Allan J. MacEachen: A tough act to follow

The Strait area was deeply affected by the recent passing of former Member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister Allan J. MacEachen.

MacEachen passed away on September 12 at the age of 96. He was born and raised in Inverness by his parents Annie and Angus, a coal miner. He graduated from StFX in 1944 and returned to run the Department of Economics and Social Sciences.

MacEachen first ran for office in 1953, winning the then Inverness-Richmond federal riding. He won again in 1957 before losing his only election in 1958. He won the same seat again in 1962, 1963 and 1965. The seat then became Cape Breton Highlands-Canso with MacEachen as the MP through the 1972, 1974, 1979, and 1980 elections.

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While in the Pierre Trudeau government, he served as Government House Leader three times, and in 1977 was named the first Deputy Prime Minister in Canadian history. MacEachen was also minister of Labour, National Health and Welfare, Manpower and Immigration, the Privy Council, External Affairs, and Finance.

In 1984, he became a Senator and remained there until his retirement in 1996. He was selected as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008.

Two days before MacEachen was laid to rest at Stella Maris Catholic Church in Inverness on September 19, supporters, friends, co-workers, and politicians from across the country took part in a weekend ceremony at StFX, with remarks from former Ontario Premier and federal Liberal leader Bob Rae, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau credits MacEachen with helping create Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. The Prime Minister also pointed to MacEachen engineering his father’s return to power in 1980, which eventually led to the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The premier said MacEachen’s early life in Cape Breton when he saw miners retire without pensions, shaped his entire political career.

Former Cape Breton-Richmond MLA and provincial cabinet minister Michel Samson marvelled at how MacEachen could work a room, with his sharp memory and ability to mix in any setting.

According to Samson, MacEachen’s biggest legacy comes in the amount of infrastructure he brought to the Strait area, much of which remains to this day.

Not just in terms of arenas, ballfields and multi-purpose facilities, MacEachen helped bring large-scale employers and new industry to this region, resulting in one of the largest economic boom times ever witnessed in his corner of the province.

And not just adept at building the riding, MacEachen was a tireless constituency politician. Samson said the veteran once told him that, “the day after the election… I will represent them as if they all voted for me.”

MacEachen became unbeatable politically because voters of all stripes saw the value in this Member of Parliament. His prominence within the government was obvious, and voters knew the riding would be in no better hands.

This strong political support gradually evolved into a level of devotion that remains awe-inspiring. People named their children after him, some kept pictures of him in prominent places within their homes, others prayed for him. The very utterance of his name elicited declarations of his brilliance, his political clout, his ability to deliver, and above all, how much he cared about the people and communities he represented.

In this current political climate where political loyalties change fast, where politicians are more removed from those they represent, and where civility has all but vanished, it will be almost impossible to find another Allan J. MacEachen.

The Strait area was extremely fortunate he represented us for so long because politicians like this don’t come around often.