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Jeanne Sauvé's political advice

When describing Jeanne Sauvé, it's hard not to think of the word "first." She was the first woman MP from Quebec to become a cabinet minister, Canada's first female Speaker of the House, and the first female governor general. As she moved from broadcast journalist to high-profile political figure, Sauvé undoubtedly had her share of challenges and controversies. But through it all, the woman of "firsts" never lost her characteristic elegance and grace.

"Get to know the rules of the game and work very hard." That's Jeanne Sauvé's number 1 piece of advice for women who want to be politicians. In this 1974 radio documentary on female politicians, the new cabinet minister says the House of Commons has been very accepting of women so far. But that doesn't mean it's easy to be a woman in politics in the 1970s. "There's no doubt that we've got to work twice as hard as a man," she proclaims. 
• By the early 1970s, Sauvé had built a solid reputation as a political reporter and commentator. The federal Liberal party approached her to run in the Montreal-area riding of Ahuntsic in the 1972 election, and she happily agreed.
• At the time, there were very few women in Canadian federal politics. Of 264 MPs elected in the previous federal election of 1968, only one was female -- the NDP's Grace MacInnis.

• Campaigning was more difficult than Sauvé had expected. "I felt uneasy for the first time in my life when I was campaigning. I felt people were taking a second look at me and wondering whether a woman was adequate for the job... They wondered what would happen to my husband and my son. I must say I had qualms about it myself," Sauvé said in the book Her Excellency Jeanne Sauvé.

• Despite her perceived difficulties, Sauvé won her riding easily in 1972. She was now one of five female MPs out of a total of 264 MPs in Canada. (To compare those numbers to more recent ones: of 308 MPs elected in 2004, 65 were women.)
• Prime Minister Trudeau soon appointed her minister of state for Science and Technology, making her the first woman from Quebec to be a cabinet minister. At the time, she was the only woman in Trudeau's cabinet.

• Canada's first female cabinet minister was Ellen Fairclough. She was appointed secretary of state under the Diefenbaker government in 1957, and then became minister of Citizenship and Immigration a year later.

• After Sauvé was elected and named to the cabinet in 1972, the Globe and Mail wrote: "Not since Pierre Trudeau, Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier in 1965 have Quebec voters sent Ottawa a new Liberal Member of Parliament with as much celebrity status as Jeanne Sauvé."

• In the same feature article, Sauvé declared that she was opposed to female tokenism. She said appointments should go to the best-qualified people "rather than just putting a woman in there because you need a woman." However, she emphasized her "firm belief that the government must pursue conscious policies to overcome past discrimination against women in the public service."

• Sauvé was re-elected in 1974 and was named minister of the Environment by Pierre Trudeau.
• In 1975, she became minister of Communications, a role many felt she was ideally suited for due to her broadcasting background.
• When Progressive Conservative Joe Clark became prime minister in October 1979, Sauvé served a short stint as Communications critic for the Opposition.
• Trudeau came back into power in early 1980. It was then that he asked Sauvé to be Speaker of the House. jeanne sauve
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Magazine
Broadcast Date: June 2, 1974
Guest(s): Jeanne Sauvé
Reporter: Joan McLellan
Duration: 1:55

Last updated: April 16, 2013

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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