Two decades after quit­ting pol­i­tics, McKenna carves out ‘pre­mier emer­i­tus’ role

The News (New Glasgow) - - ATLANTIC -

Twenty years ago to­day, 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 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.

“I do think it’s help­ful for all of us who have left pub­lic life to main­tain an in­ter­est and be part of the de­bates. We should have learned some­thing from our mis­takes, if not our successes and we should be able to pass that on.”

Don Desserud, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land who closely fol­lows New Brunswick pol­i­tics, said “pre­mier emer­i­tus” is a good way to de­scribe McKenna.

“He has a very strong rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a clear speaker, a clear thinker, a per­son with a lot of in­tegrity, a lot of in­tel­li­gence. Not every­one agrees with Frank McKenna’s take on eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal is­sues, but every­one agrees that he brings thought to it, and brings a sin­cer­ity that the pub­lic craves,” Desserud said.

“You al­ways got the sense that he be­lieves strongly that New Brunswick could suc­ceed, that Canada should suc­ceed, and that ev­ery­thing he said was de­signed to help and bring some level of greater pros­per­ity to the prov­ince and the re­gion of the coun­try.”

McKenna was born in ru­ral Apo­haqui, N.B. He es­tab­lished a suc­cess­ful law prac­tice in Chatham, N.B., be­fore en­ter­ing pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics in 1982. Three years later he be­came Lib­eral leader, and on Oct. 13, 1987, the party cap­tured all 58 seats in the leg­is­la­ture.

He quit a decade later, later serv­ing as Canada’s am­bas­sador to the United States and mak­ing his mark in busi­ness and bank­ing.

He has served as chair­man of CanWest Global, and on the boards of No­randa, Shop­pers Drug Mart and Gen­eral Mo­tors.

He is cur­rently chair­man of Brook­field As­set Man­age­ment

McKenna would likely have been the front-run­ner for the fed­eral Lib­eral lead­er­ship in 2006, but chose not to run in the race to re­place Paul Martin. Don­ald Savoie, a Monc­ton pro­fes­sor and au­thor, said McKenna would have likely be­come prime min­is­ter had he run.

But Savoie said his friend has carved out a valu­able role for himself in his po­lit­i­cal re­tire­ment.

“His com­mit­ment to the prov­ince is still as strong as when he was first elected,” said Savoie, Canada Re­search Chair in Pub­lic Pol­icy and Gov­er­nance at the Univer­sity of Monc­ton.

“He’s still not only say­ing things, but also do­ing things.”


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