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With a nod to the political battles fought in Manitoba 100 years ago, former prime minister Kim Campbell said women are no longer the canaries in the coal mine in global society.

An eloquent speaker and engaging storyteller, Campbell spoke to a crowd of about 150 people at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Wednesday as part of the province’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote and hold public office in Manitoba, the first province in Canada to do so.

Hon. Kim Campbell at the Museum For Human Rights Wednesday evening.


Hon. Kim Campbell at the Museum For Human Rights Wednesday evening.

Campbell said the value of what happened in Manitoba 100 years ago, on Jan. 28, 1916, continues to resonate today.

"It wasn’t a revolution, it was a gradual change of how we understand the role that women can and must play in society," said Campbell, who was Canada’s first female prime minister and remains the only woman to have held the nation’s highest elected office.

She served from June 25 to Nov. 4, 1993.

Nellie McClung


Nellie McClung

"One hundred years ago, when the Manitoba legislature empowered women in this province to vote and participate in government, they took a very important step in beginning to create the social changes that have resulted in the opportunities that we have today."

Campbell, also Canada’s first female justice minister, referred to research and positions of major international corporations that have shown "the presence of women in senior management improves corporate performance."

"As women have become participants, they have become players and they have changed the agenda and they have also demonstrated their efficacy," Campbell said.

She gave the example of the Ontario Securities Commission, which she said has come out with a "comply or explain" directive to Ontario registered companies to put women on their boards of directors.

But Campbell didn’t try to gloss over the fact that women still have barriers to break down: in traditionally male-dominated professions, and in countries where women "are still considered property."

"Over the years, there’s been a lot of struggle and there are a lot of issues to resolve. But because women did struggle and because they insisted on doing what they knew they could do, many hearts were broken," she said. "Not every woman who wanted to make a career in business or who wanted to make a career in a certain profession got an opportunity to do that. But enough did so that their performance has been evaluated and the story is incredibly positive. So for young women today, it’s not that there’s not barriers, there still are. There are male-dominated cultures. But there is no longer any doubt of their ability to do the job. So it’s a different conversation."

Calantha Jensen, a recent University of Winnipeg graduate with a double major in human rights and conflict resolution, said she enjoyed Campbell’s candour.

"I’ve always been very interested in human rights and women’s rights and I feel like she has a lot of in-depth understanding of the issues that women face having held the positions that she has," Jenson, 24, said. She met Campbell personally following the speech.

"I feel like she is a very important spokesperson, given her life experience. I’m so glad I came here and heard what she had to say. A lot of what she said really spoke to me."

Campbell said "there’s much more that we need to do" but it is important to acknowledged that "women have made huge, huge strides."

"They’ve made huge, huge advances in changing that conversation and dispelling the notion that they don’t belong," Campbell said. "As we come to break down those barriers, it helps create a mindset (in male-dominated areas) of less hubris and more willingness to ask questions and willingness to ask, am I making a fair judgment? Or am I making a judgment based on implicit attitudes because I’ve accepted people like that as being part of my environment?"

She took questions from the floor and from social media at the end of her 30-minute speech.