Law Society of Ontario treasurer election question and answer, Philip Horgan

Benchers will vote on the winner in an election ending June 26

Law Society of Ontario treasurer election question and answer, Philip Horgan
Philip Horgan

Law Times asked candidates for treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario to answer a series of six personalized questions. Candidates were given a word limit of 200 words per question and answers have been edited for style. Benchers will vote on the winner in an election ending June 26. To read the opponent’s Q&A, visit lawtimesnews.com.

THE STOPSOP SLATE HAS BEEN CRITICAL OF THE LAW SOCIETY’S BUDGET. WHAT WOULD BE YOUR PLAN TO ADJUST THE BUDGET WITHOUT: CUTTING CRITICAL SERVICES OR EVENTS; OR HARMING THE LAW SOCIETY’S REPUTATION WITH A PUBLIC WHO WANTS TO MAKE SURE LAWYERS ARE ADEQUATELY REGULATED? 

The previous bench increased proposed operational expenditures from $110.7 million in 2016 to $142.5 million in 2019, an increase of over 28 per cent in 4 years.  The continued fiscal drift was unsustainable.  The 2020 budget started a reversal of that trend, with modest reductions in spending and dues.  LSO dues and LawPRO premiums impose a barrier to justice, unless they are maintained at affordable levels.

In the current pandemic, the law society further expects reductions in revenues, with reduced numbers of licensees, and reduced practice commitments.

We need to focus on the law society’s core mandate as a regulator, and scale back resources on matters that extend beyond that mandate.  The LSO has already responded with numerous resources, available at the LSO website.  Expenses have already been cut across a host of areas, including staffing.  We have adjusted exam length and delivery to comply with physical distancing, while ensuring competency.  The investigations and discipline departments continue to operate.  CPD programs have been offered, with the catalogue of pre-2017 titles being made available for the summer of 2020 at no charge.

Hard choices and innovation will be required to deal with the excess of the previous bench and the current pandemic. 

YOUR OPPONENT HAS MORE EXPERIENCE AS A BENCHER THAN YOU. DO YOU THINK ONE YEAR IS LONG ENOUGH TO LEARN THE SKILLS NEEDED TO LEAD CONVOCATION? 

The 2019 election was a response to the actions and decisions of the previous bench.  There was a need for change, as the drift on ideological and fiscal issues needed correction. 

The pandemic has now adversely affected the reality for our licensees, and for the law society.  Another $1.2 million public awareness campaign is not needed in the current climate.

I have been in private practice for 32 years, the last 25 managing my own firm.  I am representative of the majority of solo or small firm practitioners.  I have brought the needed attention to our operations over the past year.  We have already taken steps to reduce dues demands on our licensees.  I currently serve on six core Committees, and the Program Review Task Force.  I also serve on the Tribunal. 

I have proposed to establish a short-term Pandemic Response Advisory Group, of volunteer benchers, to seek the views of interested associations or individuals, to bring forward ideas, and best practices on responding to the pandemic.  Let’s make use of our talented licensees, to address means to continue to deliver the highest level of legal services in the public interest.

The current crisis demands innovative leadership. 

YOU ARE BASED IN TORONTO. WHAT STEPS HAVE YOU TAKEN/WILL YOU TAKE TO HELP UNDERSTAND THE PLIGHT OF LAWYERS OUTSIDE THE GTA? 

My career has been focused primarily on commercial and constitutional litigation, but I have maintained a general practice, with experience in construction, employment, estates, real estate, family, and a host of other engagements, including the occasional foray into criminal law on constitutional issues.  I have appeared at tribunals and before all levels of courts, including multiple appearances at the SCC.

I am more reflective of the majority of our practitioners, especially those outside Toronto, who are in private practice.  I operate a small firm.  I meet a payroll.  I pay LSO dues, and LawPRO premiums, and those of my staff.  I have to consider my own pension arrangements. 

I may be closer to the concerns of the majority of our licensees in private practice, but I respect and will listen to licensees from all areas, and consider their perspectives.  All licensees, wherever situated, perform important duties in the delivery of justice.

We are now being faced with challenges brought on by the pandemic, which calls for leadership in a fiscal crisis.  The needs of an independent bar remain a high priority in our constitutional matrix.

The time is right for a small firm perspective.

SOME MEMBERS OF THE STOPSOP SLATE HAVE QUESTIONED THE EXISTENCE OF SYSTEMIC RACISM IN CANADA. BOTH DOUG FORD AND JUSTIN TRUDEAU HAVE SAID THAT SYSTEMIC RACISM DOES EXIST,  AND THE LAW SOCIETY ITSELF TWEETED ABOUT #BLACKOUTTUESDAY. DO YOU SUPPORT THE LAW SOCIETY’S SOCIAL MEDIA MESSAGE THAT THE ORGANIZATION WILL STAND BY BLACK LICENSEES TO END SYSTEMIC DISCRIMINATION? 

Racism is wrong, as it attacks the dignity of the human person in profound and unjustifiable ways.  I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King’s eloquent letter from the Birmingham jail from 1963, which remains, sadly, as relevant today.

We know that racism is a concern in Canada, with the recent reports from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, the Justice Tulloch report, and a host of data points.

In particular, we have recently been confronted with instances of police brutality.

We need to be careful to assess the intersection of the justice system and the legal professions, in our duties at the law society.  Our licensees are intimately involved in seeking justice.  The law society is engaged in regulation of lawyers and paralegals in the public interest, by ensuring competency, ethical conduct, and the engagement of an independent bar as a means to addressing state action, and the need for representatives to assist in the pursuit of justice.

I am concerned when the allegations of systemic racism are casually asserted, without reference to the “systemicism” that is being challenged.  For example, our licensees, especially recent entrants, reflect or exceed the rates of visible minorities from current census data. 

Let’s continue to work with the best evidence possible, something for which the previous bench proposed in 2016, but which has not been vigorously pursued in the years since.

We at the law society have a role to play, in seeking the best information possible, and to meaningfully engage, so as to provide a platform for serious discussions.

DURING THE ACCREDITATION OF THE TRINITY WESTERN LAW SCHOOL, YOU HELPED THE ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF VANCOUVER. THE SCC MAJORITY ULTIMATELY UPHELD THE LAW SOCIETY’S DISCRETION TO DECIDE THAT “THE ‘PUBLIC INTEREST’ INCLUDED PROMOTING EQUALITY BY ENSURING EQUAL ACCESS TO THE LEGAL PROFESSION, SUPPORTING DIVERSITY WITHIN THE BAR, AND PREVENTING HARM TO LGBTQ LAW STUDENTS.” 

DO YOU AGREE WITH THIS DEFINITION OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST? IF NOT, DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ASSURANCE FOR LGBTQ LAWYERS THAT THEY WILL BE TREATED FAIRLY BY THE LAW SOCIETY UNDER YOUR LEADERSHIP? 

The premise of your question suggests some deeply held animus on my part, which is inappropriate, if not offensive.

I have engaged throughout my involvements at the highest levels of courts in Canada, on the need to recognize authentic pluralism as a core concept of what we mean to live in a liberal democracy.

Pluralism means that we have different views, and are allowed to hold and express them in the public square as participants in civil society.  Pluralism means that we live with disagreement.   

The public interest mandate of the Law Society is set out from a host of authorities, most notably the provisions of the Law Society Act.  I accept the focus applied by the majority of the Supreme Court, as part of a larger set of concerns, including ensuring competence and ethical standards.  My clients in fact advocated an enhanced public interest, to recognize diverse religious perspectives in the exercise of the public interest mandate.

All lawyers and paralegals can be assured that they have my utmost respect, and that they can be assured that under my leadership, the law society will deal with all of our licensees fairly.

I truly hope that your question is not suggestive that an observant religious person is categorically to be excluded from the office of treasurer, a proposition I find to be chilling, and unacceptable.

WILL THE STOPSOP SLATE BE VOTING IN THE TREASURER ELECTION AS A BLOC? IF A SLATE MEMBER DOES NOT VOTE FOR YOU, WILL THE SLATE REFUSE TO SUPPORT THAT BENCHER’S MOTIONS GOING FORWARD? 

I am seeking support from across Convocation, from all of my colleagues.

There seems to be some suggestion in your question that members of the slate vote in some monolithic fashion, which is not true.  The voting records are readily available to show that we all bring distinctive views and experiences to convocation.  We do not always agree.

We sought to repeal the individual mandate of the statement of principles, which we were successful in persuading a majority of benchers to adopt last September. 

But the slate benchers do not have a majority in Convocation.  On any issue, I am obliged to persuade, or to be persuaded, by my colleagues of the merits of the question before us, whether that be on repeal of the SOP, tackling budget excesses, or the reform to the uses of the compensation fund levy (which the slate benchers advanced and which resulted in a unanimous vote in convocation).  The treasurer election is another example.

Your question suggests that we act in some vindictive or truculent fashion.  On the contrary, I work with all of my colleagues in a positive, respectful manner, even when addressing difficult decisions or when differences of opinion arise.

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