See Dick run // Best Practices

Litigator Joel Dick is running for Toronto city council. He’s given up the courtroom for the campaign trail, winning over his constituents one door at a time

By Momoko Price

On Tuesday September 21st, 2010

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photo by Vanessa HeinsThe wall in Joel Dick’s dining room looks like he’s planning a bank heist. Beside a markedup map of his Toronto neighbourhood hang calendar pages from March to October with his busy schedule marked in red. A starburst on the October 25 square marks the day Dick intends to pull off his elaborate scheme.
Dick isn’t really staging a burglary, but his plan is comparatively risky: At 36, he is quitting his job as a personal injury and insurance defence lawyer to run in this fall’s municipal elections. And so, on October 25, the date the province has set for this year’s vote, Dick will be among the thousands of candidates throughout Ontario seeking public office.

According to Dick, people should pay more attention to municipal politics. “It’s important stuff,” he explains. “The city is responsible for making sure our drinking water’s safe. Roads and potholes and transit and sidewalks are all city issues. And the way development is done and the way development directly touches your enjoyment of life is so important.”

While he was pursuing a joint Master’s-J.D. at the University of Toronto from 1998 to 2001, Dick volunteered at U of T’s legal services clinic. While helping tenants facing eviction, he saw first-hand the social effects of flagging development. Now, after living downtown for more than a decade, Dick believes the city doesn’t just need more housing advocates, it needs a complete overhaul of how housing is funded — one reason why he decided to run for Toronto city council.

Dick has a tough race ahead of him. First, he has to contend with an unusally large number of rivals: he and at least a dozen other candidates are vying to fill the void being left by Kyle Rae, a 19-year veteran who isn’t seeking re-election. Plus, Dick is running in a ward where the social and economic interests are about as varied as they come. For instance, Ward 27 includes Seaton House, one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters, and Rosedale, one of its wealthiest neighbourhoods.

Over the summer, Dick was burning the candle at both ends. He kept up his practice at John Cannings, Barristers, a three-lawyer firm where he’d worked since 2002. Then most evenings around 7 p.m., he and his wife Dara, a firefighter, would grab a few friends, canvass the ward and talk politics with strangers. In the fall, Dick took the campaign full-time.

While Dick clearly takes campaigning seriously, he still has fun with it. In fact, he got downright cheeky at this year’s Pride parade, handing out rainbow-coloured shirts and stickers with the slogan “I Like Dick.”

If his bid for a seat on city council succeeds, Dick will say farewell to work that has meant a great deal to him.

He appreciates that he had more opportunities at Cannings than he might have had at a large firm. “Probably if I’d been at a bigger firm, I would have moved on sooner,” he says. “But I get into court; I’ve done trials. I’ve argued in the Court of Appeal once, on the civil side. That part of it I really enjoy.”

As much affection as Dick has for the law, he has an even greater passion for social justice and building community. “It’s time to go back to some of that stuff that I did at the clinic and more directly impact people’s lives.”

He looks at the full calendar on his dining room wall that shows just how hard he is working at achieving that end. “I do it every day — everything in red,” he says with a smile. “Either an event or a canvass, that’s my life.” And with that, he and Dara head out to knock on a few more doors.


The lowdown: Joel Dick

  • Year of Call: 2002
  • Current Job: Associate, John Cannings, Barristers
  • Worst Course in Law School: Taxation of Corporations and Partnerships
  • Favourite Law Movie: 12 Angry Men
  • First Job: Unpaid labourer on my family’s farm
  • Greatest Frustration: Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Proudest Moment: Watching my wife graduate from the Fire Service Academy
  • Personal Style: Collaborative

Photography by Vanessa Heins