Kim Campbell

Yes indeed, Canada had a female prime minister at one point. Those searching for an inspiring female role model might be disappointed, however, as Kim Campbell’s reign was brief, uneventful, and deeply troubled. Today, she is routinely ranked among the country’s worst or most irrelevant leaders.

Campbell had a relatively short career in politics, and her rise to the prime minister’s office was lightning fast. A Vancouver lawyer who was first elected to Parliament in 1988, the unapologetically feminist, pro-choice Campbell was seen as a key moderate within the Progressive Conservative Party and was awarded a series of important cabinet positions under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (b. 1939). In a glimpse of things to come, she served as the country’s first female attorney general and later its first female defence minister.

When Mulroney resigned amid rock-bottom unpopularity in 1993, Campbell’s rising celebrity in the PC party made her the leading choice to replace him. Other cabinet ministers seemed more of the same, while fresh and female Campbell was definitely not. She won the PC leadership easily and called an election shortly after assuming office.

She went down in the largest landslide defeat of any prime minister in Canadian history. A number of factors contributed to her loss to Jean Chretien (b. 1938), including the emergence of the right-wing Reform Party, which stole or split a lot of the conservative vote, a worsening economic situation, and the fact that Campbell, who proved to be distressingly aloof, unapologetic, and condescending on the campaign trail, did little to meaningfully distinguish herself from the Mulroney record.

In the 1993 election, the PCs plunged from 154 seats to two — neither of which was Campbell’s. Her extremely eventful first term in Parliament abruptly over, she immediately resigned from politics and now tours the world as a public speaker.