Alexa's rare act won't be back
Alexa McDonough announced today she is not running for re-election.
She made the announcement 11 years to the day since the 1997 election, when she first came to the Commons as an MP, after a respected time as head of the Nova Scotia NDP, and after being elected federal NDP leader in 1995.
She was a rarity in federal politics -- a woman leader, though she followed Audrey McLaughlin, who was the first woman elected to lead a major federal party. Though she helped revitalize the NDP after its bruising 1993 showing, when it lost official party status, McDonough still couldn't get the party the breakthrough it wanted. The current leader, Jack Layton, has most definitely improved the NDP's standing, but none have done better than Ed Broadbent did in the 1988 general election, with 43 seats. That's still the high-water mark for the NDP.
It's worth noting too, that no women have risen up to assume leadership of a party in the Commons since Alexa's reign. It's almost as if the big parties said in the 1990s, let's give this a try, and abandoned the project when none won the job of prime minister. (Kim Campbell was Canada's first woman prime minister, to be sure, but she was thrown out, along with the rest of her party, in the 1993 election.)
The Greens have Elizabeth May, who, like McDonough, is trying to build her party from a Nova Scotia riding, but she still doesn't have a seat in the House yet.
My most vivid McDonough memory isn't really about her. In the 1997 campaign, I was on the road with then-Conservative leader Jean Charest and landed in Halifax. I decided to go door-to-door with then-Liberal MP Mary Clancy, to see if it was true that Liberal fortunes were collapsing in the Atlantic. (It was -- the Liberals were wiped out in Nova Scotia and lost seats all over the East Coast.)
Clancy was in a seniors' residence and many people were politely rebuffing her. One elderly woman, however, heard Mary out, nodding politely as she stood at the door in her bathrobe.
"That's lovely, Mary," the woman said. "But I won't be voting for you."
Clancy gulped and said: "May I ask why?"
The elderly woman at the door looked surprised. "Because I'm Alexa's mother."