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“Needing help isn’t a political thing”

Liberal MP Lena Diab is the first in our series of profiles of CBA members newly elected to the House of Commons.

Lena Metlege Diab, MP for Halifax West

Member of Parliament, lawyer, mother, grandmother and community leader Lena Metlege Diab remembers the day she was called to the Nova Scotia Bar like it was yesterday. It was June 15, 1991. She was 25 years old and already a mother of three children under the age of four. By now, managing motherhood while articling at a large law firm was routine. After all, on Diab's first day of law school, her firstborn was 14 days old.

When Diab says she understands the struggles of immigrant families studying and working in a new country, she means it. "I come from a family that believes deeply in hard work and helping others," says Diab. "I wanted to succeed in law school for my family, of course, but also for my community."

In 2010, by then a successful business owner and mother of four, Diab was named Outstanding Professional of the Year by the Canadian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce. She also served many years as President of the Canadian Lebanon Society of Halifax and received the Progress Women of Excellence Award in 2015.

In 2013, the same year she received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal, Diab was elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly as the Liberal member for Halifax Armdale — a district she represented until 2021, when she ran federally, and won, for Halifax West. 

As a new Member of Parliament, Diab sees Ottawa as yet another opportunity for firsts. During her eight years in provincial politics, Diab had become Nova Scotia's first female Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and the first Lebanese Canadian to hold a cabinet position in the province. Over the years, she also served as Minister of Immigration, Provincial Secretary, Minister of Acadian Affairs and Francophonie, and Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.

Days before Diab left for Ottawa for her swearing-in ceremony, she admitted she was thinking about objectives for her next chapter as a Parliamentarian, but maintained her constituency work is always front of mind. "The job is to be here for constituents who need federal support," she says. "We're a conduit to government services. We're here to help."

"I think about what I've done in terms of women in the legal profession and business, but also in terms of immigration and access to justice," says Diab. "There are so many opportunities to help, but I'm really passionate about my community. I know I can't do everything, but I can figure out where to concentrate my efforts."

Diab built a career dividing her time across priorities, and says this is something many women in the law face. "Many good women choose this profession, but many good women also have left," says Diab.

Diab says her four children were always her priority. Despite heroic efforts to multitask, she eventually left her large firm for a better fit with her legal practice. "But I always loved the legal profession," says Diab. "I worked so hard to get into Dal Law — I was the first person in my family ever to attend university, let alone become a lawyer. I wasn't going to give it up, just move it to a smaller scale."

Diab articled at Patterson Kitz Matheson — a predecessor to McInnes Cooper — where she articled for well-known Halifax lawyer Frank Powell. "I learned the law from the ground up," says Diab. "Back then, we rolled up our sleeves, went to probate court, dug in… I feel like I'm ancient, but it's like baking from scratch — it's hard work but really rewarding."

"I'm a proud Nova Scotian and I love the Atlantic region, but Canada is vast, and I'm thrilled to be part of this federal team," says Diab. "There is more to learn, but also more that I want to do."

"I want to take some time to see how I can be most effective," she says. "I know that being part of government means I'll be part of a larger mandate, but I don't want to look back and say I wish I knew a particular opportunity existed."

Diab says she's excited about the parliamentary work and committee work, and expects that her legal and small business background will prove as helpful in Ottawa as it's been in Halifax. "As a lawyer, it's about how you view things, how you collect data, and how you apply your experience."

Diab speaks English, French, and Arabic, and has trained in collaborative law and mediation.

Reflecting on her Nova Scotia record, Diab feels she made an impact in physician recruitment, immigration, Acadian and Francophone interests, labour and education.

"I worked a lot with universities, and enjoyed helping students who had recently moved to Halifax," says Diab. "Some of them called me their mother away from home."

Under Diab's leadership, Nova Scotia made remarkable advances in immigration, nominating record numbers of permanent residents, and becoming the first Canadian province to take advantage of Express Entry pilots and new immigrant entrepreneur streams. Diab also led the province's humanitarian initiative to resettle Syrian refugees.

Diab is passionate about diversity, inclusion, and volunteering, and has a deep respect for the protection of minorities.

Born in Halifax in 1965, Diab is the daughter of first-generation immigrants to Canada and the eldest of six children. She moved to Lebanon at the age of two, and returned to Halifax at age 11, escaping civil war. While she did not speak English, Diab was dedicated to school and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Public Administration, and a law degree.

Diab remembered her father always emphasizing the importance of two things — universities and hospitals. "He said we should always do everything we could for them," says Diab.

"It's an honour to be elected as a Member of Parliament," says Diab, who won by 48% in a federal riding of six candidates. "I think voters increasingly think about electing the person who is going to be there to help them, and needing help isn't a political thing. This is where working in the legal profession comes in. Helping people and knowing what's important is a learned behaviour."