Hugh Segal 1950-2023
Let me begin by telling my favourite Hugh Segal anecdote. In 1972, Hugh ran as the Progressive Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre. Although the riding had been a Liberal stronghold for years, he managed to finish second, falling only 1,202 votes short. Another election was likely within two years, so while he continued campaigning, he was made a special assistant to Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield, and moved into the leader’s Parliamentary office next to me where I was press secretary.
Among his early assignments, Hugh was asked to write the annual Christmas message for Stanfield, words that would be distributed by the Canadian Press and Broadcast News to newspapers and radio stations across the country. As a Jew, Hugh said he got a kick out of writing about the three wise men following a star to the manger in Bethlehem.
The next Christmas, I was the designated writer for that message. I did a draft and gave it to Stanfield. A couple of days passed and I hadn’t heard anything, so I asked the leader about my words. Stanfield gave one of his thoughtful pauses and said: “Why don’t we just use what Hughie wrote last year.”
For years after, whenever Hugh and I happened to attend the same reception and found ourselves standing near each other, he loved to tell all and sundry the first half of that story, knowing I would chime in with Stanfield’s memorable response.
Hugh was a Renaissance man. Not only was he a candidate for MP, he also ran for party leader in 1998, served in the Senate, and was chief of staff to both Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He was successful in business, served as master of Massey College, and was the author of numerous readable books. He also had policy ideas that included a guaranteed annual income. He’d grown up poor in Montreal, knew what it was like for a family to go without, and wanted to improve the lives of everyone who faced similar circumstances.
Most of all, Hugh was a pleasure to be with. He had a rapier wit and a ready laugh that I will always be able to hear in my head and hold in my heart. My condolences to his wife Donna and daughter Jacqueline. We shall not see his like again.