Hugh Segal captures spirit of gracious politician when he retires from Senate

This being the season of goodwill, celebration, forgiveness and all, let’s end the year with a good news Senate story.


Really.


Conservative senator Hugh Segal has announced he will resign from the Senate next summer, less than nine years into his appointment and 12 years before he would have been forced to retire at age 75.


However, Segal’s retirement is not the good news. His exit from public life is a loss.


He gave credence to the “honourable” title that senators inherit.


The good news is the gracious way he announced his retirement and his legacy, illustrating that the much-discredited Upper House is populated by more than the few who have been making the news for imagining they are entitled to their entitlements, even if the RCMP begs to differ.


This has not been a good year for the chamber of “sober second thought” as the fathers of Confederation imagined it. With the stacking of defeated Conservative candidates recently (and defeated Liberals before them), it has become more the chamber of “not-so-sober second chance.”


A handful of senators are under investigation for alleged fraudulent or inappropriate expense claims, another charged with sexual assault and another accused of sexual harassment.


On the Senate front, this has not been a good year for prime minister Stephen Harper either, stymied by the provinces in his attempts at modest reform and now carrying the baggage of having appointed a record number of senators, several of whom are being investigated. 


So the Senate is an historic legislative chamber of Parliament desperately in need of credibility.


Enter (or more properly exit) senator Segal. The 63-year-old announced last week he will resign to take a prestigious position at an elite Toronto college.


Segal spent decades in the Progressive Conservative trenches as a senior aide to former Red Tory Ontario premier Bill Davis, then as chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney before his Senate appointment by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.


In the Senate, Segal was a beacon of reasonable and often non-partisan argument, identifying himself as a Harper Conservative while often defying Conservative voting orders.


He championed the cause of dealing with rural poverty, a reality he called “invisible poverty” when he spoke to a Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual meeting several years ago.


His work led to hearings by the Senate agriculture committee on the issue.


Segal championed the need for a thoughtful, less partisan Senate, and he walked the talk by heaping praise both on Martin and Harper in his retirement announcement. He said his decision to retire was in line with his support of a Harper proposal for term limits of no more than nine years for senators.


Almost 30 years ago when he spoke as a guest lecturer to a Carleton University Canadian studies masters’ class, Segal talked about the need for discipline in politics.


His illustration was the hockey player in a game being played on a frozen river taking a pass and skating away on a breakaway, never to be seen again.


Segal knew the limits of the political rink in which he played.


Unlike many of his colleagues, he was a credit to the political class, and to the Senate.

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