Conservative Senator Hugh Segal will retire next June after nine years in the Senate to head up Massey College in Toronto, he announced Thursday.

Segal's announcement makes him the third senator in a little over three weeks to say he's stepping down early, following his Conservative caucus colleagues Gerald Comeau and David Braley.

Comeau announced Nov. 20 that he was retiring, while Braley made his announcement Dec. 3.

In an interview with the CBC's Rosemary Barton, Segal, 63, said that next summer will be the right time to retire from the upper chamber of Parliament. 

"I very much supported the Senate reform package of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which called for a limit on senators' terms [of] nine years, so it was probably time for me to move on if I was going to be consistent with the principles I advanced," Segal told Barton.

In addition, he said, "Massey College is such a wonderful institution in terms of intellectual leadership in Canada.… It's a tremendous place for closing the gaps between the humanities and the sciences and the professions."

Segal said he's looking forward to working with the "very bright" young people who live at the college. He said he had no plans to leave the Senate until this opportunity came along.

Segal will take over the seven-year post as master of Massey College from former journalist John Fraser.

'Headache' for government?

Segal opposed the Conservative government on major issues over the past year, including a controversial private member's bill that would required unprecedented information disclosure by unions. He also spoke against the effort to suspend without pay senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, whose spending has come under fire and is being investigated by the RCMP. Segal argued that none of them have been found guilty of any wrongdoing related to their Senate expenses, and that they were entitled to due process.

Asked whether he was a headache for the government, Segal conceded that may be a gentle way to say it.

"Well, headache … you can have pains in different parts of the anatomy and you may be taking the most gentle approach to that. You know what, sometimes the most loyal thing you can do for a government is to keep it from taking a mistake and making it worse. And I think that's what our collective efforts in the Senate did," Segal said. 

"It was very clear from the Senate hearing that [union Bill C-377] was not reviewed by the senior law officers of the Crown, the constitutional advisers in the Privy Council Office. And that is why the bill was so flawed. The intent for greater transparency was not in and of itself problematic, but the way in which the instrument that had been chosen was really deeply flawed."

Sixteen Conservative senators voted along with the Liberals to make changes to C-377 and send it back to the House. The bill has been reintroduced in its original form since Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in the fall, wiping clean the legislative slate.

The Senate Conservative caucus is holding special meetings tonight and tomorrow to discuss the past year, government leader Claude Carignan said.

"The [objective] of the caucus, it's to take the time together to establish how we could modernize the Senate," Carignan said, including discipline, Senate administration and the internal economy committee, which is charge of setting rules for senators' spending.

The Senate also needs to improve its communication, Carignan conceded.

"We [received] complaints also from the media about the communications. We want be more transparent with the communication and give the opportunity to Canadians to know exactly what we are doing here. It's a complaint that we receive from our senators, but also for the public, that the Canadians don't understand what we are doing here," he said.

No blowback

Segal said he didn't accept a Senate appointment to "go along to get along." Standing up for Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin, who are under fire over questionable expenses, was an instance where principles are tested, Segal said.

"If you didn't have to make tough decisions, why would we have a Senate?" he said.

"On these core principles, due process, rule of law and presumption of innocence, it's when someone unpopular, or an unpopular circumstance, lays waste to those principles that you have to stand up and fight as hard as you can. It's not hard for people to say we think those principles should apply to people who are popular, but when people end up not being popular … that's when you really have, in my judgment, no choice but to make that stand and I was comfortable doing so."

Segal said he's had "not a scintilla of blowback" from the Conservative leadership in the Senate or in the Prime Minister's Office.

"They have been aware of my position on that issue from the very beginning. I keep them informed, day by day, and I have had no blowback at all," he said.

The PMO, Segal said, suffered from inexperience when it comes to the Senate and how it works.

He pointed to emails, revealed in court documents filed by the RCMP investigators probing Duffy's overspending, that showed Harper's former chief of staff and other top officials pressuring Senate staff and senators to fall in line over an audit report.

"I don't actually think, for example, any of the people associated with various of the emails really thought that the constitutional role of the Senate should be set aside for the convenience of a particular issue management strategy, but that's what the emails look like and that's how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has chosen to typify them. I think it's more about inexperience than any kind of wilful disregard for constitutional authority," Segal said.