The Late Alexa McDonough, O.C., O.N.S.

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Peace Tower and Parliament, Ottawa

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I am speaking to you today from the unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people.

Honourable senators, leadership can come from the most unsuspected places. It need not be loud. It need not be boastful, but instead a quiet dignity that, once recognized and given an opportunity to flourish, can be an inspiration to all. Such was the life and political career of Alexa McDonough. Sadly, Alexa passed away on January 15 of this year. Although she suffered a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease over the past number of years, our memories of her life and achievements remain intact.

Alexa’s early career was spent as a social worker in Nova Scotia. This work offered her an exposure to the true needs and social dilemmas experienced by many, and insight into the gaps between work on the ground and corresponding policies. While this knowledge would be what would propel her into a career of politics, in truth her involvement with social activism began much earlier. She was exposed to progressive politics by her father, a businessperson, Lloyd Shaw.

At the age of 14, Alexa led her church group in publicizing the conditions of Africville, a low-income, predominantly Black neighbourhood in Halifax.

After graduating from Dalhousie University, Alexa became a social worker. In 1979 and 1980, she made her first bid at electoral politics, running for the New Democrats in the riding of Halifax, though unsuccessfully. Later that same year, despite not having a seat in the provincial house of assembly, Alexa made a bid for leadership of the Nova Scotia NDP party, which she handily won. The following election, she won a seat representing the district of Chebucto. She spent the next three years as a caucus of one. She was the only woman in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Alexa was not one to shy away from the difficulties she faced in this position, and she spoke out often about the misogynistic and sexist personal attacks she endured, even highlighting the lack of a separate women’s washroom for MLAs. She held this position until she resigned in 1994.

Although having left with no expectations of what the future might hold, she decided to put her name forward for the leadership of the federal NDP party in 1995. Again, seemingly defying odds, she was successful. She won her first seat in the House of Commons in 1997. She held the position of leader until 2003, and she retired from elected politics in 2008.

Throughout her political career, Alexa remained a champion for strong social programs and gender equality. In 2009, she was announced as interim president of Mount Saint Vincent University. That same year Alexa was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, and received the Order of Nova Scotia in 2012.

Underestimated at every turn, honourable senators, nevertheless, she persisted. This determination and, indeed, Alexa’s life as a whole, serve as an inspiration to all Canadians and particularly to Canadian women.

My thoughts are with her family and friends. I know they are proud of the legacy of leadership that is Alexa McDonough’s.

Honourable senators, a true measure of the legacy of Alexa McDonough was one of her life’s lessons to her sons, Travis and Justin. That was, “How you treat people who can do nothing in return is the ultimate judge of your character.” That is, I believe, a lesson for each of us. Thank you.

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