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legal ethics, politics, politicians, rules of professional conduct, campaign promises


Politicians sometimes break their promises. Canadian law is clear that the only recourse is for voters at the ballot box. However, politicians who happen to be lawyers are ostensibly governed by the rules of professional conduct. Under these rules, certain promises, termed undertakings, are special. Courts and law societies will enforce these promises and/or impose consequences for their breach against practicing lawyers. This article considers how the rule on undertakings should apply to political promises made by lawyer-politicians. The article begins with a brief summary of the rules of professional conduct as they apply to lawyer-politicians and to lawyers’ undertakings. The article then turns to the case law on broken political promises. Finally, the article argues that the rule of professional conduct on undertakings should apply to lawyer-politicians’ promises in limited circumstances, and specifically when these promises take pseudo-legal form such as signed contracts and pledges.