The news of the passing of Alexa McDonough touched my heart, as she has been an inspiration to me for decades. She was a true trailblazer, and when elected to become the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada in 1995, she became the first – and only – woman to lead a party at both the provincial and federal levels.
But as you can imagine, it was very tough for her: for a few years, she was the only woman in the Nova Scotia legislature. Still, she had great courage and never backed down.
A year after the tragedy of 9/11, an innocent Canadian was returning home via the United States after a vacation. Maher Arar was jailed and then deported to a Syrian prison – a three-foot by six-foot dark grave. For a full year, Alexa McDonough was the only politician who defied Islamophobia and had the courage to fight for him while he was tortured. Had it not for Alexa’s deep commitment to justice, an innocent man would have continued to rot in a dark jail because he was assumed to be a terrorist.
Her great courage was matched only by her graciousness and kindness. It was as if she had no ego. After she retired as the leader of the NDP, she stayed on as an MP to help the next leader, Jack Layton. Be grateful, every day - that was her motto. And during these challenging times, we need that type of leadership more than ever.
Another one of her beliefs was that whatever you do for others, you leave behind as your legacy. And Alexa left behind an extraordinary legacy of commitment to justice, gender equality and social democracy.
We as Canadians are often a bit modest and shy when celebrating our pioneers, particularly if they are women. And I say it's time for a change. Alexa McDonough Womens’ Leadership Centre has just been formed by the Tommy Douglas - Jack Layton Foundation. This centre is dedicated to collecting the stories of trailblazers who fought for justice and social democracy. So Alexa’s wonderful legacy will continue to inspire and help future women leaders to make Canada a better and more just country for all.
- Olivia Chow