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SENATORS’ STATEMENTS — Tributes

The Late Honourable Hugh Segal, C.M.

November 28, 2023


Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today in sadness as we pay tribute to a former colleague; a pillar of the political community; a gentleman who is respected by those on the left, the right and in the middle; a celebrated author; an academic; a humorous pundit; a fiercely proud Canadian and a loving husband, father and loyal friend. The Honourable Hugh Segal died on August 9.

Within hours of his passing, accolades poured in from across the country and around the world, speaking volumes to the influence that Hugh had while in public life.

As Canada’s special envoy to the Commonwealth, his impact and, by extrapolation, Canada’s impact on the Commonwealth of nations was significant. In his travels to a dozen Commonwealth countries, his speeches and interviews held Canada up as an example of compassion, inclusion, decency and the rule of law.

The proudest day of his professional life was on July 10, 2010, when, as Canada’s representative for the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, Hugh met with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He marvelled how he, the son of a Montreal cab driver and a cashier at an all-night pharmacy, was in Buckingham Palace shaking hands with the Queen. As he remarked to a friend, using some unparliamentary language, “How the . . . did this happen?”

Hugh, as I said, was fiercely patriotic. He wiped away tears every time he heard the first strains of O Canada.

When Senator Segal resigned in 2014, his farewell remarks were brief and pointed. There is no better way to sum up his view of this chamber than to quote Hugh himself. He said:

That this chamber and its members protect the freedom and opportunity that constitute the Canadian brand worldwide, welcoming always the immigrant and refugees who have made us . . . so strong.

That the francophone and anglophone duality of Canada always be protected and promoted . . . .

. . . that you are able to balance the partisan and other pressures to foster greater independence from the other place, not in competition with it . . . but in complementarity and sage pursuit of better laws and a better country, and that in that pursuit those who are outside the economic mainstream, who are poor, marginalized, left out and excluded are always highest on your list of priorities.

We can all learn a lesson from the life of this proud Conservative, the happy warrior, who demonstrated that decency and politics are not mutually exclusive, who rose to the challenge and proved that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

I extend sincerest condolences to Hugh’s wife, Donna; his daughter, Jacqueline; daughter-in-law, Teaghan; brothers, Seymour and Brian, his extended family and his many friends, among whom I’m proud to count myself. Thank you very much.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

Honourable senators, it is also with sadness that I rise today to pay tribute to a dear friend and former colleague, the Honourable Hugh Segal, who passed away on August 9. It is difficult to summarize Hugh Segal’s life and accomplishments in just a few minutes or to fully capture his joyful, welcoming spirit and eternal optimism. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Born into a family of modest means in Montreal, values instilled in Senator Segal of the importance and dignity of work, fiscal responsibility and empathy for others stayed with him his entire life. One thing that he did not share with his family, however, was an affiliation with the Liberal Party. Although his father had been a campaign manager for a local Liberal MP, Hugh Segal proudly joined the Conservative Party as a 13-year-old in 1963, inspired by prime minister John Diefenbaker’s commitment to human rights.

Who would have known back then that young boy would go on to be a trusted and key advisor to many of Canada’s greatest Conservative leaders of the past 50 years — from Robert Stanfield to William Davis, to Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper. An extremely intelligent and articulate man, Hugh Segal enjoyed both the clash of the political debate and the painstaking work of policy-making. Since his passing, he has been described by many as a happy warrior, for good reason: No matter what side of the debate you were on, you knew he respected the exchange of ideas.

In August 2005, Hugh Segal was appointed to the Senate to represent Ontario on the advice of prime minister Paul Martin. And — surprise, surprise — he was not asked to sit as an independent; he was immediately welcomed into the Conservative caucus by the then-leader of the opposition, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper. He brought his curiosity, enthusiasm and compassion to every element of his work as a senator, including as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

No matter what committee study, piece of legislation or motion that came before the Senate, Senator Segal stayed true to his convictions and acted accordingly. As prime minister Harper’s special envoy to the Commonwealth, Senator Segal championed the core values that unite us as Canadians, particularly human, political and civil rights.

In 2019, Senator Segal, a member of the Jewish faith, gave an interview to an Anglican newspaper on the importance of a simple but profound concept. He said:

. . . if we believe in a balance between freedom and responsibility, and if we believe in community, one of the critical adhesives that keeps that all together is really hope. So we have to be honest about what are the threats to hope, and then we have to be serious about what we do to sustain and advance and deepen hope at every opportunity we have.

Honourable senators, Canadians still need hope today as much as they ever did. Hugh Segal never wavered from his hope for a bright future for all Canadians and worked his whole life to that end.

On behalf of all of his friends and the entire Conservative caucus, I send our deepest condolences to his wife Donna, their daughter Jacqueline and their entire family. May his memory be a blessing and may he rest in peace.

Hon. Pamela Wallin [ + ]

Senator Hugh Segal was a man of character. He was always fighting for the causes that mattered: the military, the Commonwealth, guaranteed annual income and always for Canadians in need. But as Hugh would describe it, he was simply a Conservative who believed in self-reliance and in that shared sense of obligation we have to one another. His kindness meant he always found a way to support you, even if he doubted your strategy or disagreed with your intent, and he would use his sense of humour and infectious laugh to bridge moments of real difference.

Our friendship of more than 40 years began on the set of “Canada AM” every Thursday morning. The panel was partisan, but never personal. It was a time when friendships mattered more than political allegiance, and Hugh always tried to convince with a better idea, not a louder voice.

He charted a fascinating life course. He was a candidate, an ad man, a progressive, a conservative. He was in the back rooms and at the meeting tables. He was an author, a policy wonk and an academic.

And I know he would be appalled to be seeing what is happening on our university campuses and our streets, and the ill-informed hate that pervades. Hugh was a teacher, and he knew the importance of bringing facts to the fore. I wish he was here to help us through these troubling times to right the balance when this country needs it most.

He believed in a country that must offer freedom from fear as well as freedom from want, and that we must harness the tools necessary to protect those freedoms.

He was also a believer in market freedoms and free speech, provided there was respect for those with whom you disagreed because rights come with responsibility.

During the so-called Senate crisis, Hugh’s interventions were powerful, and, personally, I am beyond grateful for his guidance. I am wearing the pin bequeathed to me that he wore when he delivered his farewell speech on the true role of the Upper Chamber. Sober second thought, sound judgment, reflective of the people we serve in our provinces and, above all, to champion the central and indisputable importance of the rule of law, due process and the presumption of innocence as cornerstones of our democracy. Simply put: Hugh believed in justice.

A final word today about his family: I want to thank Donna for sharing Hugh with us as much as she did. She was always the steady hand and the guiding light. And their daughter, Jacqueline, who at her recent wedding to Teaghan — it was beautiful — proved through her eloquent words that she is truly the combined DNA of passion and reason.

We are all wiser for having Hugh in our lives. He challenged us to take our citizenship more seriously, and his legacy will always be that we should expect more of ourselves and be better than we sometimes act. We will try, my friend. We will try.

Hon. Gwen Boniface [ + ]

Honourable senators, on August 9, we lost one of Canada’s political and policy heavyweights. And whether it be his self-deprecating humour, his quick-wittedness or his immersive stories of times past, Hugh Segal always found a way to draw you in and make you laugh.

Hugh was a lifelong Red Tory and had an innate ability to work across personalities and parties. This was evident in his appointment to the Senate as a Conservative by Prime Minister Paul Martin. But his history goes back decades.

Hugh was a pundit on “Canada AM,” a show that brought accessible politics to the nation and was hosted by our colleague Senator Wallin. Despite the political debates that would happen with Hugh, Liberal Michael Kirby and NDP Gerry Kaplan, a deep and lasting friendship emerged among the three of them.

As fate would have it, Hugh and Michael Kirby were both appointed to the Senate, and, in 2016, after they had both retired, co-penned a paper entitled A House Undivided: Making Senate Independence Work, a must-read for all new senators. Hugh was a fierce advocate for an independent Senate.

But Hugh’s independence didn’t stop at the functioning of this institution. He had quite the personal track record of independence too, practising what he preached. This was demonstrated during the Senate debates on Conservative private member’s Bill C-377, which sought disclosure of labour organization information.

Unions ran deep in the Segal household when growing up. Hugh’s grandfather, Benjamin Segal, helped to revive the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. In response to a garment shop owner’s demand that production be doubled lest all be fired at the end of the workweek, Benjamin once exclaimed, “We walk out like human beings today or we crawl out like mice on Friday night!” His involvement was simply about dignity and self-respect for those who couldn’t make ends meet despite working hard every day, a true Segalian tradition.

Hugh came from humble beginnings, and he often quipped that he lived on the cheery side of poverty. Unions were important to him, and he deployed his childhood and his passion to rally many caucus members to accept his amendments to Bill C-377 before his retirement.

Hugh cultivated many friends, and I was lucky enough to be in that very long list. Over many years, he answered my calls for advice, insight and, yes, even commiseration.

My late father was a huge admirer of Premier Bill Davis, so his admiration of the premier and the office’s reputation preceded my first meeting with Hugh. I held Hugh in high esteem before I met him, and it only deepened as we became friends. His passion for an independent Senate and fighting for the underdog — be it rallying behind his colleagues in this chamber or implementing a basic income for all Canadians — were never far from his mind, even long after he left this place.

I join with my Independent Senators Group colleagues and others in giving our sincerest condolences to Hugh’s family. To his wife, Donna, his loving daughter, Jacqueline, his new daughter-in-law Teaghan, his brothers Seymour and Brian and his dog, Hamish.

Dear Hugh, I will miss you. Thank you.

Hon. Diane Bellemare [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to our former colleague I greatly admired, the Honourable Hugh Segal, who was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada in 2003 and as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2016. He had an extraordinary career in public policy, which included positions such as deputy minister at age 29, chief of staff to Prime Minister Mulroney, director of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, senator and master of Massey College.

Even though his father was a Liberal, Hugh Segal identified as a Conservative starting in his early teen years, and he always had a progressive view of politics.

When I was appointed to the Senate, I knew him by reputation. Although I am a year his senior, we share the same birthday. That piqued my curiosity and I wanted to get to know him better. He was a silent mentor for me. I observed his political positioning and tried to understand his strategic choices. He was very independent and did not always toe the party line. He stepped down in 2014 on a matter of principle.

Senator Segal applauded the changes made to the Senate as of 2015. He even proposed a model for the future in order to enshrine in law the permanent existence of four recognized groups to preserve the Senate’s institutional independence from the government in office.

The Honourable Hugh Segal was a historian by training. He was born in Montreal and a francophile. He always identified as a Progressive Conservative. He was a Red Tory in the noblest sense of the term, meaning that he was first and foremost a progressive who had the common interest at heart, but he was also a Conservative, because he preferred less state intervention rather than more.

One could say that Hugh Segal bore a certain physical resemblance to Winston Churchill, minus the cigar. In any case, he shared Mr. Churchill’s independent spirit and passion for what he believed in.

He was a committed politician and proud of it, but he was also an intellectual. To wit, he tried to get elected but never managed to do so. He wrote a least a dozen books and many articles in which he defended the ideals of peace and the goal of a world without poverty. The title of his book, published in 1996, No Surrender: Reflections of a Happy Warrior in the Tory Crusade, is a testament to the character of this great man.

Hugh Segal was an accomplished politician and brilliant orator. He could be incisive, but his sense of humour always shone through. It is not surprising that he was appointed principal of Toronto’s prestigious Massey College, which shapes the leaders of tomorrow. I sincerely hope that his exemplary career will inspire the leaders of today and tomorrow.

The Honourable Hugh Segal played politics with a capital P. As the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney pointed out, he understood that regardless of political stripe, cross-party cooperation is necessary to accomplish great things.

On behalf of the members of the Progressive Senate Group, I would like to express our deepest condolences to his wife, Donna, his daughter, Jacqueline, his brothers, Seymour and Brian, and all his family and friends.

Thank you.

Hon. David M. Wells [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to a very honourable member of our Senate family, the late senator Hugh Segal. He was a political strategist, author, commentator, academic and, as we have just heard, a remarkable senator whose work was impactful not only to the Senate as a whole but to overall policy-making in Canada.

Senator Segal’s achievements are numerous. However, I rise today not only to recognize his many contributions and political principles but to acknowledge and remember his unique approach to politics, which allowed him to significantly contribute to shaping policy in our country. By espousing a moderate approach in conveying his political views, Senator Segal was effective in creating positive change for Canadians. Instead of using, as many do in politics, partisan attacks that feed political self-interest, he fought for the common good and social harmony by uniting all sides.

He stood up for his beliefs, regardless of the divergent views emanating from all sides of the political spectrum. Rather than engage in wedge politics, he fostered multi-party cooperation, bringing people together as opposed to dividing them. Understanding opposing views is a critical part of policy-making, and the Honourable Hugh Segal not only created a forum where all views could be heard but did so in a manner that was respectful and productive.

As former prime minister Brian Mulroney said, Senator Segal was “a particularly great man who served Canada well” and “as fine a Canadian citizen as you’ll ever find.”

Let us remember Senator Segal’s many contributions and continue to implement his approach, one based on cooperation and respect, to bring much-needed support and positive change to Canadian lives. Colleagues, Canadian politics and democracy have lost a truly class act.

Honourable senators, both humble and humorous, brilliant and practical, generous and simple, kind, clear, concise and precise — rare amongst political figures — Hugh Segal was a man of principle who never flinched in the face of injustice, was quick to call out inequity and spent his life working to right many wrongs. His advice was always delivered with wisdom and wit, and his loyalty and commitment to truth and integrity were unparalleled.

Lauded by leaders and lay people alike, he always had time to mentor and guide those who had ideas or initiated thinking that he considered worthy of development and promotion. He was quick to support and champion the interests of those who are too often rendered voiceless or otherwise ignored and silenced by others.

As a taxi driver told me when I was en route to his visitation, Hugh Segal was kind and caring, and was known and loved by every cabbie in Kingston. He said:

He was this important guy who hung out with us at the train station. He said he learned more about life meeting people who served others, from drivers to servers, than from all the hired researchers in Queen’s Park or on Parliament Hill.

Hugh’s father, like mine, helped to support his family by driving cabs. No matter his many accomplishments, honours and recognition, Hugh never lost sight of his roots.

Hugh wrote numerous books about public policy, but my all-time favourite is the one he gifted me with his personal message, thanking me for picking up the basic-income torch and continuing what he called “one Tory’s lonely fight to end poverty in Canada.”

For those of you who have not yet read Bootstraps Need Boots, I hope you do. It is particularly relevant right now. The title Hugh chose for his book echoes the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote with which he commences the book. It goes as follows:

It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

He stood up for the little guy, the least privileged in the face of crass, uncaring, capitalist, cutthroat politics and practice, and may we all emulate the incredible example set by this magnificent human.

Donna, Jacqueline, Teaghan and all of your family and friends, thank you for sharing Hugh with us.

Hon. Marilou McPhedran [ + ]

Honourable senators and family of the Honourable Hugh Segal, I endorse all the tributes made already and wish to add some brief additions.

In a low moment soon after I arrived in this place, Senator Segal took the time to listen and explain to me why independent senators are needed to strengthen and make our democracy more inclusive. We are facing the degradation of the “civil” in civility, in civil society and in civilization. As parliamentarians, we have a particular duty to defend and to strengthen our democracy.

Senator Hugh Segal was a parliamentarian with a vision and the courage to reach across political lines to work effectively on important, overarching issues deeply affecting our democracy. It was a loss when he left the Senate years before his mandatory retirement. In the book that Senate Pate mentioned, Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada, he wrote:

I believe firmly that the core freedoms from want and from fear, essential to any society’s prospects, as well as to global peace and security, are best preserved [through] a basic income for all . . . .

His vision and leadership can be seen now in Bill S-233, sponsored by Senator Pate, and Bill C-223, sponsored by MP Leah Gazan, as the coordinated effort from within the Senate and House of Commons for access to a livable basic income, his dream.

Threats of nuclear strikes exposed in Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine and in the Gaza crisis add to the significance of another example of Senator Segal’s visionary leadership more than 13 years ago. In June 2010, when Senators Segal, Nancy Ruth and Roméo Dallaire, in keeping with initiatives by their predecessor, the Honourable Douglas Roche, led the Senate, joined months later by the House of Commons, in unanimously adopting the motion to “. . . recognize the danger posed by the proliferation of nuclear materials and technology to peace and security . . . .”

We would all benefit from his leadership during this greatest threat to civilization now. In adding this example of his visionary leadership, I wish to add honour and gratitude to his memory.

Thank you, meegwetch.

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