Shaughnessy: The Passionate Politics of Shaughnessy Cohen


287 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 1-55199-046-6
DDC 328.71'092




Reviewed by Margaret Conrad

Margaret Conrad is a professor of history at Acadia University. She is
the author of Intimate Relations: Family and Community in Planter Nova
Scotia, 1759–1800, and Making Adjustments: Change and Continuity in
Planter Nova Scotia, 1759–1800 and the co


Shaughnessy Cohen, Liberal MP for Windsor–St. Clair from 1993 to 1998,
is best known to most Canadians for having died in the House of Commons
at the age of 50 following the bursting of a brain aneurysm. It is a
testimony to Cohen’s capacity to inspire friendship both in and
outside the House that award-winning journalist Susan Delacourt had
produced this biography and donated a share of its sales to the Judy
LaMarsh Fund, which supports women in the Liberal Party seeking public

As Delacourt admits, Cohen’s political career is worthy of a
book-length study less because of her accomplishments than for what her
story tells us about the possibilities and pitfalls for women in public
life. Cohen managed to make her mark in Ottawa by cultivating ties with
power figures in the Liberal Party such as Allan Rock and Herb Gray and
by sweeping aside bureaucratic barriers that stopped most people.
Although she proved to be an even-handed chair of the Justice Committee,
where she mediated controversial issues such as victims’ rights and
youth justice, her ability to forge informal networks was perhaps her
greatest triumph. Known as “Radio Shaughnessy,” she was a veteran of
many Ottawa “happy hours,” sometimes indiscrete, and often the
subject of controversy. The pressure of making it in a man’s world no
doubt contributed to her early demise, but it is clear that the
extroverted Cohen loved the good life and ignored the warning signs
about the state of her health just as she did the state of her finances.

What makes this biography more than just a tribute to a Liberal
backbencher—albeit a colorful one—is Delacourt’s knowledge of the
context of Cohen’s career. Readers of this book will be rewarded by
insights concerning such issues as gun control and gay rights, the
infighting among federal Liberals, and the way women in political life
manage their personal lives. Often a page-turner, this biography is a
splendid tribute to a friend and a welcome contribution to the field of
political biography.


Delacourt, Susan., “Shaughnessy: The Passionate Politics of Shaughnessy Cohen,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,