Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, released the following statement today:
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Alexa McDonough, a true Canadian political giant. On behalf of Canada’s unions, I extend our sincere condolences to her sons, Justin and Travis, and all the friends and family she leaves behind, who will feel her loss so deeply.
“There is not a woman in Canadian politics or public life who does not owe a debt to the trailblazing role Alexa has played. When she won the leadership of the Nova Scotia NDP in 1980 – and became the first woman to lead a major, recognized political party in Canada – she gave us an example that so many young women could follow. Not just to be at the table, but to lead it.
It was not an easy road. When first elected to the Nova Scotia legislature, there was no women’s washroom for MLAs. But instead of complaining to the media, Alexa walked back into the legislature and talked about the issues she heard about from the women waiting with her to use the public washrooms.
For those of us in the labour movement, we will always be grateful for her strong advocacy for workers’ rights, fair wages and safer working conditions. Her work helping to get the Westray Bill passed continues to benefit workers today. The labour movement will mark the 30th anniversary of the Westray legislation this year and Alexa’s words, said in the House of Commons in 2003, on the day the Westray Bill received Royal Assent are still central to the labour movement’s fight:
The Westray bill is a victory for working people across Canada and culminates 11 years of work by New Democrats in solidarity with families of mine disaster victims, Westray survivors, steelworkers and other trade union partners. This brings us one step closer to ensuring that corporations are held liable for irresponsible working conditions that end up costing workers their lives.
Alexa was someone who had an abundance of dedication, and never one to shy away from hard work or a difficult fight. From working as a teenager to draw attention to the conditions in the Africville community in Halifax, to elected office and leadership roles at the provincial and federal level, to decades of activism on so many important issues, she has truly blazed an impressive trail.
Both with the provincial and federal NDP, it is no coincidence that the leaders who followed her both had breakthrough successes and became Leader of the Official Opposition. She laid the groundwork for so many of us.
After stepping down as federal NDP leader, she stayed on to serve under new leader Jack Layton as the party’s foreign affairs critic, taking on a leadership role in peace advocacy and international work. After leaving politics she went on to become president of Mount Saint Vincent University and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Labour unions worked to help honour her in 2013, raising funds to make sure Alexa’s contributions were permanently recognized at Mount Saint Vincent’s Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice. Such a fitting tribute for someone who gave so much of herself to help others.