Former premier Stephen McNeil joining Halifax law firm

·4 min read
Former Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil speaks to reporters outside Government House in 2020. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
Former Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil speaks to reporters outside Government House in 2020. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

Former Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil, whose political career ended less than six weeks ago, has found a new job as a "strategic business adviser" at the Halifax law firm Cox & Palmer.

Reached at home in Granville Ferry, the 56-year-old McNeil, who once was a small business owner, said he was excited at the prospect of helping the firm "grow their operations, not only within our own local community but nationally and internationally."

McNeil said he was approached near the end of January, while he was still premier, about the possibility of joining the law firm.

"I made it very clear I wasn't interested in being a lobbyist or a government relations person," said McNeil. "What I was looking to do would be more strategic, and providing advice."

No law training

Although McNeil has no formal law training, he thinks he can bring other skills to his new job.

"This is really about business development," he said. "This is about ensuring that their clients continue to compete in the global community, looking for opportunities both nationally and internationally."

Dan Ingersoll, the firm's managing partner in Halifax, said it was senior partner Danny Gallivan who pitched the idea of pursuing McNeil, partly on the strength of what he saw while attending several trade missions with the former premier.

He echoed McNeil's comments that the former premier would not be doing lobbying work.

"Our clients, holistically, they have legal service needs but they also have strategic objectives," Ingersoll said in an interview.

"Insight into how certain other markets work, other opportunities. So we're really hoping that Stephen can provide that insight, can make some connections for us and our clients."

McNeil said he was proud of his government's record when it came to economic and population growth. He thinks his new job could entail similar efforts.

"And I believe this opportunity will give me a chance to continue to build on that work here in the province," he said.

He was most specific about what was not part of his new job.

'I will promote Nova Scotia'

"There's definitely no lobbying or government relations. I'm strictly giving them strategic advice, and I will promote Nova Scotia through their firm with their clients and hopefully be able to attract outside clients that will come and use their services as a law firm," said McNeil.

Even if McNeil wanted to be a lobbyist, provincial regulations mandate a one-year cooling off period for members of executive council after they leave government.

As premier, McNeil travelled to China eight times trying to promote stronger ties with the government there. During his time in office, seafood exports to China grew in value to $1 billion.

It's that kind of work his successor, Iain Rankin, seems ready to continue.

"They do have some work in China," McNeil said of his new employer, but said that would not be his focus.

Affirmation for Cox & Palmer

Ingersoll agreed that McNeil is well-travelled, but said his experience with China was not the motivation for pursuing him.

"From my perspective, China is sort of emblematic of the range of experiences that Stephen brings to us," he said.

Having the former premier, who rose to national prominence during the pandemic, working for them is "a real affirmation for the firm," said Ingersoll.

"We're thrilled that he had the confidence that we were the right next step for him in his new life and I think that all firms are working hard at broadening their base and broadening their approach and their service offerings," he said. "We're doing exactly what we should be doing and I hope that's recognized in the market."

According to the House of Assembly pensions web page, McNeil was eligible in 2019 to receive an annual pension of $123,123. Ingersoll declined to discuss the terms of McNeil's arrangement with the firm.

McNeil was the MLA for Annapolis for 18 years.

He led the Liberals in opposition and later won back-to-back majority governments.

Ingersoll said McNeil's new job does not prevent him from campaigning for the Liberals in future elections.

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