival of new Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, is taking on a new private-sector role that will see him assist in similar talks about big deals, although likely less dramatic ones: McMillan LLP has confirmed that the former Ontario finance minister has signed on as senior adviser, making him the latest in a string of retiring politicians to stake out a desk at a Bay Street law firm.
"It's a law firm with a terrific history, and candidly, an even better future," Mr. Duncan said in an interview, saying he will provide "strategic advice" to the firm's clients. He will not work as a lobbyist, he said, which he is prohibiting from doing provincially for a year by Ontario's rules.
Although he is not a lawyer, he said he was not joining the ranks of former politicians who are recruited by law firms mainly for their contact lists and their hand-shaking abilities: "No, I don't want to do that. I am going to work for a living. Those guys work for a living too, by the way. To the extent that I can bring real value-added to the firm in the capacities they are looking for, I am really excited about it."
McMillan appears to be in the market for former politicians, with former federal Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day joining its Vancouver office as a strategic adviser in 2011, where long-time federal Conservative figure John Reynolds also works. The firm also counts lawyer Tim Murphy, a former Liberal MPP and senior adviser to prime minister Paul Martin, among its senior partners.
McMillan's chief executive officer, Andrew Kent, the son of the late Liberal Party titan Tom Kent, said the firm was lucky to snag Mr. Duncan because his experience matches the firm's strengths: "He has interest in things like infrastructure, energy, pensions – it really harmonizes with our areas of practice and things we're interested in seeing develop and grow."
While Mr. Duncan says his goal is to help McMillan and its clients however he can, he acknowledges he is not dropping politics completely. He is supporting Justin Trudeau for the federal Liberal leadership and does not rule out a return to the political battlefield himself one day: "While I'm leaving the door open, I don't know if I will ever walk through it. Politics is one of those things that I don't think you ever say never."
Another Bay Street law firm also announced a high-profile hire this week: Borden Ladner Gervais LLP said it was taking on former Ontario Court of Appeal justice Dennis O'Connor, who retired as the province's associate chief justice in December. Mr. O'Connor, 71, who presided over public inquiries into the complicity of Canadian officials in the torture of Maher Arar and the fatal failings of the water system in Walkerton, Ont., will advise clients and mentor young litigators.