John Buchanan, the man who led the Progressive Conservatives to four consecutive Nova Scotia majority governments in the 1970s and 1980s, is being remembered as a good friend who constantly championed the province.
Buchanan died at his Spryfield home Thursday at the age of 88.
“Premier Buchanan will be remembered as a master campaigner and skilled politician,” current PC Leader Tim Houston said. “But it was his incredible ability to connect with Nova Scotians that I believe is his true legacy.”
An affable guy with a folksy manner, Buchanan was a passionate booster of all things Nova Scotian who could work a crowd with ease.
Buchanan often encouraged others to share his affection for the province.
“We don't do enough bragging about Nova Scotia,” Buchanan said in In 2010. “Brag about the people, the resources, the entrepreneurs ... and our heritage as the birthplace of New Scotland."
Lawyer Clyde Paul remembers his law partner fondly.
“It’s a sad day,” said Paul, who was down with pneumonia on Friday. “I, at least, a couple of weeks ago got to go and visit with John when he was in his bed, and I had the opportunity to thank him for all that he had done for me over the 45 years that I’ve known him. That was a pretty remarkable day for me.”
When Buchanan became premier in 1978, Paul bought him out in the Herring Cove Road law firm.
“He was just one super, good human being, very caring, considerate of others and a good friend,” Paul said. “It’s a great loss for all the people of Nova Scotia for all the kind things he did over the years in public service.”
Paul said Buchanan returned to the law firm after retiring from the Canadian Senate in 2006 and he still dropped in a couple of times a week, though not as much recently, and maintained a few clients.
“I can honestly say one thing about John, it never mattered what political stripe you might have been, I’ve never met anyone who had an ill word to say about John as an individual,” said Paul, who ran several of Buchanan’s successful election campaigns.
“He was highly respected.”
That respect crossed the political spectrum.
“He was a true promoter of this province,” Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday at the legislature.
“One of service to this province,” McNeil said of Buchanan’s legacy. “Whether it was in the House of Assembly for four majority governments or his service in the Canadian Senate. … We’re grateful to his family for sharing him with us as long as they did.”
After Buchanan’s resignation as premier in September 1990, Roger Bacon succeeded him as interim Tory premier. Bacon said he built a strong and lasting friendship with the fourth longest-serving premier in provincial history.
“He was one of the best campaigners there ever was,” Bacon said. “He was a people person and I think he enjoyed that more than being in the House.
“He loved to canvass and he loved election campaigns. He was a great premier … he was among the best.”
Buchanan was born in Sydney and first elected to the provincial legislature in 1967.
Educated at Dalhousie University and Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., he got his Queens Counsel designation in 1972. He received honorary degrees from such post-secondary institutions as Saint Mary’s and St. Francis Xavier universities.
Houston said his thoughts are with Buchanan’s wife, Mavis, and their five children, and many friends and former colleagues who are mourning the loss.
Reached Friday at home, Mavis Buchanan said she was sharing private time with family and didn’t want to offer any immediate comment.
All was not rosy for the former premier in his political career. He resigned as premier to accept an appointment to the Canadian Senate in 1990 by then-prime minister and fellow Tory Brian Mulroney. The appointment came under a cloud of alleged wrongdoing.
His government had a close and controversial relationship with real estate developers in the 1980s. Michael Zareski, a former deputy minister in charge of negotiating leases for the province, leveled explosive allegations of patronage that essentially forced Buchanan from office.
The RCMP investigated alleged criminal wrongdoing during Buchanan’s watch but no charges were laid. In 1991, he was cleared of allegations he’d accepted kickbacks and ran an illegal patronage network.
Police began checking into Buchanan’s affairs after Zareski charged the premier had taken secret-deal money, interfered with government spending decisions and directed millions of dollars to his friends.
"In the final years of the Buchanan regime, one cabinet minister was found guilty of corrupt electoral practices, a second had influence-peddling charges pending and two more were convicted of releasing privileged information," political scientist Ian Stewart wrote in a 2000 book, The Savage Years: The Perils of Reinventing Government in Nova Scotia.
"As well, three Tory MLAs were found to have cheated on their expense accounts, and the entire regime was riddled with patronage and pork-barreling practices."
Buchanan was able to reinvent himself while a senator and was popular with his colleagues.
In 2008, he spoke candidly to The Chronicle Herald from his hospital room in Halifax after a day of heart-related tests, and the night before he was to have a pacemaker inserted in his chest. He said at the time he had no history of cardiac trouble.
"The doctor said the pacemaker prevents heart attacks," Buchanan said. "That’s something I learned — I didn’t know that."
A longtime Spryfield resident, Buchanan and his wife used to stand, smiling, in the Armdale rotary the day after his election victories with a big thank-you sign, waving to motorists as they drove by.
The couple kept their home phone number listed in the white pages when Buchanan was premier. Mavis used to screen his calls, but reporters seeking an after-hours comment from the premier were rarely turned down.
“As many places as John had been and as high as he went in the Senate and all of that, he would have never dreamt of leaving Spryfield and his home and moving anywhere else,” Paul said. “Ours was a long and lasting friendship for sure.”
With files from Andrew Rankin, Darrell Cole