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, has died. She was 89.
MacDonald’s long-time executive assistant Margit Herrman says MacDonald died in Ottawa Sunday morning — 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 short-lived 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.
MacDonald was born in 1926 in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
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.
MacDonald also held the posts of Minister of Employment and Immigration and later Minister of Communications in the government of Brian Mulroney.
She ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 1976. Although she was thought to have a good chance of winning, she was defeated by Clark.
MacDonald retired from politics after her election defeat 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.
Flora MacDonald: 2014 Parliamentarian of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award
She received the Order of Canada in 1992, where 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.
“I mourn the passing of Flora MacDonald, whose compassion, leadership & example changed lives across our country & around the world,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also posted his condolences on Twitter and former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird tweeted he was sad to hear of MacDonald’s passing. “I recall campaigning with her in Kingston as a Queen’s student in ’88,” he wrote.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt saluted MacDonald as a trailblazing female politician and fellow Nova Scotian. “Min. MacDonald demonstrated that any career was possible — even for a girl from Whitney Pier. She cleared our path and I am grateful,” she wrote on Twitter.