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Sharon Carstairs: voice of the Liberals

From Tory blue to NDP orange and back again, with scarcely a red Liberal in sight – that's been the alternating pattern in Manitoba elections since the 1950s. Manitobans seem to prefer stability in their governments but punish a government when it overstays its welcome. Both parties have gotten the boot for stoking the public's ire: the NDP for boosting auto insurance rates in 1988 and the Tories in 1999 for a vote-rigging scheme. From Hudson Bay to the Red River, CBC Archives goes to the polls.

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"Is this -- oh, that voice!" It takes only one word for Pierre Berton to deduce the mystery guest on CBC Television's Front Page Challenge. Sharon Carstairs, leader of the Manitoba Liberals, is well known for her distinctive voice. But her success in the 1988 election may earn her more recognition still. From one lonely seat in the previous election, Carstairs has boosted her party to official opposition status with 20 seats.
• Sharon Carstairs was the first woman in Canada to lead the official Opposition in a provincial legislature.
• Carstairs, a former teacher, was elected leader of the Manitoba Liberals in March 1984. Before that the party had been leaderless for two years.
• Politics was in Carstairs's blood. Her father, Harold Connolly, was a Nova Scotia MLA, cabinet minister and, for six months in 1954, premier of the province.

• In the general election of April 26, 1988, the Progressive Conservatives under Gary Filmon won a minority government with 25 seats. The Liberals took 20 seats and Gary Doer's NDP sank to 12.
• According to the Globe and Mail, the results meant "serious trouble" for the Meech Lake Accord then before the federal government. Both the Manitoba Liberals and NDP opposed it, and could prevent Filmon's government from ratifying it.

• In the late summer of 1990, Filmon called a snap election, saying: "We are now at the end of a normal lifespan for a minority government. And the uncertainty and instability that comes at the end of a minority is holding us back."
• Filmon's gamble paid off. His party won a majority, with 30 seats. Doer's NDP regained opposition status with 20 seats and Carstairs's Liberals were reduced to seven.

• Carstairs had a sense of humour about her unmistakable voice, as seen in this clip. When someone once compared it to "a chipmunk on helium," she replied: "I am living proof that Daffy Duck has relatives."
• In September 1994 Carstairs was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. As of 2006 she is still a member of the red chamber.
Medium: Television
Program: Front Page Challenge
Broadcast Date: May 13, 1988
Guest(s): Sharon Carstairs
Host: Fred Davis
Panellist: Pierre Berton, Roy Bonisteel, Allan Fotheringham, Betty Kennedy
Duration: 10:00
Writer: Warner Troyer c/o Writers Guild of Canada, 416-979-7907 Ex 5236.

Last updated: February 25, 2013

Page consulted on May 14, 2014

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