Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What If Politics: The Ladies

As a reminder, you can vote again every today until Monday for the Greatest PM we never had.

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 McDonough
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.

Louise Arbour
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 Copps
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
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).

Barbara MacDougall
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.

Agnes Mcphail
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 Campagnolo
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.

Deb Grey
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.

Nellie McClung
"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 Mclaughlin
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.


  • It might be worth mentioning in Iona's profile that she has ably and honourably served the people of British Columbia as their Leiutenant Governor since 2001.

    Certaintly a pretty good list, for sure a few great potential PMs in there.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 10:44 p.m.  

  • CG,

    great stuff here. One minor correction. In the flora macdonald post, you note she was the sec state for external affairs "throughout the late 70's and early 80's". That's a bit of a stretch haha. I have met Flora and she's a great lady but she doesn't deserve THAT much credit!

    In fact she was only SSEA between June 4th, 1979 through to March 2nd, 1980. Just under 10 months. Late 70's and early 80's makes it sound like she served a long term.

    Anywho, not a big deal just thought I'd point it out! Great post though!

    By Blogger Forward Looking Canadian, at 11:35 p.m.  

  • Dammit, reading this over, I wish I'd nominated Kim Campbell to be a contender. I know, I know, she was PM, but under different circumstances, I think she could have worked out quite well.

    I learned in high school that Flora MacDonald murdered her husband. I was suspicious at the time - could that really be so???, I wondered.

    I couldn't help but notice that your mini-bio of her did not mention her being a first-degree killer... so Mr. Simmons must have been mistaken.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 12:18 a.m.  

  • riley; I put that "late 70s and early 80s" thing in intentionally. Will Ferguson uses it to describe Joe Clark's PMship and I always got a kick out of it.

    green; I never about Flora killing her husband. That would certainly...umm...hurt her claim to the title.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:51 a.m.  

  • james halifax - no kidding! How sad that she & Jack share the silver spoon, yet lead the party that supposedly speaks for "the workers"

    By Blogger Candace, at 1:33 a.m.  

  • How about "None of the Above"?

    By Blogger Red Tory, at 2:29 a.m.  

  • Oh tories, come on now, affluent Canadians can have progressive values too. They all don't advocate for tax breaks to hire more diamond-tipped cane polishers and monocle spits. Or salt and pepper sandwiches for the poor for that matter...

    By Blogger bza, at 3:24 a.m.  

  • Despite being from the other side of the street, politics-wise, I've gotta speak up for Alexa McD a little bit, and no, it's not just an "Atlantic Canadian" thing.

    Let's remember that after '93, the NDP was arguably in as bad shape as the federal PC Party. Yes, they had a few more seats (though they still weren't an "official" party in the H of C), but had a lot fewer votes.

    Alexa managed to fend off Lorne Nystrom *and* good ol' Svend (speaking of "best PM's we've never had ... *cough*) to win the leadership.

    She was also able to rebuild the NDP to a pretty good extent in '97, earning the Party a respectable (for the NDP, especially) Atlantic beachhead for the first time ever (I think).

    No great ball of fire in the House or in the various leaders' debates, but I always felt she was sandbagged by some of the harder-left elements in the Party. Maybe actual NDP'ers reading this could comment on whether that was so.

    Would I vote for her? Not a chance in real life, and probably not even in CG's poll. But coming from a Party myself that has shown an ... interesting way of supporting its leaders from time to time, I can't help feeling for her a bit.

    End of right-wing mash note for Alexa.

    By Blogger Jason Hickman, at 10:05 a.m.  

  • I am underwhelmed at the choices. While they're all very accomplished women in their own right, none really strike as prime ministerial or great stateswomen. I think Sheila Copps could have been an interesting PM (notwithstanding my strong disagreement with her on social issues) but certainly not a PM for the ages.

    By Blogger Suzanne, at 1:03 p.m.  

  • No great ball of fire in the House or in the various leaders' debates, but I always felt she was sandbagged by some of the harder-left elements in the Party. Maybe actual NDP'ers reading this could comment on whether that was so.

    This is true - she was the compromise candidate between the more "pragmatic" Nystrom and Svend. Later on, she fended of the New Politics Initiative, which Layton is (sort of) associated with. Alexa led the NDP through a rather difficult period, but I'd credit her in particular with helping to secure the party's NS base.

    james halifax - no kidding! How sad that she & Jack share the silver spoon, yet lead the party that supposedly speaks for "the workers"

    Yes, how horrible that they're not advocating to eliminate the minimum wage or put up firewalls around provinces. Incidentally, how does a right-wing "economist" who once led an organization founded to oppose Medicare speak for "the workers"? Just asking...

    By Blogger JG, at 1:41 p.m.  

  • Suzanne, I think you're really wrong - McClung had gumption and determination and could have been a terrific PM in her own era. She could have tackled Diefenbacher or Mackenzie King in a debate and held her own. If you think that she is not stateswomanlike or prime ministerial, I would suggest that she was every bit as much so as the actual Prime Ministers of her time.

    Similarly, to suggest that Flora MacDonald didn't have what it takes to be Prime Ministerial is, I think, sort of silly considering that she would have followed Pearson, and was beaten by Joe Clark. She had as much presence and will and wisdom as the former, and much moreso than Clark. If enough Canadians thought that Clark (or Diefenbacher) had what it took to lead the country, then MacDonald certainly had more than was required.

    And Louise Arbour is a natural choice - she's a stand-out in her field, internationally known and recognized and respected. She's got all the international, global standing that any PM has enjoyed, and she's got the chops and education and background to be Prime Minister today, without doubt or question.

    I break with her on some issues, but to say she's not stateswomanlike or prime ministerial isn't true.

    And to follow that up with suggesting that Sheila Copps does?

    Nuts! Nuts, I tell you!

    I'm very, very, very sorry that MacDonald never got a shot at running the country. We'd be a different place today, I'll wager.

    (Damn, I'm kind of talking myself into supporting her too much... I better go do some reading to balance things out)

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 4:03 p.m.  

  • The others have achieved something, but none have Prime ministerial qualities.

    I'm curious, now that this come up twice in the thread:

    What exactly did Pearson, Clark, Diefenbacher, and Mackenzie King have that MacDonald and McClung did not?

    What makes these geeks and nerds more "prime ministerial" than McClung and MacDonald?

    (I say "geeks" and "nerds" in an affectionate way - I like those men, especially Pearson and Mack. King, and early Dief)

    I'm curious what people think, and why they think it.


    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 4:06 p.m.  

  • Hmm, what I personally thought was off in Josh's post is that Alexa led the "worker" party, so his comparison to Harper and the CPC doesn't really mean anything. No one would say anything if McDonough led the PCs. His comparison lacks some impact, maybe.

    But there's no reason to talk to him like that, he's just making a simple point - no need to Riot Act him.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 5:36 p.m.  

  • Hmmm...I bet Josh cannot even see the contradiction in his own post. Here's a hint Josh...the SHAW FAMILY...does not tread straw into mud to make the bricks themselves....they hire someone else to do it, and collect the profits. I'm not sure of the labour costs involved in brickmaking, but I'm sure if it was in a similar industry not associated with shaw....Alexa would be the first one to start yelling "Slave masters!!" at the top of her lungs and demanding an increase in the wage rate.

    So... her family runs a business, rather than a charity? Do you have any actual argument here, or are you just interested in setting up the straw man point that the Shaw family treats their employees like slaves?

    It's called HYPOCRISY Josh....go get yourself a dictionary and look it up. See it yet?

    Hypocrisy about what? That Alexa's family is wealthy and in business? Is that a crime now? She's certainly no Marxist, but since you don't understand the difference between a modern social democrat and Marxism, perhaps I should inform you that the NDP does not and has never called for the abolition of capitalism or the nationalization of all businesses. (The CCF way back in the Regina Manifesto of 1933 called for nationalization of the "commanding heights of the economy", but I'm not sure whether that included brick-making. Of course, that was also the time where the Socreds wanted to start printing funny money.)

    Alexa and her family are extremely wealthy because of the labour of others. Those "Others" are the workers for SHAW industries, and those very same workers could never afford to live in the same neighborhood as Alexa and her family...in fact, the SHAW's have expended a great deal of money to make sure that "those people" who make their bricks...will never bother them at home. I guess Alexa and her family like to talk about equality, but if it ever moved in beside them.....they would build a stronger gate or a higher fence.

    Again, do you have anything substantive to say, or are you just assuming that I think corporations are evil? Hint: I don't. Do you have some sort of personal vendetta against SHAW?

    Put that in your Marxist text book Josh and smoke it. Just make sure you don't bother Alexa's neighborhood with your presence. She'll call the cops.

    My Marxist textbook? Your entire post was one long parroting of the labour theory of value.

    So, where was that "contradiction" you mentioned?

    By Blogger JG, at 5:41 p.m.  

  • Jason,
    What I meant was simply that it's very easy to call any party leader a hypocrite based on their background. James' attempt to point to Alexa's "hypocrisy" had nothing whatsoever to do with her actions in life, and he offered nothing substantial about her family's company either.

    So, while Harper may not claim to speak for the "workers", he certainly claims to represent "average"/middle-class Canadians. Of course, all politicians claim that, but it's no more true for Harper than anyone else.

    By Blogger JG, at 5:48 p.m.  

  • Hi Josh,

    I hear what you are saying.

    I'm curious only because I don't actually know - isn't Harper a guy who pretty much does make a middle-class salary, though? Not exactly sure...

    I know nothing at all about McDonough's family or business - I don't even know who the Shaws are, to be honest.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 5:55 p.m.  

  • Oh yeah, forgot Svend. Dang.

    By Blogger bza, at 6:10 p.m.  

  • Well, he certainly doesn't have a middle-class lifestyle *now*. But he's spent most of the last 20 years in politics in one form or another, and was an MP from 1993-97, and then president of the National Citizens Coalition. I don't imagine the NCC pays a particularly lucrative salary, but heading up a right-wing lobby group is hardly a major part of the middle-class Canadian experience.

    Ultimately, I don't really care how wealthy (or not wealthy) a politician is. It's all about image for them, anyway - after all, Chretien may have been the "little guy from Shawinigan", but he was also a corporate lawyer.

    By Blogger JG, at 6:18 p.m.  

  • I agree, Josh, actions are bigger than images.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 6:29 p.m.  

  • I'm still waiting to hear what prime ministerial qualities Clark, Pearson, and Diefenbacher had that McClung, MacDonald, and Arbour don't.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 6:29 p.m.  

  • What the? Where's Pat Carney???

    By Blogger herringchoker, at 10:29 p.m.  

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