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JIM VIBERT: 40 years ago today, Alexa McDonough changed Nova Scotia politics for good – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Politics in Nova Scotia changed, for the better and for good, 40 years ago today.

On Nov. 16, 1980, at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia New Democrats elected Alexa McDonough their leader, making her the first woman to lead a major political party anywhere in Canada.

Hopes were high, as they always are when a party chooses a new leader, but no one could have predicted the remarkable political career that launched that day. It would span more than 27 years, including 14 leading the provincial NDP and another seven leading the federal party.

It was a career that blazed a trail followed by dozens of women into the Nova Scotia legislature and that inspired countless others to pursue public office.

“When I was elected leader of the Nova Scotia NDP in 1980, my goal was to build a better province where equity was a given and choosing a woman leader would no longer be shocking news,” Alexa said in a statement released today on her behalf by the provincial NDP, to mark the anniversary.

She’d run federally before, but now Alexa – the first name was, and remains, all that Nova Scotians of a certain age need – was in politics all the way, and the early years were hard years.

The party she inherited was, at the risk of understatement, in some disarray.

In 1978 the NDP had elected four MLAs, the most ever, all from industrial Cape Breton. But two years later, longtime leader Jeremy Akerman quit abruptly, causing his colourful seatmate, Paul MacEwan, to erupt publicly about “Trotskyite” elements lurking in the party.

Considerable internal convulsions followed, eventually resulting in MacEwan’s ouster from the party.

Halifax Chebucto win

Then, in the 1981 provincial election, the party’s two remaining Cape Breton MLAs, Buddy MacEachern and Len Arsenault – the two men Alexa had defeated to win the leadership – lost their seats.

But, in that same election, the party finally won a seat on the mainland, Alexa’s seat, Halifax Chebecto.

She took her seat as the only New Democrat and the only woman in the house. Just two women had been elected to the legislature before her, Conservative Gladys Porter in the ‘60s and Liberal Melinda MacLean in the ’70s.

So in the early 1980s, the legislature was still a male bastion and, for the most part, Alexa found it an inhospitable environment for a woman.

Years later, after she retired from politics, she recalled that time in the house:

“It certainly fuelled my passion for recruiting other women into political life. I’ve spent a good chunk of the past 30 years doing that … There was no women’s washroom in the chamber (in 1981), which suggested they never thought women should be there.”

Alexa worked tirelessly to repair her fractured party, and slowly but surely earned public attention and approval by addressing issues the other parties generally eschewed – social justice issues like poverty, domestic violence and racism.

Federal leader

In 1995, Alexa sought and won the leadership of the federal NDP. She left the provincial party in far better shape than she found it, as subsequent events would prove.

In her first election leading the federal NDP, the party regained all-important party status in Parliament, adding a dozen seats, including an historic breakthrough in the Maritimes.

Alexa won her Halifax seat by whopping 11,000 votes and her long political coattails helped another five New Democrats win seats in Nova Scotia and two more in New Brunswick.

Winning six of Nova Scotia’s 11 seats in Parliament was an unprecedented accomplishment for the NDP, and a harbinger of things to come.

In the provincial election a year later, the NDP, then led by Robert Chisholm, came within a seat of forming the government, tying the incumbent Liberals with 19 seats each, but the Liberals retained the government.

It would be another decade before the NDP broke through to form a government in Nova Scotia. When it did, in 2009, many members of that new government traced their inspiration to enter public life to Alexa.

In her statement, she expresses pride in the work the NDP has done for women in leadership roles – two women have led the provincial party since she did – and pride that four of the five New Democrats in the Nova Scotia legislature are women.

“A diversity of voices at the table builds strength and ensures we continue to move forward, building a province where people can expect something better from their government,” she said.

Measured by electoral wins, Alexa wasn’t the most successful Nova Scotia politician of her generation, but she was almost certainly the most popular.

She kicked the door wide open for women to enter the political life of the province, and today there are more women in the legislature than ever. It’s a better place for that.

But, as Alexa would no doubt tell you, with women holding 16 of the 51 seats in the house, there’s still more work to do.

Journalist and writer Jim Vibert has worked as a communications advisor to five Nova Scotia governments.

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Jagmeet Singh and AOC crew up to find impostors in hit game Among Us – CBC.ca

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Jagmeet Singh committed a grisly slaying in front of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday night. Fortunately, the victim was a video game character, not a human being.

The NDP leader squared off against the firebrand member of the U.S. Congress in Among Us, a popular online multiplayer game, as a way to reach young people where they hang.

Between galactic missions carried out by stubby, spacesuit-clad avatars, Singh and Ocasio-Cortez extolled the importance of universal pharmacare, political civility, a living wage and rehabilitation over punishment.

“Another world is not only possible, but it exists. And in so many places in the U.S. it exists, like, a three-hour drive away from people who are saying it’s impossible,” said Ocasio-Cortez, referring to affordable health care and more generous employment insurance north of the border.

Legislators have an obligation to connect with younger Canadians struggling to cope with the pandemic, said Singh, who had challenged the U.S. representative over Twitter on Thursday.

Message to young people

“I think it’s a great way to reach out to young people who have been really hard-hit by COVID-19, who often get blamed. But they’re the ones that are working in the jobs that expose them — in service jobs, in retail jobs, in restaurants and bars,” Singh said in a phone interview.

“Also they’re the ones who lost their jobs because these are the sectors that have been impacted by the shutdown,” he added.

“It’s really hard to physically distance when you don’t have a career settled and you’re still going to school or you haven’t found a partner.”

Singh said he and AOC, as the congresswoman from New York is known, share progressive values on health care, economic equality and climate change, views that align with a growing slice of younger voters.

Ocasio-Cortez live streamed her debut on Among Us last month in an effort to lure young adults to the polls for the Nov. 3 election in the U.S., attracting a staggering 439,000 viewers.

Friday’s matchup, which streamed on the online gaming site Twitch, started at 7 p.m. ET and continued past 10 p.m.

Singh calls session an ‘epic’ crossover in politics

“It’s going to be one of the most epic crossovers in Canadian politics,” Singh, 41, said hours earlier, despite drawing a more modest 26,000 attendees.

A controversial standard-bearer for left-wing progressive politics, Ocasio-Cortez, 31, was first elected to represent her New York City district in the House of Representatives in 2018.

Since then, she has become one of the most familiar faces on Capitol Hill, part of a progressive wing of the Democratic party that includes former presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Among Us pits a team of tiny astronauts trying to return to Earth against one of their own, a sneaky saboteur or “impostor” whose objective is to kill off other crew members before they can repair their ship and identify the impostor.

The Friday showdown — “talking together, and figuring out who’s sus and who’s not” — was Singh’s first interaction with Ocasio-Cortez outside of posts and direct messages on Twitter, he said.

‘Impostors’ not paying fair share, Singh says

“If you think about the impostors as the ones that are at the very top exploiting the system or the ultra-wealthy who aren’t paying their fair share … that’s a pretty cool metaphor.”

His teammate also found symbolic significance in the mission.

“Canadian members of Parliament and U.S. members of Congress venting each other into space. What could go wrong?” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday in response to Singh’s invitation.

The match wasn’t all fun and games.

Banter with viewer input

“Are you for real? Jagmeet, you just killed her right in front of me,” AOC said during gameplay. “He’s so good at this, it’s scary.”

“Are you trying to call me out?” Singh asked. “Thought there was solidarity here.”

The congresswoman conceded she was “impressed” with his deceptive plea of innocence after he denied perpetrating the grisly act.

“Damn, they’re doin ’em dirty,” she added.

Periodically, Singh asked viewers to chime in with typed chants of “YES” to show their enthusiasm for policies such as a wealth tax or “more youth supports,” while Ocasio-Cortez lamented “scaremongering around socialism” in the U.S. and “out-there” Fox News coverage.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Oct. 20 live stream, which included fellow progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar, was one of the most-viewed events in the nine-year history of Twitch, which has become a popular way for politicians to attract young supporters.

The record still belongs to a professional gamer who played the popular game Fortnite with Canadian superstar Drake, rapper Travis Scott and NFL wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, with 628,000 viewers watching at the same time.

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey – Preeceville Progress

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante can now add “author” to her resume with the publication of a graphic novel in which she recounts her entry into politics and takes subtle digs at the sexism she’s encountered along the way.

‘”Okay, Universe: Chronicles of a Woman in Politics,” tells the story of Simone Simoneau — modelled on Plante — a young community organizer who decides to take the plunge into politics by running for a seat on city council.

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Published in both English and French and co-authored by illustrator Delphie Cote-Lacroix, the book follows the initially hesitant Simoneau as she learns to fundraise, knock on doors and recruit volunteers.

Plante, 46, said she began to toy with the idea of publishing a book after she won the mayoralty in 2017. Writing a typical political autobiography didn’t appeal, she said.

“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses.

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.”

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure.

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey

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“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses.

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.”

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure.

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

 

 

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