The dean of Canadian federalism

Former U of A professor Peter Meekison developed a key piece of Canada’s Constitution.

Peter Meekison. Illustration by Jordan Carson.

Peter Meekison was born in Vancouver, B.C., in 1937, and received his undergraduate education at the University of British Columbia. He went on to earn an MA in political science from the University of Western Ontario in 1962, and a PhD in political science in 1965 from Duke University.

Meekison joined the University of Alberta’s Department of Political Science in 1967 and chaired the department from 1972–74. He was the university’s vice-president (academic) from 1984–91 and held the position of Belzberg Chair in Constitutional Law in the Faculty of Law from 1991–94.

In 1974, Meekison took a 10-year leave of absence from the U of A to serve as a trusted advisor to Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. Meekison worked in the province’s Department of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs, and along with Lougheed, held responsibility for maintaining and furthering the relationship between the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada.

During the 1981 constitutional negotiations, it was Meekison who developed and prepared the formula, tabled by Alberta, that ultimately became the general amending formula in the Constitution Act of 1982 (section 38.1). The formula, generally known as the 7/50 rule, dictates that Canada’s Constitution can only be amended following resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons, as well as two-thirds of the provinces that make up at least 50 per cent of Canada’s population. The formula was a demand by provincial premiers to see more provincial rights enshrined in Canada’s new constitution, and was accepted by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Justice Minister Jean Chrétien in return for the provinces’ acceptance of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Meekison chaired the Committee of Officials on Natural Resources from 1978–80, which led to texts that became section 92A of the Constitution Act. As a constitutional adviser to the Province of Alberta, he was also involved in discussions around both the Meech Lake Accord (1987) and Charlottetown Accord (1992). In 1993, Meekison was appointed a commissioner of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. He served with the commission until its historic report was published in 1996.

In 2005, Meekison served as the public administrator for Okanagan University College, overseeing its transformation to the University of British Columbia Okanagan and Okanagan College. He was also an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, and chancellor and chair of the board of governors at Royal Roads University. He is an officer of the Order of Canada and the recipient of the 125th Anniversary of Canada Medal and the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Excellence in Public Administration for the Province of Alberta. In 2008, Meekison received his honorary doctorate from the U of A. In 2009 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.