AMHERST – A who’s-who of county Conservatives gathered Saturday night to honour former MP Bob Coates – an early celebration of the 55th anniversary of his election to Parliament in the summer of 1957.
Among those present were Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP Scott Armstrong, former premier Roger Bacon and Senator Mike Duffy, as well as Judi Giroux, who could be the Progressive Conservative candidate for Cumberland North in the next provincial election.
Coates was elected 11 times between 1957 and 1988 and was minister of defence under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, following the Tory election victory in 1984. He later resigned his portfolio and retired from politics before the 1988 election.
“Well, it’s very nice,” said Coates about the event.
The former minister reflected on his most treasured memory from a decades-long career in politics.
“What I enjoyed the most was the resurrection of the town of Springhill,” he said. The opening of the first, modest-sized minimum-security prison in the town was a small but significant landmark in a community rocked by two mining disasters and a major fire.
“The penitentiary was the real major boost,” he said.
Roger Bacon said the region was once known as Coates Country; that the former MP was a “people’s man.”
Armstrong, offered similar sentiments.
“He is viewed with a great deal of respect,” said Armstrong. He said Coates was a constituency politician – a representative who prioritized the local community he was elected to represent.
Armstrong also noted it was under Coates leadership of the Defence portfolio that the different branches of the armed forces returned to having distinct uniforms.
Mike Duffy, who hails form P.E.I., had his first full-time job, in radio, in Amherst. That was 1964. Duffy said Coates was the first MP he got to know.
He said Coates would call the radio station when he had news from Ottawa. The station at the time was loath to spend money on long-distance calls, but MPs could call for free.
“We had a fair amount of heavy industry here,” said Duffy.
Times were changing, though, and people were nervous about the welfare of the community, he said, and Coates – with others – played a role in getting the industrial park established and bringing in light industry. Confidence returned to the community, said the senator.
“It’s still a fantastic place to live and work…,” said Duffy.