Flora Mac­Don­ald’s legacy must live on

Cape Bre­ton na­tive re­mem­bered for her strong per­son­al­ity and her de­vo­tion to help­ing oth­ers

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

Cana­di­ans lost an im­por­tant leader over the week­end. For Cape Bre­ton­ers, the loss is of one of our own. Any­one who fol­lowed pol­i­tics in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s will know Flora Mac­Don­ald as a house­hold name. She was the first woman to hold three key cab­i­net po­si­tions — sec­re­tary of state for ex­ter­nal af­fairs, min­is­ter of em­ploy­ment and immigration and min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

She was also only the sec­ond woman in Cana­dian history to make a se­ri­ous bid for the lead­er­ship of a ma­jor fed­eral party. In 1976, she sought the lead­er­ship of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party. Af­ter win­ning only 239 votes on the sec­ond bal­lot, Mac­Don­ald dropped out of the race, and en­cour­aged her sup­port­ers to vote for Joe Clark, who would win the lead­er­ship. In 1979, Clark be­came prime min­is­ter of a short-lived mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment.

But her suc­cess wasn’t lim­ited to the House of Com­mons.

Af­ter leav­ing po­lit­i­cal of­fice, she ded­i­cated her­self to hu­man­i­tar­ian en­deav­ours, trav­el­ling to more than 100 coun­tries on be­half of nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional aid or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Those who knew her well have de­scribed her in re­cent days as a se­ri­ous and hum­ble woman, with smarts that could take on any sit­u­a­tion.

And many have also made a point to men­tion how proud she was of her Cape Bre­ton roots.

In­deed, there’s some­thing to be en­vied about any­one who is ca­pa­ble of re­spond­ing to an in­ter­na­tional emer­gency such as the Ira­nian hostage cri­sis of 1979 and who can also hold their own dur­ing a Cape Bre­ton ceilidh.

It’s her strength of per­son­al­ity and her self-con­fi­dence that seems to have res­onated most with any­one who met her.

Her life story is a great tale to share with those who are too young to re­mem­ber this trail-blaz­ing and strong-willed woman who once called Cape Bre­ton home.

For to­day’s youth, it may be hard to imag­ine a world where young women aren’t en­cour­aged to fol­low which­ever path they choose. For that rea­son, we feel it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize and share the legacy of Flora Mac­Don­ald so that oth­ers will con­tinue to work for the change she was al­ways striv­ing for.

True, it is no longer un­heard of to see women at the helm of large cor­po­ra­tions or to see them take on lead­er­ship roles as politi­cians at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment. But it’s not en­tirely com­mon just yet, ei­ther.

Af­ter decades work­ing tire­lessly be­hind the scenes, Mac­Don­ald was first elected as an MP in the 1972 elec­tion in the On­tario rid­ing of Kingston and the Is­lands.

It wasn’t un­til she was re-elected in the 1979 elec­tion that the num­ber of women elected to the House even reached dou­ble dig­its for the first time.

Ac­cord­ing to re­cent sta­tis­tics, women make up 52 per cent of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion, yet they only rep­re­sent roughly 20 per cent of elected politi­cians on mu­nic­i­pal, pro­vin­cial and fed­eral lev­els.

As we en­ter into a fed­eral elec­tion later this year, it’s im­por­tant to con­sider how far women such as our very own Flora Mac­Don­ald have brought our coun­try.

More im­por­tant still is the re­al­iza­tion of how far we still have to go as a na­tion.

She has set the trail. It’s now time for oth­ers to pick up where she has left off.

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