Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister

When Kim Campbell succeeded Brian Mulroney as the leader of Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party, she also became the prime minister of Canada, the first woman ever to hold that post.

Summary of Event

Three individuals served as Canada’s prime minister during 1993, including Kim Campbell, the first woman to hold the office. Born on March 10, 1947, in British Columbia, Campbell studied at the University of British Columbia and the London School of Economics. She earned a law degree in 1983. Between 1983 and 1988, Campbell participated in British Columbia’s politics and was elected to the provincial legislative assembly. She was elected to Canada’s House of Commons in 1988 to represent a Vancouver district. As a Progressive Conservative Party member, Campbell supported the leadership and program of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Women;politicians
Prime ministers;Canada
[kw]Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister (June 25, 1993)
[kw]Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister, Campbell Becomes (June 25, 1993)
[kw]First Woman Prime Minister, Campbell Becomes Canada’s (June 25, 1993)
[kw]Woman Prime Minister, Campbell Becomes Canada’s First (June 25, 1993)
[kw]Prime Minister, Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman (June 25, 1993)
Prime ministers;Canada
[g]North America;June 25, 1993: Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister[08650]
[g]Canada;June 25, 1993: Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister[08650]
[c]Government and politics;June 25, 1993: Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister[08650]
[c]Women’s issues;June 25, 1993: Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister[08650]
Campbell, Kim
Chrétien, Jean
Mulroney, Brian

Campbell’s abilities and reputation eventually led to several cabinet appointments. After working in the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, she was named Canada’s minister of justice in 1990. In January, 1993, she became minister of national defense. After more than eight years in office, Mulroney, in February, 1993, announced his decision to resign as Canada’s prime minister and as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. His decision was made for personal reasons, compounded by public opinion polls indicating his continuing as prime minister would be a serious detriment to his party’s chances in the 1993 parliamentary elections. Through the spring of 1993, the Progressive Conservatives considered several candidates as Mulroney’s successor. Kim Campbell won the party’s top post on June 13 and was sworn in as prime minister on June 25, 1993.

Upon assuming office, the new prime minister energetically began placing her mark on the nation. The new federal cabinet was reduced in size, and several government departments were abolished or consolidated for greater efficiency. Campbell attended the G7 (Group of Seven) conference of major industrialized nations in July in Tokyo and earned praise for the skills she showed there. Trade relations with other nations, especially with the United States on the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement North American Free Trade Agreement (1993) (NAFTA), continued in a positive and cooperative atmosphere. Domestically, the prime minister proposed programs to retrain workers who were losing jobs as a result of plant closings and workforce reductions. She also promised to eliminate the government’s deficit within five years without increasing taxes. Most social programs would be continued, but with some consolidation or reduction. In addition, Campbell suggested constitutional reform, especially in the selection and authority of the Canadian Senate.

Public opinion polls in early July showed wide support (40 percent) for the new prime minister, even higher than public support for her party (33 percent). As Canada’s national leader, Campbell faced economic challenges. Sizable government deficits inherited from the prior administration had to be tackled, and Campbell was held partly responsible for those problems as a result of her association with the Mulroney administration. Efforts to reduce or eliminate budget deficits required reductions in well-established and heavily funded programs, such as defense, transfer payments to provinces, pensions, and programs for Canada’s indigenous peoples. Many groups and constituencies feared they would be affected adversely by such reductions.

During the summer of 1993, the Campbell administration took an active role in foreign policy issues. Canada supported expansion of the number of permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and promised to continue its peacekeeping presence in the Bosnian civil war. On trade issues, negotiations resolved NAFTA “side deals” on labor and environmental questions, and Campbell’s administration obtained significant rulings affecting Canada-U.S. trade in softwood lumber, beer, and steel.

Within her own party, the prime minister made news headlines with the expulsion of three Progressive Conservative members from their party after they had been charged with corruption during Campbell’s predecessor’s tenure. This enhanced the party’s image as a clean, reputable political organization, but critics questioned Campbell’s decision because the individuals had not yet been found guilty of the allegations in court.

In a major policy speech in August, Campbell criticized the influence of lobbyists, promised to make political appointments based on merit, and indicated a possible change in the pension rules for members of Parliament. She supported openness in providing full information before government decisions were made, in a bid to convince Canadians that her administration was more democratic than its predecessors. Parliamentary committees also would have more authority in shaping proposed legislation. Considering the history of strong party discipline in Canadian politics, Campbell’s support for permitting members of Parliament to vote based on their own consciences rather than following the call of their parties was an unusual departure from tradition. Her call for reforms in the educational sector also attracted public support.

By August, Campbell’s reputation had grown significantly, raising hopes of a solid Progressive Conservative win in the fall parliamentary election. Public opinion polls showed Campbell with a 51 percent approval rating, the highest for a prime minister in three decades. The polls also indicated that Canadians favored her by a two-to-one margin over Jean Chrétien, the Liberal Party leader. A Gallup poll predicted a close race between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, but this represented a substantial gain for the former party over its low standing in polls earlier in the year.

After the prime minister, in early September, announced the federal election date for October 25, campaigning began in earnest, with an estimated ten million dollars in the Progressive Conservatives’ war chest. The five major parties agreed to several television debates in early October to provide the electorate with a view of party agendas, issues, and leaders. The Progressive Conservatives, seeing Campbell as their most popular and effective advocate, scheduled her to appear throughout the nation in an extensive political campaign. By mid-September, polls showed the Progressive Conservatives taking a slight lead over the Liberals, 36 percent to 33 percent. Other parties lagged behind.

The campaign, in addition to emphasizing the personalities of the party leaders, increasingly focused on economic issues: NAFTA, the federal deficit, and unemployment. On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Campbell promised to eliminate the deficit in five years but not at the expense of social services. By late September, polls began to show erosion of Progressive Conservative strength. Canadians appeared more concerned about jobs than about deficit reduction. The 1.6 million unemployed made job creation a strong campaign issue, and opposition parties hammered the point home to Canadian voters.

As the campaign intensified and the Progressive Conservative momentum began to weaken, Campbell moved away from providing specifics on many controversial issues and vaguely promised to present the government’s policies following the election. Her opponents promptly accused the government of hiding possible deep cuts in social services that would adversely affect many Canadians. In addition, Campbell’s sharp comments and abrasive manner (some accused her of arrogance) appeared to undercut voter support. Several of her party’s television advertisements also offended many viewers.

Following the scheduled television debates in early October, in which Campbell aggressively took the offensive against her opponents, polls showed the Liberals moving ahead of the Progressive Conservatives, 37 percent to 22 percent. By the week before the election, polls revealed an even larger Liberal lead (44 percent), with the Reform Party (19 percent) in second place and Progressive Conservatives in third place (16 percent). An estimated 18.5 million Canadians were eligible to vote in the October 25 general election, and 69 percent cast their ballots. For the first time, thanks to a revision of election laws, Canadians living outside the country on election day were able to submit absentee ballots.

The results were a Liberal landslide and a Progressive Conservative debacle. The Progressive Conservatives received only 16 percent of the popular vote, compared with 50 percent in the 1984 election and 43 percent in the 1988 election. The number of party seats in the new House of Commons actually determined the future of Canadian politics. Jean Chrétien’s Liberals won 177 seats, followed by the Bloc Québécois (54), Reform Party (52), and New Democrats (9). Kim Campbell’s Progressive Conservatives won only 2 seats: 1 in Quebec and 1 in New Brunswick. This number, compared with the 154 seats held before the election, shows the extent of the party’s disaster. To add to the humiliation, the prime minister lost her own district seat in Vancouver.

The transfer of office occurred on November 4, 1993, when Jean Chrétien took the oath as Canada’s twentieth prime minister. Nine years of Progressive Conservative Party rule, including Kim Campbell’s 134 days in office as Canada’s first woman prime minister, had ended. On December 13, 1993, Campell resigned as head of the Progressive Conservative Party.


Campbell’s brief tenure as Canadian prime minister ended with a crushing electoral defeat such as no Canadian party in power had ever before suffered. Campbell’s controversial leadership may partly explain the results, but public alienation from the Progressive Conservatives had deeper roots. The unpopularity of Campbell’s predecessor was certainly an element in her party’s defeat.

Although she was prime minister for only a short time, Campbell made a strong impression on Canadians and others with her irreverence and her individuality. Despite the briefness of her tenure as prime minister, the fact that she rose to such high office in the world’s second-largest nation showed that women were increasingly being taken seriously as leaders in Western democracies. Women;politicians
Prime ministers;Canada

Further Reading

  • Campbell, Kim. Time and Chance: The Political Memoirs of Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1996. Presents Campbell’s own perspective on her life in Canadian politics. Includes photographs and index.
  • Dobbin, Murray. The Politics of Kim Campbell: From School Trustee to Prime Minister. Toronto: Lorimer, 1993. Biography focuses on Campbell’s life in politics. Includes index.
  • Fife, Robert. Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993. Examines Campbell’s rise to the office of prime minister. Includes index.
  • Frizzel, Alan, Jon H. Pammett, and Anthony Westell, eds. The Canadian General Election of 1993. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1994. Collection of essays provides excellent analysis of the campaign.
  • McMenemy, John. The Language of Canadian Politics: A Guide to Important Terms and Concepts. 3d ed. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001. Collection of more than five hundred brief essays on a wide range of topics related to the Canadian system of government, Canadian political history, Canadian laws and legal history, and more.
  • Martin, Lawrence. Chrétien. 2 vols. Toronto: Lester, 1995. Extended biography of the Liberal Party leader includes discussion of the 1993 campaign.
  • Norris, Pippa, ed. Women, Media, and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Collection of essays examines how the mass media cover the campaigns of women politicians as well as the actions of women holding public office. Chapter 8 includes discussion of Kim Campbell.

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