Chief Justice MacDonald was born and raised in Whitney Pier. He earned his B.A. from Mount Allison University and his LL.B. from Dalhousie University. He was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1979.
He began practicing in Sydney with Boudreau, Beaton & LaFosse, which later became Stewart McKelvey Stirling Scales, where he remained until his appointment to the Bench.
While in Sydney, Chief Justice MacDonald served as President of the Cape Breton Barristers’ Society. He was a member of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society Council, a board member at both the Children’s Aid Society of Cape Breton and the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, and a guest lecturer at what was then known as the University College of Cape Breton.
He was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in 1995 and the Associate Chief Justice three years later. He became the 22nd Chief Justice of Nova Scotia and the Chief Justice of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in 2004. A member of the Canadian Judicial Council for 20 years, he has chaired several of its committees, most recently the Judicial Conduct Committee.
As the Chief Justice, he serves as the province’s administrator, stepping in when the Lieutenant Governor is absent.
In 2014, Chief Justice MacDonald led the creation of the Nova Scotia Access to Justice Coordinating Committee, a group of legal professionals working to make this province a national leader in access to justice.
Chief Justice MacDonald has promoted several judicial outreach initiatives to engage the Indigenous and African Nova Scotia communities. This work included visits to Membertou in 2016 and the Black community of Cherry Brook in 2018, where Nova Scotia judges heard firsthand the unique challenges facing these communities, particularly in the context of the justice system.
His efforts to foster inclusion on the Bench include creating a judicial mentorship initiative for African Nova Scotian and Indigenous lawyers. He also volunteers with Phoenix Youth to host justice day camps for young people from racialized communities. Chief Justice MacDonald is the recipient of the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals.
Chief Justice MacDonald is married to Brenda MacDonald, also of Whitney Pier. They have three daughters, Christina, Laura and Bhreagh, and one granddaughter, Cate.
Today, Cape Breton University confers the degree Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to a man who has dedicated his career to the betterment of the judicial system in Canada and the people it serves.