“I’m not that into firsts!” said a laughing Kim Campbell when it was suggested that she become the next Liberal Party leader, and Canada’s second female Prime Minister. All jokes aside, Ms Campbell has already made her mark and influenced the face of politics as Canada’s first female Prime Minister. I identify a lot with this lady, a graduate of my University; UBC, and a trailblazer who took over the helm of the nation just months after I was born. In as many ways as I disagree with some of her ideas, I admire and respect others.
This afternoon, the right Honourable Kim Campbell spoke to UBC students and alumni on topics ranging from the American Tea Party Movement, Gordon Campbell’s resignation, recent Wiki leaks Scandals, and of course-women in politics. The moderator Valerie Casselton of the Vancouver Sun triggered my realization that there really hasn’t been much progress towards another female federal leader since Kim. To this end Campbell explained her disappointment with that, explaining: “It does discourage me that there isn’t another woman on the horizon. Women can do it, they can and should do it….diversity is really the answer.”
On that statement, I can’t help but agree. Different perspectives on government and public policy can only make a nation stronger, more inclusive, and more democratically representative. We don’t need women in politics simply for the sake of checking off some affirmative action box, but because instilling in Canadian women the understanding that they have the capacity for public service will allow a sustained adherence to what a healthy democracy is supposed to be. It also seems that the issue is no longer the ‘old boys club’ that won’t let women participate, but the lack of belief women have in their abilities and levels of political experience. According to Campbell, the feeling of ‘lack of experience’ doesn’t seem to stop many male politicians in Canada and the US, so why the female self doubt? “It’s a product of our society, the visceral programming of being in society,” Campbell reveals. I’d like to see some progress in Canadian Politics that trevitalizes this thing we call democracy. As a young woman who has decided to eventually enter politics myself, I, similar to Campbell, also “didn’t want to be Miss America”.
As such, I respect the many women who struggle with what is often unfair media coverage and double standards, choosing through it all to be THERE; to work on pushing the envelopes of male dominated fields of work. In a country where, as Campbell recounts, “The Ottawa Press Gallery can make or break you, ” having strong women in the political landscape opens up the conception for Canadians young and old, that the faces in our house of commons, provincial legislatures, and municipal city halls don’t have to look typically homogenous.
As the conversation steered towards BC politics and our recently departed Premier with the 9% approval rating, Campbell replied in classic no-holds-barred style: “I was never at nine percent,” while sympathizing on the difficulty about bringing in taxes that are ‘right for the people,’ but highly unpopular. Casselton pressed further, expressing the ‘Politics 101’ nature of a veteran politician saying one thing and doing another, causing Campbell to respond that she didn’t know why the Premier wouldn’t have guessed that he’d see opposition based on his method: “I’m neither his wife nor his shrink so I just can’t say…but the voters are never wrong because they make the decision.”
With Kim Campbell, the desire for tell-us-how-you-really-feel discussion rarely seemed to arise. The former PM is frank, funny, straight-forward. In regards to a question about Toronto’s election of Rob Ford and his ‘Stop the Gravy Train Campaign’ she responded: “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Toronto politics, in so far as one is forced to do so.” Campbell categorically declared her issues with ‘politics of anger’ and its use in Rob Ford’s campaign as well as historically with Preston Manning: “It’s based on movement that politicians are a bunch of crooks, then they go to Ottawa and realize that it isn’t true.” In the wake of growing resentment of Canadian politicians at all levels of government, and discontentment with undemocratic processes such as the recent killing of Bill C311 by the Canadian Senate, Campbell said something that resonated with me, and much of today’s crowd: “ Politics of anger are a bad place to figure out how to make public policy.”