Allan MacEachen

Allan Joseph MacEachen, PC (born July 6, 1921) is a retired Canadian politician, a many-time Cabinet minister, a retired Senator, one of Canada's elder statesmen, and was the first Deputy Prime Minister of Canada.

Early life

Born in Inverness on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, MacEachen graduated from St. Francis Xavier University, and lectured in economics for several years at the school.

Enters politics

He was elected for the first time to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1953 election, as a Liberal under the leadership of Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent. He was re-elected in the 1957 election, but was defeated in the Progressive Conservative Diefenbaker sweep in the 1958 election -- the largest federal electoral victory in the history of Canada.

MacEachen was re-elected to parliament in the 1962 general election and was re-elected again in the 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979 and 1980 elections.

Cabinet minister

When Lester B. Pearson formed a Liberal government in 1963, he appointed MacEachen to cabinet as Minister of Labour. This was the beginning of a lengthy career in cabinet in which MacEachen served in several portfolios under prime ministers Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and John Turner. In addition to Labour, MacEachen held the following portfolios: National Health and Welfare, Manpower and Immigration, Privy Council, External Affairs and Finance.

In addition to his ministerial responsibilities, MacEachen served as Government House Leader on three occasions, and became the first Deputy Prime Minister of Canada in 1977 under Trudeau, a post he held whenever Trudeau was in office from that time until his retirement.

In his memoirs, published in 1993, Trudeau wrote that MacEachen "had a very good strategic sense, both in and out of Parliament, and he lived and breathed politics." For Trudeau, he "was always a source of shrewd advice", and "was the kind of man I respected, because he had no ulterior motives; he said what he thought, and the reasons he would give were always his real reasons..

In 1968, MacEachen contested the leadership of the Liberal Party, but did not do well largely because there was a second Nova Scotian on the ballot. He was courted to run for leader again in 1984 but opted to support John Turner, the eventual winner.

In 1979, when the Liberals lost the election to Joe Clark's Tories, MacEachen served as interim Leader of the Opposition when Trudeau announced he would retire from politics. Trudeau's short-lived retirement ended with the defeat of Clark's government and the Liberals' return to power on February 18, 1980. MacEachen resumed his job as Finance Minister, and in 1982 angered public sector unions by imposing a wage restraint package dubbed "six and five" -- limiting wage increases to six and five per cent in the following two years. (This was at a time when double-digit interest rates and inflation were common.)


Turner, the new party leader and prime minister, recommended him for appointment to the Senate where he became Leader of the Government in the Senate. Although he was only in this position briefly, as Turner lost the 1984 election, he started the practice of allowing opposition senators to chair a number of committees, a practice that continues today.

From 1984 to 1991 he served as leader of the opposition in the Senate, where he was regarded as the primary opposition to Brian Mulroney's first term due to Mulroney's substantial majority in the Commons, with an opposition that was spread nearly equally between Turner's Liberals and Ed Broadbent's New Democratic Party. In 1988, after a request by Turner, MacEachen blocked the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the Senate to force an election before the issue was settled. The agreement would be the main issue of the 1988 election. After Mulroney's victory, MacEachen and the Senate passed the agreement.

After the election, MacEachen again used the Senate to block the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax. Brian Mulroney recommended for appointment several new senators, and used an emergency power in the Constitution Act, 1867 that allowed him to recommend for appointment eight new Senators. MacEachen then led a filibuster against the bill, with Liberal members defying speaker Guy Charbonneau. Charbonneau voted for Tory motions. The Liberal senators used other tactics to delay Senate business. Soon, the motion was passed, and the Progressive Conservative majority passed new rules for the Senate forbidding such actions.

MacEachen retired from the Senate in 1996 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, and became a one-dollar-per-year adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Further controversy ensued in 1998 when it was discovered he was still using a full Senate office.


St. Francis Xavier University holds the annual Allan J. MacEachen lecture in his honour.

In 2000, the Allan J. MacEachen International Academic and Cultural Centre was opened. The complex consists of a secondary school, Dalbrae Academy, and Strathspey Place, a performing arts centre.

In 2006, MacEachen endorsed Bob Rae's candidacy to lead the Liberal Party, and was appointed honorary campaign chair of Rae's campaign.

As a former federal Cabinet Minister, MacEachen is entitled to use the honorific 'The Honourable' for life.


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