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.
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.
OPINION | The politics behind Jason Kenney's 'tepid' response to COVID-19 – CBC.ca
This column is an opinion from political scientists Duane Bratt, of Mount Royal University, and Lisa Young, of the University of Calgary.
Jason Kenney is a shrewd and experienced politician.
He has years of experience as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, and was instrumental in helping Harper win a majority in 2011. Returning to Alberta politics, he successfully merged the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties and won a resounding victory in the 2019 provincial election.
And yet, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, he and his government are floundering.
Alberta has the largest absolute number of COVID cases in Canada, despite having the fourth largest population. For 10 days in mid-November, Kenney did not appear in public despite rapidly increasing case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.
Eight months into the pandemic, his cabinet had to meet for eight hours to devise responses that many dismissed as inadequate. And most recently, a public servant has taken the unusual move of leaking information to journalists to highlight the growing divide between the Kenney government and its chief medical officer of health.
Opinion polling shows that the Kenney government is paying a price for its handling of the pandemic.
Even in the early days of COVID-19, it was noticeable that the Kenney government missed out on the “COVID bump” that most other political leaders enjoyed. This was despite the fact that, in many ways, the Alberta government had responded effectively to the first wave.
But unlike other provincial governments, Kenney and his cabinet were engaged in a very public fight with doctors at a time when the public was banging pots and pans in appreciation of front-line workers.
Not taking a lesson from this, the government engaged in a broader dispute with health-care workers through the fall, and its poll numbers continued to drop.
A slide in public support
Last week, Leger reported that only 37 per cent of Albertans believed that their provincial government was handling COVID-19 well; the lowest, by far, of any province. Then, ThinkHQ reported that 81 per cent of Albertans would support a province-wide mask mandate.
It is unlikely that the measures announced on Nov. 24 will reverse, or even halt, this slide in public support.
How did a skilled politician like Kenney end up in this situation? We offer a few hypotheses.
First, Kenney is almost certainly concerned about an electoral split on the right. Public opinion on appropriate responses to COVID is split along partisan lines, with those further to the right more resistant to mandatory measures.
Common Ground Politics survey research conducted in Alberta in August found that UCP voters were more likely than others to think that the reopening was too slow. A national survey conducted by Vox Pop found that Conservative voters were less likely to wear masks.
WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Alberta
In his comments on Tuesday, the premier focused a great deal of attention on acknowledging the concerns of those on the right, who argue that restrictions are unconstitutional, for example.
The Alberta separatist (or “Wexit”) movement has gained momentum since the 2019 federal election and Justin Trudeau’s re-election.
With his experience merging conservative parties at both the federal and provincial level, the premier is presumably concerned about vote splitting on the right. By appeasing conservatives, especially in rural Alberta, Kenney is consolidating his base.
With 41 of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature outside of Edmonton and Calgary, consolidating that base makes electoral sense.
The restrictions that were announced on Tuesday, and the exemptions that were offered, lend support to this hypothesis.
Certainly, the decision to extend mask mandates only in Calgary and Edmonton (where they were already required through municipal bylaws) speaks to a desire to please conservative rural voters.
Similarly, the decision to permit in-person religious services to continue while junior high and high schools had to close speaks to a desire to keep voters in conservative-leaning faith communities onside.
Response informed by ideology
Second, Kenney and many of his close advisors are strong partisans prone to demonizing their political opponents.
Although Alberta has elected conservative governments for decades, we have to go back to the Social Credit governments of the 1950s and 1960s to find a more ideologically conservative government than the current UCP. Although Ralph Klein’s government was driven by fiscal conservatism in its early years, its policies moderated in later years.
The Kenney government’s strong ideological conservatism has informed its pandemic response, particularly since the end of the spring lockdown.
The government’s approach has been to emphasize personal responsibility rather than implementing restrictions.
Citing the economic cost of the lockdown, Kenney has repeatedly minimized the toll of the pandemic while emphasizing the negative consequences of restrictions on the economy broadly, and small business in particular.
This helps to explain why restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theatres and gyms are permitted to remain open, although with some further restrictions.
While other conservative provincial governments — notably Ontario and Manitoba — are placing greater restrictions on retail, Alberta is not.
WATCH | University of Alberta’s Tim Caulfield says the province needs a transparent approach to pandemic policy
Third, having been elected on a mandate of “jobs, economy, pipelines,” the Kenney government remains focused on economic performance.
Its promise of balanced budgets are, of course, no longer feasible, but the government remains deeply concerned about the province’s balance sheet. This helps to explain the decision to push forward on cost savings in the public sector — including health-care — during the pandemic, as well as decisions that prioritize the economy.
These three explanations — electoral considerations, ideology, and a focus on the economy — have resulted in a pandemic response that looks weak when compared to other provinces.
This is a moment that tests political leaders, requiring them to set aside political considerations in favour of the public good. Lives are at stake.
As the death toll continues to rise, the government’s tepid response will come under greater public scrutiny, and the political calculations that have informed it will appear increasingly out of touch.
If the Kenney government is unable to adjust to these new realities, it may pay a steep political price in 2023, as the electorate holds it accountable for both the economic and human cost of the pandemic.
This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.
'The Great Reset', politics and conspiracy – CBC.ca
- 8 hours ago
Last week, after a video of one of his speeches went viral, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to address a growing controversy over “The Great Reset”.
The term means different things to different people. To the World Economic Forum it’s a vague goal to make the world more equal and address climate change in the wake of the pandemic. To Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre it’s evidence of a “power grab” by “global financial elites”.
And to others, it’s part of a baseless and wide-ranging conspiracy theory. CBC senior writer Aaron Wherry has been covering this story in Ottawa. Today he helps us sort the real economics and politics at play… from the conspiracy gaining traction.
Leo Glavine, close political ally and friend of Premier McNeil, leaving politics – CBC.ca
Leo Glavine and Stephen McNeil share a political border that spans almost 45 kilometres, but it’s not proximity that has cemented their political and personal friendship during the past 17 years — it’s mutual loyalty and respect.
So it was no surprise that both men talked in glowing terms about the other when addressing reporters Thursday after Glavine formally announced his decision to retire before the next election.
“I’ve had the good fortune to come into political life with Premier McNeil,” said Glavine, noting both men first took their seats at Province House in 2003. Each has been re-elected four times since.
McNeil, who announced his plans in August to retire, called Glavine a friend and described their political careers as “a great journey.”
“I admire you a great deal and I wish you nothing but great health and happiness and you head into the next part, the next chapter of your life,” McNeil said following a cabinet meeting.
Opposition to government
They sat near each other, first on the opposition side of the House, then on the government front benches starting in 2013 when McNeil became premier. Glavine was one of the first in the Liberal caucus to support McNeil’s leadership bid against three opponents.
McNeil picked Glavine to be his first minister of health, a post Glavine held during the Liberal government’s entire first mandate. During that time, Glavine spearheaded the government’s tumultuous but ultimately successful drive to merge the province’s nine district health authorities into a single entity.
At the same time, the McNeil government squared off against the province’s public sector unions, taking away the right to strike from health workers, then forcing a reduction in the number of bargaining units in the sector. Those actions led to many large and noisy demonstrations outside Province House. The governing Liberals also imposed around-the-clock sittings at the legislature to fast-track necessary bills to enact those changes.
Glavine remained steadfast in his support for McNeil and his reorganization plans. In return, McNeil kept Glavine in the job despite the minister’s inability, at times, to properly or succinctly articulate those plans.
‘Everything old is new again’
McNeil’s seemingly unending confidence in Glavine was demonstrated again last month when the premier reappointed him to replace Randy Delorey as health minister after Delorey resigned to run in the Liberal leadership race.
“Everything old is new again,” quipped Glavine as he approached reporters after a brief ceremony Oct. 13 at Government House.
Asking Glavine to take over the portfolio in the midst of a pandemic may have been the ultimate display of confidence in his friend.
Glavine repaid the compliment in his farewell message Thursday.
“We’ve had an exceptional team in Public Health, the premier to guide our province through what may be one of the most challenging and difficult periods in the 21st century,” said Glavine, who characterized himself as “a very ordinary Nova Scotian” who came to Province House to “do the best work possible.”
What the future holds
The one-time public school teacher called his time in politics “a joy,” offering himself a rare bit of self-congratulation.
“While there were lots of challenges and stressful moments, I have not missed a day of work in my 17½ years in political office,” he said.
Glavine will stay on as the MLA for Kings West until the next election is called. He said he plans to go back to private life to “enjoy what the Valley has to offer” and spend more time with his grandchildren.
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