The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | Le Réseau canadien pour l’abolition des armes nucléaires

PNND Tribute to nuclear abolitionist Alexa McDonough

PNND pays tribute to Alexa McDonough, a long-time PNND leader and a dear colleague, who died on January 15 in Halifax, Nova Scotia after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Ms McDonough – or Alexa as she is mostly known – was an active and effective champion for peace, human rights, disarmament and the environment, and a pioneer of the integrated human security framework.

Alexa was an incredible leader – a warm, caring, humble, dedicated, super-smart woman who made a considerable difference in politics, and who touched people’s hearts, minds and souls everywhere,” says Alyn Ware, PNND Global Coordinator. “Canada and the world are better places for the blessing of Alexa’s presence and her life.

Alexa with PNND Founding Chair Douglas Roche.

Tributes to Alexa have come from across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a formal message of condolence, praised her for being a ‘strong advocate for gender equality, support for marginalized people, and a more compassionate government,’ and in a tweet called her death “an extraordinary loss for our country. The impact she had, history she made, and barriers she broke for women cannot be overstated.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted that Alexa will be dearly missed, noting that “She dedicated her life to social justice, championed women in politics and never backed down from a challenge.”

Former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, tweeted her condolences, saying “I wouldn’t have grown up in N.S. (Nova Scotia) with the belief that women belonged in politics but for Alexa McDonough. She was a role model for many, including me.”

Tributes have also flowed from civil society. Dr. Erika Simpson, President of the Canadian Peace Research Association and Board Member of the Canadian Pugwash Group, for example, described her as “a great Nova Scotian and a kind woman and mother. She was a wonderful person and a strong advocate of peace.”

“Alexa McDonough brought enthusiasm coupled with expertise and professionalism to advance human values and sanity in the realm of national and international policy,” says Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute. “Appropriately she included in her enormous workload of issues the moral and practical imperative to eliminate nuclear weapons. Let’s hope others follow her footsteps. God bless her. She will be missed.”

Alexa was a member of the Canadian parliament from 1997 to 2008, leading the New Democratic Party (NDP) for a number of those years. She used her position as a parliamentarian to the full, in order to bring public, parliamentary and government attention to key issues including peace and disarmament.

Alexa at a meeting with the President of the United Nations General Assembly H.E. Choi Young-jin in 2005, along with Mayors for Peace Program Director Aaron Tovish, Mayors for Peace Vice-President Donald Plusquellic and PNND Global Coordinator Alyn Ware.

From the moment Alexa joined PNND in 2004, she became one of the most active members of the PNND Canadian affiliate and of PNND Global.

She was a ‘gifted political leader‘ according to Douglas Roche OC, KCSG, founding Chair of PNND and a former Canadian senator and Canadian Disarmament Ambassador. “She easily worked across party lines and led the way in establishing PNND/Canada as a non-partisan informed voice calling for constructive policies by the Government of Canada. Alexa inspired PNND/Canada to lead the way toward common security policies.

Alexa built support amongst legislators for innovative and effective nuclear disarmament policies and initiatives.

In 2005, for example, as a member of the PNND delegation to the 7th Review Conference of the NPT and as leader of the PNND delegation to the  60th Anniversary of the United Nations, she advanced the idea of an ‘Ottawa process’ for nuclear disarmament, where-by like-minded countries commence negotiations on a global nuclear abolition treaty even if not all of the nuclear-armed States would be ready to join. This idea, which later morphed into a Nuclear Ban Treaty campaign, was part of a Legislators’ Appeal for a Nuclear Weapons Free World which was endorsed by over 300 mayors and parliamentarians and which Alexa presented to the President of the UN General Assembly, Chair of the UN First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and UN member states during the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.

In 2006, she become one of the five inaugural PNND Co-Presidents along with Marian Hobbs (New Zealand), Abacca Anjain Maddison (Marshall Islands), Mi-Kyung LEE (South Korea) and Uta Zapf (Germany). Alexa, along with the other Co-Presidents and founding Chair Douglas Roche, elevated PNND from a small network of legislators to an international organization, operating in international fora like the UN and NPT, and running effective and ground-breaking programs in a mix of nuclear-armed, allied and non-nuclear countries.

In 2008, for example, Alexa and the four other Co-Presidents promoted the idea of common security as a feasible alternative to nuclear deterrence, to NATO and the United Nations, through a Joint Statement on May 24, Women’s International Day for Peace and Disarmament which they presented at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly on May 24, and again at the United Nations in October. The Statement also highlighted the connections between nuclear disarmament and addressing the emerging climate crisis – one of the first international statements to make these connections.

“The threats to our planet – of climate change, poverty and war – can only be overcome by nations and the global community working in cooperation – something not possible while nations maintain large and expensive militaries and threaten to destroy each other. When one year of global military spending equals six hundred (600) years of the United Nations operating budget- are we truly committing ourselves to a world with increased cooperation and reduced conflicts?”
Joint statement of Alexa McDonough MP (Canada), Mikyung Lee MP (South Korea), Uta Zapf MdB (Germany),  Marian Hobbs MP (New Zealand), Senator Abacca Anjain Maddison (Marshal Islands), May 24, 2008.

PNND is also indebted to Alexa for co-hosting PNND’s 2008 Assembly at the Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Nova Scotia (Canada). This was the venue for the formation of the Nobel Laureate organization of Pugwash scientists in 1957. The PNND assembly included a special event with the Hon Peter MacKay, Minister of Defence, announcing the placing of the Thinkers Lodge on the National Historical Sites list.

Alexa (seated second from right) and other PNND members at the Thinkers Lodge, Pugwash for the 2008 PNND Assembly

PNND is only one of the many organizations in which Alexa was active, and nuclear disarmament was only one of her many important issues. Her contribution to them all was incredible, and way beyond what could be imagined in any one person’s life.

“Canada should reject the security framework asserted by the United States and other nuclear weapon states and redirect military resources towards the strengthening of human security.” Alexa McDonough, United Nations, October 2008.

Tribute to Murray Thomson by Douglas Roche

Murray Thomson was relentless in his work for peace. He just never stopped. Even at 96, he was a force to be reckoned with. Only a few days before he died, he phoned to tell me he had some new ideas for nuclear disarmament, and why wasn’t I doing more to implement them?  He challenged me all the time, and I was a better person for it. Murray’s contribution to a more peaceful world and particularly to a world freed of nuclear weapons was outstanding. And that is too weak a word. There was nobody else like him. Although his life was filled with peacemaking activities (when he wasn’t playing tennis or chess), I believe his crowning achievement was the creation of Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, an organization composed of more than 1,000 recipients of the Order of Canada calling on Canada to take a worldwide initiative for nuclear disarmament. The peace movement has lost a hero and our only proper response is to redouble our efforts.

— Douglas Roche