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.
Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down
Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.
A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.
“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.
Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.
The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.
While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.
The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
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