Canada's Next Prime Minister? Defense Chief Kim Campbell May Be First Woman to Head Her Nation

Article excerpt

CANADIAN Minister of Defense Kim Campbell, a multilingual lawyer and former political science professor from Vancouver, seems on a straight track to become Canada's next prime minister.

Ms. Campbell announced March 25 she would enter the race for leader of the Progressive Conservative Party after Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Feb. 24 that he would resign.

If she wins at the June 9 to 13 leadership convention, Campbell would be named prime minister, becoming the first woman to assume the nation's top post. She would then lead the party into federal elections this fall.

So certain seems Campbell's rocket-sled ride to the top, that critics deride the upcoming leadership race as a "coronation."

Most potential contenders for the party leadership added to the Campbell juggernaut in recent weeks by withdrawing their names from consideration. That has left Campbell with just one significant opponent: 34-year-old Environment Minister Jean Charest, whom many consider too young and lacking support in his home province of Quebec.

Campbell's rise, analysts say, comes at a critical time for conservatives, who need to convey a fresh image and softer line to an electorate alienated by Mr. Mulroney's neoconservative policies.

"I think this thing is one of the most carefully engineered party saving vehicles that has been put on for a long time," says David Bellamy, a professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Campbell's rivals, he says, "are all associated with neoconservative policies.... There is this effort to swing around, to make a political party that is acceptable."

First elected to the House of Commons in 1988, Campbell was appointed in 1989 to the high-profile minister of state for Indian Affairs post.

Mulroney made her minister of justice in 1990, where she introduced legislation tightening gun-control laws, bolstering homosexual rights, and dropping abortion from the nation's criminal code. Critics in her own party have accused her of being too liberal on such issues, a possible plus this year. In January, she was made minister of defense.

The Monitor caught up with Campbell in Boston before Mulroney's resignation, where she shared her thoughts on Canadian unity and national identity in the wake of October's climactic national referendum that rejected the Charlottetown Accord, a national unity plan put forward by the prime minister and provincial premiers. Excerpts from the interview follow:

What is it about the rejection of the Charlottetown plan that makes a unifying vision of Canada important now?

So much of what people went through in talking about the various aspects of the Charlottetown Accord related to their attempt to define the country. What are the things that unify us? What are our goals? What are we as a country? …