A life’s work

Hugh Segal has had his share of frustrations and elations. Growing up poor in Montréal taught him how tough life can be and turned him into caring Canadian. A visit to his school by the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker inspired him to believe that politics was a noble calling where change was possible. By the time he was in university, he was active with other students in the Progressive Conservative Party. In 1972, at twenty-two, he ran in Ottawa Centre, not a riding Tories usually won. He lost, but only by about 1,200 votes.

I was working for Robert Stanfield at the time as his press secretary. With a Liberal minority government under Pierre Trudeau, the next election could come at any time. Segal joined Stanfield’s staff as he awaited another chance and made an immediate contribution to the parliamentary effort as a legislative assistant. His life’s work also became apparent; he saw that Stanfield’s idea of a guaranteed annual income could have helped families like his. Segal’s new book, Boot Straps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Flight to End Poverty in Canada, is part memoir and part polemic.

Segal is a wonderful writer. While he was in Stanfield’s office, he wrote the Christmas message one year, a brief greeting that went out on The Canadian Press wire and was recorded for use by Broadcast News. Next year, it was my turn. I handed Stanfield what I thought was a pretty good draft only to have him review it and say, “Let’s just use Hugh’s from last year.” No one was any the wiser that they were hearing about the same star in the east for the second time.

Segal has reached the heights as senior advisor to William Davis and chief of staff to Brian Mulroney. He’s been a senator, principal of Massey College, and a member of the nine-person Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group that proposed a variety of reforms to democracy and the rule of law. In a bipartisan effort, he helped Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne establish a three-city pilot project for his beloved guaranteed annual income, but the Doug Ford government killed the plan. The fight goes on. Hugh Segal is just the man to make it happen one day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *