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Kim Campbell's campaign asks: 'Is this a prime minister?'

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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Is this a prime minister? This pointed question brings Kim Campbell's already suffering campaign to a grinding halt, as shown in this CBC news report. Campbell's campaign team posed the question in a negative attack advertisement, featuring photographs of Liberal leader Jean Chrétien. The implication was that someone who looked like Chrétien, who has partial facial paralysis as a result of Bell's palsy, could not seriously lead the country. Almost immediately, the public responds angrily and the advertisement is pulled from the airwaves. 
• Campbell had not seen the ad before it had aired but her aides described the content of the commercial to her.

• When Campbell scrapped the ad within 24 hours, she told reporters that it was inconsistent with the message she was trying to spread. Campbell said, "It certainly was not the intention to be offensive, the intention was to deliver a very important message about Mr. Chrétien's competence as a leader and I will continue to deliver that message but I'll do it in a way that will not cause offence to anyone."

• Chrétien fought back and responded, "Last night the Conservative party reached a new low. They tried to make fun of the way I look. God gave me a physical defect. I have accepted that since I was a kid. It is true I speak on one side of my mouth. I am not a Tory, I don't speak on both sides of my mouth."

• One of Campbell's campaign managers, John Tory, steadfastly defended the ad. "I think all the ads do is call into question - and it's a very legitimate question - Mr. Chrétien's competence, particularly on the economy but also in general terms." (Toronto Star, October 16, 1993.)

• Progressive Conservative candidates across the country expressed outrage and attempted to distance themselves from the party. The Globe and Mail ran a story titled "Weekend from hell stuns Tories" about the fallout from the incident.
• On Oct. 16, the Globe and Mail published a poll that said the majority of decided voters (40 per cent) were backing the Liberal party as compared to only 22 per cent for the Tories.

• In Time and Chance, Campbell called the ads "stupid" and "offensive." She didn't believe her campaign managers' claim that the ads did not intentionally make fun of Chrétien's appearance. "Not only were the ads unsustainable, but we gave our opponents a huge club to beat us with," she wrote.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Oct. 15, 1993
Guest(s): Isabel Bassett, Bud Bird, Patrick Boyer, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Bob Horner, Ken Riddell, John Tory
Reporter: Havard Gould
Duration: 3:01

Last updated: October 16, 2014

Page consulted on October 16, 2014

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