For more than 20 years, Lena Diab has worked as a lawyer in the city. The mother of four and soon-to-be-grandmother also has strong connections to the community and volunteers countless hours helping organizations in the areas of youth, culture and law.
“I am very much a community advocate. I just love working in the community,” she says.
In October, she was elected as the MLA for Halifax-Armdale, a riding she’s lived in since a child, and was appointed as the province’s minister of immigration, attorney general and justice minister. She’s the first woman to serve as attorney general and justice minister for Nova Scotia. Halifax Magazine recently spoke with her about her work, her passions and what changes she wants to see in the city.
How did you get involved in politics?
The real motivator for me was all my kids growing up. They all are at the age when they are looking for opportunities and finding it very difficult to find the opportunities here… For me that was the deciding factor to enter politics because I didn’t want my kids and other kids to be leaving the province. And I wanted to be part of a process to see what I can do to use my skills and experience to actually move us in an upward direction because we aren’t doing what we need to be doing.
How can Nova Scotia create opportunities to keep people here?
We all need to work together, regardless of what your political persuasion is because the bottom line is: we were all voted in by our constituents to be the best representatives that we can be for our citizens. We also need to work with our various diverse populations, our cultural groups, but every type of group we have; our religious groups, everybody. We all have to work together not only to keep our kids here…but to bring our young people that have left this province.
What do you think is the biggest challenge?
I think we need to advertise our province better. We have so much to offer here. A lot of people don’t know that. Look at how strategically we are located. We also need to ensure, as I said, our various groups work together cooperatively. And yes, we have to help our local businesses, and I am really happy that our premier is committed to that.
Out in the lobby near your office are photos of the past attorneys general in the province and they are all men. How do you feel about being the province’s first female attorney general?
I saw that for the first time a week ago, too. I didn’t know at first I was. Obviously, I am very honoured and I am very humbled. And I realize I have a role to play here, not just for myself and the people who elected me to be their MLA, but to the whole province of Nova Scotia. To me that is a big honour and a privilege at the same time. I am here to do the best job I can possibly do. I am here to serve my constituents and to serve the province in the best way that I can possibly serve.
What do you love about Halifax?
I love the vibrancy of the community. I love that wherever I go I see people of different colour, race and origins, the different ethnicity of its food. I love the ocean. I love going to the Dingle. That was my favourite spot as a young person growing up. As the oldest of six kids that was our Sunday picnic day because we lived so close. I’m very happy the Dingle, which is a treasure for me, is in the community I’ve been elected to represent. I love its neighbourhoods, its universities, its colleges. I love the fact we have the best hospitals. I visited the IWK many, many times as the mother of four children. We are very, very lucky to be living in Halifax and such a beautiful province that really has so much to offer the rest of the country and the outside world as well.
How do you balance your career, community work and family life?
I think it’s part of my upbringing. I started working when I was 11, with my father. My parents didn’t have much education but they are very, very smart people. My dad started in the construction industry. Work, for us, was 24/7. There was no separation between family time and work time, and I would go with my father to construction jobs to talk with the different tradespeople. I did that for a long time. At the age of 15 I started volunteering in different groups. In my high school I did a lot. It continued, and for me, I was always busy. And I find busy people tend to want to be busy, but tend to do good things. To me there was no difference whether I was doing something as a volunteer or doing something because I was getting paid. It was the fact that I was helping people. That has always been the most important thing.