Downey Is Top Lawyer

By John Swartz

Thursday afternoon Doug Downey was named Ontario’s new attorney general as part of premier Doug Ford’s cabinet shuffle.

He knew he was getting a new job, He just didn’t know what it was going to be

“I got a call early in the week asking me if I was asked if I would consider it, but they didn’t say what it was. So I think they were trying to figure out the pieces,” Downey said of the inquiry. It could have been several other ministries he’d be heading, “and I would have done it because it’s still a great job.”

“I was absolutely thrilled,” Downey said when he found out it would be attorney general. “This is a fantastic fit for me,”

Downey’s previous role was parliamentary assistant to the minister of finance and deputy government whip. There was no announcement if deputy whip role was being taken from Downey.

“They didn’t say it is. I can’t imagine how I’d be able to do both honestly, because when you’re in the house and you’re in question period the ministers answer the questions and the whip is helping line up the other stuff. I can’t imagine they’d leave that with me,” Downey said.

The immediate concern is learning about what is in play at the ministry before he turns his attention to his own initiatives.

“The high priority is getting into all the briefings and finding out what’s actually going on in the department. That’s step one,” Downey said.  “I had meetings yesterday with the deputy minister and met with the director of policy, and I have some briefing books, so I’m going through those and I’ll be with them again all day Monday, all day Tuesday, going through topic after topic for half an hour or 45 minutes at a time.”

That doesn’t mean he’s got some time to ease into the job.

“They’ve already started asking me direction on some things,” Downey said. He’s glad the deputy minister has had a year on the job already, so has Downey’s new right hand.

“I’ve got a chief of staff whose name is Michael Wilson. He’s been chief of staff since the beginning of our government as well, so he’s really my go to. He’s been running the minister’s office since last June.”

While Downey was certainly busy in the finance role, he’s sure he’ll be busier as attorney general.

“Oh I’m sure I will. I have a cabinet meeting set up. I’ve been in Queen’s Park so much over the last year, it’s just the way it’s been,” he said. “I’ll actually go down Sunday, stay overnight, be in a meeting first thing Monday all day and then when I’m done Tuesday just drive home.”

A hot topic are changes to the legal aid system. Last April $133 million of funding was cut as a result of the provincial budget. Earlier this month how those cuts will be made was announced by the attorney general Downey replaced, Caroline Mulroney, which caused an uproar.

“As familiar as anybody else that’s not the attorney general. Obviously I read a bunch, I’ve met with some people, talk with some people, I have some perspectives on it,” said Downey. “I’ve got to figure out what the plan was and how the plan is working. I just don’t know. I think it’s something the people are tuned into, so it’s something I need to be up to speed on.”

Downey did say there were some things Mulroney did he believes are working.

“There’s some of the things that Caroline did a really good job moving along. There’s some initiatives around modernization of the courts, there’s some initiatives around in terms of case management, some of the administration side of it, that’s part of the role,” Downey said. He mentioned some of that stems from the 2016 Jordan case where the supreme court of Canada ruled on the length of time allowable for cases to get before a judge. The provinces answer has been to streamline things on the administrative side to reduce time waiting for cases to resolve.

“That’s something that I want to get up to speed on to understand what’s happening in that regard,” Downey said.

He also said there’s two parts to being attorney general many people don’t realize.

“The AG’s mandate is kind of like two hats. One hat is the administration and public facing side. The other part is apprising government internally; they’re kind of the government’s lawyer. When issues come up, they’ll send it over to my department and say, “can we do this,” or “where are the risks in this.” It’s really interesting,” Downey said.

Two areas he was previously involved with when at finance will be familiar, he’ll just be on the other side of the table now.

“Some of the areas I know I’ll be involved in, in finance I was helping lead the auto insurance reform, but the ministry of the attorney general has a role to play in a different way; the cannabis file, the attorney general is part of that obviously,” Downey said.

Downey started his political career in Orillia as a councillor and was campaign mangers to both Garfield Dunlop and Bruce Stanton. It’s an interesting coincidence Downey’s former law partner, Doug Lewis was also Canada’s attorney general.

Downey lost the nomination here in Simcoe North to Jill Dunlop (who was just named associate minister for children and women within the children, community and social services ministry), but was chosen to be the conservative election candidate in Barrie/Springwater/Oro-Medonte riding.

(Photo Submitted) Doug Downey, MPP Barrie/Springwater/Oro-Medonte, being sworn in as attorney general by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.


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