Attorney General Chris Bentley.
TARA WALTON/Toronto Star
Michael Bryant was the dapper, pit bull attorney general.
Ian Scott, the well-respected constitutional expert.
Yet you’d be lucky to find an ordinary Ontarian who could pick current Attorney General Christopher (“Chris”) Bentley out of a crowd and say what defines him.
Mention this to Bentley and he’ll give you an ice-cold glare while responding, “That is not relevant.”
But it is.
Especially during an election year in which the latest poll suggests a three-point spread between the governing Liberals and Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives.
And, it is relevant when you are rumoured to be a front-runner in the undeclared race to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty as Liberal Party leader.
Bentley is well-trained in the art of how to run a long race.
He has run five marathons, three in Boston, and one each in Columbus and Chicago. He starts every day with a 10-kilometre, 40-minute run, followed by a medium Tim Horton’s coffee pumped up with triple cream and sugar.
Party insiders say the 55-year-old may “walk softly” and appear understated, but below brews a quiet ambition and a strong will to get things done — be they onerous court reforms or bringing sports programs to isolated northern reserves with high youth suicide rates.
Besides being attorney general, a year ago Bentley was also made aboriginal affairs minister by McGuinty.
He was born in Toronto, but his family moved to London in 1967 after his father, an autoworker, got a job at the Ford Talbotville plant.
Bentley moved back to Toronto to obtain a law degree, graduating in 1979. He then went to Cambridge University for the equivalent of a master’s degree — his thesis was on self-defence in criminal law.
Back in London, Ont., Bentley built up a successful criminal defence practice. He settled down with wife Wendy, also a lawyer, and the couple raised two girls, Julia, now 26, and Jocelyn, 23.
He was well-known in the courtroom for his calmness, fairness, dry wit and polite nature, says London lawyer Andrew Murray, who knew Bentley before he had any political aspirations.
Murray adds that Bentley made a name for himself among his peers for advocacy work and as a law professor at the University of Western Ontario.
Bentley founded a legal clinic in 1985 for low- to moderate-income Londoners who needed to be represented in court or at tribunals regarding problems with welfare, employment insurance, pensions and landlord and tenant issues.
Murray was surprised when he first heard Bentley was running for office in 2003.
Bentley easily won his first election against Progressive Conservative incumbent Bob Wood, nabbing 50 per cent of the vote.
“Politics, at least in the modern era, seems to have become something for the flashy, charismatic individual,” says Murray, the vice-president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association. “He kind of doesn’t fit that mould, at all. He is about the substance, not the flash.”
When the premier asked Bentley to become Ontario’s 36th attorney general in 2007, McGuinty told him to work at reducing the time it takes for a criminal case to get through the courts.
As a defence lawyer, Bentley couldn’t agree more with that goal.
“I saw a system that was slower than we wanted it to be and involved too much waiting time,” he says. “That’s not productive.”
Bentley and the AG’s office spent a year consulting with judges, Crown attorneys, corrections, legal aid workers and defence counsel on where they should target their energy.
He found it in adjournments.
In 2008, Bentley introduced the “Justice on Target” strategy to reduce by 30 per cent the number of days and appearances required to complete a criminal case by 2012.
In 1992, it took an average of 4.3 court appearances to bring a charge to completion, he says. But by 2007, that number had skyrocketed to 9.2 appearances.
Reduce the number of appearances, and police officers, lawyers, judges and the courts will be freed up for other trials.
“At the end of the day, (court) is not more than two times more complicated now as it was in 1992,” he says.
Instead of throwing money at the problem, the AG introduced on-site legal aid, reformed disclosure and sought a commitment from the Crown and all other parties that they’d work at finding faster resolutions.
While it is unclear if Bentley’s target will be met, he points out that for the first time in 18 years, the average number of appearances has gone down instead of up.
The reduction is around 5 per cent in appearances and 1 per cent in days, he says. “But it continues to go down.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh (Halton), the justice critic, says while the Justice on Target program is commendable, it has been fraught with delays.
“There aren’t enough court interpreters, justice is being delayed because of that,” he says, before rhyming off a number of cases that have yet to have their day in court due to backups in the system.
“The one thing that typifies Bentley’s time as attorney general is delay,” contends Chudleigh.
“He delays a lot and hopes decisions don’t have to be made. That is why he is not an Ian Scott, he is not a Roy McMurtry and he is not even a Bryant.”
The civil court reforms announced last year are another example of justice changes sought years ago that are finally being implemented, Chudleigh adds.
In 2006, Bentley’s predecessor, Michael Bryant, asked Associate Chief Justice Coulter Osborne to lead a civil justice reform project.
Last year, those reforms finally came into play with little media attention, to the exasperation of Bentley and his staff.
But they should help the average Ontarian who decides to tackle a dispute, Bentley says.
Small claims courts can now settle civil disputes of up to $25,000 (an increase from $10,000), costly pre-trial procedures now have limits on them, and more services are available online.
The reforms make the system faster and cheaper and make small claims court more accessible, he says.
Lately, Bentley has turned his attention to another pursuit that has nothing to do with justice or aboriginal affairs but, according to some, smacks of his leadership ambitions.
It’s called “Marathon a Month” and has already begun in his London riding.
His idea: promote physical fitness by getting everyone — young and old — to do one mile’s worth of exercise a day.
Results are being kept by Bentley’s constituency office and at the end of one month a celebration and recognition event will be held — just like at the completion of a marathon.
An exercise fiend, Bentley is a firm believer that an active life is important to your emotional and physical health. “And, I actually think it’s fun.”
Bentley has taken this idea and run with it in northern Ontario.
As aboriginal affairs minister, he’s worked with other ministries to get fitness programs started in isolated northern communities.
The plan is to bring nearly a dozen youth coordinators to isolated, poverty-plagued First Nations where there is little for young people to do.
While Bentley knows this is not a cure-all for the problems in the north, he knows it’s a start.
Some powerful southern philanthropists are starting to take notice.
The world-renowned Right to Play program has begun hockey lessons in Moose Cree and Sandy Lake First Nations and plans to go further afield if they are a success.
Canadian Tire’s Jump Start initiative is donating sports equipment to seven northern First Nation communities and they’ve funded a youth worker in Attawapiskat.
Murray does not hesitate when asked if he thinks Bentley is premier material.
“Starting about five years ago, I started saying to people, ‘You know, he could run to be the premier one day,” Murray says. “He has those qualities. But only he knows what his aspirations are, and politics is a very strange beast.”
Continue reading here: Chris Bentley surges ahead in the race to replace McGuinty – Toronto Star
ass, attorney, boston, bra, cambridge, chi, chris, conservative, dalton, def, flash, girl, goo, Google, google.com, h, have, liberal, london, modern, natural bentley race, new, news, north, Pee, play, progressive, start, time, toronto, TV, tween, university, v, world, www