Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin delivers Allan J. MacEachen Lecture on Canadian politics at StFX

March 19th, 2018
The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, former Chief Justice of Canada, the first woman in Canada to hold this position, and the longest serving Chief Justice in the history of this country, led a lively discussion on law and democracy as she delivered the Allan J. MacEachen Lecture on Canadian politics, now in its 21st year at StFX, on March 19.

Her keynote address, entitled "Democracy and the Rule of Law," took place before a packed house gathered in the Schwartz Auditorium for the lecture series, which commemorates the distinguished career of the late Hon. Allan J. MacEachen. The lecture series was established in 1996 through the generous support of friends and associates of Mr. MacEachen upon his retirement from political life.

After warmly welcoming Ms. McLachlin to campus, StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald noted in his remarks that this is the first lecture held since Mr. MacEachen’s passing in September 2017. Dr. MacDonald took a moment to share thoughts on “a man we simply knew as Allan J.,” touching on his remarkable record of public service, his eight decade association with StFX and Antigonish, and his impact on Canada.  

“As we gather for the first time without Allan J., we think of him fondly, we miss him dearly, and we’re thankful we carry on the legacy,” Dr. MacDonald said.

“What a singular honour it is to be asked to deliver this lecture in honour of the late Allan MacEachen,” the Rt. Hon. Ms. McLachlin said.

“I admired him greatly.”

Once or twice in a generation, Canada produces a great statesman, and Allan MacEachen was one of them, she said.

“He put the country of Canada and the welfare of its citizens first. He enriched us enormously and we owe him a great debt. I only wish he was here so I could thank him personally for all that he did.”

In her remarks, the Rt. Hon. Ms. McLachlin outlined how each branch of government has its own unique role, the legislative, which makes the law, the executive branch, which enforces the law, and the judicial branch, which resolves disputes, and how democracy depends on each carrying out its role.

It’s very important that these institutions remain in balance, she said. It’s these tensions that hold democracy together, healthy tensions that most scholars believe are essential to a well-functioning democracy.

She spoke too about basic principles of democracy like judicial independence and its key role in guaranteeing an impartial justice system, and the rule of law, where every exercise of power has to be done in accordance with the law.

We are fortunate in Canada, she said, that balance and mutual respect is our historical norm.

She says in her almost half century as a lawyer and as a judge, she took for granted the democratic underpinning, that the world seemed to be in a march towards these values of human rights, democratically elected governments, and independent courts. The arrow may now be wobbling and parts of the world are experiencing an unravelling of post-World War II values, and experiencing diminishing judicial independence and rule of law.

“It bears watching,” she said, noting we live in an age where values are shifting and certain norms are beginning to unravel.

Democracy is well and alive, but we would be remiss not to be concerned with the slow decline in public confidence in our basic institutions. Maintaining public confidence will be a prime challenge as we move into the future, she said.

“We should not be complacent if we want to preserve the Canada we’re rightfully proud of,” she said.

StFX political science professor Dr. Jim Bickerton, who served as master of ceremonies, gave some background on the MacEachen Lecture Series, noting that over the years speakers have included four former Canadian prime ministers, the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, the Rt. Hon. John Turner, and the Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien, as well as a number of distinguished academics, politicians, journalists and now for the first time, a justice of the Supreme Court.

Past speakers have also included Preston Manning, the Hon. Bob Rae, the Hon. Frank McKenna, Dalton Camp, Senator Jerry Grafstein, the Hon. Roy Romanow, Dr. Margaret MacMillan, Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the Hon. Flora MacDonald, Senator Lowell Murray, the Hon. Dr. Donald J. Johnston, and Allan Gregg.

Antigonish lawyer Carole Gillies, who also teaches business law part-time in the StFX Schwartz School of Business and a MacEachen Lecture committee member, introduced Ms. McLachlin.

Special guests in attendance at the event including the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the Hon. Arthur J. LeBlanc and his wife Patsy LeBlanc.  

Bio: The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin spent her formative years in Pincher Creek, Alberta and was educated at the University of Alberta, where she received a BA (Honours) in Philosophy in 1965. She pursued her studies at the University of Alberta and, in 1968, received both an MA in Philosophy and an LL.B. She was called to the Alberta Bar in 1969 and to the British Columbia Bar in 1971 and practised law in Alberta and British Columbia. Commencing in 1974, she taught for seven years in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia as a tenured associate professor. Her judicial career began in April 1981 when she was appointed to the Vancouver County Court. In September 1981, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was elevated to the British Columbia Court of Appeal in December 1985 and was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in September 1988. Seven months later, in April 1989, she was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. On January 7, 2000, she was appointed Chief Justice of Canada. She is the first woman in Canada to hold this position. In addition to her judicial duties at the Supreme Court, the Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin has chaired the Canadian Judicial Council, the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada and the Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute. She is the author of numerous articles and publications. She retired on December 15, 2017.

Start Your Journey