I lost a good friend this past week, as I know many other Canadians did as well. Hugh Segal was the kind of guy who, like anyone immersed in politics, had from time to time opponents, but very seldom did he have enemies. It may be an old cliché, but to really have known Hugh Segal was to have loved him.
David Hurle, who was a chief campaign strategist for the Liberals when Paul Martin was Prime Minister and now hosts a popular podcast, the Hurley Burly, said in a tweet, “Few understood Conservatism in Canada as much as the Hon. Hugh Segal.” I agree with that, while at the same time lamenting that his brand of Conservatism seems to have taken a back seat to a more rigid, extremist form of conservatism which to me is less tolerant and more controlling.
While Hugh Segal never hesitated to be critical of his party when he believed it to be necessary, he nevertheless remained a loyal Conservative, albeit a Progressive Conservative, until his death. He was a champion of civil liberties, limited government and enlightened public policy and he pursued all of that with a quick wit and an ability to address tough issues in a kind way, and often with humour. It is little wonder he was known as the Happy Warrior.
Bill Fox, a respected communicator and a close friend of Hugh Segal, put it this way: “Hugh Segal lived a life of purpose, built on a foundation of principles he advanced with passion and leavened with infectious good humour. He loved his family, enriched the lives of his friends and made a singular contribution to politics and public life in Canada.” That says it perfectly.
I first met Hugh Segal when he was Principal Secretary to Premier Bill Davis, and I was First Vice President of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. We were both young then and had both become Conservatives at a much younger age when John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister of Canada. We bumped into each other from time to time and on occasion, with he in his position and I in mine, Hughie would quietly but effectively remind me to toe the party line!
When Bill Davis retired as Premier there was a vigorous leadership race. Hugh Segal actively supported Larry Grossman. But when it was over and Frank Miller became Premier, Hugh Segal gave him his full support and became part of Miller’s inner circle. That’s the way Hugh Segal was.
Hugh was in the room with some of Miller’s advisors, shortly after he became Premier, when the question arose of whether to call an early election. The Conservatives were well entrenched at 54 per cent and most thought it would be a slam dunk for Miller. But not Hugh Segal, he thought Frank Miller should wait and let people get to know him as Premier. He also pleaded with Frank’s handlers to not try to change him with expensive suits and avoidance of the media. He was right on both counts of course, but he was not listened to and the result was obvious.
After his defeat, Frank Miller, now Leader of the Opposition, appointed his shadow cabinet. I can’t remember what post he gave to Larry Grossman, but Larry refused it which was an embarrassment for Frank Miller. Hugh Segal called his good friend Grossman, who was on his way to Algonquin Park, and told him to stop sulking and do what his leader asked him to do. Larry Grossman complied. Only he could have accomplished that. It was classic Segal.
Through the years Hugh Segal was an outstanding public figure, some would say, almost Churchillian. He was an exceptional orator and very much in demand in many circles. He ran for Parliament and as leader of the Federal Conservatives and lost both. But he served as Chief of Staff to Premier Bill Davis and to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He was passionate about Canada and Canadians and the several books he wrote made this very clear. He was a master at statecraft and highly regarded by almost everyone in political life regardless of their political partisanship. That is a rare achievement.
Hugh Segal was never afraid to step outside of the box. An example was his strong support for guaranteed basic income. Many of today’s Conservatives were not too happy about that. But a highly respected Conservative strategist recently said this: “Many Conservatives didn’t understand Hugh’s support for Universal Basic Income despite it being very much in keeping with a Conservative philosophy of smaller and more efficient government. Ensuring a minimum income for every Canadian could replace the alphabet of financial support programs offered by all levels of government.”
Hugh Segal was a good friend. When Sally Barnes (also a good friend of Segal’s) and I were partners at Enterprise Canada, Hugh agreed to be our Vice-Chair for a period of time. He was a huge asset to our firm, not only in providing sage advice but also in making our people feel good about themselves and what they did. He was fun to be with and he made people feel comfortable in their own shoes.
When I retired as Mayor of Huntsville in 2006, some friends arranged a roast for me at Deerhust Resort. Hugh Segal was one of those roasters. He had me and everyone else in the room laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. Roasters are not expected to be particularly kind, and Hughie was quite adept at sticking the knife in. But he did it with such humour, empathy and grace that it was a joy to behold.
I for one, will miss Hugh Segal. I know that many other Canadians will as well, but I hope they will not forget him. He was a great Canadian dedicated to public service who always put Country ahead of himself. He was also my kind of Conservative. Sadly, that is somewhat of a rare commodity in political circles today. We need many more people like Hugh Segal in politics, that is my lament.
May his memory be a blessing.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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