McNeil Mandela

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil (right) attends the memorial to Nelson Mandela in South Africa along with former governor general Michaëlle Jean and former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Kim Campbell. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is calling the memorial to Nelson Mandela a "tremendous tribute" and is also deflecting criticism back home that he shouldn't have travelled to South Africa while the provincial legislature is sitting.

McNeil was at FNB Stadium in Soweto on Tuesday, joining Canadian politicians, dignitaries and leaders from around the world honouring Mandela at a memorial for the former South African president.

Nova Scotia Opposition leader Jamie Baillie has criticized the trip, saying McNeil should not have gone to South Africa while the legislature is sitting and it is the role of national leaders to attend such events.

But speaking from South Africa on Tuesday, McNeil said the federal government invited him and is paying his way. He said he also got in touch with Baillie before the trip and the Progressive Conservative leader agreed he should go.

"I reached out to Mr. Baillie and to the leader of the New Democratic Party before I left and they approved and they agreed — that both of them believed that I should be here," McNeil told CBC's Maritime Noon.

"I guess he felt that he could gain some political points on that. I believe the election campaign was built on trust not a few months ago and I guess that speaks to Mr. Baillie's ability to be trusted."

McNeil said there was a feeling of vibrancy at FNB Stadium where world leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama, spoke of Mandela and his legacy.

"I don't know of any other citizens of the world that would have been so gracious after losing 27 years of their life in prison," McNeil said of Mandela.

"To come out with a sense of forgiveness and moving forward. The phrase that came to my mind, quite frankly, as I thought of him, was God-like."