Com­mon touch

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial -

If get­ting elected is the mea­sur­ing stick of a suc­cess­ful political ca­reer, long-time MLA Paul MacEwan stood taller than just about any­one in Nova Sco­tia. First elected in 1970, when he was just 27, the brash, out­spo­ken Cape Bre­toner went on to win eight more elec­tions and served 33 con­tin­u­ous years in the pro­vin­cial legislature – a record in this province.

He may have won more elec­tions, too, ex­cept for health is­sues, which con­trib­uted to his re­tire­ment in 2003.

MacEwan’s death on Tues­day at the age of 74 will prompt many Cape Bre­ton­ers (and main­lan­ders, too) to re­flect upon the man who first car­ried the con­stituency of Cape Bre­ton Nova, which in­cluded a part of Syd­ney and the com­mu­nity of Whit­ney Pier.

It didn’t mat­ter if he was run­ning for the NDP in the 1970s, as an in­de­pen­dent in 1981 and 1988, as head of the newly formed Cape Bre­ton Labour Party in 1984 or as a Lib­eral through the 1990s. He was the peo­ple’s choice, time and time again.

In that 1970 elec­tion, MacEwan and Jeremy Ak­er­man were the first two NDP MLAs elected in the his­tory of Nova Sco­tia.

In the 1993 elec­tion, he picked up an as­tound­ing 80 per cent of the vote.

So how did he do it? How did he win elec­tion af­ter elec­tion re­gard­less of what party he was rep­re­sent­ing? How did he win when, in most cases, vot­ers knew he had no chance of serv­ing them as a mem­ber of the rul­ing party.

It could be that as much as any politi­cian and more than most, MacEwan was a bonafide rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple, do­ing the be­hind-the-scenes con­stituency work that over time can make all the dif­fer­ence.

Need help get­ting work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion, a not un­com­mon oc­cur­rence given the fact that many vot­ers in his rid­ing were em­ployed at the steel mill and nearby coalmines? Or a dis­abil­ity ben­e­fit? Or em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance? Just get in touch with Paul. He’d help with the pa­per­work, make the nec­es­sary calls and see the is­sue through un­til there was a res­o­lu­tion.

The for­mer teacher and au­thor of three books knew vot­ers by name and the names of their chil­dren, too. He sent let­ters of con­do­lence when there was a death in the fam­ily. He sent birth­day cards. He sent an­niver­sary cards. He treated vot­ers like they were gold, which they are.

Vot­ers knew he had their backs. They went to the polls plan­ning to vote for Paul MacEwan, not the party he was rep­re­sent­ing.

No doubt many were also en­am­oured by his fight­ing spirit, an ex­am­ple of which oc­curred when he was ex­pelled from the NDP in 1980 for crit­i­ciz­ing a party ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber. Un­de­terred, MacEwan even­tu­ally cre­ated the Cape Bre­ton Labour Party and was re­elected four years later.

Long­time read­ers may also re­call his many let­ters to the Cape Bre­ton Post as he had an opin­ion on just about ev­ery­thing. It wasn’t un­com­mon, ei­ther, for him to call our news­room, un­so­licited, to of­fer a quote or two when­ever a ma­jor political story was mak­ing the rounds.

Decade af­ter decade, Paul MacEwan went to bat for the lit­tle guy. It’s a legacy he would be proud of.


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