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Alone at the Top
The Path to Power
Leading Canada
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A. Kim Campbell.


1947 -    

"In a democracy, government isn't something that a small group of people do to everybody else, it's not even something they do for everybody else, it should be something they do with everybody else." -- Kim Campbell, March 25, 1993

As a prospective Conservative leader and prime minister, Kim Campbell spoke of the "politics of inclusion," a style of government she had demonstrated as Minister of Justice, in hopes of persuading Canadians to vote Tory one more time. However, like other new prime ministers inheriting a long term of office, she was unable to shake off an unhappy legacy. As did Tupper, Meighen and Turner, Campbell led Canada for only a brief period before going down to electoral defeat.

Avril Phaedra Douglas Campbell was born in Port Alberni, B.C., in 1947. Her parents moved to Vancouver soon after she was born, where her father studied law at the University of British Columbia. The marriage was not a happy one; her mother left the family when Campbell was only twelve years old. It was at this point that she changed her name to Kim. Despite the family distress, Campbell did well in high school and involved herself in politics at an early age, running for and winning the presidency of her student's council. Kim Campbell became the first female student president of Prince of Wales Secondary School.

In 1964, she went to U.B.C. where she majored in political science. Here again, Campbell met with political success and was elected the first female freshman president. After graduation, she took some graduate courses at the Institute of International Relations, before winning a scholarship to the London School of Economics. At the L.S.E., Campbell began a doctorate in Soviet Studies. She returned to Vancouver in 1973, her thesis unfinished, and began lecturing part-time at U.B.C. and Vancouver Community College.

In 1980, she returned to U.B.C. to study law, and at the same time, got involved in local politics. Campbell was elected to the Vancouver School Board and served for four years. Her platform of fiscal restraint caught the attention of the governing Social Credit party and she was asked to run as a Socred candidate in the 1984 provincial election. Although she lost the seat, Campbell was offered a job as a policy advisor to B.C. Socred Premier Bill Bennett the following year. When Bennett resigned in 1986, Campbell ran for provincial leader but lost to Bill Vander Zalm. In the election held that year, she won a seat in the legislature. Here she made her mark by publicly opposing the premier's restrictive stance on abortion. By 1988, Campbell was being wooed by the federal Conservative party. Their star B.C. Cabinet minister, Pat Carney, was retiring from politics and a candidate was needed for her seat in Vancouver Centre. Campbell agreed to run and won in the 1988 election.

She was offered a junior Cabinet post in 1989 as Minister of State for Indian and Northern Affairs. The following year she became Canada's first female Justice Minister. It was here that she proved her mettle as a politician. Campbell introduced a bill amending the gun laws. In the wake of the 1989 Montreal massacre, she had to satisfy a widespread public outcry for more restrictive gun laws and get support for the legislation from a determined lobby of gun-owners within her own caucus. Campbell was also praised for Bill C-49 which was drafted when the Supreme Court struck down the 1983 "rape shield" law as unconstitutional. She made the unprecedented move of consulting with women's groups and law associations, as well as ministry officials, in drafting the new law. By focusing on the principle of consent, Bill C-49 remained constitutional and still protective of a victim's rights. It passed second reading in the Commons with a rare vote of unanimity by all three federal parties.

In 1993, Campbell became Minister of National Defence and was immediately embroiled in the debate over the EH-101 helicopter contract and the deaths of four Somalis at the hands of Canadian paratroopers. By this time, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had announced his retirement, and Campbell was encouraged to run for party leader. Her only strong competition was Jean Charest, and she won in a close contest at the convention in June. Kim Campbell became Canada's first female prime minister.

However the Conservative mandate to govern had expired and Campbell had to call an election for October 1993. She was unable to overcome her party's nine-year legacy and bore the brunt of voters' dissatisfaction with free trade, the GST, the constitutional fiascos and the economic recession. The Conservatives suffered an extraordinary defeat, reduced to just two seats in the House of Commons. Campbell herself lost her Vancouver seat and retired from politics completely. She returned to academia, accepting a fellowship at Harvard.

Source: Canada's Prime Ministers, 1867 - 1994: Biographies and Anecdotes. [Ottawa]: National Archives of Canada, [1994]. 40 p.

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