Alexa McDonough calls for more women leaders
Published Monday, June 2, 2008 5:02PM EDT
HALIFAX - Saying it's time for a new generation to rectify the dearth of women in politics, former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough announced Monday she won't run in the next federal election.
McDonough, 63, told supporters during a news conference in her federal Halifax riding that Atlantic Canada has a poor record when it comes to women seeking public office.
"I hope a lot of people are thinking that it is sheer lunacy to have 32 members of Parliament in Ottawa and only one woman,'' she said.
McDonough, who has had a 30-year political career at both the federal and provincial levels, promised to stay on until the next federal election is called.
As her grandchildren presented her with flowers, the veteran MP admitted "absolute, total joy'' that she will be able to spend more time with a family she's often been away from due to her often fiery and passionate political career.
McDonough, leader of the federal party from 1997 to 2003, said she hoped her Halifax riding association will consider the need for "diversity'' when it chooses her successor.
"We are challenged to take very seriously the need to increase the numbers of under-represented people in Parliament. That means women. That means visible minorities. That means people living with disabilities.''
Louise Carbert, an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University, said McDonough's major accomplishments include attracting a number of women into Nova Scotia's political arena.
"Alexa personally and politically bridged the gap between new social movements and the mainstream of partisan politics in this country,'' she said.
For instance, McDonough personally recruited Yvonne Atwell, the first African-Nova Scotian woman to be elected to the Nova Scotia legislature in 1999, and Alexis MacDonald, who put up a surprisingly strong fight in Central Nova against current Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
"Other parties could learn from Alexa's efforts over the years to reach out to a diverse range of prospective candidates, and to bring them into the political process,'' said Carbert.
"As a result, Alexa established a solid bastion of NDP support in Halifax.''
McDonough said it was time for fresh faces to take on the challenges facing the country, including climate change, reducing the growing income gap, strengthening public health care and advancing gender equality, peace and justice.
During her time as federal leader, McDonough increased the federal party's seat count from nine to 21 in the 1997 election, including six MPs from Nova Scotia.
Since stepping down as leader, she has worked mostly on international development and peace advocacy.
Before she entered federal politics, McDonough served as leader of the Nova Scotia NDP from 1980 to 1994 -- a role that made her one of the first women to lead a major political party in Canada.
As provincial leader, she transformed the party into a viable political force.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Darrell Dexter, who first encountered McDonough when he was a journalism student at King's College in Halifax in the 1970s, recalled how she seemed to have "an unlimited supply of energy.''
Within a few minutes of their first meeting, he was assigned by McDonough to prepare a research document outlining financial problems students were facing.
"Alexa carries a status within the Nova Scotia party that is almost legendary and universally appreciated,'' he said.
John Buchanan, a former Conservative premier of the province, faced McDonough in the legislature as she fiercely criticized patronage in his government during the 1980s.
The veteran politician noted Monday that while "we did not agree politically, on the other hand I always liked Alexa McDonough as a fellow parliamentarian.''
"There's no question she was a critic of so-called patronage,'' he said. "Some of it may have been warranted, but most of it was not warranted as far as I was concerned.''
During an interview after her announcement, McDonough said she had little use for the patronage that operated in Nova Scotia during Buchanan's time and is proud she fought it.
She recalled being "outraged'' over liquor and money being handed out in rural Shelburne County during an election campaign in the 1980s.
"People were taken to vote and after they voted they stopped by the funeral home to pick up the booze and $20 bills,'' she recalled.
McDonough said she likely wouldn't accept a federal appointment from Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
However, Carbert said "it's too soon to say political farewell to Alexa McDonough.''
"I expect her to move to the international stage now. I would not be surprised to see her take on a major role with a non-government organization.''
Whatever she chooses to do, McDonough vowed to still play a role for her party in the next election.
"Bring on a campaign. I'll be on the doorsteps,'' she said.