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Born on March 10, 1947 as Avril Phaedra Douglas Campbell, to Phyllis and George Campbell, Campbell was surrounded by the law from an early age. Her father was a barrister, who had served with The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada during the Second World War. Due to her birth location and year, Campbell would become the first Baby Boomer Prime Minister, and the first, and to date only, prime minister born in British Columbia.
When Campbell was 12, her mother left, leaving her father George to take care of herself and her sister Alix. It was also around this time that Campbell began to adopt the nickname of Kim, which would remain for the rest of her life. Campbell would not see her mother again for a decade.
At a young age, Campbell first came to the public eye on the CBC program Junior Television Club, where she was a co-host and reporter. While the show only lasted from May to June of 1957, it was the start of a life in the public eye.
Campbell’s family would move to Vancouver with her family and become the top student at the Prince of Wales Secondary School. While there, she became the school’s first female student president.
She would obtain a degree in political science, with honours, at the University of British Columbia. While at the university, she became the first female president of the freshmen class. After one year of graduate study at the school, she was offered the chance to pursue her doctoral studies at the London School of Economics. As part of pursuing her doctorate, which was on the Soviet Government, she would spend April to June of 1972 touring the Soviet Union.
Soon after the tour, Campbell left her doctorate studies and returned to Vancouver and married Nathan Divinsky that same year.
From 1975 to 1978, she lectured at the University of British Columbia and at the Vancouver Community College from 1978 to 1981.
Soon after, she articled and began to work as a lawyer, earning her law degree with the University of British Columbia, and was called to the bar in 1984.
Her first foray into politics started in 1981 when she began her first of two terms on the Vancouver School Board, remaining until 1984. One year prior to leaving the board, Campbell divorced Divinsky and married Howard Eddy, whom she would remain married to until just before she became prime minister.
In 1983, Campbell turned her attention to provincial politics, running for a seat with the Social Credit Party in Vancouver Centre. She would finish third with 19.3 per cent of the vote.
In 1985-86, she worked as the executive director in the office of Premier Bill Bennett.
In July 1986, she ran for the leadership of the British Columbia Social Credit Party but was eliminated after the first round. While she was not elected as leader, Campbell was elected to the provincial legislature in October as a Social Credit member for the riding of Vancouver-Point Grey.
During her term in the legislature, Campbell was relegated to the backbenches, but proved to be effective as an MLA. Unfortunately, she soon became disenchanted with Premier Bill Vander Zalm’s leadership. She also broke with the Social Credit Party over the issue of abortion. Campbell has been pro-choice her entire life, while the premier was pro-life. In 1988, Campbell chose to leave provincial politics and focus on the federal level.
On the federal level, Campbell immediately found success. In the November 1988 election, Campbell took 37.2 per cent of the vote in her Vancouver Centre riding, defeating her opponent by 300 votes.
One year later, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed her as the Minister of State For Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
From 1990 to 1992, she served as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, becoming the first woman to hold the post in Canadian history. It was in this role that she would oversee notable changes to the Criminal Code when it came to firearms control and sexual assault. Under her guidance as minister, a new sexual assault law was passed that entrenched in law that no means no. she also introduced the Rape Shield Law, which protects a person’s sexual past from being explored during a trial.
Regarding gun laws, Campbell responded to the 1989 Montreal Massacre stating that there needed to be more restrictive gun laws. To accomplish this, she had to balance the public outcry over the shooting and get to the support from the lobby of gunowners within her own caucus.
As Justice Minister, Campbell was handed the case of David Milgaard, the man who had been wrongfully convicted for murder in 1970 and had spent the past two decades trying to exonerate himself. Campbell would state in her autobiography that she came under considerable pressure from the public and was bombarded with questions about the case by the opposition and the media before she was even assigned the petition to direct a new trial for the case. In 1991, she notified the Milgaard legal team that there was insufficient evidence to grant a new petition. Campbell then had to deal with Mulroney appearing to take sides in the debate over the case, stating that he had met with Milgaard’s mother and he saluted her for her courage and determination. Campbell would later order a new trial on the murder charge against Milgaard, but the Government of Saskatchewan announced it would not do so, entering a stay of proceedings in the case and releasing him from prison on April 16, 1992. In 1997, DNA evidence cleared him of the crime completely. In 1999, Milgaard received $10 million compensation for pain and suffering.
In January 1993, she was moved to National Defence, again becoming the first woman to hold the post. During her tenure as the Minister of National Defence, and the Minister of Veterans Affairs, she would deal with the replacing of shipborne helicopters for the navy and for search and rescue units. At the time, the Sea Kings were believed to be too small for anti-submarine warfare roles. In 1985, the New Shipboard Aircraft Project Act was introduced to parliament to find a replacement for the Sea King. In 1987, Brian Mulroney announced the purchase of 35 EH101 helicopters to replace the Sea Kings. At the same time, the CH-113 Labrador search and rescue helicopters were in need of replacing. To meet that need, Mulroney tacked on the replacement of those helicopters to the Sea King purchase in 1991. This increased the total purchase cost to $5.8 billion for 50 helicopters. At the time, the country was dealing with mounting deficits and many questions the need for new helicopters at such a price tag. While Campbell had very little to do with the purchase, it would stay with her well into the upcoming election campaign.
Also, during her time as National Defence Minister, the Somalia Affair erupted. The incident was a military scandal that involved the March 4, 1992 beating death of a Somali teenager at the hands of two Canadian soldiers who were in the country as part of humanitarian efforts. The act was documented in photos and while it was only coming to light during the last few months before the election, it would become a major issue in the election.
In an interview with the Canadian Parliamentary Review in 2017, Campbell would say that as a woman taking the high-profile cabinet portfolios, she occasionally noticed pushback from male colleagues but for the most part it was rare. She would say quote:
“I found the biggest challenge was the Ottawa Press Gallery. The people who cover politics all the time were the worst.”
Now with greater recognition thanks to her high-profile portfolios, Campbell put her name in for the leadership of the party. As a heavy favourite, her main challenger was Jean Charest.
Campbell quickly went on the offensive in the pursuit of the top job. In March 1993, she would say, quote:
“In a democracy, government isn’t something that a small group of people do to everyone else, it is not even something they do for everyone else; it should be something they do with everyone else.”
Campbell took 48 per cent of the vote on the first ballot and would win on the second ballot with 52.6 per cent of the vote.
On June 25, 1993, Campbell took office as the first female prime minister of Canada.
Campbell quickly got to work raising her profile in Canada. On July 1, 1993, she was in Signal Hill, Newfoundland to watch the sunrise at 5:30 a.m. At the event, she would state, quote:
“This is my first Canada Day celebration as Canada’s 19th Prime Minister. I am also proud to be the first prime minister to come to Signal Hill to celebrate Memorial Day with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I will never forget the warmth of your welcome, nor will I ever forget this special morning.”
Soon after, she flew to Ottawa to take part in Canada Day celebrations and finally, 19 hours after Signal Hill and 7,000 kilometres later, she landed in Vancouver to attend another Canada Day celebration. She would say quote:
“I cannot begin to tell what pride and what exhilaration I felt while I was flying across the country during most of the day. From the silvery shores of the Atlantic to the familiar shimmering sheen of the Pacific, I saw beneath me the country that was lovingly carved out of a forbidding and fabulous wilderness by generations and generations of Canadians, using the simple but strong instruments called faith, determination and tolerance.”
Even though Campbell had overseen some of the most important portfolios in the government over the previous few years, many in the media still referred to her as a rookie, which likely had more to do with her gender than her experience. In fact, only eight other prime ministers had more experience in cabinet positions than Campbell did when she earned the top job.
Due to the historic win, Campbell was able to ride a wave of popularity with the public during her first few months as prime minister. She immediately began to reorganize her cabinet, cutting it from 35 ministers to 23, while creating three new ministries out of other ministries. She would create the Ministries of Health, Canadian Heritage and Public Security.
Throughout the summer, Campbell toured around the country, attending events and other barbecues, in preparation for the upcoming election. By August of 1993, she had an approval rating of 51 per cent, and by the end of summer her approval rating was far above that of Jean Chretien.
As the 1993 federal election campaign began on Sept. 8, 1993, she quickly saw support for the Conservatives fall.
In her first speech during the campaign, she would say, quote:
By this point in the Progressive Conservative’s time in office, their popularity was at an all-time low due to the failures of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, the implementation of GST and the creation of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and later Mexico. I covered all of these in depth in my previous episode on Brian Mulroney, so I encourage you to check that out.
With the popularity of the party at such a low point, Campbell faced an uphill battle with voters. At the same time, the new Reform Party in the West and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec also created the risk of taking votes away from the Conservatives.
Campbell would attempt to deal with the issue over the helicopter purchase by announcing that the country would reduce its order to only 43 helicopters, reducing the cost to $4.4 billion. While the cost was now lower, it did not help the matter and Opposition Leader Jean Chretien began to refer to the helicopters as Cadillacs during a time when the government should be showing fiscal restraint. As a result, Chretien stated the helicopter purchase would be terminated as part of his party’s platform in the election.
As the Somalia Affair began to garner greater headlines, Campbell tried to dismiss allegations of racism in the Canadian military, referring to it as youthful folly. Criticism was also levied against Campbell since it took five weeks for a high-level investigation to be ordered into the events.
During the campaign, Campbell put the focus on the debt rather than jobs. There were also issues with her inability to distance herself and the party from the incredibly unpopular Brian Mulroney who many felt had not fulfilled its promises during the nine years it was in power.
By October, the Liberals appeared to be on their way to a minority government, with some pundits believing they could obtain a majority. While the Conservatives were less popular than the Liberals, Campbell was still more popular than Chretien.
It was at this point that the Conservative Campaign Team began to create four attack ads that focused on Chretien. John Tory, the campaign director, produced the ads quickly and few people, including Campbell, had a chance to see them before they aired. The second ad would go down in history as one of the most decisive in Canadian history. It appeared to mock Chretien’s Bell’s Palsy facial paralysis and it generated an immense backlash from the media and the public. Even other Progressive Conservative candidates called for it to be removed, which Campbell did, while disavowing responsibility for the ad.
Rather than lower the popularity of Chretien, it had the opposite effect, resulting in a surge of popularity for Chretien who responded to it in a speech where he stated that he has accepted his physical defect since he was a child.
In the 1993 election, the Progressive Conservative suffered the worst defeat in the history of Canadian federal politics. In 1984, the party had won the largest majority in Canadian history but only nine years later, the party had only two members elected. Campbell would lose her own seat in Vancouver Centre in the election.
She would state quote:
Campbell’s defeat marked only the third time that a prime minister lost his or her riding at the same time as the party losing the election.
While the party took only two seats, it still picked up two million votes, good for third place among the parties and only two per cent behind the Reform Party.
At the time of the defeat, many levied the failure at Campbell, but in subsequent years she was seen as a prime minister who inherited a party on the decline, from one of the most unpopular prime ministers in history who resigned only months before the new election was called.
One humorist, Will Ferguson, would state, quote:
“Taking over the party leadership from Brian Mulroney was a lot like taking over the controls of a 747 just before it plunges into the Rockies.”
Journalist Robert Fife, who would later write a book on Campbell, stated quote:
“She was handed a poisoned chalice. All the odds were stacked against her.”
Later in life, Campbell would criticize Mulroney for not allowing her to succeed him before June of 1993. It was later found through The Secret Mulroney Tapes book that the Progressive Conservatives knew they would lose the next election and they wanted a quote:
“scapegoat who would bear the burden of his unpopularity.”
On Dec. 13, 1993, Campbell resigned as leader of the party.
With the election loss, Campbell holds the third shortest term as prime minister, behind only Sir Charles Tupper and John Turner. Since Brian Mulroney had not moved out of 24 Sussex Drive, Campbell became the first prime minister since 1951 not to live at the residence. Even with the loss, and a brief time as prime minister, she still had an impact on Canadian politics. The changes she made to the size of the federal cabinet’s size would be retained in the Chretien government.
In 1993, Chatelaine named Campbell as its Woman of the Year.
In August of 1996, Campbell was appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien as the Canadian Consul General in Los Angeles. That same year, she published Time and Chance, her autobiography, which became a Canadian best seller.
In 1997, Campbell married her current husband, Hershey Felder, an actor, and playwright who specializes in portrayal of classical and American composers on the stage.
From 1996 to 2000, Campbell served as the Canadian consul general in Los Angeles.
From 1999 to 2003, Campbell chaired the Council of Women World Leaders, which was a network of women who have held the office of prime minister or president. She would also chair the steering committee for the World Movement for Democracy from 2008 to 2015.
In 2004, Campbell was named one of the 50 most important political leaders in history in the Almanac of World History by the National Geographic Society due to being the only female head of government of a North American country.
From 2014 to 2018, Campbell served as the Founding Principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta. She has also worked with the International Women’s Forum and Club Madrid.
On Aug. 2, 2016, Campbell was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to chair a seven-person committee to prepare a shortlist of candidates to replace Thomas Cromwell on the Supreme Court of Canada.
Since Campbell, there has never been another female prime minister and today Campbell says that the acceptance of women in high-profile positions in Ottawa has only improved slightly since 1993. She would tell the Toronto Star, quote:
“There is no question that women are as good as men, and many women are better than some other men. But the ability of people to see women in those roles is the problem.”
Following the unveiling of her official portrait, Campbell said she was honoured to be the only woman with her picture in the Prime Minister’s corridor. She would state quote:
“I really look forward to the day when there are many other female faces.”
Information comes from Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, KimCampbell.com, Toronto Star, Library and Archives Canada, No Second Chances, Canadian Parliamentary Review,