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Joyce Fairbairn

Phtograph of Joyce Fairbairn


First woman to be appointed Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Born in Lethbridge, Alberta on November 6, 1939.


Political Affiliation: Liberal

Legislative Career: Appointed to the Senate for Lethbridge, Alberta on June 29, 1984 and continues to serve.

Appointed Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister with special responsibility for Literacy, November 4, 1993 - June 10, 1997.

Appointed Special Advisor for Literacy to the Minister of Human Resources Development, September 5, 1997

Honours and Awards: Sworn to the Privy Council November 4, 1993

Senator Fairbairn’s career has afforded her a unique perspective on how government and bureaucracy work because for almost all of it she has worked on Parliament Hill.

She came to Ottawa from her native Alberta to study, completing a B.A. in journalism from Carleton University in 1961. Her career as a journalist began in Ottawa notably with the Parliamentary Press Gallery Bureau of United Press International and later for F.P. Publications. She was one of the first women to work in this milieu.

In 1970 she became legislative assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, which entailed preparing strategy for Question Period every day. During 1981-83 she carried additional responsibilities as Communications Coordinator in the Prime Minister’s Office. The next turn in her career was her appointment to the Senate on June 29, 1984. She has held the positions of Vice-Chair of the National and Western Liberal Caucus (1984-1990) and Co-Chair of the Liberal Party of Canada Election Readiness Committee (June 1991). And in 1993 she was appointed to the Cabinet, as the first woman Leader of the Government in the Senate.

In 1987 she launched a campaign for literacy in Canada. She is an effective advocate for this cause and in November 1993 she was appointed Minister with special responsibility for literacy and on September 5, 1997 Special Advisor for Literacy to the Minister of Human Resources Development. She is a committed and dynamic parliamentarian known for her concern and stand on many issues, such as Senate reform, abortion legislation and the rights of aboriginal peoples. Amongst her honours is her induction, in June 1990, as a member of the Kainai Chieftainship of The Blood Nation as "Morning Bird Woman". She is also Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel, 18th Air Defence Regiment, RCA.


Alberts, Sheldon. — "Alberta Senator Joyce Fairbairn steps out of the shadows, into the spotlight". — Calgary Herald. — November 28, 1993. — P. B1.

Doyle, Susan. — "Senator Fairbairn committed to literacy". — Feliciter. — Vol. 36, no. 2 (February, 1990). — P. 10.

"Joyce Fairbairn: une locomotive chez les sénateurs libéraux". — La Presse. — le 24 décembre 1993. — p. C6.

Loyie, Florence. — "Women & Politics: You’ve come a long way: Alberta Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn sings the praises of women in politics but says there’s still plenty of room in the House for more". — Calgary Herald. — March 11, 1996. — P. A4.

Palamarek, Michael. — "Joyce Fairbairn". — A History of women and politics in Alberta 1900-1988: a report for Senator Martha P. Bielish. — Canada?: s.n., 1989. — pp. 124-125

Sears, Val. — "Profile: Joyce Fairbairn". — Toronto Star. — August 2, 1992. — P. B5.

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