Stewart McInnes: the consummate public servant

Determined, Stewart McInnes never took no for an answer until he reached his goal. McInnes overcame polio as a child and went on to play hockey and football while attending Dal.

Determined, Stewart McInnes never took no for an answer until he reached his goal. McInnes overcame polio as a child and went on to play hockey and football while attending Dal.

A tenacious Halifax lawyer, arbitrator and federal politician who served in the cabinet of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Stewart McInnes was widely known for his great sense of civic responsibility and for never taking “no” for an answer until he reached his goal.

“He was an exemplary public citizen who believed that we all have a responsibility to give back to the community. No one I know lived that belief more than he did,” said Senator Jim Cowan.

“Every cause that came along that he believed in he put his soul into it,” Senator Cowan added.

In 1984, voters elected McInnes, who died of heart failure in his Halifax home on Oct. 3 at the age of 78, to the House of Commons as the Progressive Conservative member for Halifax, ousting former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan. A year after the election, Mulroney appointed him minister of supply and services. From 1986 until 1988, McInnes served as minister of public works and housing.

In Ottawa, McInnes is credited for getting the then controversial Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and PEI built, helping to create the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, and introducing the Loonie to replace the one dollar bill.

“Stewart was a man of action with a tremendous amount of energy. He liked to make things happen,” said Donald MacLeod, a Halifax lawyer who worked with McInnes in Ottawa as his executive assistant.

After being defeated by Liberal Mary Clancy in 1988, McInnes received his first Senate seat offer a few months later. While it was a great honour to be asked, he told Mulroney that he couldn’t accept the Senate seat because he loved Halifax and his family more. The second Senate call came in 1990. For the second time, McInnes refused.

McInnes knew virtually everyone in Halifax, if not Nova Scotia, which made him a great fundraiser. He served as chief fundraiser for the provincial Tories. “It’s amazing he has any friends,” former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm joked at an event to honour McInnes in 2009. “Caller ID was created because of Stewart.”

Outside of politics, McInnes was deeply committed to community and charitable organizations, said Mr. MacLeod. “When he got involved in an organization it was always in a meaningful and significant way,” he said.

Born in Halifax in 1937, McInnes came from a long lineage of lawyers. His grandfather Hector founded the law firm that would become McInnes Cooper in 1859. McInnes, along with his brother Hector, followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, working as a partner in the law firm for nearly 40 years. And his daughter, Sarah, graduated in 2012 and continues to practice at McInnes Cooper.

Having overcome polio, which left him paralyzed and in bed for six months at age 12, McInnes went on to become an athlete. He played hockey well into his 70s and golfed weeks before his death. While at Dalhousie University, he was on both the hockey and football teams. In 2004, he was inducted to the Dalhousie Sport Hall of Fame and recently received Dalhousie’s A.J. “Sandy” Young Award, recognizing his lifelong contribution to athletics in the province.

When he wasn’t working, you could find McInnes in the YMCA’s steam bath or in his half-hectare garden. Calling it his “indulgence,” his sprawling garden at his Halifax home boasted 16,000 tulip bulbs. He also planted countless roses and rhododendrons. It was often the spot for fundraisers and garden tours.

“Once he set his sights on something, it was inevitable that it would come to fruition,” MacLeod said.

 

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