Senator Paula Simons to deliver 2022 Leitch Lecture

Simons will share insights from her experiences as a political journalist and independent Senator

Carmen Rojas - 18 March 2022

With 2022 marking both the 40th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the 50th anniversary of the Alberta Bill of Rights, there was ample inspiration for this year’s Merv Leitch, QC Memorial Lecturer.

Senator Paula Simons (‘86 BA Hons) will deliver a talk entitled “An Amateur Gardener’s Guide to the Living Tree” to the Faculty of Law communities of the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary on March 22.

Simons, who is well known to Albertans for her 23 years as an award-winning columnist and reporter with the Edmonton Journal, says attendees shouldn’t expect a linear essay on the history of the Constitution. Rather, she has crafted remarks that reveal topics in a manner she likens to Ukrainian nesting dolls. 

“You start with what seems like a straightforward story on the top,” she said. “Then you open the doll and there’s something else underneath.”

The details that Simons will uncover include what she calls “the echoes and accidents of history” that have shaped the evolution of the Canadian Constitution and the Charter. 

She will also explore the differences in the ways Canadians and Americans approach constitutional texts. This includes the living tree doctrine, a metaphor that establishes our constitution as being capable of natural growth. 

“It’s the fundamental difference in our tradition, not to be so slavishly wedded to the text of the document,” said Simons.

Simons, who was appointed as an independent Senator in 2018, will also talk about what her role in the reformed Senate as “one of the guardians of the tree” means to her. 

“I’ve made it part of my mission to shine some light on what happens in the Senate and why,” she said. “I’m very proud to be on the front lines of revolutionary change — to be playing my own small part in the reinvigoration of this really important part of our bicameral system of government.”

Simons hopes people will take from her lecture the message that everyone has their own part to play in our democracy. “We are all guardians of the constitution,” she said. “It’s not just the role of Senators; it’s the role of every citizen.”

Merv Leitch, QC Memorial Lecture

The Leitch Lecture has been a tradition in the Faculties of Law at the U of A and the U of C since 1991. It honours the significant contributions of the late Merv Leitch, QC, ‘52 BA, LLB, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy. He was also a member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1971 to 1982, serving as attorney general, provincial treasurer and minister of Energy and Natural Resources.

Outside of his time in politics, Leitch was a partner with Macleod Dixon (now Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP) in Calgary, served as president of the Calgary Bar Association and as a bencher of the Law Society of Alberta.

2022 holds a special significance for the Leitch family. Along with being the 50th anniversary of the Alberta Bill of Rights, which Leitch played a large scale role in creating, it marks a personal anniversary as well.

“Our parents, Joyce Morris and Merv Leitch, and Peter Lougheed all arrived at the U of A 75 years ago this fall,” said Jim Leitch, who is a lawyer with Alberta Justice and Solicitor General. “That began a lifelong friendship.”

When Merv Leitch became ill in the late 80s, Lougheed approached him with the idea of an endowment to fund a lecture and student awards. “He set about, with Dad’s agreement and input in the design of the lecture and scholarships, to undertake what we understand was the first really significant non-political fundraising effort that he made,” said Jim Leitch. 

More than three decades later, the annual lecture remains a “red letter date on the calendar” for the entire family. “It is a great honour and a great remembrance of him,” said Leitch. “We hope in particular that the speakers and topics each year resonate with the students of the two faculties.”

Student Awards

The endowment bestows several awards on students from each of the faculties of law, who are acknowledged at the lecture. The 2021 recipients from the University of Alberta Faculty of Law are:

2021 Merv Leitch, QC Leadership Scholarship in Law: Laura Soproniuk and Valeria Leow

2021 Merv Leitch, QC Prize: Lee Klippenstein

The Merv Leitch, QC Memorial Lecture will be delivered virtually on March 22 from 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. In April, it will also be available as an episode of Senator Simons’ Alberta Unbound podcast.