Kim Campbell: The politician who wouldn't promise jobs

When Progressive Conservative leader Kim Campbell called the 1993 election, it didn't take long for her to make her first stumble on the campaign trail.

It would be 'two or three or four years' before jobless rate could fall, she said

When Progressive Conservative leader Kim Campbell called the 1993 election, it didn't take long for her to make her first stumble on the campaign trail. 2:22

"I believe it is the time for new leadership," said Kim Campbell, launching her campaign on Sept. 8, 1993.

New leadership was a given: Campbell became leader, and prime minister, when the Progressive Conservative party chose her as Brian Mulroney's successor in June of that year.

Kim Campbell, leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, greets voters in Peterborough, Ont. (CBC Archives/The National)

But Day 1 of a 47-day campaign began shakily for Campbell. Her key promise was to reduce the deficit, but when reporters questioned her on the issue of unemployment — which then hovered around 11 per cent — she responded that the jobless rate wouldn't likely fall for two, three or four years.

'Old politics'

"I could say how many jobs I'd like to create, but, I'm sorry, that's old politics," she said. 

Liberal leader Jean Chrétien jumped on the remark, promising that a Liberal government would bring better times and deliver jobs. 

"It will be like the good old days," he said. "Canadians will be working."

But Campbell would prove correct: the jobless rate didn't fall below 10 per cent until 1996, hovered at eight per cent until 1999, and finally broke seven per cent in 2000.

The 'gaffe' that wasn't

The Progressive Conservative leader makes her way to the campaign bus after an event to promote literacy on Day 1 of her federal election campaign of 1993. (CBC/The National)

The unemployment issue continued to dog Campbell. When asked why her economic forecast was so grim, Campbell responded, "Maybe you need a hearing aid. I mean, I am offering hope to Canadians."

But some appreciated Campbell's frank honesty. On Sept. 14, 1993, the Globe and Mail ran an editorial that read, "Let's see if we've got this straight. Kim Campbell says something that everyone acknowledges to be true, and it's a 'gaffe.' Jean Chrétien vows to do something that everyone knows will accomplish nothing, and is said to offer 'hope.' Is it any wonder the public thinks the press are out to lunch?"

Later in the campaign, Campbell was asked to comment on plans to reform Canada's social programs; she responded that they didn't have a blueprint to work from at that time.

When pressed further, Campbell curtly replied that "this [election] is not the time, I don't think, to get involved in a debate on very, very serious issues."

'Is this a prime minister?'

Perhaps the most notorious misstep of Campbell's campaign came weeks later in an attack ad, described in the CBC News report below, featuring close-up photos of Liberal leader Jean Chrétien and a voiceover asking, "Is this a prime minister?"

The public responded angrily and the advertisement was pulled, but not before doing irreparable damage to the campaign. Campbell's Progressive Conservatives won just two seats in the election of Oct. 25, 1993.  

Campbell's campaign crosses the line with an unforgivable attack ad against Liberal Jean Chrétien. 2:53