Monday marked the end of a long contribution in Parliament by one of its most impressive people, Senator Lowell Murray.
I’ve had the good fortune to know Mr. Murray for a couple of decades now, and couldn’t let this occasion pass without a comment on the extraordinary example he has set in terms of his contribution to public life.
He spent more than 50 years ringside in national politics, starting as an executive assistant to justice minister Davie Fulton in 1961. He was immersed in the advent of medicare and the Canada Pension Plan, served as chief of staff to Robert Stanfield, top adviser to New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, and ran Joe Clark’s successful 1979 election campaign, after which Mr. Clark appointed him to the Senate.
For much of his time in politics, Lowell Murray happily flew under the radar screen, content to make a difference on policies that mattered to him and to the country, and was often counted on for a sage, private counsel by those who sought higher elected offices.
The exception in terms of his profile was the time he spent as federal-provincial relations minister in Brian Mulroney’s government. His work on the complex and challenging Meech Lake accord was a study in creative, thoughtful politics. Those who worked with him during that period, as I had the opportunity to, had the pleasure of collaborating with someone who was courteous, indefatigable, and relentlessly strategic. He has a gift for seeing and working through challenges with those who see things from a different perspective. To this day, I doubt if I’ve ever met anyone whose word is a more reliable bond.
A short while ago, Robert Stanfield’s widow Anne convened a small group of friends of Lowell to toast him – this despite his desire to have no fuss made of the end of his Senate career.
Several of those in attendance, including my wife Nancy who worked for Lowell for a time, shared their experiences. Elaine McCoy, the remaining Progressive Conservative senator, talked about his role as a mentor for others and that he was an exemplar of how a senator can make an impact. It was noted that he had made more than 600 speeches since his appointment in September of 1979. His is, without question, the kind of story that more voters should know about, as the subject of Senate reform returns the national agenda.
The tributes that evening were fitting and heart warming. Lowell Murray is, to borrow a sports analogy, a triple-crown winner: possessed of great warmth and charm, a brilliant mind for public policy, and he has been, for decades, one of the most astute political strategists anywhere.