Campbell, Kim (Canada)

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The first woman to serve as prime minister of Canada, Kim Campbell held a brief tenure as leader from June to Oct. 1993 before her party suffered a crushing defeat at the general election.

Early Life

Born Avril Phaedra Campbell in March 1947, in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Campbell changed her name to Kim when she was 12, shortly after her mother had left the family. Campbell studied political science at the University of British Columbia, where she was elected president of the student’s council, before attending the London School of Economics (1970–73) on a fellowship.

Returning to the University of British Columbia in 1980 to study law, she was elected a Vancouver school trustee in the same year and went on to gain a reputation for endorsing moderate fiscal policies.

After serving as a key policy adviser for Premier Bill Bennet, she won a seat in the Legislative Assembly in 1986 and ran for the leadership of the Social Credit Party the same year. Running against provincial leader Bill Vander Zalm, she made her mark by publicly opposing the premier’s restrictive stance on abortion.

In 1988 she turned her attention to Federal politics and was elected to the House of Commons representing the Progressive Conservative Party for the British Columbia riding of Vancouver Centre.

Fostered as a successor to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney she became minister of state for Indian affairs and northern development (1989), minister of justice and attorney general of Canada (1990), and minister of defence and minister of veteran affairs (1993).

While justice minister she proved her political tenacity by introducing a bill amending the gun laws. In the wake of the 1989 Montreal massacre she had to satisfy both a public demanding more restrictive gun laws while a powerful gun-owning lobby within the Conservative support.

Career Peak

With the retirement of prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1993 Campbell was encouraged to run for the office, beating nearest rival Jean Charest in a close contest to become Canada’s first female prime minister.

Articulate and photogenic, Conservatives hoped she would attract a new generation of voters, however, despite a brief surge in popularity she was unable to shake off the unhappy legacy of the party’s long term in office. A sweeping tax on goods and services and the free trade agreement with the United States proved deeply unpopular, with Campbell herself proving to be an inexperienced and ineffective campaigner. In consequence, the Conservatives won only two Commons seats under her leadership, with Campbell herself losing her seat and resigning as leader in Jan. 1994.

Later Life

Retiring from politics Campbell accepted a fellowship from Harvard, before being appointed to the post of Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles.

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