Senator Thomas McInnis has a bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary’s University and a law degree from Dalhousie University. Before he was appointed as a Senator in 2012, he practiced law specializing in property and commercial law. He started the firm McInnis, Mont & Randall with two friends, and has also practiced with Boyne Clark, and Weldon McInnis. He won the 1978 provincial riding of Eastern Shore and was shortly after appointed as Minister of Transportation. He has also served the province as Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Education, Minister of Community Services, and Attorney General. In this interview Senator McInnis tells us about his time at Dal Law, gives some advice for outgoing students, talks about some of the reasons he voted against cannabis legalization, and tells us some of the benefits and the problems likely to be encountered in the future.
Q1) First, let me start by saying thank you on behalf of Dalhousie Schulich School of Law for your agreement in giving this interview. You hold a law degree from Dalhousie Law; perhaps you might begin by telling us a little about your time as a law student here at Dal.
“It was an interesting time. The thing about law school is that you meet a number of students that will be friends and acquittances for life. Many of them will go out into practice, and you notice when you have a case, and there is a lawyer who is a former classmate on the other side, there is always a friendlier approach to it. When I was there we started the Progressive Conservative Law Club, and of course other parties caught on and we had a model parliament. That was an awful lot of fun. Planning for that, debating and arguing and so on, and that continued right through law school. I came back in second year and one of my close friends, Rod Dexter, said ‘I am interested in buying the water tours’ and of course my first comment was ‘I have no money.’ It was a challenge to come up with the money, but we eventually bought the water tours. We are still good friends today. A lot of time during second and third year was spent setting up a law practice. Gerald Randell, Keith Mont and I started the firm McInnis Mont & Randall. It is quite a challenge, and although I wouldn’t say it’s a dangerous thing to do, you have to be awful careful in doing it. So, you meet all the students and a lot of them remain life-long friends and acquittances. It’s a time you should cherish. Everyone is busy but there is a lot of great times to be had there.”
Q2) Doubtless, times have changed since you graduated, nevertheless, are there any wise words of advice you might offer to current students; particularly those 3L’s who will soon be embarking on their articling and legal careers?
“If you are thinking about setting up your own practice, and many do, make sure you get good guidance and make sure you have a mentor that you can talk to from time to time. It could be a retired judge, a senior lawyer, or a retired lawyer. Make sure you have some contact to keep you grounded because there can be a lot of pitfalls where you don’t have the experience of a senior person in the firm. You have got to be patient and prepared to put in long hours. That’s to be expected. Preparation is everything. Law school teaches you the law, but it is quite a different world out there in practice. You will get some of the experience articling. When you get out into the real world you are dealing with the public and personalities that are different. It is rewarding but there are always some challenges. The emotions of your client and making sure they are well represented is important. In a large firm they have a regimented system, a smaller firm is a little different; you get directly involved. If you are with a small firm, you have a file and you may be dealing with a senior lawyer with another firm. So, you get that experience and you learn a great deal that way. There are lots of areas to go into. A lot of my classmates went into administrative law and working for the government. One classmate of mine, who is now retired, worked at the library of Parliament and was a legal advisor to all sorts of politicians and other public servants. Those are great careers.
Question (ME): “So you would say there is a lot of opportunity out there?”
Answer (McInnis): “I think there is. Sometimes we have the blinders on. I did when I went out to practice. I thought ‘well I am just going to practice law.’ But, there are all kinds of other areas you might want to go into. There are wonderful careers out there with corporations, and with administrative law – you are doing law, but it’s a different type of law. If you like research, there are assistant position with judges and the judiciary which require legally trained people. I have met a number of people in Ottawa who have worked with superior court judges and even Supreme Court of Canada justices. Law is very important, and we are privileged to have the opportunity to practice. There are many different branches to get into. Have an open mind before you go out as to where you want to practice and don’t exclude one area for another. There is a wide field out there.”
Senator McInnis, in jest, remarked “The only thing I insist on is that you remain in Nova Scotia.”
Q3) You have had a career in both politics and as a lawyer specializing in property and commercial law, did you find one career path more enjoyable or rewarding than the other?
“I really enjoyed the practice of law. Although I have to say, that my practice has been inconsistent in the sense that it has been interrupted. I was 31 years of age, we had a good practice, I was involved with the water tours and maritime travel, I was happy. But I was involved with the conservative party on the eastern shore and I was convinced to run. It was a hotly contested nomination and was fortunate enough to win. I went back to practice law and then they had the election and the tide was against the sitting government, so I got elected. So, as an MLA I went back to practicing law and then about two weeks in I got a call at about 11:45pm from the premier elect asking me to be in cabinet. Well, you are flattered and honored, and you don’t say no; at least I didn’t. So, off I went for 15 years. I was 32 when I was elected, and I was 47 when I was back out. I wanted to return to the practice of law and that’s not easy when you are away from the practice for 15 years. Although I was Attorney General for 2 or 3 years it is not quite the same. So, getting back, the bar society wanted me to review all of the bar of Ontario, so I took the summer of 1993 to do that. It was a challenge to come back. But I must say that it was a wonderful time coming back to the practice. I had great experience doing property and commercial. I was bringing in clients and enjoyed going out and talking to people and corporations. But it was a challenge coming back; it is not like riding a bicycle, you don’t just get back on. Both careers were rewarding but the political life is not one that you plan, it kind of just happens and off you go.”
Q4) As almost anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows, Canada has just recently legalized the possession, consumption, and restricted sale of cannabis. You voted against Bill C-45, might I ask your reasons for doing so?
“The federal government rushed the legislation. This is not politics – the Senate is a lot less political than the Commons. So, this legislation was announced without any research during a campaign and a fictitious date of July 1st was put on it. I felt that they should have delayed the proclamation for at least a year. But of course, it was an election promise and we have an election coming up – I understand all that. But, what we thought was needed, and what we managed to get, was the Bill needed to be studied in five different committees. The senate operates on committees; we have an international reputation for doing a superb job. There is every profession you can talk about in the Senate, and they scrutinize bills. They bring in expert witnesses to talk about them. So, we had this Bill before the social committee, the legal committee, transport, security, and technology committee. We felt that the government were writing the Bill on-the-go. Senator Dean, who was in charge of the Bill in the senate, he moved 29 amendments to fix government mistakes. Even in the House of Commons they moved 20 amendments. So, we knew, at least that was my interpretation, that the Bill was not well thought out. They did not consult with the indigenous communities. When we looked at this Bill we though, ‘what effect is this going to have on children, youth and young people?’ And, as I said, indigenous communities. What about effects on mental health? What plan do we have in place for the work place; what rights do supervisors have to plan to deal with employees coming to work high? What are we going to do at the US boarder? What about transportation safety – how are the police force going to enforce this? It can’t be a breathalyzer, they can’t make the person get out of the car and walk the yellow line – this has been thrown out in the US and it will probably be thrown out here too. So, you have got these law enforcement problems, and then you have the provinces, territories, and various municipal jurisdictions who, quite frankly, weren’t ready, and still aren’t, trying to deal with the legalization. How are they going to test someone driving while high? How is all this going to happen? So, these are the reasons I voted against it. We got some amendments passed, but I thought we were just flying by the seam of our pants. There was absolutely no reason why this couldn’t have been extended out another year to give everyone an opportunity to plan and deal with the implementation.”
Q5) Many Canadians have worries about the legalization of cannabis. What were some of the worries that constituents and citizens expressed to you about the legalization of cannabis?
“I think the big reason was that the police force had no way of controlling this: driving while high. The other reason was the effect on youth. The definition of a ‘young person,’ I think 18 is terribly young. I think you will see this change to age 22 or 23 as more reasonably defining a ‘young person;’ a change in government would probably bring this about. Another worry is edibles. Those have been shoved aside for the moment, but they will be there in a years-time. So, with children in the home worries arise. Another is how are the police going to control personal growing? Are they going to just come to the front door and ask to have a look? The likely response will be ‘well, where is your search warrant?’ Those are some of the reasons. Those challenges are going to be there. The provinces weren’t ready and the NSLC isn’t ready – they rushed in and got nine stores open but there aren’t that many outlets open for people. This could have been handled better later on.”
Q6) Although you voted against bill C-45 in its entirety, were there certain parts of the bill that you might have voted in favour of? If so, what areas or clauses?
“Unfortunately, you have a few things that you are concerned about in the bill and so you have to vote against it. This, I think, is analogous to prohibition because you had the criminal element providing alcohol in prohibition days and that is similar to today. One of the things that, I think, will be a good thing is that it will get criminals out of the business. Over time, that will happen. Having the product inspected at every stage will, I think, be good for the health of people in terms of what it is they are going to be inhaling. I think government revenues, if not wasted and if they are properly directed to healthcare, mental health, palliative healthcare, and educational programs, then it will be a good thing if those things come to pass. We need to keep it out of the hands of the young. I have had a teacher tell me that it is quite prevalent in the high-schools”
Q7) Now that cannabis is legal, what regulatory and legal problems do you anticipate arising in the future, particularly here in Nova Scotia?
“We saw in Halifax one of the things being the matter of where you can smoke it? They linked it in with cigarettes, I am not sure why they did that, but they did. I think controlling and enforcing that is going to be a bit of a challenge. It will all work out down the road, but it is going to be a problem right now. Getting the product available throughout the provinces is, as I have mentioned, another challenge. Inspecting the grow-ups and keeping it locked up from the young people. We know what happens with firearms, they are supposed to be under lock and key – is that going to be the case with marijuana? There will also be dangers with adults smoking it and becoming high and then careless. Those are some of the problems I see with it. The overall one is the law enforcement in policing people driving while high – that will be the biggest challenge I think.”
Q8) The Halifax Regional Municipalities response to regulatory worries regarding cannabis use in public has been to amend the city nuisance bylaw to prohibit smoking of any kind on municipal property except in designated smoking areas. This decision has drawn some criticism. What are your thoughts on this response by HRM? Do you think it is effective?
“Well it is hard to say if it’s going to be effective. It is hard to say how they are going to control it and enforce it. I would have thought they would have done marijuana separate. Second hand smoke from a cigarette is not quite the same as second hand smoke from marijuana. So, I think that is going to be the biggest challenge that HRM will have. But, as I say, all these things will work out over time but right now there are some challenges.”
Q9) You have spoken of some of the benefits that we might see, some might argue that the legalization of cannabis will free up valuable court space and resources for other, more serious offences. The same might be said of police resources as well. What is your opinion on that position?
“I think the jury is still out on that one. I think there will still be a fair number of cases. If the police forces are able to get a mechanism to determine whether someone is high or not, then you are going to have lots of cases in court. Minors using, if enforced, will bring about quite a number of cases in the courts. I remember practicing in the 1970’s, and the breathalyzer was a major issue, our firm had all kinds of cases and you could try to defend the person against the breathalyzer and many cases we had were thrown out. These are cases that will be similar to marijuana and driving while high. It will bring up a great number of court cases.”
ME: “So you think it will be counteracted in a way then?”
McInnis: “I think so, I really do.”
Q10) Do you see any economic, social, or medical benefits to the legalization of cannabis? For example, the tax revenue from cannabis sales is likely to be substantial, couldn’t this revenue be used to increase social welfare, access to justice, and education programs?
“I think that’s absolutely correct. Wouldn’t be wonderful if they could get it into healthcare. I chair a committee on the Eastern Shore on healthcare, and in rural Nova Scotia getting a doctor is becoming a great challenge and this is not unique to Nova Scotia – it’s right across the country. It is real challenge to get doctors, young or old, to move to rural Nova Scotia. If the government can free up or get money through this [revenue from cannabis] to assist in defraying the cost of becoming a doctor it would be marvelous. Tuition and the cost of student loans are incredible, so if money can be shifted to help cover those costs with the agreement that doctors would give five years to Nova Scotia, I think it would be wonderful. If that can come from the sale of Cannabis, then great, fantastic! But let’s not waste it. Let’s get it back into the health and education of youth in respect to the harms of drugs. If we have the revenue, let’s try to get it into healthcare to try to defray the cost of many of the physicians who are carrying tuition debts almost analogous to the cost of a mortgage. It would be a wonderful thing if the government could do that.”
On behalf of the law school, I would like to thank you again Senator for taking the time to give this interview for the Weldon Times Quarterly.