Senator Pitfield

That’s him over the Queen’s shoulder, when he was Clerk of the Privy Council, at the signing of the Constitution Act, 1982. Christina McCall’s masterful book Grits is acidly hilarious about his and Trudeau’s attempts to impose order on the chaos of governing. It often didn’t work. But he was a formidable figure in Trudeau’s Ottawa, and long after.

In 1999 a mutual friend organized lunch for me with Senator Pitfield at the Parliamentary Restaurant. I disagreed with much of what he had to say — the topic of the day was the Clarity Act; Pitfield didn’t like it one bit, because he thought it snubbed the Senate. But I was impressed by the seriousness and vigour he was bringing to this debate, long after illness had made it difficult for him to speak clearly. The Senate has some members who should not sit in any legislature, but Pitfield would have graced any deliberative body lucky enough to have him.

He used to run this town, or try to. He was the youngest Clerk ever and still is. Years later I was able to meet him for lunch. I won’t mind much if we ever get a more democratic Senate, but the one we have brings us the most extraordinary people, at least for short visits, often for much longer. Now and then I get to talk to Tommy Banks about music or (still to come, if I’m smart and lucky) Pamela Wallin about Canada-US relations. I still kick myself , more than a decade later, for being too shy to call up Richard Doyle, the legendary Globe editor, when he was still in the Senate.

Michael Pitfield’s half-century contribution to this nation’s public life will come to at least a formal end tonight at midnight when his resignation from the Senate takes effect. An era is passing.

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