First woman to be elected as premier in Canada (Prince Edward Island).
Born in Central Bedeque, P.E.I. on July 25, 1939.
Political Affiliation: Liberal Party of Canada
Legislative Career: First elected to the P.E.I. Legislature in 1974, for the constituency of the District of Fourth Prince (1974-78).
Appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Health & Social Services; Minister Responsible for Disabled Persons
Appointed to the Senate on September 23, 1997.
Catherine Callbeck obtained her early education in her home town of Central Bedeque, Prince Edward Island, where she was born in 1939. After completing high school in Summerside, she attended Mount Allison University. There she earned her bachelor of commerce degree in 1960. This was followed by a bachelor of education degree from Dalhousie University in 1963, and post-graduate courses in business administration at Syracuse University. After several years of teaching business in New Brunswick and Ontario, Ms. Callbeck returned to Prince Edward Island, in 1968, to work in the family business, Callbeck's of Central Bedeque.
In 1974, Ms. Callbeck was successful in her first run for political office when she was elected to the Prince Edward Island Legislature as Assemblyman for the District of Fourth Prince. She was quickly appointed to Cabinet, where she held two portfolios: Minister of Health and Social Services and Minister Responsible for Disabled Persons. At the time of the next provincial election, in 1978, she resigned from politics to work in the family business, then in a period of expansion.
Her return to politics was at the federal level when, in 1988, she was elected as the Member of Parliament for Malpeque. In the House of Commons, she served as official opposition critic for Consumer and Corporate Affairs; Energy, Mines and Resources; Financial Institutions; and as associate critic for Privatization and Regulatory Affairs. In addition, she was a member of the Commons Financial Institutions Subcommittee and vice-chair of the Liberal Caucus Committee on Sustainable Development.
In late 1992, Catherine Callbeck decided to leave federal politics and seek the leadership of the Prince Edward Island Liberal Party. The extensive volunteer work she had done earlier in her career helped her secure this position on January 23, 1993, when she defeated two rivals. Sworn in as premier of the province on January 25, 1993, she was again elected to the Prince Edward Island Legislature on March 29, 1993. This latter date marked the first time in Canada that a woman was elected premier. It was also the first time an electorate in Canada was given the choice of three major parties headed by women.
Declining public support for her government led to Ms. Callbeck's retirement from provincial politics in October 1996, and a return, once again, to the family business. She was appointed to the Senate of Canada on September 23, 1997.
Catherine Callbeck found herself to be the first or only woman in many endeavors during her life. From being the only woman in her commerce class at university to the only woman teacher of business in her school, from being the only woman in Alex Campbell's cabinet to being the first female premier of Prince Edward Island and the first woman to be elected premier in Canada, it has been a life of achievement. Notwithstanding the fact that there are now more opportunities for women to excel in politics, some barriers do remain that still need to be addressed. As such, Senator Callbeck has long been an advocate of increasing the number of women seeking public office. She has been involved with the Women's Campaign School organized by the PEI Coalition for Women in Government, and has also mentored many young women wanting to pursue a career in politics.
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