Alexa McDonough is one of the first Canadian politicians I remember knowing about, for a few reasons: one, I first became aware and interested in politics as a kid in the late 90s and early 2000s, when McDonough was on the federal stage as the leader of the NDP; two, even then, I looked for women in places of power (because if they could do it, maybe that was something I could consider for my future); and three, even then, I looked for people from Atlantic Canada in places of power (because if we came from the same place, maybe that wasn’t the hindrance I thought it was). Alexa McDonough was the leader of a federal political party, with a long and respected career in politics, at a time when I was particularly impressionable. Representation matters! And this is the spirit in which Stephen Kimber wrote his authorized biography of McDonough, titled Alexa! Changing the Face of Canadian Politics. Through interviews with McDonough, her family, colleagues, and expanding on other works written about her, Kimber presents a very thorough biography of McDonough, starting with her grandparents, and working through to the present day, well after her retirement from the political stage. It is in this biography that McDonough and her family decided to publicly disclose that McDonough has Alzheimer’s, which was diagnosed when she was sixty-six years old.
This is an incredibly detailed, bordering on dense, biography of McDonough. No stone goes unturned, no detail spared: from Alexa’s father’s involvement with the CCF (the precursor of the NDP) to her mother’s broken family, to the summer jobs which would shape her future experiences, being the first woman working for the City of Halifax to get maternity leave and setting a precedent, to her experiences as a social worker and her steps into federal politics, then provincial politics, and back to federal politics. One of the things which struck me as I read this was how familiar a lot of the misogyny McDonough rammed up against in both the Nova Scotia legislature and the House of Commons were: McDonough was a trailblazer in pushing these realms to be slightly more diverse, but it is only a start.
Packed with loads of fascinating details, in-depth explanations about how different parts of the government work, and a who’s-who of Atlantic Canadian activists, artists, businesspeople, scholars, and politicians, Alexa! Is a solid political biography. It’s interesting, and of course, sympathetic, but also traces the history of the NDP in both Nova Scotia and Canada as a whole; shows off the long and rich tradition of drama in provincial legislatures, and for those of us familiar with Halifax, drops us back into the city, with loads of references to landmarks and the different neighbourhoods in the area. A recommended read for those interested in the history of the NDP and/or women in Canadian politics.
Stephen Kimber is a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax and an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster. He is the author of nine non-fiction books, including What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (April 20 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773101951
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773101958
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