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Kim Campbell the candidate

When Kim Campbell set her sights on Ottawa, she was a tart-tongued, unapologetically determined, razor-sharp intellectual. She confounded politicians and voters alike and her career was accordingly thrilling, awkward, at times thorny and ultimately very brief. CBC Archives examines Campbell's meteoric rise through the political ranks from her role as an outspoken backbencher to Canada's first woman prime minister.

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Will Kim Campbell be Canada's first woman prime minister? With the announcement of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's retirement, Conservative MPs are vying for the top job. Campbell is expected to announce her candidacy tomorrow. In this CBC television feature, reporter Joe Schlesinger speaks to her friends and political opponents about Campbell's work as a school board trustee, her controversial bare-shouldered portrait, and her meteoric rise through the Mulroney ranks. 
• Mulroney appointed Campbell minister of defence in January 1993. She was the first woman in Canadian history to hold this job. Campbell was also given the responsibility of helming Veteran Affairs and was made vice-chair of the cabinet's Committee on Foreign and Defence Policy.

• In April 1993, four Canadian peacemakers were taken into custody for the murder of a Somali man. Campbell was often criticized for failing to respond, downplaying and covering up the events of the Somalia affair. Campbell defended her position, saying she was not involved in a cover-up. When the Somalia Inquiry was cut short, she was angry she never had a public forum to defend herself against the allegations.

• In her role as defence minister, Campbell also had to defend the Conservative Party's decision to purchase pricey anti-submarine, defence helicopters. Many argued that with the close of the Cold War, the helicopters were unnecessary. Campbell however maintained that the helicopters were a high-priority and told the House of Commons, "To have frigates without shipboard helicopters is like having an aircraft carrier without aircraft." After facing much criticism, Campbell later reduced the helicopter order from 50 to 43.

• In 1994, the Liberals cancelled the controversial helicopter contract.

• Many Canadians came to know Campbell because of a 1990 Barbara Woodley portrait in which she stood bare-shouldered behind her justice minister robes, as shown in this clip. On the day Woodley came to take Campbell's photograph, Campbell had just picked up her justice minister robes. Woodley proposed taking her picture with her cello but Campbell said that another photographer had already taken her portrait in that style and accordingly suggested that she put on her new robes. Woodley recommended that Campbell hold the robes in front of her.

• "We both realized that holding the robes while I was fully dressed would look silly, but we had no idea at the time that her photo of me, bare-shouldered and holding the robes on a hanger would become so notorious two years later," she recalled in Time and Chance.

• Campbell also recalled when the National Arts Centre launched an exhibit on the Canadian prime ministers and included the portrait in November 1992. At the launch party, Campbell bumped into former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. "'I had just picked up my QC robes,' I began. 'Ah,' came that familiar nasal voice, 'and what were you doing before you picked them up?'"

• The Ottawa Citizen reviewed the exhibition and ran the photo on its front page with the caption: "Doing justice to art."

• NDP MP Lynn Hunter likened Campbell to the racy pop singer Madonna. The British press picked up on the moniker, running it with the photo. Campbell recalled in Time and Chance that the Italian press reported that she had posed with nude men because of a mistranslation of "bare shoulders."

• In 1993, the Woodley photograph sold for $12,500 at an auction in Vancouver.
Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: March 24, 1993
Guest(s): Kim Campbell, George Campbell, Russ Frazier, April Marshall, Phil Rankin, Michael Serrick, Bill Vander Zalm
Host: Pamela Wallin
Reporter: Joe Schlesinger
Duration: 12:07
Photo: Portrait of Kim Campbell: Barbara Woodley

Last updated: May 1, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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