John Edward MacDonell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of King’s College (1988), and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Dalhousie University (1994). He received awards for excellence in Constitutional Law and Insurance Law, along with the Dickson Medal for Distinguished Advocacy at the Gale Cup Moot Court Competition.
MacDonell articled with the Halifax office of Stewart McKelvey, becoming an associate lawyer upon his admission to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1995, and went on to become a Partner in the firm on January 1, 2001. He is licensed to practice law in Ontario. He is experienced in litigation and class actions, and in resolving legal issues in all facets of insurance law, personal injury, construction disputes, international law, administrative law, energy law, elections law, and commercial, corporate and municipal law.
His career also includes drafting proposed legislation, navigating that legislation from tabling to enactment, and in-depth knowledge of the machinery of government.
As a part-time faculty member at Dalhousie Law School, MacDonell taught courses in Civil Trial Practice (2001) and Commercial Law (2002), and also lectured in Insurance Law and Constitutional Law. He guest-lectured at the University of Ottawa on the topic of negotiating practice and tactics. He is a former Chair of the Construction Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association’s Nova Scotia Branch (2001-2003).
From 2000-2004, MacDonell was a member of the Board of Directors of Phoenix Youth Programs, a non-profit, voluntary agency providing care and services to at-risk and homeless youth, and from 2004-2006 was a trustee of the Phoenix Youth Programs Charitable Foundation. MacDonell has been commended by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal for providing legal services on a pro bono basis. He is Chair of the St. John Ambulance Federal District Council Board.
MacDonell has been involved in the democratic process politics for over three decades, serving in many roles including President of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia. In 2003, he was one of 12 original petitioners to establish the Conservative Party of Canada, serving as a member of its first governing body and as Chair of its Arbitration Committee. In 2014, he accompanied former NDP Premier Darrell Dexter and former Liberal Cabinet Minister Ken Dryden to Tunisia, as a member of the National Democratic Institute’s Presidential election observation mission.
In 2006, MacDonell took leave of absence from his partnership at Stewart McKelvey to become Chief of Staff to the Honourable Peter MacKay, where he served for over seven years in the portfolios of Foreign Affairs, National Defence, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. He also assisted Minister Mackay in his capacity as Regional Minister for Nova Scotia, and at times as Regional Minister for Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. In these capacities, he supported Minister MacKay in many achievements, including:
building consensus with all provinces and territories for Canada to sign the United Nations International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
securing the $870 million Crown Share offshore natural gas agreement for Nova Scotia;
establishing and implementing the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy;
committing federal funding of over $50 million for the new Nova Scotia Convention Centre;
establishing the annual Halifax International Security Forum, and bringing it to global prominence;
enhancing and improving Atlantic Canada ferry services;
initiating and promoting the Atlantic Gateway international trade corridor;
securing federal guarantees to support the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Project;
supporting Canada’s men and women in uniform in such missions as Afghanistan, Haiti, and Libya, and equipping them for mission success through procurements such a strategic lift aircraft, tactical lift aircraft, tanks, armoured vehicles;
protecting Canadians and meeting Canada’s international obligations, by improving the Search and Rescue system.
In 2012, MacDonell was inducted into the Order of St. George as a Knight Commander, and was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Lieutenant-governor of Québec.
In 2013 and 2014 he was Stewart McKelvey’s Ottawa-based partner. In 2015 he re-joined the Government of Canada as Chief of Staff to the Honourable Erin O’Toole, Minister of Veterans Affairs. In this capacity, he supported Minister O’Toole in many achievements, including:
designing, enacting and implementing legislation to improve benefits for injured Veterans in Canada’s New Veterans’ Charter, including a Purpose Clause to recognize Canada’s obligation to Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans;
overseeing and managing many litigation matters involving Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), working to ensure fair treatment of Veterans, protect the public treasury, and turn adversarial litigation into respectful dialogue;
expanding VAC’s capacity to deliver benefits and services to injured Veterans and their families, through the addition of over 300 front-line Case Managers and Benefits Adjudicators, and re-engineering the application process to ensure faster, fairer, “Veteran-Centric” departmental culture;
expanding and improving mental health support for Veterans, including research and development of diagnosis and treatment, de-stigmatizing mental health issues, and opening Operational Stress Injury clinics from coast to coast;
commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands in Europe with a delegation of more than 60 Canadian veterans and close to 1,000 Canadian students and cadets; and the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in the Far East.
In January 2016, MacDonell joined Spiteri & Ursulak LLP as a partner in the firm’s Ottawa office.