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Mourning a people’s politician

AMHERST – Tributes are flowing in for former Cumberland-Colchester MP Robert Coates.

Former Cumberland-Colchester MP Robert Coates

Coates died in Halifax on Tuesday following a brief illness. He was 87.

“Bob and I were very close over the years,” former premier and Cumberland East MLA Roger Bacon said. “He was very dedicated to the people of his riding and he had that quality that he would work for anyone no matter their politics. He was very well liked.”

Coates was first elected in 1957 and won 11 consecutive elections and served in the House of Commons for 31 years, retiring prior to the 1988 federal election. He was appointed Brian Mulroney’s defence minister after the 1984 election, but resigned less than a year later after a scandal involving a visit to a Berlin nightclub.

Bacon said Coates taught him a lot about politics.

“One of the most important things he taught me was that when you’re in politics you have to respond to every letter and phone call you got as quickly as possible,” Bacon said. “He was that type of politician.”

Bacon said he and Coates would often spend hours talking about federal-provincial politics and campaigned together during each of their election campaigns – that sometimes led to unexpected events.

“We were in Wallace for a campaign stop one day and Bob was driving. Well, somehow we got lost and ended up driving around in circles for over an hour. Finally he pulled over to the side of the road and we both laughed,” Bacon said.

Bill Casey, who replaced Coates as the MP in 1988, said the former MP served Canada with great distinction for four decades.

"He was a professional and dedicated public servant during his years in politics and I am humbled to serve the same riding of Cumberland-Colchester as Bob did," said Casey, who is now a Liberal MP. "He played a significant role in the economic development of Atlantic Canada. My thoughts are with his family at this time."

Former Conservative MP Scott Armstong said he remembers Coates coming to his Truro home as a youth. Armstrong’s father was a strong supporter of Coates and would often campaign with him.

“I knew him quite well and it’s a sad day to think that he’s gone,” Armstrong said. “I still remember him coming to dinner.”

Armstrong said he would speak to Coates regularly and when something came up he would call him and talk about the issues, using the former MP as a source of information and a sounding board.

Family friend David Myles lived up the street from the Coates’ family and became close friends.

“He was a politician, but he was a fine individual,” Myles said. “When we were to his home we were always made to feel so welcome and he was very knowledgeable, someone you could talk to about almost anything and know you were going to have a great discussion.”

Coates has been cremated. There will be a service of remembrance on June 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Christ Church Parish Hall in Amherst.

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