Canada's Next Prime Minister?

Defense chief Kim Campbell may be first woman to head her nation

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?

It sometimes seems to boil down to nothing more than our social programs, and I think - no, no, no! We have a social and political culture that's quite remarkable, ways of doing things that we've worked out over the years that have been dictated by geography, a small population, certain senses of historical connectedness that gave us a sense of obligation to one another.

I think we have an opportunity now because I think the referendum has eased a lot of poison out of the system. I think, in fact, that people are remarkably serene. I don't get the sense of people being angry.

It's quite extraordinary. I think people feel they've been through this incredible adventure together and it's resolved and it's done.

What were the lessons learned from this process?

I think we need to examine our institutions and processes to see whether we can make them more accessible to people and more democratic - to try to find some language that articulates what our joint venture is as a country. We have an enormous amount of goodwill in the country right now. I think people have had a real test of - dose of - reality.

Could you elaborate on the point about making government `transparent'?

People need to see the process of representation. Members of Parliament come to Ottawa, and speak strongly for their constituents.

But that process by which they have input, and argue, and fight, is not transparent. People don't see it, and so they don't know it exists. The people think that their members go to Ottawa and just do what the [prime minister] says if they're with the governing party, and that's not correct. We try to work out our differences within, and then we take a united stand.

But in terms of today's expectations, we need to find some way of helping people understand or find ways of dealing with issues that make the variety of views and the genuine cut and thrust and debate more apparent, more obvious.

Can needed changes be made without altering Canada's Constitution?

We need to remind people of how much has been accomplished without recourse to [changing] those particular written words. I'm not saying we shouldn't amend the Constitution; I'm just saying that I think we've become a bit more humble about the extent to which we can do that, and we should recognize that we are often trying to accomplish things through the Constitution that are really matters of public policy.

So is constitutional change out, at this point?

No. I think there may still have to be some made. I just hope that the agenda will be more modest and that we come to see its limitations.

It's not the note that lets you out of school for participating in the democratic political process; you've still got to be in there fighting. The Constitution is not the end of the process.

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