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Third Annual General Counsel Summit: General Counsel as Growth Leader in the Age of Disruption

During this year’s Third Annual GC Summit, panelists discussed different ways that general counsel can act as leaders to drive sustainable, long-term growth in their organizations. With a shifting geopolitical landscape, ongoing cybersecurity threats, talent gaps and risk management frameworks, general counsel are at the forefront of the evolution of new business models.

Third Annual General Counsel Summit

Third Annual General Counsel Summit – General Counsel as Growth Leader in the Age of Disruption

This report provides both a bird’s eye view as well as practical ideas to support your organizational impact.

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Key Takeaways

McCarthy Tétrault hosted the Third Annual General Counsel Summit on June 2nd – an event exclusive for General Counsel for insightful and informative conversations.


Panelists: Dave Leonard, Chief Executive Officer, McCarthy Tétrault, Janet De Silva, President and Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Region Board of Trade and Karl Tabbakh, Regional Managing Partner, Québec, McCarthy Tétrault LLP and Chair of the Board of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce:

  • The world needs what Canada has: energy, oil & gas, agriculture, important minerals and raw materials; and climate economy solutions. With the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the world has greater appreciation for Canada as a safe haven. What is Canada doing and what does it need to do to meet the needs of the world, and to make our goods and services accessible?
  • Economic Competitiveness & Growth need to be on the table: today, attention to and planning for the competitiveness and growth of our major economic zones is fragmented among orders of government and competing interests (land for houses vs transit vs employment). Our major urban centres have been calling for a more structured approach to understanding our barriers to competitiveness and putting plans and funding in place to address them.
  • Infrastructure: Canada needs to revisit its policies and approaches to getting needed, economically enabling infrastructure delivered on a timely basis. Too often, major critical infrastructure projects are deferred in favour of “fair share” smaller budget projects in multi-markets which yield little benefit to the economy.  . Pipelines projects have been abandoned, natural gas terminals are behind schedule and our delivery system for transporting grain is antiquated. We need an accelerated plan to get there.
  • Talent and Immigration: Canada is a global draw for skilled labour, but we don’t recognize any global accreditation standards. This means that highly skilled workers are left on the ‘bench’ languishing in jobs that don’t leverage their potential. We also do not have a strategy to attract the skillsets and talent that are fleeing totalitarian regimes like Russia and China and deploy them where they can have the greatest impact for Canada.
  • Energy policy/Innovation: Canada has tremendous capacity for innovation, especially as it relates to green technology and the climate economy. However, many of the first clients of Canada’s greatest innovators are outside of Canada. Ultimately many innovation start ups get bought out by foreign interests, depriving Canada of the economic benefits of a critical mass of domestically-based innovative companies and the economic lift their products and services could provide.
  • Cyber-security: State-sponsored cyber-attacks are on the rise. Canada’s fractured regulatory approach and aging infrastructure not only has the concerns expressed above, but is also vulnerable to cyber-attacks, with the potential to destabilize our economy. COVID was a watershed moment for digitization.  Businesses and consumers of all sizes moved digital in response to COVID conditions.  Canada and our provinces need to pursue a collective, globally connected approach to cybersecurity.  Failure to do so will be an impediment to doing business in Canada and an impediment for Canadian businesses to grow domestically or internationally. 
  • Onshoring: businesses and governments are struggling to stress-proof their supply chains. Onshoring of manufacturing could and should be an opportunity for Canada, particularly with our successful track record as part of integrated cross-border supply chains with the U.S. However, for decades, we been falling behind in productivity and competitiveness relative to the US. This is a combination of underinvestment by business in advanced manufacturing and innovation – now being exacerbated by the severe talent challenge.  And, failure of governments of all orders to address land use planning,  goods movement congestion and livability issues to make us a sought after destination for destination for expansion.  The real and present danger is that ….US border states and operations – that are significantly outperforming us – will be the most likely beneficiaries of reshoring – overseas and possibly existing manufacturing in southern Ontario.
  • Reducing Regulatory Barriers: Canada’s post-Confederation governance model (Federal, Provincial, Municipal) enables a fragmented approach to regulations which is in many cases harmful to our economy and our SMEs. Interprovincial trade barriers are impediments to Canadian SMEs expanding in Canada.  A province-by-province approach to digital economy rules will create disincentives for domestic and international companies doing business here as navigating and financing the tools to manage a multitude of rules and standards will be prohibitive, in a market our size,
  • Role of Government: Canada and the US are the only 2 OECD countries without a multi-level government process for planning the development and growth of their country’s largest economic zones. We need a master plan to secure our long term economic future. Governments at all levels need to step up and play a key leadership role.
  • A Call to Action: Through business and industry associations like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Toronto Region Board of Trade, as well as through coalitions of executives, we can raise our collective voices and offer solutions. Jan De Silva called upon the GC community to choose a small number of impactful issues where our unique perspective would be invaluable to help shape government policy. A significant majority of participants expressed an interest in getting involved in a coalition of General Counsel.  


Panelists: Christine Lonsdale, Partner, Litigation, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Lilac Bosma, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, HSBC Bank Canada, Daniel Holden, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and General Counsel, Nestlé Canada, Miranda Lam, Chief Legal Officer and Senior Director, Business Development, Acuitas Therapeutics Inc. and Miguel Simard, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Export Development Canada

  • Take Strategic Risks: Traditionally lawyers have been the voice of conservative caution in their organizations. Although this is generally an important role, risk cannot be avoided altogether without jeopardizing growth. General Counsels and their in-house teams are in a unique position to deeply understand their business and its risk appetite and be empowered to come up with creative ideas and approaches to take well-assessed risks that support growth.
  • Embrace Controlled Experimentation and Failure: Difficult times tend to foster a fear of failure generally, manifesting in an unwillingness to try new approaches and organizational paralysis. Yet for business to thrive and seize opportunities, they need to embrace new approaches. This can be achieved through conducting small pilots and controlled experiments and treating what were previously considered failures as key learnings to iterate to the best outcome.
  • Have an Open Dialogue about Issues: Employees usually hate to be the bearer of bad news and may ignore underlying problems and systemic issues until it is too late to effectively fix them. Creating a culture of openness and transparency that enables discussion and where Legal is brought in early will help provide better outcomes.
  • Be a Purpose-Driven Organization: Being able to relate calculated risks and innovative approaches to the organization’s purpose and building them into performance goals will help drive the cultural change needed for growth.
  • Gain an Industry-Wide Perspective: Outside counsel often work with many clients across an industry or on common issues. By engaging with them on what others are doing you can avoid re-inventing the wheel, build on the learnings of others and seize opportunities. A perfect example of this is what companies were doing about mandatory vaccinations and return to work policies during the pandemic. Of course, such collaborations must be examined carefully from a competition law perspective, particularly in light of upcoming changes to the Competition Act, to ensure compliance.
  • Promote the Opportunities Identified by the Legal Function: Whether through data, which is harder to collect, or compelling storytelling, ensure that Legal’s contribution to successful risk-taking is understood and appreciated so that the team is at the table when strategic decisions are made.
  • Leverage Change to Foster More Change: One of the silver linings of pandemic was that it increased everyone’s the openness to change. ESG is a perfect example of taking thoughtful and calculated risks to create opportunities to not only improve corporate performance, but also help save the planet.  

We at McCarthy Tétrault are honoured to host the GC Summit and welcome your ideas on how to make the next Summit even better. Please send your ideas and feedback to Judith McKay