Honourable Flora MacDonald, 1926-2015

Written by  //  August 2, 2015  //  Absent Friends  //  1 Comment

Flora MacDonald, longtime politician, dead at 89

Nova Scotia native became Canada’s 1st female secretary of state for foreign affairs in 1979

Flora MacDonald 3

Obituary: Flora MacDonald, 1926-2015
MacDonald’s advice to those aspiring to office: learn to ‘relate to the difficulties somebody down the street is having’
By John Geddes, Maclean’s

Farewell to Flora: Hundreds gather to honour political pioneer
By Bruce Deachman
(Ottawa Citizen) As Flora MacDonald’s casket, draped in a Canadian flag, was brought into Christ Church Cathedral on Sparks Street on Sunday, the church’s organ joined in piper Hugh MacPherson’s rendition of The Day Thou Gavest, and the whole building literally shook with the bass notes’ depth, setting the tone for the profound respect of the service that followed.
That the pews were filled with hundreds of people came as no surprise; Flora Isabel MacDonald, who died on July 26, was a highly esteemed pioneer in Canadian politics — she was Canada’s first female minister of External Affairs, in Joe Clark’s Conservative government in 1979-80, and among the first women to take a serious run at becoming party leader.
She also persevered to the end of her 89 years as a tireless humanitarian, especially in Afghanistan. What may have taken some aback, though, was the wide spectrum of admirers who came to pay their respects: Apart from Tories Clark and former senator Lowell Murray, who both spoke at the service, and Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch and former leader of the government in the Senate Marjory LeBreton, were NDP leaders past and present, in the form of Tom Mulcair and Ed Broadbent, and Ottawa-Centre NDP MP Paul Dewar, as well as Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MP Mauril Belanger.
In some regards, it was like a quiet old-home week as the church filled prior to the 75-minute service, with friends, family and political allies and foes alike blowing kisses and waving, greeting one another and getting re-acquainted. Some wore tartan ties or scarves, while many others wore buttons from MacDonald’s lone leadership and six federal election campaigns: “Flora Power” read one, while others bore the likenesses of both MacDonald and her near-namesake, Sir John A. Macdonald, each of whom represented Kingston and the Islands in the House of Commons. One attendee later joked that every living red Tory had showed up.
The humour was hardly out of place, for although Sunday’s service reflected the high regard in which MacDonald was held by friends, family, political colleagues and people who only knew her from a distance, it was through many humorous anecdotes that MacDonald’s tenacity and tough-mindedness were brought to light and balanced with her speedskating, her heavy foot on the accelerator, her appreciation of a wee dram to end the day.
Friend and former staffer Ian Burchett spoke of how she regaled in former prime minister John G. Diefenbaker’s description of her as “the finest woman to walk the streets of Kingston.”
Clark, who described MacDonald as “irrepressible and irreplaceable,” told of how, after forming the government in 1979, he couldn’t track her down to ask her to be in his cabinet, when most other Conservative MPs would be sitting right by their phones waiting for such a call. It turns out that she had decamped to a monastery immediately following the election, to learn to speak French. When he finally got through, he was told she was in class, and he could call back at lunchtime.
“But I’ve been struck by the number of people who knew Flora only from a distance,” he added, “and how deeply she was felt, how deeply she’d been loved, how deeply her departure is felt. And it seems to me that part of the reason is that she represents a spirit of community responsibility which many Canadians believe represents the best qualities of Canada, which many of us feel is on the wane and deeply needs to be restored.”
Speaker after speaker applauded MacDonald’s accomplishments, both large (her role in helping free the U.S. hostages in Iran; NAFTA; the 60,000 Vietnamese refugees accepted by Canada) and small. In his eulogy, Murray told of how, on loan once to the Nova Scotia Conservatives for a provincial election and helping get out the vote at a seniors’ residence, she was confronted by one supporter who refused to go to the polling station before his VON nurse arrived to give him his weekly bath.
“Time was of the essence,” Murray joked. “Every vote counted. And so Flora rolled up her sleeves.
“A few minutes later, that gentleman emerged, newly scrubbed, and into a waiting car.”
Murray spoke, too, of MacDonald’s post-political avocation as a humanitarian, particularly for such issues as women’s education.
“When it came to doing God’s work on Earth,” he said, “Flora walked the talk.”
After the service, guests milled about outside, catching up and reminiscing. MacDonald, Broadbent said, was “a dynamic, authentic human being and a truly exceptional politician. … She lived her principles whether in domestic politics or international. A marvellous person.”
And as the hearse carrying Flora MacDonald’s casket eased away from the curb and drove off, a handful of mourners waved goodbye from the sidewalk. Hopefully they will find solace in the earlier reading, by MacDonald’s great-niece Anik Grearson, from 2 Timothy 4.6-6: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Remembering Canadian politician and humanitarian Flora MacDonald
By Kim Elliott, Publisher
(rabble.ca) Flora MacDonald died last week, on July 26, at the age of 89. Despite her high profile in the Conservative Party, and her political breakthroughs (for instance, she was Canada’s first female Foreign Minister — one of the first women to occupy this position in the world), Flora MacDonald wasn’t a politician we heard a lot about. Her Conservative political background combined with her progressive views (for example, she didn’t hide the fact that she voted NDP in recent elections) is perhaps a combination that makes partisans feel uncomfortable. This may explain, in part, Stephen Harper’s snub this week-end: he has announced that he is not attending her funeral.
She was a Red Tory — a socially progressive MP at a time long before the Harper-style Conservatives. She fought for equality and inclusiveness. Following her political career she turned to her passions for women’s rights and international humanitarian work — spending much of her life traveling to work on women’s issues internationally.
I had the honour of spending part of day with her at her Ottawa apartment several years ago, as research for Ten Thousand Roses, a history of Canadian feminism by Judy Rebick.
Whether or not you share her political philosophy, Flora MacDonald broke new ground for women in Canada, and her story sheds a different light on some key moments in Canadian history. (more)

30 July
Stephen Harper to skip ‘red Tory’ Flora MacDonald’s funeral
(Ottawa Citizen) Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not attend the funeral of former external affairs minister Flora MacDonald, a pioneering political figure credited with leading the advance of women in modern Canadian conservative politics.
Harper hasn’t offered MacDonald’s family a state funeral, a special privilege he extended to former finance minister Jim Flaherty’s family when Flaherty died suddenly of a heart attack last year.
Instead, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch will represent the government at the service on Sunday — the day, according to a CBC report circulating Wednesday, that Harper will ask the governor general to dissolve parliament and kick off the federal election campaign.
The lean recognition of MacDonald’s passing from the prime minister suggests that there is an enduring fissure between Harper’s camp and the more progressive red Tory conservatives whom she once symbolized.
Still, MacDonald’s family had to move the service on Sunday to a larger venue, Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral, to accommodate the numbers of the public – and public figures – expected to pay respects.
Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, who made MacDonald his external affairs minister in 1979, is returning from summer holidays in the United States to speak at the service.
Former PC senator Lowell Murray, also a cabinet minister under Clark, will speak. Former PC MP Rev. David MacDonald, a former PC MP and long-time friend of MacDonald’s, will assist the officiant, Reverend Canon Catherine Ascah. There is speculation that former prime minister Brian Mulroney will also attend.

26 July
A trailblazing politician: Flora MacDonald dies at 89
She was a very public spirited person in that she valued the public good over the private good.
(Ottawa Citizen) Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said MacDonald’s numerous achievements include her key role in 1979 in Canada’s welcoming more than 50,000 Vietnamese refugees, in addition to her role in the rescue of the American hostages from Iran.
“Flora MacDonald was a trailblazer in many ways for women’s rights ‎and an example of the best ideals of public service through her roles as a member of Parliament and minister of the Crown and, later in life, her work with the United Nations and Future Generations Canada, a non-governmental organization that she founded,” Nicholson added in a statement released Sunday night.

An excellent interview from October 2012
Flora MacDonald: On war, foreign policy and Afghanistan
(Diplomat) Flora MacDonald has been to Afghanistan 12 times. Not every woman her age — she’s 86 — can say the same. But then Ms MacDonald’s whole life has been about firsts. She was the first woman to mount a serious campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada (no women had run for the leadership of the Liberals at that time, either). Elected to Parliament in 1972, she became an ally of fellow red Tory Joe Clark who, in 1979, made her Canada’s first female secretary of state for external affairs. Indeed, she was one of the first female foreign ministers in the world at that time.

One Comment on "Honourable Flora MacDonald, 1926-2015"

  1. Rudolph Kounthong September 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm ·

    Although she was perceived as a strong candidate for the position, MacDonald fared worse than expected, winning just 214 votes on the first ballot despite having over 300 pledged delegates in her camp. Clark and MacDonald, both moderates, became allies throughout their careers.

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