Hugh Segal, LLD’18

Man in a suit sitting at a table with a pen and paper in his hands

Photography by Milan Ilnyckyj Photography

When Hugh Segal passed away in late summer, tributes poured in from across the political spectrum.

“Hugh Segal cared deeply about our country,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on social media. “He dedicated his life to public service. And he brought people together.”

It was a testament to Mr. Segal’s fearless independence and his willingness to stand up and be counted, regardless of party lines – traits for which he is remembered with fondness as one of the great Canadian political icons of his generation. An important member of the Queen’s community, he was frequently described as larger than life and consistently demonstrated humility, decency, empathy, and optimism in the cutthroat world of politics. 

Mr. Segal had been associate cabinet secretary for federal-provincial relations under Ontario Premier William Davis and went on to become chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He later made a bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives in 1998. Later, in just one example of how he was respected across party lines, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed him to represent Kingston-Frontenac-Leeds in the Senate despite Mr. Segal’s long-standing conservatism. In the Senate, he served as chair for the Special Senate Committee on Anti-terrorism as well as for the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Mr. Segal was known across the country, not only because of his vast political experience on the national stage and as the author of several books and national op-eds, but also for his role as a political analyst. He was made a member and then officer of the Order of Canada in 2003 and 2016 respectively, with Rideau Hall noting that “his commitment to his country is the hallmark of his multi-faceted career.”

He was born in Montreal and had close ties to Ottawa, but his influence could be felt most deeply in his beloved city of Kingston, and among his cherished Queen’s University community.

“Hugh wasn’t there to build his own legacy; he was there to help people build their legacies.”

Dr. Warren Mabee

Mr. Segal, who passed away in Kingston on Aug. 9, 2023, at age 72, received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Queen’s in 2018 and was also a Donald Matthews Faculty Fellow in Global Public Policy at the Queen’s School of Policy Studies. He also served as chair of the School of Policy Studies External Advisory Board and director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy and was past director and instructor of the Public Executive Program at Smith School of Business for more than 20 years. 

“He was very focused, passionate, and humorous to work with,” recounts former colleague Dr. Salman Mufti, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems at Smith School of Business, who had worked with Mr. Segal since 2013 in the department’s Public Executive Program. 

He was, Dr. Mufti says, genuine, easily approachable, and receptive to everyone. 

“Hugh brought a level of humility, which is often not obvious in many very accomplished leaders. That was pretty front and centre with him,” says Dr. Mufti. “He really emphasized how public service is a noble profession and a higher calling, and he was able to convey that easily. He would talk frequently about accountability and ethical behaviour as being key for a leader.”

At the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, where Mr. Segal was actively involved for nearly 30 years, his memory and legacy are significant. 

“Hugh shaped the school profoundly in a number of ways, simply by his presence and intellectual fervour and enthusiasm,” says close friend and longtime colleague Dr. Keith Banting, Stauffer Dunning Fellow in the School of Policy Studies and professor emeritus in the Department of Political Studies. “He was a very popular noontime lecturer and drew people from across the campus. It wasn’t just the Policy Studies students who turned out when he spoke. He had an intellectual excitement and was a bridge between Queen’s and the external world.” 

A Red Tory, Mr. Segal is often remembered for his willingness to stand up for what he believed was right, such as the time in 2013 when he was the only Conservative senator to vote against suspensions of three other senators – Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau – who were embroiled in a legal scandal over their expenses. Mr. Segal doubled down on his defence of the trio in 2016, arguing that they deserved a formal apology. He was also known for his decades-long advocacy to secure guaranteed basic income for families in need across the country. 

Through it all, he had the keen ability to step across the aisle to start conversations, says Dr. Warren Mabee, Director of the School of Policy Studies.

“To have somebody in the school who wasn’t only willing to try one agenda, but any agenda, and who wasn’t afraid to push more progressive elements of that agenda, like a minimum guaranteed income, is something that a lot of present-day Conservatives don’t want to get into. They feel that it’s not on brand and it’s not their ideology. Hugh was not afraid to do that,” says Dr. Mabee. 

Mr. Segal’s humble character also stood out for Dr. Mabee, who worked with him for 15 years. 

“He was happy for other people to take credit for things that he did. Particularly, in recent years, he stepped in to do things for us. He was the interim director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy in the last year of his life. He did that without asking for a big announcement,” says Dr. Mabee. “Hugh wasn’t there to build his own legacy; he was there to help people build their legacies.”

Above all, Mr. Segal was a devoted family man to his wife of 47 years, Donna, and his daughter, Jacqueline. 

“Queen’s was always his professional home,” Mrs. Segal says. “Hugh valued it very much. It gave him the opportunity to contribute and share his experiences, and he loved that interchange. He did it because he enjoyed the work and he enjoyed and appreciated the venue. Hugh valued the opportunity to work with students, people who were destined to take on positions in leadership, ultimately leadership in the public sector, because he believed that they needed guidance and support in developing their public-sector and public-policy skills.”

But it was his love of country that she says was central to understanding him. This devotion could be seen at a young age, when he proudly displayed Canadian flags on his bicycle, and later, when he was inspired to become a public servant at the age of 12 after Prime Minister John Diefenbaker visited his elementary school. 

His love of Canada shone through when his family was asked to choose a hymn for his funeral, which took place in Grant Hall. 

“I got a lot of comments from people who said he was a great Canadian,” she says. 

The choice of music suddenly became clear. It should be O Canada

“It was perfect. It was exactly right,” she recalls. “I, too, thought Hugh was a great Canadian. He was loyal and proud.” 

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