Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Former NDP senior aide John Heaney joins Heenan Blaikie, working with Peter Gall on management side labour relations files

New Democrats and labour leaders may be shocked to learn that John Heaney, a longtime senior aide in several NDP provincial governments and former BC Federation of Labour staff person has joined the law firm of Heenan Blaikie and is working with longtime management side lawyer Peter Gall on labour relations files.

John Heaney has replied to an email I sent inquiring about his work with Peter Gall and that response is included below in its entirety, as per his conditions for providing it.

Heaney is currently assisting Gall in representing the employer at the BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing on the case of foreign workers employed in construction of the Canada Line or Richmond-Airport-Vancouver Line who are alleging discrimination in wages based on racial origin.

SELI Canada hired a group of workers, predominantly from Costa Rica, to construct the tunnel and related infrastructure.

The workers complained to the Construction and Specialized Workers' Union Local 1611 that they were being paid less than BC's minimum wage despite promises of significantly higher wages when they were recruited, according to testimony at the BC Labour Relations Board. After the workers' situation was made public and reported in the media, their pay went up dramatically. The employer denies any wrongdoing.

The workers were subsequently certified but have not achieved a collective agreement and the LRB has yet to render decisions on several applications.

In the meantime they have filed a Human Rights Tribunal complaint. Gall has been representing SELI Canada at both the LRB and HRT; Heaney has appeared with Gall only at the HRT hearing this week. [I have worked with the BC and Yukon Building Trades Council and Local 1611 on the situation with the RAV Line workers from the beginning, I should note.]

Peter Gall is perhaps the most prominent management lawyer in BC and has represented employers in some of the most high profile cases in the province, most recently defending the BC Liberal government in the Supreme Court of Canada case over Bill 29, the legislation that allowed health employers to terminate thousands of unionized health care workers and privatize their jobs.

Gall has been active on employer side labour law since the 1980s and has also been credited in the BC Legislature for having helped draft Bill 19 - the Industrial Relations Act, draconian labour law passed by the Social Credit government of Bill Vander Zalm that led to a lengthy boycott of the Industrial Relations Council by BC Federation of Labour affiliates and other unions.

Gall has also been employer counsel on a large number of high profile union rights cases.

Everyone needs a job and certainly as a former worker representative on the Labour Relations Board I would never argue that employers do not deserve legal counsel that meets their needs. And as a consultant I work regularly with companies, but not on labour relations issues.

But the approach Gall has taken over many years is diametrically opposed to the interests of workers and their unions. That's his right and his decision.

It's very disappointing to me, though, that John Heaney, who has worked so closely and so long with unions and a New Democratic Party and government supported strongly by unionized workers would chose to work with Peter Gall and Heenan Blaikie to further the interests of employers, not workers.

John Heaney Response

Thank you for the opportunity to respond and for your commitment to publish it verbatim and in its entirety if you do post an item. My response is as follows:

You can call me proud and excited to be working at Heenan Blaikie’s office here in Victoria. We are Canada’s only national law firm with an office on Vancouver Island.

You can also say I am working to build a litigation practice. So far, I have clients here, in Vancouver and in the Interior. Just as I did at UVic’s poverty law clinic and in my two years with Joe Arvay as his co-op student and articling student, I will continue to represent a wide variety of people who need legal advice and advocacy. My clients will include employees and - like you, insofar as I’ve seen from your website – employers.

Working with the people at Heenan Blaikie is one of the best parts of the job. They are superb and I am thankful for the chance to work alongside them.

In the office next to me is our managing partner for Victoria, Joan Young. I think she is held in pretty high esteem by her peers as a savvy, experienced and successful litigator with irreproachable ethics. I’ve known Joan for almost 15 years and worked with her when she was an A.G. lawyer seconded to the Attorney General’s office as a legal advisor. She was later seconded to the Premier’s Office as legal counsel to the Premier. I don’t know if you ran into her during your time there, but she ably served the same Premier as you.

A bit further down the hall is Murray Rankin. I first started working with Murray in about 1993 when he wrote a report for the Harcourt government on the Kemano Completion Project. And I’ve been learning from him ever since. He is peer-rated as the public law lawyer that B.C. lawyers would most refer their clients to. Whether it’s privacy, FOI, aboriginal, resource, administrative or commercial law, Murray’s a nationally-ranked advocate and thinker and a much sought-after negotiator.

I am also really enjoying the chance to work with Peter Gall. I take it this is what you have a bee in your bonnet about. I think my first recollection of talking to Peter is when Mike Harcourt asked me to sort of ride herd on the process of severing some deputy ministers and other public servants the NDP terminated in its first year (ironically, including my now father-in-law).

I’m pretty sure Peter helped us with some of that. And I know for certain he remained a legal counsel to the NDP administration when it came to dealing with employment and labour relations - under Mike, Glen Clark and afterwards. Speaking of which, one of my first files at Heenan was from Peter - on behalf of a small company in the group Glen is responsible for. They seem to have been pretty happy with the help I gave them. I always thought Glen was a good guy and had the best mind of the few hundred politicians I’ve worked for. Still do. I take it from his picture on your website you may feel similarly.

While labour and employment are just part of my law practice, the files I’ve done with Peter Gall so far have shown me why he has received the highest-available peer ranking for ability and ethics in that field of law. A handful of lawyers practicing in the country have it.

I suppose you will probably trot out the names of Peter’s clients who weren’t the former NDP administration. So be it. I know his clients are very satisfied with his work, he has the respect of the people on all sides, and no one has ever suggested he practices law with anything but the highest level of ethics and integrity. Peter is also as bright a person as I’ve met and he is to labour law what Joe Arvay is to the constitution and civil liberties. Ask Joe. I’m pretty sure he would agree with all of the above.

So, while I cannot offer a remedy for your shock, I can tell you that in my 25th year as a New Democrat I am very proud of the work I did with four NDP premiers - and with Ken Georgetti and Angie Schira in that brief time you and I were co-workers at the BC Fed. I am just as proud to be Heenan Blaikie’s newest lawyer in BC.


John Heaney


Anonymous said...

Sorry Bill but I think you're overreaching on this one. Heaney is both bright and principled. Suggesting that he has abandonned his principles by joining Heenan Blaikie or working with Gall is unfair.

Anonymous said...

Wow, talk about being out of touch with reality. Heenan Blaikie is despised by most people in labour familiar with its work, since it actively advocates company unionism (think CLAC) and depriving workers of individual and collective rights - and this goes well beyond acting in a professional capacity for clients.

As far as the universal respect for Peter Gall's ethics that Heaney proclaims, his comments illustrate that he is either completely out of touch with the reality of the labour scene today, or that he is willing to say anything to advance his career.

Budd Campbell said...

I too have been at the offices of Heenan Blaikie, to be deposed once in connection with a construction fair wage issue. The lawyer was not Gall, but one of his associates, and they were working for Hochstein's organization.

Heenan Blaikie is a national law company that once employed Pierre E. Trudeau after he left politics. I think if they act honourably and professionally for employers, there should be no problem with John Heaney or anyone else who has been associated with the NDP or organized labour joining that firm.

In BC it seems to be part of our regrettable tradition of outhouse populist philosophy masquerading as serious politics that there's been a slight tendency towards intense personal relationships and demands for exceptional degrees of loyalty. When these extreme expectations aren't met, the fighting becomes excessively personal and bitter, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the declaratory philosophical issues that are said to be at stake. It's the foundation of the harsh, "blood sport" aspect of BC politics.

Having just said that, it doesn't sit well with me that Gall and Heenan-Blaikie were involved in defending the BC Govt on Bill 29, which I regard as an extraordinary and quite intentional and quite obvious abuse of authority which no reasonable person could honestly defend. To me, it would be the same as arguing that some statute grants the government the right to seize real property and then compensate at the rate of 50 cents on the dollar compared to fair market value. Legalized theft is theft.

Anonymous said...

So Murray Rankin has moved over as well. Maybe the bucks are better on that side of the table.My God, the fellow raised every name even close to the NDP in his reasons for going to'The dark side" Layers mange to occupy a position at about the lowest level of trust. Maybe going for the bigger dollars works.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting how delusional people become once BIG MONEY is tossed their way. All these lawyers peer=related and excellent? Of course it's a wonderful world and we are all wonderful! Biggest clue---"who is now my father-in-law." Keep shaking the trees and find more of this stuff.


john horgan said...

I have had the pleasure to have worked with John Heaney on more files than I can remember over the course of 16 years. During that association no one brought more integrity and intellect to the table than Heaney.

Heenan Blaikie just got themselves a very good lawyer. Vancouver Island and progressives are well represented in a major law firm by Rankin, Young and Heaney. What could possibly be wrong with that?


John Horgan

Anonymous said...

Just a comment on Horgan's thoughts. I'm uncertain how progressives are well served by having Heaney etc. in Heenan Blaikie. While there are some more reasonable lawyers attached to the firm, the presence of Gall as the "eminence grise" certainly places the firm firmly in opposition to anything "progressive" in the area of Labour. I also wonder how the words Gall and ethics appeared close together in Heaney's explanation.

Why not just say it - it's all about the money.

Budd Campbell said...

"Why not just say it - it's all about the money."

What makes the world go round for you anonymous.

Anonymous said...

One word: turncoat.

Anonymous said...

Budd, I can honestly say that matters of social justice make the world go 'round. Prostituting oneself for personal wealth is not my cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

Well if that doesn't beat all. After having to endure 15 years sitting across the table from Peter Gall and his associates, as a legal advocate, I can comfortably say he is highly unethical. I feel sorry for anyone wishing to keep company and sing the praises of Mr. Gall.