“We need Canadians to know that Osama is a Canadian name,” Alexa McDonough told a hushed House of Commons in 2001 in the wake of the Islamophobia that followed the 9/11 tragedy, “that Mohammed is a Canadian name, and that worshipping in a mosque is a Canadian tradition.”
Alexa McDonough died on January 15, 2022, in Halifax at the age of 77, after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
But for millions of Canadians, she transcended party affiliation and every other distinction. She was simply “Alexa,” no last name needed, a beloved, respected, and significant player in Canadian life.
Her commitment to humanity manifested itself in many different ways.
She was always there for those who needed her — for the struggling single mother in her Halifax constituency; for Donald Marshall, Jr. in his fight to clear his name for a murder he did not commit; for the widows and families of the victims of the Westray mining disaster as they — and she — fought for legislation to prevent future similar tragedies; for Monia Mazigh the wife of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, who was disappeared into a Syrian prison for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time; and for many, many more.
Alexa McDonough led, not only by blazing her own trail as a female politician, but also by her ongoing efforts to encourage others — women, people of colour, those without privilege — to take their own rightful place in politics and the world. She made room for them.
McDonough was a relentless optimist. She could find the seeds of a better next result in electoral defeat, discern yet another small step for progress in every policy setback. She had a moral compass, and it was always pointed at a better, more just, more equal future.
She was born Alexa Ann Shaw in Ottawa on August 11, 1944.
She became Alexa McDonough when she married the late Peter McDonough in Halifax in 1966.
She began her career in social work as the assistant to the director of Social Planning Department at the City of Halifax in 1969, and later served as a member of the faculty at the Maritime School of Social Work at Dalhousie University.
Over the years, she assumed a variety of job titles: Nova Scotia New Democratic Party leader in 1980, Member of the Legislative Assembly in 1981, federal NDP leader in 1995, Member of Parliament in 1997, and Mount Saint Vincent University Interim President in 2009.
Over the years, she earned numerous honours, including the Order of Canada, the Order of Nova Scotia and four university honorary degrees.
Her children shared her proudly — and mostly willingly — with the larger world because they also knew their mother would be there for them whenever they needed her.
She taught them many life lessons — “How you treat people who can do nothing in return is the ultimate judge of your character;” “Giving back is not an option but rather an obligation;” “What you do for yourself, you take with you. What you do for others, you leave behind;” and “Be grateful. Every day.”
They will miss her every day.
Alexa is survived by her sons, Justin (Heather) and Travis (Margaret), her brother, Robbie (Jean), and her seven beloved grandchildren: Abbie Jean, Lauchlan, Taylor, Saoirse, Elizabeth, Griffin, and Charlie. In her later years, that next generation became her greatest source of pride, and she enjoyed nothing more than to watch them compete in their various sporting events from tennis and basketball to dance.