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.