Alexa McDonough

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Alexa McDonough (born August 11, 1944) is a Canadian politician, and former leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP).

McDonough was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Her father, Lloyd Shaw, was a wealthy brick baron, but was committed to progressive politics. He served as a financial researcher for the NDP's predecessor, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and an early financial backer of the NDP when it formed in 1961.

McDonough attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1965 and a Masters of Social Work in 1967. She worked in the United States for two years, and then returned to Nova Scotia to work for the Department of Social Services.

After unsuccessfully running twice for a seat in the federal House of Commons in 1979 and 1980, she became the leader of the provincial NDP in Nova Scotia, winning a seat in the Nova Scotia legislature in 1981. Although she spent the next three years as the only New Democrat and the only woman in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, she was widely regarded as a tough, passionate and courageous advocate for NDP issues. She was instrumental in fighting for and winning the first ban on extra billing in Canada, worker health and safety improvements, human rights protections and pay equity

In 1994, she stepped down as leader of the Nova Scotia NDP to contest the federal NDP leadership when Audrey McLaughlin announced her retirement. In the NDP leadership convention the following year, McDonough was widely viewed as an also-ran behind the leading contenders, Svend Robinson and Lorne Nystrom, but at the convention on October 14, 1995, she placed second on the first ballot, ahead of Nystrom. Although Robinson had placed first on that ballot, he felt that most of Nystrom's supporters would go to McDonough on the second ballot, giving her the victory. Thus, he conceded to McDonough before a second ballot could be held.

McDonough inherited a party which had won just nine seats in the 1993 general election, but in 1997, her first election as leader, she managed to win 21 seats for the party, including a historic breakthrough in the Atlantic provinces.

During the next few years, McDonough's leadership of the party was controversial. She was widely seen within the NDP as trying to pull the party toward the centre of the political spectrum, in the Third Way mode of Tony Blair. Union leaders were lukewarm in their support, often threatening to break away from the NDP. Many activists within the party began a process called the New Politics Initiative, or NPI, which tried to build more connections between the NDP and activist groups who were currently outside the parliamentary process. The NPI proposal was voted down when it was presented at a party policy conference, but many of its ideas were taken up later by Jack Layton, whose campaign to lead the NDP was endorsed by a number of prominent NPI supporters including Svend Robinson, Libby Davies and Judy Rebick.

The Canadian Alliance under its new leader Stockwell Day presented a further challenge to McDonough's NDP. Fearful of the prospect of a Canadian Alliance government, many NDP supporters moved to the Liberals. As well, two NDP MPs (Rick Laliberté and Angela Vautour), fearful of their re-election prospects, joined other party caucuses, reducing the NDP caucus to 19 seats.

In the general election of 2000, the NDP was held to just 13 seats and its poorest percentage of the popular vote in years. The party gained one more seat (Windsor West) in a 2002 byelection, bringing their caucus to 14 members.

McDonough announced her retirement as NDP leader in 2002. At the leadership convention on January 25, 2003, she was succeeded by Jack Layton. She was re-elected to Parliament in the 2004 federal election.

In the NDP's shadow cabinet, she is Critic for Foreign Affairs and Post-Secondary Education.

McDonough was formerly in a long term relationship with former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister turned New Democrat David MacDonald. After her relationship became public she quipped that her strategy was to increase the membership of the NDP "one Red Tory at a time". It is unknown if Mr. MacDonald remains a member of the NDP.

Preceded by:
Audrey McLaughlin
NDP leaders
1995-2003
Succeeded by:
Jack Layton
Preceded by:
Mary Clancy, Liberal
Members of Parliament from Halifax
1997-present
Succeeded by:
incumbent
Preceded by:
James "Buddy" MacEachern
Nova Scotia NDP leaders
1980-1994
Succeeded by:
John Holm

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