We are Justice

Pierre Legault

Photo of Pierre Legault

“It’s one thing to work under a normal business deadline,” says Pierre Legault.

“It’s another thing when you know the deadline is at noon on a given day, and at noon the President of the United States will make an announcement, and the Prime Minister of Canada will make a similar announcement a few hours later.”

Fortunately, Pierre is certainly not afraid of deadlines.

Pierre is Assistant Deputy Minister of the Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio, the biggest portfolio in the Department with about 450 lawyers spread across 20 legal services units.

He was referring to the unusual challenges of leading the Canadian legal teams in the restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors, two of North America’s largest car makers.

Pierre coordinated the Canadian legal teams of counsel from the Department of Justice Canada, the Province of Ontario, and Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as Canadian and American agents for all three parties.

Pierre is Assistant Deputy Minister of the Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio, the biggest portfolio in the Department with about 450 lawyers spread across 20 legal services units.

In spring 2009, the Justice team worked on complex agreements to provide these companies with funding and ensure that they would continue as productive employers in Canada.

The work was complicated and intense. The documents and files generated were voluminous. And it was all carried out at an extremely rapid pace, requiring long hours and all-nighters to meet the extraordinary goals.

It quickly became apparent that the Department needed to hire outside counsel with expertise in bankruptcy, commercial, corporate, and American law to supplement the in-house talent.

“We have the subsidiaries in Canada, but the parent company is American, and the bankruptcy filing was in the U.S.,” says Pierre. “The agreements are under American law and the negotiations were in the States, so we needed to have American counsel there.”

Each of the three main parties – Industry Canada, the Province of Ontario – used both internal and external counsel to assist with the enormous workload.

Pierre says his role was to coordinate and develop a Canadian position on the various legal questions or agreements, manage counsel, and basically “forge one common legal view.”

To accomplish all this work, the Canadian legal team “camped out” for seven days in Washington, where it concluded the Chrysler transaction.

Working in Washington posed certain challenges for the Canadian team. Pierre says security was often an issue, especially for meetings they had at the U.S. Treasury, where they needed security clearance in advance.

“One time, they had our information but didn’t process it in time, so one of my clients and I were asked to stay out of the building out in the street for 45 minutes,” he says. “So we went and opened an ‘office’ on a bench in Lafayette Park across from the White House.”

Pierre says part of the Canadian team worked 55 hours straight during the last days leading up to the closing.

“Basically, we had to finish everything before noon, because at noon President Obama was having a press conference, and Prime Minister Harper was having his press conference about 2:00 p.m. So, it was a big deadline,” he says. “We finished the agreement of interest to Canada half an hour before, and they went on with their press conferences.”

While Chrysler was under bankruptcy protection, the Canadian team started working on the General Motors restructuring. Although there were lessons learned from the Chrysler experience, GM posed different challenges. Its restructuring was massive. In fact, it is considered the biggest industrial reorganization in history.

The Canadian legal team, led by Pierre, travelled to New York twice for negotiations to meet with the representatives of the U.S. Treasury, GM and their lawyers, and other key people involved in the deal, in addition to innumerable other trips to Washington.

It was very much a team effort – within Justice and with the other legal counsel.

Pierre will always remember his work on the historic file.

“It’s a success story because of the extraordinary work that we did, our ability to do the work, to deliver on time under incredibly short deadlines given the size of the deals, and to achieve all our results: the main one to protect a whole sector of our economy – automobile manufacturing and the jobs that go with that.”

A year later, he looks back on the project as being extremely successful. One major indicator is that jobs have been maintained and cars are still being produced in Canada.

Pierre is nostalgic. “It was a very exciting time – the kind of file we don’t see every day, or every week, or every year for that matter.”

He admits most people won’t ever have the chance to work on a file like this, and feels fortunate to have played the role he did in such an extraordinary piece of history.

Photo of Pierre Legault