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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. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals): 

Honourable senators, I would like to join my colleague in paying tribute to the Honourable Michael Pitfield.

Much has been written in recent days about Senator Pitfield’s close relationship with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, how he became Clerk of the Privy Council at the age of 37, how he played a key role in repatriating the Constitution and how, as clerk, he modernized decision-making practices in government. But, unfortunately, not as much has been written about the time that he spent in this place as a senator.

As has been noted, he was appointed to the Senate in December 1982, and he continued throughout his career here as an independent senator. Notwithstanding his formidable experience at the highest levels of government, he only gave his inaugural speech almost a year after he was appointed here to the Senate. On that day, he spoke to the report of a special Senate committee on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The committee had been pre-studying legislation that would establish CSIS, removing intelligence services from the RCMP and putting them in the hands of a civilian authority.

He was the chair of that committee, and after four months of study his committee proposed a number of significant amendments to the CSIS Act, with a view to better balancing security and individual rights. The government made major amendments to this bill in its response to the work that the Senate did on it.

Mr. Pitfield brought a wealth of talent, experience and expertise to the Senate. He also had an interest in Senate reform and drew from his experience with the repatriation of the Constitution. In the foreword of the book entitled Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew, he wrote:

“Focusing merely on the change and not on its consequences as far as the eye can see is to invite mistakes and chaos. . . .

It is important to build on the genius of the system itself, to avoid trying to achieve some sudden change of thesis or basic direction by simply declaring it shall happen.”

It was a loss to the Senate and to the country as a whole that in his later years Senator Pitfield struggled with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease, which finally forced him to resign from the Senate in 2010.

With his passing, Mr. Pitfield leaves a strong legacy both in the public service and in the Senate. He also leaves behind three wonderful children: his daughters Caroline and Kate, and his son Tom. Tom Pitfield is a key adviser to another Trudeau, the current Prime Minister.

I would like to express condolences, on behalf of fellow senators, to his beloved children and his extended family and friends.