McKenna carves out ‘premier emer­i­tus’ role

Journal Pioneer - - ATLANTIC - BY KEVIN BIS­SETT

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.

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