Woman is selected Canada's prime minister

June 14, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

OTTAWA, Canada -- Kim Campbell, a 46-year-old lawyer with a sharp tongue and an unconventional life, became Canada's first female prime minister yesterday by winning the leadership of the country's ruling Progressive Conservative Party.

Ms. Campbell, the current minister of defense who came into the leadership conference as a heavy favorite, won on a second ballot with 1,817 votes to 1,630 for her major challenger, Quebec lawyer and fellow Mulroney Cabinet minister Jean Charest who, at 34, was bidding to become the country's youngest prime minister.

Although Mr. Charest made a close contest of it, it was clear after yesterday's initial vote that Ms. Campbell would win when she drew 48 percent of the votes to Mr. Charest's 39 percent.

Under the Canadian parliamentary system, the leader of the party that controls the national legislature becomes the prime minister. Yesterday's vote was made necessary after Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced in February that he would resign by June 21.

Not only does Ms. Campbell become Canada's first female prime minister, she is also the first to come from British Columbia and represents a major break in the country's generally conservative political establishment.

She's been twice married and twice divorced, and she has no children. She admits having smoked marijuana in her younger days, and enjoying it.

And until she joined the Progressive Conservative Party four years ago, her only political experience was as a renegade member of the eccentric and often radically right-wing Social Credit Party of British Columbia.

The vote ended a typical Canadian political struggle: polite, even eloquent, on the surface, but often shabby and dirty beneath the surface, particularly when Mr. Charest's follower's suggested that Ms. Campbell's gender and lifestyle made her unsuited to political leadership.

Ms. Campbell found little that was controversial in Mr. Charest's personal background; with a wife and three small children, he seemed the model family man. Ms. Campbell's followers instead focused on a factor beyond Mr. Charest's control, his birthplace.

Mr. Charest was born and lives in Quebec. Even though he

dropped his teen-age enthusiasm for Quebec independence and has been an effective opponent of provincial nationalism, a strong undercurrent of resentment remains within English Canada.

Ms. Campbell's followers suggested that Quebec, which has supplied the two most prominent prime ministers in modern Canadian history -- Mr. Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau -- has had enough and it is now the turn of the far West.

Both Mr. Charest and Ms. Campbell spoke of their respective abilities to rescue Canada from its enormous budget deficit, its 11 percent unemployment, its unraveling social programs and the public's growing disillusionment with a government viewed as inefficient and riddled with corrupting patronage.

Yesterday's vote ended a short -- 4 1/2 months -- but intense campaign that took the candidates across five time zones, through all 10 provinces and two immense territories, and hundreds of towns, cities and even individual farms.

The battle was not only for delegates to the leadership conference but to build popular support for a national election expected this fall.

Polls released Saturday showed that Mr. Charest would easily defeat the Liberal Party leader Jean Chretien in a national election, while Ms. Campbell would be defeated.

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