Larger than life

Long-serv­ing pro­vin­cial politi­cian Paul MacEwan dead at 74

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NANCY KING

Paul MacEwan is be­ing re­mem­bered as an iconic fig­ure in Cape Bre­ton pol­i­tics, the likes of whom will likely never be seen again.

The long-serv­ing MLA for the pro­vin­cial rid­ing of Cape Bre­ton Nova died Tues­day at age 74 af­ter a long ill­ness. He had re­tired from pol­i­tics in 2003.

“33 years, 225 days,” for­mer NDP MLA Gordie Gosse, the man who suc­ceeded MacEwan in the rid­ing, said, out­lin­ing his pre­de­ces­sor’s term in that of­fice, not­ing MacEwan was the long­est-serv­ing MLA in Nova Sco­tia since Con­fed­er­a­tion.

Dur­ing that pe­riod, it’s fair to say that Cape Bre­ton Nova was MacEwan’s rid­ing and not the ter­ri­tory of any par­tic­u­lar political party. When he was first elected in 1970 he served his con­stituents as an NDP mem­ber and later as leader of the fledg­ing Cape Bre­ton Labour Party.

He went on to serve as an In­de­pen­dent and in 1990 he be­came a mem­ber of the Lib­eral cau­cus where he was voted in as Speaker of the house, a role he served un­til 1996. He also served as govern­ment house leader, a com­mit­tee chair, deputy govern­ment house leader and cau­cus whip.

But MacEwan was known pri­mar­ily as a con­stituency MLA who went out of his way to as­sist residents who needed his help, whether it was a mat­ter that fell un­der pro­vin­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity or not.

“He was not what you would call a party loy­al­ist, in a sense, he was a loy­al­ist to his con­stituents in­stead,” said Man­ning Mac­Don­ald, the for­mer mayor of Syd­ney and for­mer Lib­eral MLA for the neigh­bour­ing rid­ing of Cape Bre­ton South

Mac­Don­ald knew MacEwan since child­hood, grow­ing up only a block away from him and de­scribed both of them as “rink rats” hang­ing out to­gether at the Syd­ney Fo­rum.

“He was a peo­ple per­son for sure, some­body who re­spected you for who you were, not what you were,” Mac­Don­ald said. “He had a lot of time for those who needed his help and he spent a lot of time help­ing peo­ple.

“He was, I be­lieve, ded­i­cated to mak­ing life bet­ter for peo­ple who had very lit­tle.”

MacEwan of­ten worked well into the night draft­ing let­ters on be­half of his con­stituents re­gard­ing is­sues like Canada Pen­sion Plan ap­peals or work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion claims.

“And he would ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent these peo­ple at these board hear­ings and did it very well over the years to the point where the peo­ple that were direct­ing these pro­grams knew he was com­ing, they had bet­ter be pre­pared be­cause he was pre­pared,” Mac­Don­ald said.

While he did take on roles such as Speaker of the house, Mac­Don­ald said MacEwan didn’t par­tic­u­larly en­joy the time he was re­quired to spend in Hal­i­fax, pre­fer­ring to be home in Cape Bre­ton Nova.

“The fact that he was Speaker didn’t im­press him to the fact that he was go­ing to give up on his con­stituency work,” he said.

A teacher prior to en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, MacEwan was also an ac­com­plished pian­ist and knew sev­eral dif­fer­ent lan­guages, oc­ca­sion­ally draw­ing the ire of oth­ers in the legislature when he opted to demon­strate his lin­guis­tic prow­ess.

“He would in­fu­ri­ate the op­po­si­tion by an­swer­ing a ques­tion in Rus­sian or an­swer­ing a ques­tion in bro­ken French or Italian or what­ever came to mind,” Mac­Don­ald said.

It was an­other heated in­ci­dent in the legislature that helps form some of the folk­lore around MacEwan. In Fe­bru­ary 1973, Cape Bre­ton Cen­tre MLA Mike Laf­fin got up from his seat, walked over to MacEwan and struck him, re­port­edly knock­ing out at least one tooth.

In 2013, MacEwan told the Cape Bre­ton Post he didn’t want to make too much out of the in­ci­dent, which he called “un­for­tu­nate.” MacEwan fig­ured the in­ci­dent was fu­elled by party pol­i­tics and a fight for the Cape Bre­ton Cen­tre seat.

“I wasn’t re­ally shocked,” MacEwan said. “What­ever hap­pens, hap­pens — and in pol­i­tics, it’s like be­ing in a bear pit.”

MacEwan dis­missed reports he lost a tooth.

“What­ever teeth I lost, I lost play­ing hockey,” he said. “And I lost a fair num­ber.”

The folk­lore, how­ever, is that for sev­eral weeks MacEwan could be proudly seen around Syd­ney miss­ing a front tooth.

“Paul wore the re­sult of that punch very proudly when he came back to Cape Bre­ton, be­cause all he would do is smile and ev­ery­body would know that he had some teeth miss­ing and the rea­son why,” Mac­Don­ald said.

“I’ll miss his wit and his way of do­ing things.”

Gosse said he knew com­ing into of­fice that MacEwan was leav­ing big shoes to fill, in terms of the con­stituency work and knew that he would have to fol­low his lead if he wanted to con­tinue to get elected.


Paul MacEwan, one the province’s long­est-serv­ing politi­cians, died at age 74 on Tues­day. MacEwan’s Whit­ney Pier pro­vin­cial seat was of­ten con­sid­ered the safest in the province, no mat­ter what ban­ner he ran un­der.




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