Canada History

Canada History   timelines 
AskAHistorian    blog 




Elections | Governor General | Supreme Courts | Parliament | Political Parties | Prime Ministers | Provinces  | Symbols

John A Macdonald | Alexander Mackenzie | John Abbott | John Thompson | Mackenzie Bowell | Charles Tupper | Wilfred Laurier  | Robert Borden | Arthur Meighen | William Lyon Mackenzie King | RB Bennett | Louis St Laurent | John Diefenbaker | Lester Pearson | Pierre Trudeau | Joe Clark | John Turner | Brian Mulroney | Kim Campbell | Jean Chretien | Paul Martin  | Stephen Harper

The rise of Kim Campbell in Federal Canadian politics was relatively fast as was her ultimate demise. Canada's 19th Prime Minister was also it's first female PM. Campbell was born Avril Phaedra Douglas Campbell on March 10th, 1947 in Port Alberni, British Columbia. Her family moved to Vancouver soon after she was born and at age 12 her mother left her home and she decided that Avril would not continue to be her name and from there on in she would be called Kim. She attended Prince of Wales High School where she was elected the first ever female class President which was not t be the first male only barrier she would bring down 

She attended the University of British Columbia where she earned her BA in 1969 in Political Science. She then went to the London School of Economics where she worked on her PhD in Soviet Studies. She left early when she decided to marry and move back to Vancouver in 1972 and began teaching at UBC and Vancouver Community College. By 1980 she was back at UBC as a student studying for her Law Degree.

Her interest in politics began to take on more of a utilitarian shade when she decided to run for the school board in Vancouver and served in that position from 1980 to 1984. Her first taste of the political life had stimulated her ambition and her next step was into provincial politics when she ran as a Social Credit candidate in 1984. She lost but became a policy advisor to Premier Bill Bennett and in 1987 she ran for the Socreds again and won. Once in the Provincial Legislature she unabashedly opposed the Premier's position on abortion by supporting more access for women to abortion services. 

Seeing no long term future in provincial politics she switched to the Progressive Conservatives and ran in the 1988 Federal election and won in Vancouver Centre. Prime Minister Mulroney brought her into the Cabinet in 1989 when she was made Minister of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development. She worked hard in that ministry and was rewarded in 1990 when she was promoted to Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Facing stiff opposition from members of her own party she brought in tougher control of guns, and then took on the issue of sexual assault by reaffirming the rights of the victims.

In 1993 as an election drew near, she was moved to the Department of Defense and had to deal with the controversial questions of buying new helicopters for the military. She also had to deal with actions by Canadian Airborne units in Somalia which while on peacekeeping duties had tortured and killed some Somalis.

By 1993 the Progressive Conservatives and Brian Mulroney had fallen to very low levels in the polls and Mulroney realizing that he could not possibly win another mandate, decided to step down. Many in the party were looking for an edge in their next leader which might help resuscitate their fortunes and help win the election. Campbell was viewed as a dynamic, charismatic leader who might recreate the momentum of Trudeaumania and capture the nations support as the first female Prime Minister.

She defeated Jean Charest, a long-time Conservative stalwart and highly respected member of the cabinet, in the leadership race and on June 25, 1993, she became Canada's first female Prime Minister. She was well aware of the fate of John Turner a decade before when he rushed into an election with only a slim initial lead in the polls. She took some very popular actions to start with, such as cutting the number of Cabinet Ministers from 35 to 23, attending the G7 summit in Tokyo  and touring the country in July and August. The polls showed her climbing above 51% approval which was extremely high for a Canadian Prime Minister. The Conservative gamble of going with the relatively inexperienced candidate with the momentum seemed to be paying off. By September she was well ahead of the Liberal leader Jean Chretien and had absorbed much of the support of the Reform Party. She decide to call an election for the fall and the writ was dropped an the race was on.

Her lead in the polls almost immediately began to fall and due to inexperience and an uncoordinated Conservative campaign strategy. As the campaign unfolded, the voters were reminded of the unpopular Mulroney, to which the Conservatives, realizing that Campbell was more popular then Chretien, unleashed attack ads against the Liberal leader. One in particular seemed to mock Chretien's speech impediment and the reaction nationwide was highly critical of Campbell and the Conservatives. The election was lost and the best that could be hoped for was a decent number of MP's to form the opposition.


As the results began to come in on election night, the vote for the Liberals became a landslide. The final results were Liberals - 177 seats, Bloc = 54 seats, Reform Party 52 seats, NDP 9 seats, Progressive Conservatives 2 seats and others - 1.

Several dynamics took hold during the election including the separation of French Canadian nationalist support from the Conservatives with the Bloc benefitting. The weakness of the NDP also helped boost the Liberal numbers as they consolidated the centre and left vote. The resurgence of reform during the election also hurt the Conservatives in the west. Campbell even lost her seat in Vancouver Centre to the Liberals.


Campbell resigned shortly after the election and Jean Charest took over as leader of the 2 seat Conservatives. Kim Campbell returned to teaching Political Science at Harvard University. In 1996 she was appointed as Consul General in Los Angeles, a post which she held until 2000. She has remained very active in many areas but has taken particular pride in her work for the advance of women's opportunities in many different arenas.


Article/Document/Material Source: