Kim Campbell


(née Avril Phaedra Douglas Campbell) (1947-)

Kim Campbell by Wikipedia Commons user Skcdoenut.

Canada’s first and only female prime minister, in office for only four months (June 25, 1993 to November 4, 1993), Kim Campbell has long been a subject of feminist debates about representation, gender, and politics in Canada. She was also its first female Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and Minister of National Defence, in the latter case a first in NATO as well. As the first woman to have held office in all three levels of government (municipal, provincial, and federal), Campbell is often heralded as trailblazer for women. When Campbell appeared before her volunteers after being elected leader of the Conservative Party, they started chanting “Four more years!” Campbell shook her head and yelled “Ten more years!”—reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s promise to take the British Conservative Party into the next millennium.

Few would disagree that Campbell’s election signified an important milestone in Canadian history and the history of women in government. However, critics point out that the so-called “inclusive” politics championed by Campbell essentially involved a continuation of Brian Mulroney’s tax cuts and deregulation of corporations—policies that have been documented to exacerbate the wealth gaps and social inequality that feminize poverty and restrict the social and economic mobility of women. As a member of the Social Credit government in British Columbia (1983-1988), Campbell worked alongside Premier Bill Bennett, who led the way in Canada in introducing draconian cuts to social programs. Although she described herself as a feminist, critics see Campbell as firmly on the right of the political spectrum in social and economic policy. In the words of Judy Rebick, former president of Canada’s leading feminist group, the National Action Committee, “Her vision of getting women into positions of power is so limited. She supports economic and social policies that will marginalize women and keep women poor, so its basically women who are already in an advantaged position whom she is going to help get into positions of power” (as quoted in Dobbin 1993: 166). Feminists active in the women’s movement have also suggested that Campbell and other female conservative political leaders, compared to male prime ministers, are able to much more effectively marginalize the women’s movement—by claiming that they represent women and then depicting feminists who demand social change as a radical fringe (Rebick 1993). Such figures also benefit from nuanced reading of their lives that recognizes that their prominence reflects both traditional elites’ power to coopt members of structurally disadvantaged groups and the reality of multiple social locations. It matters after all that Campbell is white, straight, and middle-class.

Further Reading

Kim Campbell, First and Foremost—CBC Archives

Kim Campbell—Library and Archives Canada

Dobbin, Murray (1993) The Politics of Kim Campbell: From School Trustee to Prime Minister. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company.

LeBaron, Genevieve

LeBaron, Genevieve

LeBaron, Genevieve

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