Kim Campbell can laugh now when she recalls how she almost missed being appointed to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s cabinet in January, 1989. On the eve of Mulroney’s announcement of his first cabinet following the 1988 federal election, the newly elected Vancouver MP had been summoned to Ottawa for what one of the leader’s aides said would be “a private Sunday afternoon chat with the Prime Minister.” But after arriving in Ottawa, the aide telephoned again to inform Campbell that the meeting had been postponed “until 7:45.” “I thought that they meant 7:45 the next morning, so my husband and I went out to dinner,” said Campbell. “When we got home late that night, the Prime Minister’s staff had been frantically calling, wondering where we were.” By then, Mulroney had left Ottawa for the Prime Minister’s Harrington Lake retreat, 20 km north of the capital. Only the next morning, after suffering through a fitful night, did Campbell get the call from Mulroney to learn that she had been appointed as minister of state for Indian affairs and northern development.
Sensation: Last week, Campbell finally got her private audience with the Prime Minister. In the first extensive shuffle of his cabinet since that January day, Mulroney told the 42-yearold former lawyer and teacher that he was boosting her from a junior portfolio into the cabinet’s inner circle by making her Canada’s first female justice minister. He also named Campbell, a former B.C. MLA, as the federal Conservative party’s senior political minister in British Columbia. The cabinet promotion confirmed the stature of the multilingual Campbell (English, French, Russian and German) as a rising politician on Ottawa’s fast track. But she rejected labels that portrayed her as a political neophyte. “I am an experienced politician,” she told Maclean ’sat week’s end on her flight home to Vancouver, where she has been involved in electoral politics since 1980. “It has taken me 10 years to become an overnight sensation.”
Campbell’s rapid rise as a federal politician had been predicted by many senior Tories over the past year. In a government eagerly in search of promising new faces to groom for its beleaguered front bench, many Tories had noted Campbell’s willingness to vigorously and eloquently defend controversial Tory policies such as the Meech Lake constitutional accord
and the impending Goods and Services Tax. Said William Fox, an Ottawa consultant and former Mulroney communications adviser: “Kim has been followed closely from the time she was a candidate. She is tough, intelligent and very much a team player.” But Campbell acknowledges that those qualities will be more closely examined now that she is no longer operating in the relative obscurity of a junior ministry. Among the immediate challenges: shepherding the government’s contentious abortion legislation through final reading and restoring Tory fortunes in her home province in the wake of a federal budget that fingered British Columbia for particular sacrifices.
In Ottawa, attention immediately focused on the fact that Campbell is the first woman to hold the Justice portfolio. Said Jennifer Lynch, president of the National PC Women’s Federation: “This is a historic appointment, which sends a message to women lawyers that they can aspire to the highest legal jobs in the country.” Campbell—whose father, George, sister, Alix, and second husband, Howard Eddy, are all lawyers—acknowledged the significance of her achievement. But she did not marvel at the milestone. “Ideally, you want to get to a situation where gender is no longer much of a consideration,” she said. “We are not looking for tokenism.”
Russian: Campbell’s feminism and political activism were evident early on. As a student at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver’s Point Grey area, Campbell defeated two male opponents in an election for class president. “My mother raised me to be a feminist,” she said. “And I am just not prepared to accept that only women on the political left are entitled to call themselves feminists.” Valedictorian of her high-school class, Campbell went on to amass extensive academic credentials: an undergraduate honors degree in political science and a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC). In 1970, she enrolled in a doctoral program in Soviet studies at the London School of Economics. She did not finish the program, but she learned to speak Russian. Her academic background, combined with a fondness for quoting from the pantheon of political greats such as Edmund Burke, has sometimes led observers to label her an intellectual. “The media is always trying to tag people as one-dimensionally as they can,” she said. “I simply do not walk around all day quoting great proverbs.”
Skill: By 1973, Campbell was back in Vancouver, married to Nathan Divinsky, a former Vancouver school trustee and alderman, and teaching political science and history at UBC and then Vancouver Community College. Said Campbell: “I love to teach and I am a good teacher because I know how to take complex issues and explain them properly. It is a skill that I was able to transfer to politics.”
In October, 1980, Campbell first applied those talents to political ends. She ran for, and won, a seat on the Vancouver school board, subsequently rising to chair the board in 1982. The position, which she held while earning a law degree from UBC, won her a prominent
IT HAS TAKEN ME 10 YEARS TO BECOME AN OVERNIGHT ’
local profile, but also highlighted a political style that earned her criticism. Fellow school trustee Philip Rankin accused her in 1983 of being “Canada’s answer to Margaret Thatcher at the school-board level.” Said Rankin at the time: “She believes that intellectuals make the world go round.”
But her profile also attracted the attention of political recruiters such as Patrick Kinsella, an influential backroom operative for the provincial Social Credit party and federal Conservatives. Kinsella convinced Campbell—who by then was divorced from Divinsky—to run in Vancouver Centre for the Socreds in the 1983 provincial election. “The riding was unwinnable for the Socreds, and Kim was articling for a law firm at the same time,” recalled one Socred organizer. “But she was remembered as someone who deserved another chance in a safer riding the next time around.” Campbell remembers the experience as sobering. “I learned that you should not get stars in your eyes just because a political party asks you to run,” she said.
Attack: Two years later, she was hired as a policy adviser in then-Premier William Bennett’s office, where she worked for 10 months. When Bennett announced his resignation, Campbell declared herself a candidate for the Social Credit leadership. “I never thought I could win,” she said of her $40,000 campaign for the job. “But I wanted to show that the party had to reach out to women and young people.” With just 14 votes, Campbell finished last among the 12 candidates on the first ballot. But she made her mark at the convention by writing and delivering a strong speech, which was widely seen by the B.C. television audience because she spoke just before the two frontrunners, Brian Smith and the eventual winner, William Vander Zalm. The speech is memorable for its thinly veiled attack on Vander Zalm, in which she warned that “Charisma without substance is a dangerous thing. It raises expectations that cannot be satisfied. Then comes disillusionment and bitterness that destroys not only the leader, but the party.”
The remark drove a wedge between Campbell and Vander Zalm, and despite winning a
seat for the Socreds in the 1986 provincial election, she was left languishing on the party’s back benches. She broke finally—and bitterly—with the premier over his decision to try to restrict abortion in the province. Frustrated, and convinced that Vander Zalm would not be forced out, Campbell quit the party in 1988 to run for the federal Tories, winning the
Vancouver Centre riding by a mere 269 votes over the New Democratic Party’s national president, Johanna den Hertog.
Sacrifice: Provincial Tories said that Campbell’s relations with the Socred caucus remain warm, and that her appointment as the province’s political minister was needed to restore the federal party’s sagging fortunes on the West Coast. “We are relieved to finally have someone in charge,” said Kinsella. But with Vander Zalm now facing off against the federal government in the wake of last week’s budget, Campbell could again find herself locked in battle with her old nemesis. “If I have to, I will operate around him,” she told Maclean’s. “But I will never sacrifice the interests of my province for personal pique.”
Campbell will also be tested when she ap-
pears before a Commons committee at the end of March to defend the government's abortion legislation. A replacement for the legislation that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down in January, 1988, it would make abortions a criminal offence in the absence of a doctor’s determination that the pregnancy threatened the physical or emotional health of the woman. The proposal has drawn fire from both antiabortionists, who say that it does not impose enough restrictions on the procedure, and socalled pro-choice advocates, who object to classifying abortion as a criminal act. A “committed and passionate pro-choicer” who said she was personally comfortable without any law governing abortion, Campbell supported the proposed recriminalization of unapproved abortions as a conciliatory gesture to the deeply held beliefs of anti-abortionists. Said Campbell: “Laws should be written with the appreciation that within a society there can be many strongly held values, many of which are in conflict. Laws should balance those values.” Praise: With her new national stature, Campbell also appears to be ready to shoulder responsibilities beyond those of Justice, most notably in the Tory government’s search for ways to unlock the Meech Lake constitutional deadlock. Her defence of the accord to a Kelowna, B.C., audience last year drew Mulroney’s praise at a cabinet meeting as an example of how ministers should defend the agreement. And fellow minisz ter Benoît Bouchard circulat£ ed a copy of a pro-Meech Lake speech by Campbell I among his Quebec colleagues.
Despite her success, Campbell dismisses suggestions that she is a driven personality. “I am very much a BCer: I work hard, but I play hard, too,” she said. Although she and her husband now own an apartment in Ottawa, she retains her Vancouver home on the Fairview Slopes with its view of her riding. And last week, when she returned home to be greeted at the airport by a dozen well-wishers from her riding association bearing balloons and flowers, Campbell wore a contented smile. “Some people try to suggest that my career changes are part of some ambitious master plan,” she said. “But, as with most people, you just move along a career path in increments. My success has been serendipitously attained.” If so, those blessings will be sorely tested amid the Tories’ current troubles.
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