By Gabrielle Bishop
On Tuesday, September 23rd, Canada’s first female Prime Minister paid a visit to the Carleton campus to give a speech on “Doing Politics Differently”. Delivered to an audience of mainly students, but also working professionals and members of the community, Campbell’s presence was enough to ensure standing room only in the 2220-2229 rooms of the River Building.
No issue too small
Reading out an excerpt from her memoir, “Time and Chance”, Campbell began the talk by emphasizing how much she, and other elected members of parliament, had tried to encourage democratic reform in Canada. She noted that while she felt those sorts of smaller issues were (and still are) of little interest to the media, constituents ought to know that their representatives are making progress in the capital. An example she gave of a small (yet still important) issue was changing the lyrics in “O Canada” from “in all our sons command” to “in all of us command”.
“Is it the biggest issue in the world?” she asked, “No – but that that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change it“.
Campbell went on to touch upon the belief among many voters that lower-ranking, back-bencher MPs struggle to make significant changes in the House, or that they are muzzled by their party leader and do not act in their constituents’ best interests. Campbell argued that this belief occurs due to the fact that much party discussion happens behind closed doors, and voters don’t often get to see the full extent of how hard their elected MP is truly working for their interests.
Campbell argued that this should change, and that conversations should be instead more open.
“You can’t be what you can’t see”
She went on to talk about leadership, and how she was inspired to pursue a career in service of the public because of her parents. Campbell grew up with the images of her mother and father, who had both served in WWII hanging on the walls of her home.
She reflected on how her mother served in the Canadian Navy during this time, and I was reminded of a certain quote on women’s representation and role models: “you can’t be what you can’t see”. For Campbell, having a strong, female role model so close to home left a visible impact.
One of the most memorable parts of Campbell’s speech was when she spoke on her idea to have two candidates (one male, one female) per political party sponsored in each election (as opposed to our current system of having just one).
Campbell argued that this would eliminate a lot of the gender-based barriers to running for office, and would also remove a lot of the competition faced between male and female candidates. In turn, the two candidates could help each other campaign and ultimately represent a more unified front for their respective parties.
Furthermore, Canada would gain a lot of global attention for enacting a system like this; this would create a lot of buzz for our reputation on the world stage.
I was intrigued by this two-candidate notion, but still do hold a bit of skepticism – especially in terms of logistics! Imagine having to double the seats in our House (and effectively the pay of MPs)! Nonetheless, it is a certainly an interesting idea to reflect on.
“How did you become Prime Minister?”
Campbell’s speech was followed by a Q + A period, at which point she was asked “how exactly [she] became the Prime Minister; what did she do to get to where she was – was it through volunteering, student governments, etc?” by a student in the audience. This question garnered a lot of eye-rolls and chuckles from the other attendees, but the student’s question was still valid – after all, most of us in the audience probably understood the official process of getting to become Prime Minister fairly well.
But the student’s question seemed to be a bit more abstract – what steps ultimately led her to pursue a career in the public eye? How did she get from where she was to ultimately, becoming the Prime Minister of Canada?
Campbell answered that contrary to what many students think, you’re not going to wind up as Prime Minister due to working your way up from volunteer phone-banker or president of the “Young [insert party name here]s of Canada” campus club. Political parties rarely select “star candidates” from within their own ranks. Instead, they head-hunt them from outside of the party. “Don’t work to become a candidate,” Campbell said. “Become a star, and the party will come to you“. Campbell drew on her own experience on the Vancouver School Board to reiterate this. Wise words indeed for those NPSIAns who want to run for office!
Doing politics differently
Ultimately, the speech was an engaging, candid look into Campbell’s own experiences as not just the former Prime Minister, but a general public figure.