Robert Coates, former MP, dies at 87

Robert Coates was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party from 1957 to 1988.

Coates was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party from 1957 to 1988

Robert Coates represented the Cumberland-Colchester (formerly Cumberland) riding in Ottawa for more than 30 years. (CBC)

Former Nova Scotia Tory MP Robert Coates has died at the age of 87.

Coates served Nova Scotia as a member of the federal Progressive Conservative Party for more than 30 years.

He was first elected in 1957 and went on to serve 11 consecutive terms as the MP for the Cumberland-Colchester riding (formerly just Cumberland).

In 1984, Coates was appointed to Brian Mulroney's cabinet, where he served as defence minister for less than a year before resigning after a scandal involving a visit to a German strip club.

Former MP Scott Armstrong, who was elected to Coates's former riding in 2009 confirmed the news to CBC Tuesday night.

Coates had long gained a reputation as an outspoken politician prior to his ouster from Cabinet, sometimes going public with criticisms of his own party, in addition to the Liberals. He published The Night of the Long Knives in 1969, a book that took some Tory insiders to task for engineering the fall of John Diefenbaker as leader of the party in favour of Robert Stanfield.

After a turn as Tory party president in 1979, Coates was highly critical of Joe Clark's performance after the Conservative leader's government was toppled in mere months. As a result, Coates was among the MPs on board with Mulroney's ultimately successful party leadership campaign in 1983.

Aside from pushing through military uniform changes and espousing support for closer military ties with the U.S. and the Star Wars missile defence plan of Ronald Reagan, Coates was gone before making an impact in his portfolio under Mulroney.

The controversy came during a visit to Canadian Forces in Germany in January 1985. Coates said he had inquired about a place to drink from his German counterparts and was taken, along with a couple of staff members, to a strip club. The night in question also led to a lengthy libel lawsuit with the Ottawa Citizen that was settled out of court.

Coates did not run again in the 1988 election.


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