Flora MacDonald’s legacy must live on
Cape Breton native remembered for her strong personality and her devotion to helping others
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.