Kim Campbell, born in 1947, 19th prime minister of Canada (1993) and first woman to hold the office. Born Avril Phaedra Campbell in Port Alberni, British Columbia, she adopted the name Kim as a teenager. Campbell received degrees in political science (1969) and law (1983) from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She also studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the early 1970s. Prior to attending law school, Campbell taught political science for several years at the University of British Columbia and other institutions. From 1980 to 1984, she was active in local politics in Vancouver, where she was elected to several minor posts, including two terms on the Vancouver School Board. In 1985 she became a policy adviser to the premier of British Columbia, William Bennett. In 1986 after Bennett’s retirement, she ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the British Columbia Social Credit Party. In the same year, she won a seat in that province’s Legislative Assembly.
Campbell’s swift rise on the national scene began in 1988, when she successfully ran for a seat in the Canadian House of Commons, becoming the Progressive Conservative member of parliament for a Vancouver district. From 1989 to 1993 she held several positions in the cabinet of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, including minister of Indian affairs and northern development (1989), minister of justice (1990-1993), and minister of national defense (1993). In February 1993 Mulroney announced his retirement. With the help of Mulroney supporters and the general sense that the time was ripe for a woman to lead the party, Campbell was narrowly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and became prime minister of Canada in June 1993.
Campbell was prime minister for just over four months before she and the Progressive Conservative Party were defeated in national elections. During that time, she had moved to reduce the size of the federal cabinet and made vague promises to reduce the Canadian deficit. However, she failed to stake out her own coherent policy positions, reinforcing the view of many Canadians that Campbell was the handpicked successor to the unpopular Mulroney. During the election campaigns, she continued to support Mulroney’s policies and she failed to outline new policies or platforms to reduce the deficit or create jobs. Although Campbell was reasonably articulate in both English and French, voters saw her as aloof. They also blamed the Progressive Conservatives for the recession and high rates of unemployment that Canada struggled with during the 1990s.
Campbell and the Progressive Conservative Party suffered a stunning defeat in the general elections of October 1993, the most dramatic electoral defeat in Canadian history. The Progressive Conservative Party was reduced from 155 to only 2 seats in the House of Commons, and Campbell lost her seat to a relatively unknown challenger. The Progressive Conservative coalition formed by Mulroney that had united Conservatives in Québec and the western provinces fell apart. In Québec, much Progressive Conservative support went to the separatist Bloc Québécois, which became the official opposition party in the House of Commons. In the West, the Progressive Conservative base of support was sapped largely by the populist-conservative Reform Party (now part of the Canadian Alliance). Campbell’s government was succeeded by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
Campbell resigned as party leader shortly after her election defeat and went on to a career as a lecturer in Canadian politics, international affairs, and women’s issues. She has lectured at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and at other institutions. Her political memoir, Time and Chance, was published in 1996.