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House of Commons pays tribute to ex-NDP leader Alexa McDonough, who died in January

First woman to lead a major political party in Canada died Jan. 15 in Halifax at the age of 77

Politicians of all stripes paid tribute in the House of Commons to Alexa McDonough on Monday, remembering her as a fearless advocate for social justice and a trailblazer for women in Canadian politics.

The former leader of the federal NDP died Jan. 15 in Halifax at the age of 77 after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told the Commons that McDonough’s passing was not only a loss for her family and New Democrats, but for all Canadians. McDonough was someone who fought her whole life for social justice, championed women in politics and never backed down from a challenge, he said.

“She broke barriers for people in a profound way,” Singh said. “She broke barriers so that other people could dream big and do the same.”

Singh said McDonough was ahead of her time in fighting for the inclusion of all people regardless of race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. “Her story is truly one of dedication, determination and decency. She was a remarkable trailblazer.”

McDonough became the first woman to lead a major political party in Canada when she was elected leader of the Nova Scotia NDP in 1980. She became leader of the federal NDP in 1995 and served in the party’s top post until 2003.

McDonough made her mark federally as a champion for social programs and gender equality. She retired from politics in 2008.

Liberal cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett said she was elected to Parliament with McDonough in 1997, and she remembered her efforts to reconstitute the all-party women’s caucus. Bennett said the phrase “you should” would be Alexa’s advice to all young women in Canada who are considering a run at political office.

“Today we honour the legacy of this tremendous politician who demonstrated how important it is to our democracy that good and great people run for public office,” she said. “Alexa will continue to inspire us all.”

Nova Scotia Conservative MP Chris d’Entremont said McDonough was a visionary who was close to people.

“Her determination in all of her commitments will certainly be remembered and recognized forever as an important gift and a source of inspiration to many women for generations to come,” d’Entremont said.

On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, MP Marilène Gill noted that McDonough fought against cuts to health care and for improved access to employment insurance benefits for workers.

“Here in the House of Commons, she showed determination as a woman in a man’s world,” Gill said.

MPs marked McDonough’s passing with a moment of silence.

— Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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