Colleagues mourn Ontario Sen. Ian Shugart, former top civil servant, dead at 66

OTTAWA — Ian Shugart, an Ontario senator and former top public servant, has died at the age of 66, Senate Speaker Raymonde Gagné confirmed on Wednesday.

Shugart was appointed to the Senate in September 2022 on the advice of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, following a career in the public service that spanned more than 40 years under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

"His contributions were priceless," Trudeau said in French in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Shugart became the clerk of the Privy Council, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office, in 2019. As secretary to the cabinet, the clerk is the highest-ranking member of the federal public service. He was in that role through two federal election campaigns and most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also served as a deputy minister for environment, foreign affairs and employment and social development, meaning he was the top public servant in those departments. Earlier in his career, Shugart was a political staffer with the Progressive Conservatives, including when Brian Mulroney was prime minister and, before that, when Joe Clark was official Opposition leader.

"From quickly delivering support to Canadians during COVID-19, to providing leadership on international climate change negotiations, to shaping the modernization of public health, his contributions have been invaluable," Trudeau said on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

His wife, Linda Shugart, said Wednesday that the family does not wish to be interviewed at this time.

The Senate held a one-minute moment of silence for Shugart on Wednesday afternoon before adjourning for the day to mourn his death.

"His time in the Senate followed an illustrious career in Canada's civil service," Sen. Marc Gold, the government's representative in the Senate, said Wednesday.

"His wealth of experience in health, environment, social development and foreign affairs will be missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends."

The cause of his death was not disclosed. In 2021, Shugart took time off for treatment following a cancer diagnosis. Liberal MP and former justice minister David Lametti said in the House that Shugart died "after a battle with cancer."

Lametti also said Shugart's public service was punctuated not only by his intellect, but by his practical wisdom.

"I would add too, his civility and kindness," said Lametti, who had been named to cabinet just three months before Shugart became clerk of the Privy Council.

"As a rookie cabinet minister on some challenging files, I will always appreciate the many kind words from Ian, before after and sometimes and during cabinet meetings, whether spoken or in the form of an encouraging note."

Earlier Wednesday, colleagues and others who had crossed paths with Shugart shared condolences and memories on the X platform.

Ontario Sen. Bernadette Clement said she was grateful that he took the time, even in the height of his illness, to exchange ideas with her by phone.

Manitoba Sen. Don Plett said Shugart's journey in the Senate was short "but his lifelong public service speaks to his dedication to our country."

John Ivison, a columnist with the National Post, said he had tea with Shugart last summer.

"He knew his time was short but was revelling in his new role as a politician, free to take positions after a lifetime as a neutral public servant," Ivison posted on X.

Shugart noted that transition in his maiden speech in the Senate in June, which came months after he was appointed due to health issues.

"It has certainly been interesting to transition from the executive branch to the legislative branch. It has also been somewhat difficult," he said.

"Canada is facing great challenges on many fronts: social justice, environmental crises and major economic and international security threats. To survive these realities, let alone thrive, we have to be at our best. The alternative is mediocrity."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press