Pictou East NDP candidate Clarrie MacKinnon, back left, visits with part of his campaign team at his Main Street Westville headquarters. Robert Ferguson puts some finishing touches on an election sign while volunteers Sarah MacKinnon and Erin Henderson get ready to visit the Hopewell area with MacKinnon. Sueann Musick – The News
Editor’s note: Over the coming weeks during Nova Scotia’s election campaign, The News will be profiling each of the candidates.
WESTVILLE – There are only few people in this county who are recognized by a characteristic deep booming voice or trademark handshake.
Pictou East NDP candidate Clarrie MacKinnon has both them down to a science.
Whether he is at a church supper or a political rally, MacKinnon’s arm is outstretched, his palm open, and the “how are you today,” echoes in the room.
As the oldest candidate running for any party in the county in the upcoming provincial election, 67-year-old MacKinnon said he has learned the value of good customer service from both his own family and his many different chosen career paths.
Born and raised in Westville as the son of a coal miner, MacKinnon said he watched his mother work as a community activist in the educational system while his own interest in politics started as young child.
“When I was in Grade 6, I was talking to the children in Grade Primary and one and my brother said, ‘why are you always talking to the little kids?’ I said it’s nice to be nice to people, but some day I would like those people to vote for me as well.”
From his time employed as a theatre usher to working in the media, as a salesman and in public relations, MacKinnon never strayed far from his love for politics.
He has run in elections at all three levels of government, including a stint as county councillor in District 13 in the early 1970s. He tried his hand at federal politics during a byelection in the 1970s against Elmer MacKay and later turned to provincial politics in the 1990s.
When MacKinnon ran in the federal byelection, his name was under the Liberal banner, but he left the party a while later when he decided to vote for what he believed in, rather than the party line.
The controversial decision came when he was living outside of Pictou County and was being told not to vote for a man he respected just because he didn’t belong his party.
“I didn't think it was good thing to turf someone out who dedicated so much time,” he said. “I was voting Conservative for the warden of a county and the Liberals said to me they were are going to ostracize me.”
Self-described as a “left of centre Liberal,” MacKinnon said after this incident, he started learning more about the New Democrat Party and liked what he heard.
He credits his positive attitude to his wife Mary K and his three children, who have supported him on every adventure and challenge that life has presented to him.
Now, as he takes his third run at the MLA job in Pictou East, he says he plans on following his grassroots philosophy that everyone deserves to be heard.
“My campaign is the same. It’s being on the doorstep, being friendly,” he said. “I believe, my whole philosophy is, some politicians look at people as ‘us’ – those on his or her side – and ‘them’ as those that aren’t. I look at everybody as us. If you treat everyone the same, some of the so-called ‘them’ that other people talk about become ‘us.’”
He said he is proud of his party’s ability to balance a budget in tough economic times, but if the NDP are re-elected to again, he is confident work will begin building in areas such as education and health care.
“People have felt the pain of the economy,” he said. “Now that we are back to balance, we have to really look at education and continue to encourage boards to keep as many dollars in the classroom as possible. When we came to government in Nova Scotia, health care administration was way above seven per cent. The actual average in the county was somewhere in the order of 5.4. We are now slightly below the national average. You have to have money going into the classroom educationally and the money going to patients in health care. Administration is extremely important, but it can’t be top heavy administration.”
MacKinnon said he is extremely proud of his involvement in the renovations of the Riverview Home and his government’s financial support to upgrade there.
He is also proud to be running in Pictou East considering there was a time when changes to the electoral boundaries could have changed the riding’s landscape.
MacKinnon said he also lobbied his government to make changes to the seniors guaranteed income supplement that gives recipients back money rather than making them pay tax on it.
“People are getting the guaranteed income supplement because they don’t have enough money coming in so we shouldn’t be taxing them,” he said, adding that the issue was first brought up by Westville resident Dan Thompson.
He said listening to the people in Pictou East and their support helped make all of these changes take place and this is why he continues to make community his number-one priority.
He said, if re-elected, his goal for Pictou East is to continue to look at the jobs and the economy and some of the investments already made.
“We came up with money for changes made at Exit 21 and there are two commercial businesses there now contributing $60,000 and $70,000 annual dollars to coffers in Westville. I would like further development.”
MacKinnon admits his goals may not always be the same as others in the party, but he is not afraid to speak out if he disagrees with something.
“Some MLAs have indicated to me over the years, that I say what I think at caucus whether it alienates someone or not. I have been very, very vocal. You participate on the team and sometimes your views prevail and they have prevailed a number of times and sometimes after all the discussion you say, maybe so-and-so is right. I’ve been an old rebel in many of cases.”
MacKinnon wouldn’t make any predictions about the upcoming election, only saying that his government has governed through some tough economic times and he will be on the doorsteps to hear all of Pictou East’s concerns.
“You have to feel the pain of your constituents because for some people, the economy, may be getting better for them, but there are a lot of other people who are not much better off.”