Former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan, whose political accomplishments were later overshadowed by a sexual assault trial that resulted in an acquittal, has died at the age of 91.
Regan, a lawyer and one-time sportscaster, served eight years as the province’s 19th premier, with his Liberals winning a minority government in 1970 and a majority in 1974.
Regarded as a dynamic, fresh face when elected premier in 1970, Regan began reorganizing government and promised an end to patronage.
He also pushed an agenda of economic development and championed the development of offshore oil and gas resources and the harnessing of the Bay of Fundy tides for energy.
“Gerald Regan believed in the potential of Nova Scotia, with a vision for our future prosperity,” current Premier Stephen McNeil said in a statement Wednesday morning. “He governed with a true sense of liberal values — investing in people, creating economic development and ensuring fiscal responsibility.”
Regan oversaw a province he believed was at the crossroads of international trade and felt it had the opportunity to become a prime trading area within a decade, talking of a “new Phoenicia” to be built on steel, petroleum and electrical energy.
However, it was discontent over Nova Scotians’ rising energy costs, due largely to a spike in foreign oil prices, that eventually led to his provincial downfall in 1978, when the Liberals were swept from power by John Buchanan’s Progressive Conservatives.
Regan moved back into the federal arena, where he had previously served in the early 1960s, winning election to the House of Commons in 1980. He served in the cabinets of former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and John Turner, holding the labour, international trade and sports portfolios before leaving to pursue business opportunities after he and the Liberal government were defeated in 1984.
He was working as a lobbyist and sitting on several corporate boards when the RCMP confirmed in October 1993 that he was being investigated for allegations of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
The resulting trial captivated the province and the nation, and at the conclusion of a five-year legal battle, Regan and his family wept as he was declared not guilty on eight sex-related charges on Dec. 18, 1998. It took the jury only eight hours to deliver its verdicts.
Faced multiple charges
At age of 70, he was acquitted of one count of rape, two of attempted rape, three of indecent assault and two of unlawful confinement. There were three accusers and some of their allegations dated back more than 40 years when they were between 14 and 24 years old.
After the verdicts were read into the court record, Regan said: “We’re tremendously relieved. It’s been a long, long ordeal.”
The charges had been reduced from 18 after Justice Michael MacDonald stayed nine charges judged to be less serious, ruling the Crown tainted the investigation by interviewing Regan’s accusers before charges were laid.
After the trial, Regan’s lawyer, Edward Greenspan, said the charges would never have been laid against anyone but a man of Regan’s prominence. “If he had not been the former premier of this province, they would never have spent millions of dollars pursuing him,” Greenspan said.
A cloud continued to hang over Regan as the Crown sought to reinstate the stayed charges in a case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. The high court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2002 that MacDonald had made “palpable and overriding factual errors” and reversed the stay of proceedings.
But in the end, Nova Scotia’s prosecution service concluded it was not in the public interest to proceed on the indecent assault charges, determining it was unlikely Regan would receive a jail sentence if found guilty.
Regan was born on Feb. 13, 1928 in Windsor, N.S., and raised in a political family of Irish Catholics.
His Newfoundland-born mother, Rose, sometimes attended Liberal rallies the same night his father Walter attended Tory events. Walter Regan, who served two decades as a Windsor town councillor, eventually converted to the Liberals.
Regan’s teen years saw him become the popular editor of his high school newspaper and class president. He went on to attend St. Mary’s University in Halifax, and later worked himself through Dalhousie Law School by broadcasting radio sports.
He handled a nightly radio sports program from 1954 to 1956 and also covered the legislature for a network of Nova Scotia radio stations in 1957.
After being admitted to the bar in 1953, he gained prominence as a top labour lawyer in 1957-58 when he defended workers in a bitter 14-month dispute with Canada Gypsum Co. in Windsor.
Became party leader at 37
Regan’s career in politics began haltingly with a trio of electoral losses in bids for a provincial seat in 1956, 1960 and 1962. He lost federally in 1962 before finally making it to Parliament in 1963.
He returned to Nova Scotia politics in 1965, winning the Liberal Party leadership at the age of 37 and promising to reinvigorate the party with youth.
He gained a reputation as a flamboyant leader in opposition, and his previous radio chops proved advantageous in 1969 when he famously mounted a 15-hour filibuster against a tax measure. The Liberals claimed at the time that he saved taxpayers $116,000 by delaying the legislation.
He married Carole Harrison, the daughter of Saskatchewan MP John Harrison, in 1956. They raised six children including son Geoff, who became a Liberal MP and Speaker of the House of Commons.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 27, 2019.