N.B.: The detail displayed about each honorary degree recipient varies, as
the database was compiled from a variety of sources. However, more information may
be available at the University Archives.
Convocation date: May 12, 1964
Discipline / contribution: public service ; government organization
Citation / biographical information:
Eminent Chancellor, on behalf of the University Council and Senate, I present to you Robert Watson Sellar, CMG.Degree received: Doctor of Laws
Mr. Sellar was born in Quebec, and as a member of a lively journalistic family was early apprenticed to the printing trade in order that he might in due course take his place as the impartial editor of a weekly of fearless Liberal opinion. An ambition to learn how to practise law brought .him west around the time of the first world war, chiefly because law students in the west were then in relatively short supply, and thus had a certain market value which an energetic young man could exploit. After a period of service overseas which included action on the Somme, Mr. Sellar completed his legal degree in 1919, shortly thereafter returned to Quebec, and was summoned to Ottawa to serve as secretary to the Minister of Finance.
The career that followed has had few parallels in the history of Canadian government. Though closely associated with the Liberal ministry of the 1920’s, Mr. Sellar’s knowledge and acumen had made him so indispensable in matters of state that the incoming Conservative Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in 1930 not only retained his services, but gave him a major assignment in the drafting of one of our outstanding legislative landmarks, the Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act of 1931. Mr. Sellar had much to do with the reorganization of Canadian administration under that Act, serving as Comptroller of the Treasury after 1932. He continued to work on the executive side until 1940, when he was made Auditor General and thus became the servant of Parliament. Mr. Sellar brought to the office of Auditor General the greatest distinction it has ever known, and in the nineteen years between his appointment and his retirement in 1959, not merely rehabilitated it after an unhappy eclipse which it had suffered under his immediate predecessors, but breathed new life into its relationships with both the government, on the one hand, and the House of Commons on the other.
Besides this impressive career, Mr. Sellar was a member of the first Audit Board of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and for ten years a member and chairman of the United Nations Board of Auditors. After his retirement from all these activities, Mr. Sellar was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on Government Organization, a task which gave him a unique and doubtless heart-searchirn opportunity to look back over the system of public administration which he had himse. helped to build. It is entirely typical of Mr. Sellar that, just as he had while Auditor General stood up to the government of Canada whenever the circumstances seemed to require it, as a Royal Commissioner he stood up with equal objectivity and courage to critical analysis of what he had himself wrought. Much that a civil servant and Auditor General accomplishes must go unsung, but the report of a royal commission is a public document; and it is clear that Mr. Sellar’s term as a Royal Commissioner is the crowning achievement of a brilliant career in the service of this country. It is gratifying to be able to tell this Convocation that Mr. Sellar is a graduate of the law school of Saskatchewan.
Eminent chancellor, I present to you Robert Watson Sellar, and ask that you will confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Degree presented by: Norman Ward, Acting Head, Economics and Political Science
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