The Late Bruce Phillips, O.C.
Honourable senators, this past Saturday, Bruce Phillips, one of Canada’s most respected journalists, passed away in British Columbia. It is my honour today to pay tribute to him. He was 84.
Bruce was a good friend, and for five years he was also my boss. Those were great days on the Hill — 1979 to 1984, those five years he was my boss. We had a lot of fun together. Your Honour, as you know, what happened in the Press Club stayed in the Press Club; what happened on the road stayed on the road; what happened at the annual Press Gallery dinner, well, sort of stayed at the dinner; what happened on Parliament Hill, well, that’s another story.
Bruce was a good man and I had so much respect for him. The experiences we shared together became memories that kept us close, and I’m grateful for this. The distance between us over the last several years, him on the West Coast in retirement and me here, never altered or eroded our friendship.
As a journalist, what drove Bruce was the very purpose of journalism — the public interest. That might seem like a vague concept, but it was clear for Bruce. Here on the Hill, and as a foreign correspondent, he didn’t just cover social and political events. He got to the crux of why they mattered and why people should know about them, their significance, the lessons they yielded and the threats they posed.
Politicians, both in the House of Commons and in the Senate, paid attention to his nightly CTV News opinion pieces. At the office we used to call him “the Bruce-grounder,” but the country and politicians did pay attention.
As a producer and host of CTV’s “Question Period” Bruce used his talents fully in discussions about issues. His style enabled audiences to feel as though they were participants in the process in the same room. For Bruce and his loyal viewers, that was important. That’s what public affairs coverage was.
Before becoming Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, he had a stint as a minister counsellor at the embassy in Washington. He served his country and his ambassador well. Bruce became Privacy Commissioner in 1991, a time when privacy concerns were not nearly as widely understood as they were when he left that office in 2000. That is no coincidence, of course. In this capacity Bruce was as determined, as grounded in his beliefs and as capable of advancing issues as he was as a journalist.
He enhanced the public conscience about an understanding of privacy and expanded social recognition of the duty to respect and protect it. His role in creating legislation and building public awareness prepared us well for the connected, intrusive world we live in today.
An advocate for the public interest and a formidable decision and change maker, Bruce was also wonderfully accessible. He had a great sense of humour, which he used to make me laugh, to bring me in and sometimes to make a point.
During those days when I reported to him, Your Honour and fellow senators, I felt his authority and respected it because he was a person of substance. He didn’t need to raise his voice or be severe.
In closing, in fact he was simply Bruce, and that was reason enough to listen to him and pay attention to the example he set. Like many people in Canada today, the memories I have of Bruce are associated with ideas and perspectives that I admire. I’m so fortunate to have known him and called him a friend.
Bruce loved his daughters deeply and I’m pleased he was able to enjoy living near them in British Columbia after retiring. My sympathies go to them both for the loss of their dad.