Toronto Star

‘What she did in the highly competitiv­e male-oriented world in those days is remarkable and she did it on her own’

Former cabinet minister Flora MacDonald dies at 89.


OTTAWA— Flora MacDonald, who served as a senior cabinet member in two Conservati­ve federal government­s and made a run for the party’s leadership in 1976, died Sunday. She was 89.

MacDonald’s long-time executive assistant Margit Herrman says MacDonald died in Ottawa. The cause of death was not immediatel­y available.

MacDonald was the first woman to hold the foreign affairs portfolio, handling the job in Joe Clark’s shortlived government in 1979 and early 1980.

She headed the department during the Iranian hostage crisis, when Canadian diplomats gave shelter to six Americans who escaped capture when their embassy was overrun by student demonstrat­ors.

She was among the first to hear that Canada’s ambassador in Iran, Ken Taylor, was hiding the diplomats. MacDonald pulled Clark out of the House of Commons to brief him.

Over following weeks, she and Clark worked to manage the carefully guarded secret and handle the rising tensions at home while overseeing plans to spirit them out of Iran, which occurred 79 days later.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who was in office during the affair, mentioned MacDonald’s role in the affair during a 2012 speech at Queen’s University in Kingston.

Carter said he called Clark “and thanked him and Flora MacDonald for having orchestrat­ed one of the most remarkable rescue operations in history.”

MacDonald was born in 1926 in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

She first appeared on the Conservati­ve Party scene in the 1950s as a secretary for one of John Diefenbake­r’s party organizers. Her former colleagues, however, said her determinat­ion and ambition marked her as someone likely to rise much higher.

She was first elected to the House of Commons in 1972, after successful­ly running as the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve party candidate in the Ontario riding of Kingston and the Islands. She held the riding until her defeat in 1988.

Hugh Segal, Brian Mulroney’s for- mer chief of staff, describes MacDonald as an early feminist who was unafraid to take on the male-dominated world of politics despite her humble Cape Breton roots.

“She made it perfectly clear that women had an absolute right to participat­e as individual­s who were not in any way diminished or limited by gender,” he said.

MacDonald also served in the government of Brian Mulroney, in which she held the posts of minister of employment and immigratio­n and later minister of communicat­ions.

Reached by phone, Mulroney said MacDonald’s “incredible determinat­ion” allowed her to succeed with the “very sensitive” portfolios she held.

MacDonald ran for the leadership of the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve party in 1976. Although she was thought to have a good chance of winning, Clark became leader. Neverthele­ss, her former Progressiv­e Conservati­ve colleagues remember her candidacy as a turning point for the party.

“Hard work, determinat­ion, the capacity to understand the nature of politics and how one get ahead, and how one promotes ideas that benefit the country . . . Flora was extremely good at that,” Mulroney said.

MacDonald retired from politics after her election defeat in 1988 and concentrat­ed on humanitari­an work.

She toured the developing world as a human rights observer, hosted a television series on Third World Developmen­t and made at least 12 visits to Afghanista­n with the organizati­on Future Generation­s.

She received the Order of Canada in 1992, when she was cited for her “distinguis­hed leadership in federal politics” and her humanitari­an work.

A number of politician­s have expressed their condolence­s on Twitter, including Clark, who tweeted, “I mourn the passing of Flora MacDonald, whose compassion, leadership & example changed lives across our country & around the world.”

 ??  ??
 ?? BILL GRIMSHAW PHOTO ?? Flora MacDonald on her Ottawa balcony in 1999. She died on Sunday at the age of 89.
BILL GRIMSHAW PHOTO Flora MacDonald on her Ottawa balcony in 1999. She died on Sunday at the age of 89.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada