What If Politics: The Ladies
Given that we've never had a female Prime Minister (OK, OK, a real female Prime Minister), I figured it would be appropriate to start off the first round profiles for "best PM we never had" by looking at the female candidates in the race. To prevent this race from looking like, well, the Liberal Leadership race, it would be nice to see a couple of these candidates do well in the poll.
Alexa became the first woman to lead a major political party in Canada when she won the party leadership of the Nova Scotia NDP in 1981. Of course, "major political party" may be a stretch, since she was the lone NDP MP to win a seat that election. No doubt Nova Scotia had very few results for people over the next four years. McDonough replaced Audrey McLaughlin after winning the NDP leadership in 1994, no doubt because most delegates were confused thinking she was Audrey McLaughlin. Despite being a strong performer in the House and attempting to make the NDP more relevant, she found the party continually marginalized during her time as leader.
One of 87 rumoured Liberal Leadership contenders to not throw her hat into the ring, Louise Arbour certainly has as impressive a resume as anyone in this contest. Well educated with a background in law, it's interesting to speculate about how her life would have gone had she entered politics instead of taking an appointment to the Ontario Supreme Court. As chief prosecutor of a war times tribunal, she indicted Slobodan Milosevic so she certainly is capable of taking on, and bringing down, imposing politicians. In 1999 she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada and in 2004 she became the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. With a resume like this, she'd be the equivalent of a female Michael Ignatieff if she were to enter politics now.
Sheila has certainly tried to became Prime Minister more than anyone else on this list. In 1982 she ran for leadership of the provincial Liberals...and lost. In 1990 she ran for leadership of the federal Liberals...and lost. In 2003 she ran for leadership of the federal Liberals...and was decimated, before being run out of the party and politics the next spring. While many on the right strongly dislike Sheila, she's proven to be a fierce fighter time and time again - certainly an admirable quality in a Prime Minister. And having come closer to becoming Prime Minister than any of the other females on this list, she certainly deserves some consideration.
Flora MacDonald has the ignominious record of losing to Joe Clark in the 1976 leadership convention. MacDonald was secretary of state for external affairs throughout the late 70s and early 80s and also held several portfolios under Brian Mulroney. As a Red Tory with political experience who entered the '76 convention as a serious contender, it's not hard to imagine a scenario where Flora won PC leadership and went on to have a long and successful career as Canada's first female Prime Minister (she could, after all, count).
Like Flora, Barbara held several Cabinet positions, including Secretary of State for External Affairs. Like Flora, she was also a Red Tory. I'll admit I don't know much about Barbara, but I do question her political judgment, given her decision to support Belinda Stronach in the 2004 CPC leadership race.
McPhail has the distinction of being the first ever female MP in Canada. While that ensured her a place in Canadian history and in Trivial Pursuit games, she certainly had the ability to accomplish so much more. Agnes won 7 elections, provincially and federally, and fought tirelessly to advance the issues which were important to her. As a provincial MPP, she was responsible for Ontario's first equal pay legislation. Bouncing around on the left of the political spectrum between the United Farmers, the Progressives, and the CCF, she was never in a position to become Prime Minister and but she certainly had the work ethic, political saavy and ideas necessary to be an effective leader. She also displayed some spunk - when asked by a male MP "have you ever been mistaken for a man?", she replied "no, have you?".
Iona is probably best know for:
a) Making a harmless comment which may have started 20 years of Liberal infighting at the 1984 leadership convention
b) Getting slapped on the bum by John Turner during the 1984 election
Because of that, a very impressive career has been overshadowed. This broadcaster was elected in 1974 and soon became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs. She also served as Secretary of State for Amateur Fitness and Sport. However, like most BC Liberals, her political career was short lived, being defeated in 1979. She was soon elected LPC President and demonstrated the kind of leadership and action during that time one would love to see in a PM, rebuilding the party from the ground up due to her tireless work.
Thanks to this former teacher, the Reform Party of Canada holds the record for the largest female representation ever in a caucus, at 100% from 1989 to 1993. Interestingly enough, her legislative assistant during this time was none other than Steve Harper. Deb showed the honour you'd like to see in a Prime Minister, always apologizing for her mistakes. She also showed the hypocrisy you expect from a Prime Minister, flip-flopping on her refusal to take MP pensions. Her frequent trips to 22 Minutes and Air Farce also showed she was never afraid to laugh at herself.
"Never retreat, never explain, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl!"
Not a bad slogan for a PM to live by, eh? Nellie had always been active in partisan politics but where she really made a name for herself was in the women's suffrage movement. As 20% of the famous five, she was instrumental in the "Person's Case" and in ensuring women got the vote in Manitoba. A good writer and witty speaker, we've all seen her mock trials re-enacted on the Heritage Minutes. As a former Liberal MLA in Alberta from 1921 to 1926, she automatically gets a vote from me, despite controversy over many of her writings on eugenics and sterilization.
Audrey was the first woman to ever lead a major Canadian federal political party (if you consider the NDP a major party). She also became the first Yukon MP to ever lead a major Canadian federal political party. Unfortunately for Audrey, she had the misfortune of leading the NDP at a time when the federal NDP bared the brunt of the blame for unpopularity of Mike Harcourt in BC and a young man in Ontario whose name escapes my memory right now.