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Trump era troubles ex-PM Kim Campbell, speaking Saturday in Victoria

Kim Campbell returned to the House of Commons on International Women’s Day. She was there to speak about championing women in politics.
Former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell addresses the Canadian Club in downtown Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Campbell will be in Victoria this weekend for an event.

Kim Campbell returned to the House of Commons on International Women’s Day.

She was there to speak about championing women in politics. But the visit reminded the former prime minister of some of her other political battles: leading major changes in sexual assault legislation and advocating for abortion funding.

“You become aware these issues need constant tending,” said Campbell, who is speaking in Victoria on Saturday as part of the Bridges, Not Walls symposium.

Campbell, 70, said much has changed in the years since she was in politics. The university lecturer was elected to the Vancouver School Board in 1980 before running for the Social Credit Party in the 1983 provincial election. She lost, but worked as a policy adviser for Premier Bill Bennett before winning a seat in 1986. When she spoke out about Premier Bill Vander Zalm’s cuts to abortion funding, she effectively severed her ties with the Socreds.

Campbell said she is looking forward to sharing her thoughts and stories at Saturday’s fundraiser for Bridges for Women and hopes to inspire change.

“In some ways, we’ve come a very long distance, and things that were tolerated when I was a young woman are not accepted now,” she said.

She won the Vancouver Centre seat in 1988 as a Progressive Conservative candidate. She became the first female minister of justice, first female defence minister, first woman elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and first female prime minister.

Her political career ended in 1993, four months after she was appointed prime minister, when her party was defeated in a general election. She lost her own seat.

Campbell, who returned to lecturing after the election loss, found last year’s U.S. election a blunt reminder of her time in federal politics. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “very clearly” faced a double standard in the campaign, she said.

“When it’s clear two different standards apply, it’s often because the person who is doing that really is not comfortable with one of those people being there,” said Campbell, who said she was subjected to similar treatment.

“And they might not be consciously biased. It’s also hard to parse out because there are legitimate reasons not to like someone.”

Campbell spoke about the importance of values-based behaviour, especially in light of harassment on social media and the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters.

“So you see someone like Donald Trump and his misogynistic comments, and it gives people permission to say and do these things,” said Campbell, who was Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles the 1990s. “It’s very worrisome because they do look to those examples and put people at risk.”

Campbell, who has degrees in law and political science, said she is “deeply concerned” about what she sees happening in the U.S.

“Not only because of what it means for women and their role and their right to live unmolested and unthreatened lives, but also because I was a Soviet specialist in my youth and this playing footsie with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is something that gives me concern.”

It was Campbell’s commentary on the U.S. election that attracted the attention of Bridges for Women executive director Victoria Pruden when she was planning the organization’s symposium.

“She kept coming up in the media doing these powerful interviews, taking a stand for women’s rights,” Pruden said.

“This is a time for women’s mobilization. I hope she shares some of those same messages and her strong stance about standing up against misogyny.”

The society’s one-day symposium, Bridges, Not Walls, takes place Saturday at the Victoria Conference Centre. The organization has helped women fleeing violence since the 1980s.

Campbell said she’s glad to support such grassroots organizations. “Because I know what their goal is with the advancement of women and particularly issues with anti-violence against women, that’s kind of a no-brainer for me.”

Campbell, who was born in Port Alberni and now splits her time between Vancouver and Edmonton, said she looks forward to visiting Vancouver Island.

“My great-great-grandfather had the first dairy farm in Nanaimo. My mother’s family were pioneers in Nanaimo,” she said. Her parents moved to Vancouver when she was six weeks old, but she continued to visit Qualicum Beach for holidays and attended the St. Ann’s boarding school in Victoria. She has visited the city often since her sister moved here 30 years ago.

A plaque on the family home in Port Alberni commemorates her grandfather’s move to the town in the early 1900s. He was the first resident dentist.

“It has nothing to do with the fact the first woman prime minister of Canada was born in that house,” Campbell said. “I’m quite happy to defer to my grandfather, who was a very much-loved man.”

• Bridges, Not Walls will take place from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday with Kim Campbell as the keynote speaker. The event also features Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps; MLA Carole James; Edith Loring-Kuhanga, executive director of H’ulh-etun Health Society and Greater Victoria school district chairwoman; and members of Daughters of the Vote. For information or tickets, go to