Trailblazing MP Flora MacDonald dies
North Sydney native remembered as great humanitarian, accomplished politician
A trailblazer for women in politics, Flora MacDonald is being remembered for much more than her time in the House of Commons.
MacDonald, a native of North Sydney, died early Sunday in Ottawa at the age of 89.
First elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1972, MacDonald was a member of Parliament for the Ontario riding of Kingston and the Islands for 15 years and served in three key cabinet positions — secretary of state for external affairs, minister of employment and immigration and minister of communications.
After leaving political office, MacDonald dedicated herself to humanitarian endeavours, travelling to more than 100 countries on behalf of numerous international aid organizations.
Her brother Ron MacDonald of North Sydney said he last saw his sister about three weeks ago in Ottawa, noting she had recently been dealing with a number of medical issues.
Ron said his sister excelled in life from an early age — she did very well in school, was a class leader, and was also a “very good athlete,” participating in a number of sports in the area including volleyball, speedskating, and badminton. She also had a keen interest in baseball.
Throughout her career, Ron said his sister was motivated by a desire to help people, particularly those living in Third World countries.
“She enjoyed being elected but she really thought she’d accomplish more working in Third World countries and that was her big love — that and Scottish music, of course,” he said.
Ron said he will miss hearing his sister’s thoughts on the impor- tant issues of the day.
“She was on top of so many things, internationally, whether it was the Mideast or South Africa or Afghanistan, she had a great understanding of things,” he said. “She was very well-read.”
Close friend Lowell Murray, a New Waterford native and retired senator who now lives in Margaree, said MacDonald achieved much in her life.
“Three years after she was elected member of Parliament she was a candidate for the leadership of the PC party, and three years after that again she was foreign minister in Joe Clark’s government, and she started out as a bank teller in North Sydney,” he said. “There’s never been anybody quite like her in Canadian politics.”
As external affairs minister, MacDonald was at the forefront of two major issues — dealing with the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979, and, together with fellow minister Ron Atkey and Clark, spearheading efforts to welcome 60,000 Vietnamese refugees to Canada.
Through it all, MacDonald never forgot her roots, visiting home often and keeping informed on the issues affecting the
“She was a great Cape Bretoner, she really was, she loved this place,” said Murray, noting she also loved a good Cape Breton ceilidh. “I can see her yet stepdancing to fiddle music in our living room. She was always great company and that’s what I’ll miss about her.”
Murray, who will deliver a eulogy at MacDonald’s funeral when it is held in the coming days, said his friend was simply interested in everything.
MacDonald’s humanitarian efforts including chairing the International Development Research Centre, the World Federalists of Canada, and serving on the Carnegie Commission on the Prevention of Deadly Conflict. She also served on numerous boards including the Canadian Council for Refugees, CARE Canada, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and Friends of the National Library.
For her work, MacDonald received numerous awards and acknowledgements — she is a companion of the Order of Canada, a recipient of the Pearson Peace Medal, a member of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Ontario, and the recipient of several honorary degrees, including one from the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University) in 2003.
In an interview with the Cape Breton Post at the time, MacDonald said she was thrilled to receive such an honour at home.
“I’ve received a number of honorary degrees but this one is particularly special because I got to come back to Cape Breton. It has to be at the top of the list,” she said.
Ron said funeral arrangements are still being completed. The funeral will take place in Ottawa but she will be buried in Cape Breton.