McKenna carves out ‘premier emeritus’ role
FREDERICTON — Twenty years ago Friday, Frank McKenna fulfilled a promise and resigned as New Brunswick premier, exactly one decade to the day after he took power.
He did not, however, leave the public stage.
Instead, he has carved out a new role — a sort of “premier emeritus’’ who both cheerleads for the Maritimes and offers harsh truths about its economic malaise.
“He’s candid. He says what’s on his mind and he has a very good mind. He has never forgotten New Brunswick and has never forgotten his roots,’’ said Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison, president of the federal Treasury Board.
Brison said it’s no surprise that McKenna continues to speak out on public policy — and that people want to listen. On Wednesday night, he was in Halifax, speaking on trade and immigration at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. When Energy East died last week, there was McKenna — on BNN, CTV and elsewhere, saying the Maritimes were “royally steamed at losing out of being part of the national dream with all of those jobs and opportunity.’’
The 69-year-old deputy chairman of Toronto-Dominion Bank has pushed for greater immigration as an antidote to a declining population base, and warned about “alarming levels’’ of government debt in New Brunswick.
“Our destiny is looking increasingly desperate. A tsunami is coming and the early waves are starting to hit our shore. It is not hyperbole to say that we are literally facing an extinction event if we do not take action,’’ McKenna said in a November 2015 speech.
In an interview, McKenna said he tries to “pick my spots,’’ and usually talks to current leaders before he speaks out. But he wants the region to have some needed conversations.
“I just feel that I’ve had enough experience and knowledge that I can contribute to the debate and at least provoke the debate,’’ said McKenna, who lives in Toronto but maintains a vacation property in his home province.