Former PM Kim Campbell likes her feminist label

Wendy Elliott
Published on September 24, 2014

Feminists are committed to the advancement of women and to the fulfillment of their potential,  Kim Campbell said Sept. 23 in Wolfville.

Awarded loud applause at Acadia University when she called herself a feminist, Canada's 19th prime minister added she is also a humanist who wants equality for all.

Acknowledging that she is getting more vocal on the topic of gender parity, Campbell said hate efforts that pit men again women.

“Every woman who accomplishes anything has male supporters. This is not men versus women,” she told the forum on female leadership.

Read what Campbell had to say before the forum here.

Her novel solution would be the establishment of female and male MPs for every riding in the country.

Calling the notion a remarkable gesture for Canada, Campbell advocated the audience to, “write to your members of Parliament and say you are in favour of this.”

Campbell said leadership is gender masculine in our society, but not as much as in the past. Asked how would we know when we achieve gender equality, Campbell simply responded, "count."

She said she has been spurred on through her democratization work in countries where gender parity is taken more seriously than it is in Canada.

Changed attitudes, Campbell said, will mean that the sexualization of women at a younger and younger age and a deeply misogynistic society will be reduced.

“There are parts of this world where women are property,” she said. The young Pakistani heroine Malala Yousafzai represents what is lost in those societies, Campbell added.

“Society loses if they’re stuck at home and illiterate, killed if they have any aspirations. We’ll flourish when men and women relate to each other as equals.”

The one time Vancouver MP said much has changed in Canadian politics in 21 years, but not enough.

However, when she was justice minister bringing in a new sexual assault law, Campbell said, support did come from men.

She added women in Parliament do caucus together across party lines. There were enough women in Parliament, we were no longer an anomaly, Campbell recalled of the Mulroney government.

Catch up on tweets from the panel here.

Campbell observed that the atmosphere inside Parliament has changed. In her era - which came after the early-1980s Liberal "Rat Pack,' she noted - MPs were partisan, but reasonably courteous.

“I can’t speak for today.”

Campbell said she loved being a politician. That life was full of variety, challenges, and meeting people and losing the 1983 election was devastating.

At the time, she said of her leadership of the Progressive Conservatives, “I was the best hope, but the hope was very slim.”

Looking back on her three-month tenure as prime minister, she said she thinks she made some mistakes, hadn’t enough time in office and had to fight in a five-party race, but Campbell also added the Tory campaign team “had no idea how to run a woman candidate.”

"Don’t ever be afraid to fail," she told the student audience, "that’s how you discover who you are and how strong you are.

“I lost the election, but I didn’t lose my life.”

Being a former PM allows her to do a lot of thing and to open doors for others,  Campbell said. Compared to most people in the world, she is privileged, she added.

We have to be the best we can be, in Canada, she said, to be the beacons and how men and women flourish when they can relate to each other as equals.

Asked what she might tell her past self at the age of 20, Campbell speculated that she might not have been as brave had she known the future that lay ahead.

As a child of the 1960s, Campbell said she can’t get over the fact that students aren’t yelling on campuses any more.

“We need a revival of the women’s movement. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of complacency on university campuses today.”

Campbell spoke of American leaders Hilary and Bill Clinton and explained why Bill won a Rhodes Scholarship even though Hilary was much smarter. Women were not allowed to apply for Rhodes Scholarships in that era, she told the audience.

Kings County Coun. Wayne Atwater asked Campbell how voter turnout in Canada could be increased and she noted that federal parties are better equipped to get the vote out.

However, she said municipal government , where she is also served, is very important.

“At the municipal level politics are not abstract.”

If Atwater has a solution, Campbell said she would sign up to help.

More education in civics would help, she suggested. For Campbell, the lessons of growing up post-Second World War included images of tyranny.

“Maybe we are too comfortable now, but the cost of liberty really is eternal vigilance. It’s one of the most important things we can do.”

On an audience questions about climate change, Campbell commented that world leaders know climate change is the "end of the world," yet they don’t want to spend money to stop it.

“Climate change is upon us. More and more people are thinking they can do something.”

In her opinion, dealing with climate change need not make us poorer. Campbell stated that clearly a strategy is needed in Canada.

Campbell, who is now working in Alberta, joked about losing her job for her climate change stance and then asked "how do we become part of a cleaner energy future?" The issue, she noted is important for all ages and genders.

Having lived in Los Angeles and Madrid as a diplomat and democracy activist, the former PM is back in Canada for the first time since the late-1990s. She said her intent is to use her political capital in other ways than re-entering the political fray.

In April, Campbell was appointed the founding principal of the new Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta. This weekend she is attending a national conference in Charlottetown that will bring together Canada’s most influential female leaders.