Former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan dead at 91

Gerald Regan, the former Nova Scotia premier and federal cabinet minister, has died at 91.

Regan died Tuesday night, according to a news release Wednesday from the premier's office that offered condolences. 

"Gerald Regan believed in the potential of Nova Scotia, with a vision for our future prosperity. He governed with a true sense of liberal values — investing in people, creating economic development and ensuring fiscal responsibility," said Premier Stephen McNeil.

"He was a dedicated public servant to his constituents, all Nova Scotians and Canadians. I extend my sincerest condolences to his wife Carole, children Jerry, Geoff, Miriam, Nancy, David, Laura and loved ones."

Regan, who was from Windsor, N.S., was first elected in 1963 as MP for Halifax.

He stepped down two years later to make the move to provincial politics, becoming the leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, and was elected as member of the legislature for Halifax Needham in 1967.

He became premier in 1970, until 1978, when the Liberals were defeated by the Progressive Conservatives, who were led by John Buchanan.

In an interview with CBC News in 1980, Regan blamed his loss on soaring electricity prices.

CBC

"We pretty well knew it was hopeless, but still you battle away and you hope for some miracle."

Voters returned Regan to federal politics in the 1980 election and served until 1984, holding several senior portfolios in Pierre Elliott Trudeau's cabinet.

Allegations of sexual offences

But Regan's political legacy has been overshadowed by allegations by dozens of women of sexual offences dating back to 1956.

In 1995, Regan was charged with more than a dozen counts of sexual offences. He went to trial on what were deemed the eight most serious charges, including rape, attempted rape, indecent assault and unlawful confinement.

A jury acquitted him of all eight charges.

Other charges later went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, but ultimately, they did not proceed. The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service decided in 2002 not to prosecute due to the age of the allegations, the willingness of complainants to go to trial, the probability of a jail sentence and the expense of a trial.

CBC

Journalist and author Stephen Kimber said despite the lack of criminal convictions, those allegations are what most Nova Scotians remember about Regan.

"That is something that in normal times, in earlier times, still would have been a significant blot on his reputation. But now in the era of Me Too, it becomes in many ways the reputation that he's left with," said Kimber, who wrote the book Not Guilty about Regan's trial.

"I think there was no question that in the court of public opinion, he was guilty."

As news of Regan's death broke and the premier tweeted a brief, positive eulogy, Twitter users responded with vitriol, drawing attention to the absence of any mention about the sexual assault allegations.

Kimber said it would be "tricky" for the government to acknowledge Regan's legacy.

"I think that the government … will be very careful to to eliminate that part of his legacy from the discussion.… But it's there and it won't go away." 

As is the case with all former premiers, Regan's family was offered a provincially hosted celebration of life, such as the one held for former premier John Buchanan last month. However they have opted for a funeral organized by the family, according to the province. 

Political life

Former cabinet colleague Daniel Reid said he will remember Regan with "great respect."

Reid, whose time in provincial office overlapped with Regan's from 1974 to 1978, said the premier championed the building of new hospitals, highways and bridges. Under Regan's leadership, the Workers' Compensation Act was changed to improve support for coal miners with lung disease, Reid said.

At a time when many wanted the new Metro Centre — now the Scotiabank Centre — to be built on the outskirts of the city along Prospect Road, Regan insisted it be built downtown.

"He was a first-class premier, in my view, did some great things."

Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press

In an interview with CBC in 1980, Regan described "the joy of public service, the fun being involved in exciting projects and the tremendous feeling of satisfaction when you get something done."

Regan, a lawyer, said it was the same thing that got him into both politics and law: "You're not doing the same thing every day, that when you walk in here in the morning, there's a half a dozen screaming challenges that you didn't know were going to be here when you left last night."

In the interview, he said his government's legacies included seeing the expansion of Michelin and Northern Telecom, and building the agricultural economy.

Regan and his wife, Carole, had six children, including Geoff Regan, currently Speaker of the House of Commons, former broadcaster Nancy Regan, actress Laura Regan, Miriam, Gerald and David. His daughter-in-law, Kelly Regan, is MLA for Bedford and the minister of community services.

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