Last November, a gathering of fourteen former William Lyon Mackenzie King Chairs convened in honor of Paul Weiler, former Mackenzie King Chair, founder of the Canada Seminar series, and Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. The Festschriftkonference, designed on the theme of Recreating Canada, acknowledged Weiler’s significant contributions to Harvard and Canada and was organized under the rubric of the Weatherhead Center's Canada Program. This highly interdisciplinary endeavor called for distinguished former chairs to present papers that will be published in a volume to be edited by Randall Morck, the 2005 Mackenzie King Chair and professor of economics at the University of Alberta.
The presentations all related to Weiler’s scholarly or civic contributions, such as his drafting of the Notwithstanding Clause in the Canadian Constitution. Considered a public service to Canada, the clause helped launch the process of changing Canada from a hesitant ex-British colony into a dynamic and enlightened state. During Weiler’s term as Mackenzie King Chair in the late 1970s, he wrote a paper championing his clause, which called for a transfer of some legislative power to the courts. Weiler invited Allan Blakeney, a senior official in the Canadian government and a leading opponent of constitutional change, to speak at the Canada Seminar; Blakeney read Weiler’s paper and was persuaded that the clause offered a real solution to the impasse. With Blakeney’s support, the clause was incorporated, and the path to the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was cleared. In the 25 years since the signing of that instrument, this charter has brought significant constitutional rights and freedoms to all Canadians, with the clause having to be used only rarely.
A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Paul Weiler has enjoyed a long, distinguished, and prolific career. Beyond serving as a Mackenzie King Chair, founding the Canada Seminar as an element of the chair, and fashioning the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Constitution, he has published seminal books in his fields, including Reconcilable Differences and Governing the Workplace on labor law reform, and Leveling the Playing Field: How the Law Can Make Sports Better for Fans on sports. He chaired the Labor Board in British Columbia, taught labor law and torts at Harvard Law School beginning in 1978, and, in the late 1980s, taught sports and entertainment law.
Professor Weiler is quick to note, too, that he counts among his many friends and colleagues, the late president of the Boston Celtics, Red Auerbach; he was a classmate of former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, at the University of Toronto; and he skied at Whistler Mountain with the late former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, whom he had earlier persuaded to adopt the Notwithstanding Clause as the compromise to bring the Charter to Canada.