Nova Scotia

Former N.S. premier, senator John Buchanan remembered at service

Hundreds attended a service honouring the life of former Nova Scotia premier and senator John Buchanan, who died Oct. 3 at the age of 88.

Hundreds attended celebration of life in Halifax

Mavis Buchanan says a final goodbye to her late husband during his service at the Dalhousie University's Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Oct. 11, 2019. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Former Nova Scotia premier and senator John Buchanan was honoured by family, friends and colleagues Friday during an hour-long celebration of his life.

Buchanan died Oct. 3 at the age of 88.

Hundreds of people attended the celebration at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax, including a who's who of past and present politicians. 

The Sydney-born politician was the fourth-longest serving premier in the province's history, winning four consecutive majority governments for the Progressive Conservatives between 1978 and 1990.

He resigned from provincial politics in 1990 and became a senator.

John Buchanan died on Oct. 3 at the age of 88. (CBC)

In interviews before the service, colleagues praised a man they called a friend and master politician.

"John, I loved the guy. He was a compassionate, warm, hard-working politician," said Billy Joe MacLean, a fellow politician who knew Buchanan years before either entered politics. "He will always be my best friend."

John Leefe, a former cabinet colleague who worked with Buchanan throughout his time as premier, said he will most remember his colleague's ability to develop immediate relationships with people.

"There was nothing phoney about him," Leefe said.

RCMP officers bring Buchanan's casket into the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax for a celebration of his life. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

He recalled an instance when Buchanan was en route to Cape Breton for a meeting and passed a party going on in a driveway.

"John insisted that the driver take him into the driveway so he could shake hands with the 20 or 30 people at the barbecue and then off they went to Sydney," he said.

Buchanan's death marks the passing of an era, Leefe said.

"John's four terms as a premier — which he never let us forget — were the seminal years of Nova Scotia.

"We had good highways, a lot of school construction, so it was a period of rapid expansion. And of course it was in a time when virtually all governments were getting into deficit financing and we were no exception."

Hundreds of people filled the auditorium for a celebration of John Buchanan's life. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Neil LeBlanc, who entered provincial politics in 1984, said Buchanan was known as "the people's premier" for good reason.

"He's something you don't see very often. He was very much charismatic — knew everyone, very personable," LeBlanc said. "You'd get Christmas cards from John right till the end."

Sitting politicians also took part in the service. In a speech, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil recalled Buchanan's warm smile and unique ability to make other people feel special. 

At the end of his speech, McNeil thanked Buchanan's family for their service, singling out Mavis Buchanan. 

"While we lost as a province our greatest champion and you lost the love of your life of 65 years, heaven has gained a tremendous storyteller and a beautiful soul and spirit," said McNeil.       

With files from Jean Laroche