Canada's Campbell Turns to the Race Ahead

New premier must strengthen a weakened economy and solidify conservatives before she faces elections this fall

FOR the first time in its history, Canada will have a woman prime minister.

Kim Campbell, a feisty 46-year-old lawyer and former professor who rose swiftly through the ranks of the nation's ruling Progressive Conservative Party, was elected the party's first female leader Sunday evening.

Ms. Campbell edged out the young Environment Minister from Quebec, Jean Charest, who had been gaining on her in the last weeks of the campaign.

"This great contest within a family is now over," Campbell said in a gesture to the disappointed Charest camp. "I invite each and every one of you to join with us for the greater battle that lies ahead against our real opponents and for the real prize, our third consecutive majority government."

Campbell will need unity and all the help she can get. As party leader under Canada's parliamentary-style government, she will take over from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the next few weeks. Her job is to get the economy going and her party reelected in federal elections this fall.

Mr. Mulroney, who announced his resignation in February, may have wanted to lead the party, but his low standing in the polls led him to conclude that a new face would have a better chance of leading conservatives to an election victory.

But with 11.4 percent unemployment and many Canadians bitter over government cuts to social programs, Campbell's task of distancing herself from Mulroney may be impossible.

A series of patronage appointments Mulroney made in his last days in office has not helped her, analysts say. "Getting out from under Mulroney's shadow is a real problem," says Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian.

"I think the government is going to be very badly beaten in the fall. People are so angry at Mulroney that it won't matter what she does," Mr. Bliss adds.

Campbell says one of her first tasks will be to tackle the federal and provincial deficits by calling a special meeting with the provincial premiers to reach an agreement on spending. That, she says, will buoy Canada going into the July meeting of the group of seven leading industrialized nations in Tokyo.

Given Campbell's need to establish herself, many analysts say she will wait as long as possible before calling an election. Elected to Parliament in 1988, she was soon appointed Minister of Indian Affairs, later became Minister of Justice, then was appointed to the post of Minister of Defense in January.

Party strategists hope that Campbell will be able to solidify the conservative base in Canada's western provinces, where Preston Manning's Reform Party has eroded it. She also has the backing of prominent Quebec nationalists in her party, and thus may do fairly well among Quebec conservatives who might otherwise have voted for Quebec's federal party, the separatist Bloc Qucois (BQ).

Ontario, however, may be an insurmountable problem for the conservatives. Many unhappy with the Ontario New Democratic Party will blame the federal NDP - and vote Liberal.

Some analysts estimate conservatives could lose 20 or more seats in the country's most populous province - throwing the party out of power. The result, some say, could be a Liberal-led minority government in alliance with the New Democratic Party, and Conservatives, Reform, and BQ in the opposition.

Campbell will need all the help she can get from Mr. Charest, who ran a better-organized campaign and came from far behind to nearly beat her. Still, Campbell made few errors in the final days. And the campaign momentum that Charest's camp appeared to have built evaporated on the first ballot. On the second, Campbell won 52.7 percent of the votes cast by 3,452 delegates.

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