Nova Scotia

Former N.S. premier and senator John Buchanan dead at 88

MLAs paid tribute to Buchanan in the legislature on Friday morning.

Buchanan was 'a master campaigner and skilled politician,' says PC Leader Tim Houston

Former Senator John Buchanan, a former premier of Nova Scotia, is seen in this 1996 file photo while speaking to the inquiry into the 1992 disaster at the Westray coal mine. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Former Nova Scotia premier and senator John Buchanan has died.

Buchanan served as the premier from 1978 to 1990, winning four consecutive majorities and becoming the fourth-longest serving premier in the province's history.

He will be remembered by many for standing next to the Armdale Rotary — a major Halifax thoroughfare — after an election win alongside his wife, Mavis Buchanan, holding a sign thanking voters for their support.

After Buchanan's term as premier, he was appointed to the Senate. He retired from the Senate in 2006.

According to a statement released by the provincial Progressive Conservative caucus, Buchanan died Thursday at the age of 88.

"Premier Buchanan will be remembered as a master campaigner and skilled politician," said PC Leader Tim Houston in a statement. "But it was his incredible ability to connect with Nova Scotians that I believe is his true legacy."

John Buchanan and his wife, Mavis, wave to Haligonians driving through the Armdale Rotary after an election win. (CBC)

In the legislature on Friday morning, Houston said Buchanan was often late for events.

"And you know the reason — because he'd stop to talk to people along the way."

Longtime friend Roland Thornhill, who was a cabinet minister in Buchanan's government, said Buchanan loved the campaign trail.

"If a function was on and there were 300 people there, he'd be the last one to leave. While there was a hand to be shook, John stayed in the hall."

According to a statement released by the provincial Progressive Conservative caucus, Buchanan died Thursday. He was 88. (CBC)

Thornhill said Buchanan's political success was due to his personality and the fact that people recognized they were dealing with "a real person."

"He never changed. When John Buchanan came into the legislature, and when he left, he was the same fellow. He was not a man, as I've indicated, who when he left, had to increase his hat size by two."

Justin Trudeau said in a statement Thursday he was saddened to hear of Buchanan's death. 

"He will be remembered not only for his contributions to government, but also for his down-home charm and provincial pride," Trudeau said. 

Buchanan was a lawyer before first being elected to the provincial legislature in 1967, where he served as minister of public works and fisheries, as well as finance minister.

Houston said Buchanan was proud of his government's majority wins.

"He would often say to me, 'Tim, I won four majorities.' And I'd say, 'Yes, John, I know.' And he'd say, 'I hope you win three.'"

Buchanan was elected as an MLA in 1967, and re-elected in 1970, 1974, 1978, 1981, 1984 and 1988. (CBC)

"I will remember Premier Buchanan as a wonderful storyteller and a man whose genuine interest in people meant he never forgot a name or a face," Houston said in the statement. "He will be missed by many."

Buchanan's years at the Nova Scotia legislature ended with his resignation after a former deputy minister made allegations about corruption, cronyism and the existence of a secret trust fund that paid off Buchanan's real estate debts while he was in office.

The RCMP investigated the allegations, and although others were later charged, Buchanan was not.

Tributes at N.S. legislature

MLAs paid tribute to him in the provincial legislature on Friday morning.

Premier Stephen McNeil referenced Buchanan's many connections throughout the province.

"You weren't even sure where he was from because if you were in Sydney with him, he'd remind you he was born in Sydney, but if you were in Bear River or in my constituency, he'd remind you Mavis was from Bear River."

Buchanan, far right, is pictured with his wife, Mavis Buchanan, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau as well as current Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, second from the left. (CBC)

McNeil said Nova Scotia has lost "one of the true champions" of the province with Buchanan's death.

"Whether it was in this chamber, or whether it was in the Senate, John Buchanan always made sure that people knew he was from Nova Scotia and that Nova Scotia was his priority."

John Buchanan, shown here in 1987, chats with HRH Prince Edward aboard the Bluenose II. (Nova Scotia Archives)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Buchanan's life touched many parts of the province, but none more than Spryfield, where he lived. Buchanan served many of the community's institutions, including St. Paul's United Church and hockey teams in the area.

Burrill said in the mid- and late 1960s, Spryfield didn't have any hockey facilities, so Buchanan arranged to coach two teams at the rink in Fairview every Tuesday morning at 4 and 5 a.m.

"That was a chance that a lot of kids got that they wouldn't have had otherwise, and I don't forget it," Burrill told reporters.

"We in the New Democratic Party share the sorrow of the people of Nova Scotia to hear this morning of John Buchanan's passing."

The flag at Province House was lowered to half-mast on Friday in honour of Buchanan.

With files from Jean Laroche and Paul Withers