By Andrew Macdonald
This week, on the eve of Cecil Clarke’s campaign to become the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia he came out of the closet.
Clarke, who is the two-term mayor of Sydney, came out of the closet as a gay man during a radio interview with CBC in Cape Breton.
He has been deep in the closet for most of his political career, which included being a Tory cabinet minister in the governments of John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald.
In 2018, being gay is no big deal, not in a country where same sex marriage has been the law since 2005.
In the gay community of Nova Scotia, the fact Clarke was gay was kept secret. I had been aware of it for years, although I respected his privacy and never ran an article outing him — nor would I have done today if he decided to remain in the closet.
Kudos for Clarke to be honest with his sexual orientation. He’ll find life as an out gay male less complicated than hiding in the closet.
Being an out gay man has not hurt Liberal MP Scott Brison, who has been elected in every federal vote since 1997, despite serving a predominantly Baptist riding in the Annapolis Valley.
In 2003, when he was a Tory and running for Tory federal leadership, Brison came out in an interview with former leading and talented politico journalist Jane Taber, in a page three news article in the Globe & Mail.
At the time, now 94-year-old Clifford Brison, Scott’s dad, and obviously of a different generation, proudly took to the phone and called his well heeled stock brokerage clients and urged them to read that edition of the Globe & Mail.
Brison is the poster child for gay politicos in the Maritimes, and his same sex wedding to Royal Bank stockbroker Max St. Pierre in 2007 generated national news headlines.
Then-prime minister Paul Martin and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna attended Brison’s United Church wedding in Cheverie on the Noel Shore.
Brison and St. Pierre would go on to make MP history by having two twin girls, Rose and Clare via a surrogate.
Brison and Clarke are not the only gay politicos in leading jobs in the Maritimes.
Over in Prince Edward Island, Liberal premier Wade MacLauchlan made regional political history when he became the first out gay man to serve as a Maritime premier.
And, even voting day in PEI was historic because there was an 86 per cent voter turnout, a record for Island elections.
For MacLauchlan, particularly, his win is viewed as historic because he becomes the first out elected gay premier in PEI, and the first out gay premier to head a Maritime province.
He also becomes the first out gay male premier of Canada, and the second gay premier serving today, given Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne is an out lesbian.
The late Richard Hatfield, who was New Brunswick premier from 1970 to 1987 was gay, according to journalists of the day, but Hatfield, who ran a decent government, was deeply in the closet.
“I’m proud of Prince Edward Islanders for having had three firsts — a (historical) hat trick,” MacLaughlan said during an interview with me two days after winning the 2015 election.
He is referring to Islanders serving as trendsetters in contemporary political leadership, including in 1986 when Liberal Joe Ghiz became the first premier of the Island who did not have European roots. The late Ghiz, later named a judge, was of Lebanese extraction.
In the 1990s, Islanders again made history when they elected Catherine Callbeck as premier. She became the first woman in Canada elected as a provincial premier.
Joe Ghiz, the father of recently departed premier Robert Ghiz, faced a whisper campaign about his ethnic origins in 1986. He attended a hastily arranged news conference to address head on his ethnicity — akin to how JFK addressed his Catholicism in the 1960 presidential race, saying it wasn’t a hindrance to serving as president.
MacLauchlan said he is most proud of Islanders for being accepting of everyone and their differences, saying human rights have progressed down the road on the Island.
The newly elected premier said there wasn’t even a whisper campaign about his sexual orientation.
“If there was, I didn’t hear it. I don’t believe so,” he previously told me.
MacLauchlan says his life partner Duncan MacIntosh appeared at campaign rallies and knocked on doors in his rural constituency.
In fact, at the leadership announcement, the premier made a point of pointing him out in the crowd of followers.
During the leadership launch, his sexual orientation was raised by CBC journalist John Jeffery.
It is understood there was a debate in the newsroom about whether to even broach the topic, and the conclusion was agreed it would not be raised, unless MacLaughlan brought it up.
MacLauchlan did raise it at the launch, when he introduced his life long partner. That is when the CBC reporter raised the issue in his reporting.
The premier says the overriding campaign issue was leadership, not his sexuality.
“I have work to do.”
MacLaughlan served 12 years as president of University of PEI, a tenure where he built up student enrolment and built structures, and added academic programs.
He is the son of a prominent and well to do businessman, and lives in rural PEI, near Brackley Beach.