Canada's Original Think Tank

The Late Honourable P. Michael Pitfield, P.C., O.C. — Tribute

The Late Honourable P. Michael Pitfield, P.C., O.C. — Tribute

The Late Honourable P. Michael Pitfield, P.C., O.C. — Tribute

Hon. Serge Joyal: 

Honourable senators, as we pay tribute to Senator Michael Pitfield, who has passed on, I would like to share some of his thoughts on the institution of the Senate and the role it plays in our parliamentary system.

Let us remember that Senator Pitfield sat in this chamber from 1982 to 2010. He sat as an independent, not because he wanted to have no alliance with a political party to perform his senatorial duties. In fact, he firmly believed in the role of political parties in our democracy. He stated in May 2000, in this chamber:

The foundation of democracy, we are taught, is participation. The mainstay of participation is the party.

Before being a senator, Michael Pitfield exercised the highest responsibilities in the Canadian public service. He worked intimately with both Tory and Liberal governments. When entering the Senate, he did not want to join any party to avoid giving the impression that he was a closet partisan during his previous career. It would have compromised his professional integrity and legacy. That is why he decided to sit as an independent senator.

Senator Pitfield was deeply concerned with the role and status of the Senate as a national institution. During the Clarity Act debates in 2000, he had an opportunity to express his views and convictions:

The Senate in our modern government is both ingeniously complex and uniquely Canadian. It plays vital roles in legislative review and regional representation . . . . While a governmental system is never perfect, we must build upon the genius of the system to ensure its continued relevance in federal government and to the lives of Canadians.

Senator Pitfield declared that it is wise that the question of changes in the Senate “is best not tackled in detail outside of the context of general reform of the Constitution.” He insisted that senators should always be mindful that the Constitution provides that laws are enacted by the Queen, but upon the advice and consent of both the Senate and the House of Commons. To him, the Senate is neither an advisory body to the Commons nor a lower-level chamber. It is the mature chamber of Parliament, speaking on behalf of regions and minorities in the legislative process.

He added:

At the same time, it is essential to recognize what is uniquely Canadian [in the institution]. Appropriately designed Senate reform could provide a greater counter-valance against the executive, more useful national debate and sharper administrative supervision . . . .

He said:

. . . in referring to constitution-making . . . the first step is almost never the final step . . .

Honourable senators, I have lost a personal friend but continue to benefit from the depth of his thinking.