One Rung at a Time

Article excerpt

Four Canadian premiers are women -- but nine of them are men

Canadian women have been premiers in four provinces and all three territories, and four of them are currently in office. One might think this is a reason to rejoice. It sounds good, but is it?

Catherine Callbeck, from Prince Edward Island, was the first woman elected by the general population as premier and governed from 1993 to 1996. Originally elected in the '70s, she had served both at the federal and provincial levels. Her Liberal government introduced a significant number of unpopular changes. Recognizing her impending rout, Callbeck resigned just before the election was called in 1996 and her party was massively defeated. Callbeck left electoral politics but within a year, she was appointed a senator.

Pat Duncan, in the Yukon, was the second woman elected as premier, in 2000. Duncan, a Liberal, became very unpopular with her own caucus as a result of her authoritarian style and she suffered enough defections that her government slipped to minority status. In a bid to gain a majority back, she called an election after only two years in office, much to the anger of electors who reduced her party to one seat, her own. Liberals were furious and called a leadership convention and she was defeated. She did not run in the next election.

Kathy Dunderdale was elected in 2011 as the Conservative premier in Newfoundland. It was an interesting election campaign, since for the first time in Canadian history, the leaders of all three major parties were women. Dunderdale may make history again by being the first woman re-elected as premier by the general population. She followed a popular premier but has a much more conciliatory leadership style than Danny Williams. Newfoundland, however, has a history of replacing its premiers with rapidity, having had seven different premiers since 1989.

Alison Redford was elected as the Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta in 2012. Articulate and relatively young, Redford has an excellent chance of re-election, since the Tories have held power there for more than 40 years. With almost no caucus support in her leadership run, however, Redford is going to keep an eye on disgruntled caucus members. Maintaining her position will be helped by her main contender for premier, Danielle Smith of the Wildrose party. With a load of rednecks and party members who do not believe in party discipline, Smith will likely have a turbulent few years as leader of the opposition and her party may implode.

The remaining four female premiers were not elected by the voters. Two women were chosen as premiers in consensus governments, a form of government many people think is more suited to women's style of governing than the heavily partisan governments seen today in much of Canada.

Nellie Cournoyer was selected by her colleagues in the Northwest Territories in 1992 to be their premier. Cournoyer resigned in 1995 after serving only one term and took over as head of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., which oversees land and financial compensation from a land-claim settlement reached in 1984. She remains in this position today.

Eva Aariak was also chosen premier in a nonpartisan government in 2008 in her first year as an elected MLA. …