rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Christopher Majka

Christopher_Majka's picture
Christopher Majka studied at Mount Alison and Dalhousie Universities, the Pushkin Institute in Moscow and was a guest researcher at the Edward Gray Institute at Oxford University. He has written extensively for many national and international publications. His scientific work includes over 150 scientific papers and contributions to nine books. He is a review editor for two international publications, a collaborator of the Kaltenbach Lab and director of Democracy: Vox Populi. Majka was a recipient of the Tom Brydges Award from the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network, and was included as one of Canadian Geographic's Environmental Scientists of the Year in 2010.

Actor and MLA Lenore Zann vies for Nova Scotia NDP leadership

| January 11, 2016
Lenore Zann

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

On October 8, 2013 the provincial government of Nova Scotia went down to defeat. Led by Premier Darrell Dexter, it was the first New Democratic government in the province's history, and the first majority government to ever go down after its first mandate.

I've written briefly about this event in Election Nova Scotia: Orange crush to red tide, and former MLA Howard Epstein has written at much greater length on the history of the NDP in the province in Rise Again: Nova Scotia's NDP on the rocks. The "orange crush" saw the NDP reduced from a majority government with 31 seats to third-party status with a rump caucus of seven MLAs.

In the aftermath, Darrell Dexter, who lost his own seat, resigned as leader of the NDP and the party appointed MLA (and former Health and Finance Minister) Maureen MacDonald, as interim leader. During the last two years the NDP has been mired far down in the polls, tied with the Progressive Conservatives and distantly trailing the Liberals who hold a commanding lead in popularity.

Except for a transient blip in the middle of 2015 when their support waned slightly and NDP fortunes rose, Premier Stephen McNeil's Liberals have dominated the Nova Scotia political landscape despite their intransigent, bone-headed, neo-liberal policies on virtually every issue on the political spectrum (Figure 1).

Nova Scotia political support

Given this bleak political landscape one might wonder why anyone would be interested in leading the provincial NDP, however, three hopefuls have thrown their hat into the ring for a leadership convention that will take place on February 27, 2016. Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River MLA Lenore Zann is one of them (Sackville-Cobequid MLA Dave Wilson, and former Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MLA Gary Burrill are the other two).

Economy Shoe ShopZann, the great-granddaughter of Croatian emigrants, was born in Sydney, Australia in 1959 before immigrating to Canada with her parents in 1968. The family eventually settled in Truro Nova Scotia where she got her start in musical theatre.

Graduating from York University (where she studied drama, fine arts, and political science) she embarked on a three-decade career on stage and screen that took her around the world before depositing her back in her Canadian hometown where in 2009 she won election as an MLA in the new NDP government. It's been a wild ride. I sat down with her in her favorite arts hangout, the Economy Shoe Shop, to talk about her theatrical and political life -- past, present and future. [Full disclosure: I've been a friend of Zann's for many years.]

Lenore Zann

Christopher G. Majka: Before you blazed a political trail in Nova Scotia as an MLA most people knew you as performer of stage and screen. What did those years as an actor teach you that have been of use in your new political career?

Lenore Zann: Thank you for acknowledging my background in the arts, because the arts are a very valuable part of our society, and someone who has had experience making a professional living in them, that does give you a unique perspective.

One of the things I did from an early age, when I became a professional actor -- I started at age 17 and was 20 when I did my first movie -- was that I started travelling throughout North America and around the world. In between shoots or productions I would go travelling so that I could study and live in different countries, to learn about their political, religious, and cultural identities. In that way I travelled all across Europe. I lived and studied and performed in London and Stockholm. I lived in Cuba for a year. I worked in the United States, in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati. I also travelled to Russia and went to Hong Kong. And in Sweden, where I worked for a year, I was able to learn what it is like to live in a social-democratic country. So I was able to see socialist, communist, and capitalist countries from the ground up -- getting to know people, learning the languages.

I found that that gave me a great insight into what I call the "circle of politics." I don't look at politics as being on the extreme right or the extreme left; I see it as a circle. When you go too far to the right politics becomes fascism and when you go too far to the left it also becomes fascism. So, for me, it's like a circle.

Fidel CastroHere's one of the things I learned in Cuba, for instance. Fidel Castro was giving a big speech, one of those long six-hour speeches in the rain. And he said one thing, which I couldn't understand, because he speaks muy rapidmente, very quickly. My friends were all cheering and I asked, "What did he say?" And they replied, he said, "The Americans look at us with our old cars from the 1950's. And they look at Havana and the paint is peeling off the walls, and they make fun of us. But I, Fidel, say, 'First comes penicillin, then comes paint!'"

Fidel CastroRight afterwards I went back to North America and I got a job in LA doing a movie but before I made the movie I fell down and broke my arm, rollerblading along Venice Beach. Because I was in my twenties and I was learning how to rollerblade. [laughter] So I went to try and find a doctor who would see me, and no one would unless I paid them two or three hundred dollars.

So I paid and the doctor said, "Yes, it's broken." And I said, "So I guess I need a cast?" And he said, "Yes, but that's going to cost you another five hundred dollars." Well, I didn't have five hundred dollars. And he said, "Too bad, I can't help you." And that's when I realized the difference between Cuba and America. In America 'first comes paint and then forget the penicillin.' [laughter] If you go to the studios in LA, and I've worked in many of them, it's all façades. It looks beautiful and shiny and gorgeous, but really, there's nothing behind it.


Here's another lesson: when you are on a set and are having your hair done, your makeup put on, standing on one foot because they are putting tape under your shoes because they don't want you clopping along on the floor, while they are putting a microphone up the top of your shirt, and you are trying to memorize your lines because the lights are about to go on and it's going to be "Action!" and you better know what the hell you are doing...that's a very good lesson on how to juggle and not get distracted. How to spin a million different plates and be able to catch them all and not have anything break. So that was a very good lesson for me.

Plus, internal politics. Having an artistic director, usually a man, who is running the show. And around that person spin a lot of people who are the "in" group, playing the leading roles -- a very tightly knit little group. Outside of that are all the "wannabes" who want to be in that inner group. And then you see all those hard-working people who just do their jobs and don't get into playing those politics. And I've always been one of those people. I've never felt that I needed to let down my values or principles to get ahead or to have a successful career.

CGM: It's a tough life in show business because there is still sometimes the perception that a career in the arts isn't a serious or proper job. That artists are lazy, or spendthrifts, or morally dubious. You faced flack and bullying yourself as an actor trying to break into politics, for example, for performing in a lesbian scene in a television drama, or for appearing topless. How did you respond when faced with such criticism? What has that taught you?

LZ: When you are bullied, there's a part of you that freezes, and becomes numb. Often they say you regress, that you go back to being a child. That you can't look after yourself because there is this big important person who is stronger and more powerful than you. So when you face that demon, and don't accept that behaviour, it makes you feel strong.

The L WordSo, when this cyber-bullying episode happened, I responded to a tweet where (this person) sent a photograph of me from a shower-scene in The L Word asking, "What happened to the old Lenore?" And I replied, "The new Lenore is now at the Nova Scotia Legislature kicking butt. Please delete that picture." [Note: a topless photo of Zann from a 2008 episode of The L Word, a Canadian-American television drama portraying the lives of a group of lesbian, straight, bisexual, and transgender women.] But they didn't, and they kept on for about a week, harassing me. I felt like I was being gang-attacked in my own living room. When you go through something like that, even though it is only in cyberspace, it feels like it's real. You feel like you are being shamed in public.

And so I called the cyber-bullying squad, and they were very helpful in telling me how to deal with it. I also called the police. [Note: For further information see Lenore Zann, L Word actor turned MLA, alleges cyberbullying.]

Since then, a lot of young women have contacted me to say that they have had similar experiences. That their pictures were being used on these porn websites -- it's called revenge porn -- and they couldn't get them off. And all these guys are there making comments about them.

It's just awful; it's horrendous. It's very shaming, and you feel small and powerless, and that you can't do anything. I feel for these girls, and I feel for the boys to whom it happens. So when those girls contacted me, I did everything I could, I contacted a million people, to see if I could get their pictures taken down off the Internet. And there were some people from Anonymous who got in touch with me to say, "We've been paying attention to what you've been trying to do to help these girls, and we feel for their pain too, and we thank you for your efforts, and we're going to get on-board." And so apparently 30 or 40 of them got together and they took that site down. So I tell people, if you are being bullied, seek help.

CGM: On a completely different subject, which is a very serious one that we face, is the looming threat of climate change, that unchecked literally threatens the future of our civilization. Nova Scotia is a small jurisdiction in the global community, but in addressing this issue, everyone has a role to play. What do you think Nova Scotia can do to play its part?

Truro Flooding

LZ: There are a number of places in Nova Scotia where our communities are on flood plains, Truro being one of them. We've already experienced terrible flooding a few years ago; one of the dikes was breached, and a berm that burst. The rain was coming down so quickly that the soil didn't have time to absorb it all. And it cost millions of dollars to clean up and re-build. [Note: for further information see Truro flooding leads to ambitious study on coastal threats.] I was really glad that our government found the money to to reimburse people whose basement's had been flooded, and the food in their freezers had spoiled, and their hot-water heaters had been destroyed. So all of this is very fresh in my mind.

Blue Dot MovementI really believe in the Blue Dot Movement and what David Suzuki is trying to do to get governments to sign up to say, let's introduce legislation that everyone has the right to clean air, water, and soil and healthy food. I think that's really important, and we have to stick to it. So that kind of legislation would indicate where we wanted to go as a province.

I also believe in getting off fossil fuels as quickly as possible. I believe in the green economy and the green jobs that it brings and we have renewable energy sources that we can develop here in Nova Scotia. I'm glad to see some of the efforts that have already started on this, and of course, Darrell Dexter's government did start a number of good things, including the Comfit (Community Feed-in Tariff) program, which the McNeil government has just ended. [Note: for further information see Province scraps COMFIT.]

I was recently at the Law Amendments Committee where people came to talk about solar power, and how one of the bills that the McNeil government had just introduced limits the abilities of communities to introduce solar (photovoltaic) power, reducing the size of allowable projects from 1 megawatt to 20 kilowatts. And people complained saying that this was not enough. So they increased the limit to 100 kilowatts. But that's still far less than what the people in communities have been asking for. So I'm concerned about why the government would want to limit the amount of solar energy that users can produce. [Note: For further information see N.S. energy law makes no sense.]

I'd like to see more solar, wind, and wave generation. I'd like to see smaller projects, for instance like those in Germany [Note: where Zann went on a research trip representing the Nova Scotia government.] where on small rivers they might have a hydroelectric station that can power a small village or town. There are also offshore wind farms in Germany, which cost more but they can generate more energy. [Note: For further information see: Berlin wallet: Merkel invests, Harper divests.] And I believe there is some talk of such a project in Nova Scotia off the coast of Yarmouth?

CGM: Yes, Newfoundland's Beothuk Energy has proposed a major wind farm in shallow water about twenty kilometers off the coast of Yarmouth [Note: For further information see: Beothuk unveils plan for $4b wind farm off Yarmouth.] In general, offshore wind farms have the advantage that even though installing them is more expensive than on land, they benefit from stronger winds that are more consistent in direction and there are fewer NIMBY concerns in regard to people finding windmills unsightly or distracting. 

LZ: So I was quite impressed with that. I am a little concerned with biomass and the biomass plant. I think that it's perhaps too large for Nova Scotia, that fact that it's using up so much wood. I don't really like the idea of that because I feel that our forests need to be managed sustainably.

Port Hawkesbury biomass plant[Sidebar: The biomass generation plant of the now-defunct NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp, which was sold to Nova Scotia Power, is burning on the order of 670,000 tonnes of wood fibre annually and producing 50 megawatts of electricity. The original plan was that the generating plant would use waste wood (sawdust and slash) from the paper mill, burning it to generate electricity. Now, because of reduced paper production at Port Hawkesbury Paper, approximately 50 per cent of the 335,000 tonnes of fuel used are from trees that are cut solely to be burned. This represents about 2,790 hectares of forest a year. Growing forests simply to burn them is a highly irresponsible practice condemned by many environmentalists.]

Lenore Zann and fanI've had a couple of meetings with the community forests people in the Medway area and I think they are doing an amazing job. In fact, I asked them if they could meet with the chief of the Millbrook First Nation, which is in my riding. So Chief Bob Gloade and I met with them to talk about managed community forests since they were looking to develop them, but in sustainable ways, and also to train young First Nations people in other types of jobs. So I thought, what a great opportunity to teach kids about sustainable silviculture -- a win-win situation.

CGM: Perhaps the second most urgent problem on the globe is that of growing inequality. Political economists like Thomas Piketty, Armine Yalnizyan, Robert Reich, and many others have been drawing attention to the ever-greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority at the summit of the income scale, while the middle class stagnates and the working class sinks ever deeper into poverty. It's clear that this trend is increasingly incompatible with democracy, social justice, meritocracy, and even the long-term stability of market economics itself. [Note: For further information see Thomas Piketty: Economics transfigured.] 

Again, although Nova Scotia is a tiny player on the world's economic stage, what would you envision that would make Nova Scotia a fairer and more equitable society in which everyone gets a share of growing prosperity.

LZ: As I said earlier, one of the things that was a wonderful experience for me was living in Sweden, which is a social welfare state. I've found, that in all of the countries I've lived in that system works the best.

[Sidebar: Sweden's social welfare system includes a) publicly-funded health care similar to Canadian Medicare; 2) publicly funded care for the elderly including retirement homes and home care; and c) social security. Social security, in turn, covers seven areas including monetary support for children, day care, housing allowances (for those who can't afford housing), disability benefits, unemployment insurance, retirement pensions, and "livelihood support" (Försörjningsstöd), a service that those who for various reasons are unable to achieve a reasonable standard of living, are able to apply for. For further information see Welfare in Sweden.]

This means that people don't have to be anxious that, for instance, they'll end up as a bag lady.

CGM: Sleeping on park benches …

LZ: You never know what might happen to you as you grow older. A couple of bad turns, and this and that, and you could end up homeless. With a living wage (i.e., such as "livelihood support") you don't have to worry about that.

Lenore ZannSo people say, "Well what is the reason to work then?" In Sweden what I learned was that from an early age children are taught to be proud of their skills and talents; because you want to give back to your community; because your community is looking after you. So it develops in people a sense of responsibility and solidarity with each other. That together we are strong and together we will look after each other. What a fantastic attitude, as opposed to the American attitude of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" or "Who wants to marry a millionaire?" In Scandinavian countries, people have the greatest longevity, they are happier, they are healthier, and healthier in their old age. 

So, if we were going to do that in Nova Scotia. It would be a little complicated because we would have to talk to the federal government, about employment insurance for instance. Some people would say, "You can't do that because you have to get buy-in from the feds." But I say, never say never. I would love to go and talk to Justin Trudeau about this and see what he thinks. To say, "This is something we would like to do in Nova Scotia. Can you help us? And, by the way, maybe this is something you might like to roll out across the country at some point in time?" Why not try it here and make Nova Scotia a poster child of how it could work? The Canadian Association of Social Workers has said that a basic income is the best way to deal with poverty. So, I think it's time we started thinking outside the box and instead of just trying to put bandages on things, why not change the whole picture?

CGM: You are a New Democrat, a social democrat. In fact, you are a politician who isn't afraid to say you believe in socialism. What does that mean to you? What values are central to your political vision?

LZ: Equality. I think that the basis of social democracy, or socialism, or democratic socialism, is the fact that we are all born equal. What I want for myself, I want for others. I don't necessarily want to be a millionaire. I'd like to have enough that I have a good life, that I'm healthy and happy and comfortable. That I don't have to be anxious about what is going to happen to me when I get older. And I'd like the same for every person in Nova Scotia. 

CGM: One of the critiques of the Dexter government was that it became too top heavy and too top down. That the Premier's Office called the shots on too many decisions without sufficient input from cabinet, caucus, or the grassroots of the party. And that it thereby lost its vital connection with core social-democratic values. For four years you were at the caucus table. What lessons do you take from your experience there? What do you think that government got right – and wrong?

LZ: Well, first of all I would like to say I was extremely proud and honoured to be part of the first ever NDP government in Nova Scotia. Like many others I am still disappointed that we didn't get a second mandate. I would have loved to see where Darrell took us in a second mandate.

Darrell Dexter and Lenore ZannI know his heart was in the right place, but I believe that he and the people around him -- I nicknamed them the 'blackberry boys' -- they made a mistake when they hitched their whole wagon to balancing the budget. I know why they did it. They did it because throughout Canadian history the NDP has been criticized by the right as being "tax and spend socialists." It has been said, untruthfully, that the NDP doesn't know how to balance a budget, and are not fiscally responsible. This is not true. If you look at Canadian history, where there have been NDP governments, they have mostly balanced budgets, certainly in comparison with Liberals and Conservatives. All you have to do is look at Saskatchewan where they had several balanced budgets in a row …

CGM: Tommy Douglas balanced the budget seventeen times in a row, all while introducing Medicare and accomplishing many other things.

LZ: Exactly! That was an old wives tale that kept being resurrected. And I'm pretty sure that Darrell and his advisors wanted to put that story to bed once and for all, and to show that they were business friendly. Personally, I felt that they threw the baby out with the bath water.

Those of us who were there, the backbenchers who were not part of the cabinet, felt that as a government we were not being sufficiently social-democratic. That this wasn't the New Democratic Party that we had all fought for and wanted to see succeed. And our base felt the same way. But, they (Dexter and the "blackberry boys") did not want to listen. They felt that they were right.

When it came to education cuts I was the loudest one around the caucus table to say "No, don't cut education. This is the wrong way. This is not going to win us any votes, and it's going to hurt children and teachers and it's not good for our province." But they didn't listen and went ahead with the cuts. At one point I remember saying in our caucus meeting, "If we continue down this path we will be handing over a nicely balanced budget to the next Liberal government." And sure enough, we did.

Part of the problem was that they didn't listen to anyone outside of that bubble. The Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children was another issue. I totally felt that the Premier was doing the wrong thing. But again, nobody listened. [Note: For further information see Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children: Will we see justice, or just another lawyered up apology?]

Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children

That said, I feel that the Dexter government did many good things, and they didn't blow their own horns enough about them. They didn't even want us to talk about, for example, the fifth tax bracket. But by the time that Darrell and his advisers realized (some of these problems) it was too late. You could tell people that we tried, that we added a poverty tax, and an affordable-living tax credit … but by that time, nobody wanted to hear it.

CGM: Beyond those specific issues is the larger question of running a political party in a more democratic fashion. As a prospective leader of the party, what would you do differently so as not to repeat past mistakes?

LZ: Yes. It has to be. To me, that's what democracy is supposed to be all about. I think you have to listen to people. I think if you have found people to run for the party, and you believe in them and want them to be around the table, then for God's sake, listen to them. We (backbench MLAs) were the foot soldiers, out on the ground listening to people in our ridings. That's our jobs. We know what's going on.

Around that caucus table there were a number of us who said that we shouldn't be doing this or that or the other thing, For example there was a family in Moose River who had a Christmas tree farm whose land a gold-mining company wanted to expropriate. And we said, "Please don't allow that. That's not the NDP way." But they'd already made their minds up and they wouldn't listen to us. [Note: For further information see Family fighting expropriation near Moose River gold mine.]

I went through a period about two years into (our mandate) where I felt very disillusioned, and I would never want another caucus to go through that. I think we have to listen to each other and to treat each other with respect. And the same goes for the party. The party felt that they weren't being listened to, and so the party became very disillusioned as well. And we can't have that ever again either. We need to keep the door open. Which is why, if I was leader, I would want to go out into different areas (of the province) on a continuing basis to stay in touch with people.

Lenore Zann and supporters

CGM: Finally, as you well know it's a tough life on stage -- and in politics, for that matter. Lots of travel, long hours, impossible schedules, big egos, crazy pressure, loneliness, sometimes too much money or no money at all. It's enough to send many people travelling there down the path of drink and drugs. You were once on that road. How did you get on it, get off it, and stay off it?

LZ: When it comes to alcohol addiction, and possibly drug addiction too, I believe that alcoholism is genetic. I believe it is a disease. We also call it a type of mental illness. Any addiction is a kind of compulsion, and most people who have it, they can't seem to help themselves; they are drawn to do whatever that destructive behaviour is, over and over again. Many times you'll say, "Well that was awful last night. I'll never do that again." And then you forget and do it again. If it's not alcoholism it could be shopping, it could be sex, it could be gambling, it could be many different things.

And so for myself, like anybody who has an addiction, you have to hit bottom, where you can't go any lower in your own mind. So people's bottoms are lower than others. I hit my bottom at age of 36.

CGM: Was it the stress of show business and the theatrical life that brought you there?

LZ: No, not really. You can blame anything for using (alcohol), and most people do. They say, "Well I drink because my job is so stressful" or "I drink because my children are driving me crazy" or "I drink because my husband is an asshole, and he's a couch potato and doesn't treat me well" or "I drink because my parents were mean to me." You can drink for a million reasons, but the bottom line is, it's your choice. You are the one who picks the bottle up and puts it to your lips. So, therefore you are the only one who can stop doing it.

Marilyn MunroeHaving played Marilyn Monroe as my first big role, and I played her several times in my career in different plays, she died of a drug and alcohol overdose. She was probably an alcoholic, and definitely a drug addict, and so at the age of 36 I found myself in the same place where I felt that I was no longer young, I was no longer this femme fatale, I was moving into a different place. 

In Hollywood, and it's the same in film and television around the world, once you hit a certain age as a woman, it's difficult to get work, harder than it was when you were in your twenties. It's easier for men; the roles keep getting nicer for men as they get older. Many of my friends at around that age, either got in trouble with alcohol or drugs, or they just left the business entirely, or they had trouble with depression or anxiety. And I was suffering from them all. [laughter] I didn't know what to do with myself, and so I would drink. And I would drink, more, and more, and more -- to try and dull the pain. But alcohol also gives you false confidence. And then as soon as you come down off that alcohol high, you start feeling anxious again.  And so it's a vicious circle.

The point that takes you from being an active user, to someone who doesn't use at all, is a very fine line. And one day in Los Angeles, I was staying at a hotel, and I reached the point where I knew that I either had to die -- I either had to kill myself -- or get sober. One morning I went to the bathroom, and I vomited -- first thing in the morning -- and I saw my own red, blood in the toilet. And that's when I knew I was at the point of no return. And I thought, "Well, I could just die, and that would be the easiest solution, but the bravest thing for me to do, would be for me to go on living and face my fears … my fears of growing older, and not being successful … and stay alive, and help others realize that there is a way out.

Marilyn Munroe

And at that moment, in that bathroom in Los Angeles, I had what they call a moment of grace, an epiphany. I had clarity and I said, "Universe, take me away. I'm yours. Please take away my desire for alcohol." And it did.

Lenore ZannI got up on my feet, went in the other room, I called Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and I said, "I'm ready. I'm an alcoholic and I need help. I don't know what to do. Can you help me?" And they said, "Where are you? We'll come and get you right now." And this beautiful black woman came and she picked me up and she took me to my first AA meeting on Martin Luther King Boulevard. And all the people there were from the black community, and I walked in there feeling like a little drowned mouse. There was an old man, I found out later his name was Leon, at the podium speaking. It turned out that he had gotten sober that very day thirty years before. And it was in the middle of the Watts riots, when a white woman came to him and said, "You're in pain, aren't you? I can tell you're suffering." And he said, "Yes." And she said, "Are you ready? I can help you." And he said, "Yes, I'll do anything." She took him by the hand and they walked down the street and she took him to an AA meeting where it was all white people. And he said that they treated him like he was a golden child. They loved him back to health. They taught him that he was valuable and that he needed to love himself.  And here he was, thirty years later, on his sobriety birthday, and I walked into that room. And it was like the yin and the yang … it was like we had known each other for eons.  

Those folks that I met that day, they looked after me for the next week. They took me in their homes, took me to meetings, took me to his birthday party that night, where I was the newest sober person. There were three hundred people all dressed to the nines who had thirty or forty years of sobriety, and then there was me. They taught me how to love myself and that I didn't need to be self-destructive any more.

And now,  -- it's going to be twenty years this April 12th, that's my sobriety birthday -- it's my turn to give back to others and teach them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Don't give up!

CGM: That's quite an epiphany.

LZ: And it's true, every word of it!

 Lenore Zann

Pink Marilyn by James GillThere's probably no role that Zann understands better than that of Marilyn Munroe, which propelled her to fame in 1979 when she played the title role in the musical Hey Marilyn! and whose life she documented in her own one-woman musical show, The Marilyn Tapes. Munroe died in 1962 at age 36 in Los Angeles of a drug overdose considered a "probable suicide" by the LA Coroner's Office as a result of "severe fears and frequent depressions." In 1995, at age 36, in Los Angeles, Zann confronted her own demons, and as she recounts, lived to tell the tale.

The arc of Zann's life has been far different from her some-time doppelgänger, Norma Jean Mortenson (a.k.a., Marilyn Munroe), but both actresses collided with a star-making machinery that all too often wanted to reduce women to sex symbols, and paid scant attention to, to employ the words of Martin Luther King in another context, "the content of their character." It's not an uncommon experience of women, and not just on the silver screen. Blonde bimbo and other stereotypes die hard. 

When we reconnected on Nova Scotia soil after her 2009 electoral victory, Zann was all enthusiasm, but 30 years on the theatrical road had taken her far from the province and any detailed knowledge of its political history and realities. Furthermore, despite the theatricality of both acting and politics, it's a different kind of drama that unfolds on the floor of the Legislature than on the sound stages of Hollywood.

Nonetheless, Zann jumped in and worked hard. She knows how to find those who are knowledgeable, how to take advice, and learns eagerly. She didn't earn re-election in 2013 when most of her caucus went down to defeat by resting on her Hollywood laurels -- she did it by assiduous work as a constituency MLA. She built bridges to every group in her riding, relentlessly turning up at events, listening to anyone who would talk to her, slogging on the hustings, and showing that she cared. In the conservative heartland of Truro, which produced Nova Scotia PC Premier, and later federal PC leader, Robert Stanfield, that's quite a feat for a self-declared socialist.

Does Zann have the chops to lead a political party? Only time will tell.

This is Part I of a series on the progressive NDP politics in Nova Scotia and the candidates contenting for the party's leadership. Part II is From pulpit to soapbox: Gary Burrill vies for the Nova Scotia NDP leadership.

Christopher Majka is an ecologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and writer. He is the director of Natural History Resources and Democracy: Vox Populi.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.



We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.