Kim Campbell, the first and only woman to serve as Canada's prime minister, is pushing Canadians to take active steps in creating gender balance in politics.

She said so following a keynote speech she made at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg on Wednesday, on the eve of the centennial of certain women gaining the right to vote in Manitoba.

"Women need to feel like they can accomplish something," she said.

"And I think they can."


Former prime minister Kim Campbell said she believes women are capable of accomplishing their goals, but women have to believe that about themselves. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Campbell said she witnessed first-hand the value women bring to parliament, particularly by possessing perspectives that challenge what men believe to be true in some cases.

She provided examples, including when, as the first woman to become Canada's minister of justice, she convened a national symposium on women, law and the administration of justice in Vancouver, inviting a number of judges.

"And after the symposium, a number of the judges said to me, 'Before I came to this conference, I thought I was pretty liberal on these issues. And I realize, I didn't know anything,'" Campbell told about 150 people in the audience.

"Because they had never heard from women themselves who had problems with the justice system and the law as it was applied … It was a revelation to them. Not because they were mean and narrow-minded before, they weren't. But because they'd never heard those voices."

She called that an instance of women demonstrating their efficacy, noting that as participants, women change the agenda.

While she does not have a solution to the ongoing issue of women's lack of political involvement compared to men, she said she does not believe in what she calls the "evolutionary approach."

"I've proposed two-person constituencies, a man and a woman. Instant parity," she said.

But, Campbell said, regardless of gender, a leader should create an environment where people can speak up. That includes acknowledging that women are naturally well-suited to tasks men may struggle with in politics.

"It's not that men can't do justice to women's issues. Many of them do," she said.

"But they can't do it as well as we can."

Speaking to high school students

Manitoba became the first Canadian province to grant women suffrage when it amended the provincial Elections Act on Jan. 28, 1916.

Similar changes followed across Canada, first in Western Canada and finally at the federal level in 1919. Indigenous women were first allowed to vote in federal elections in 1960.

Kim Campbell officially became Canada's 19th prime minister on June 25, 1993, after she won the Progressive Conservative leadership race. After the party suffered a crushing defeat in a federal election that fall, she resigned in December of that year.

Recently, she has advocated for gender parity in Canada's electoral system, arguing that both a male and female member of Parliament should be elected in every riding.

On Friday, Campbell and other women leaders will take part in a day of programming for high school students organized by the museum, Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon and the Manitoba Museum.