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Political pioneer Catherine Callbeck on her time in Senate


CENTRAL BEDEQUE , P.E.I. — It’s an image now part of Prince Edward Island’s political history. The picture, taken in 1993, is of a premier, Speaker of the House, deputy Speaker, Opposition leader and lieutenant governor: all women.

Catherine Callbeck was among those “First Five.”

In 2014, the former premier and senator marked her retirement from the Senate and from political life.

For women in politics on Prince Edward Island Callbeck — the first female MLA to represent her district and riding as an MP, the first and only female Island premier  and the first elected female premier in Canada - was  a trailblazer.

“She stirred my interest in politics when I moved from the mainland to Bedeque. She, at that time, was the Minister of Health for the province and then became a neighbour,” said Nancy Guptill, who was in that photo. “She certainly did a lot of leadership roles, not just in politics, but also within the community.”

Guptill was Speaker of the House from 1993 to 1996, during the time Callbeck was premier and represented the former District of 5th Prince from 1987 to 2000.

“I think it was the Status of Women that initiated (the photo), recognizing that there should be something, a picture taken, because it was quite incredible that you would find five women in the top jobs,” Guptill said.

 “It set the bar pretty high on P.E.I. to put women in those kinds of roles,” Paula Biggar, a former deputy Speaker said of the province’s political landscape at that time. “For women to get into politics in general is a challenge, certainly provincial politics.”

RELATED: History is her story, too 

A place in the Senate

Ahead of her retirement,  Callbeck reflected on her time in the Red Chamber.

“There were all kinds of rumours going about that I was going to be appointed to the Senate before anyone had ever approached me,” recalled Callbeck.

“I made it my business to look into it and talk to some people I knew that were in the Senate. If I was going to think about this, I wanted to really know what the Senate did and if it was something of interest to me.”

Seeing it as an extension of community service, when she did get the call from then Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Callbeck accepted the offer.

But first Chretien asked her why she wanted to be a senator.

“I thought, with my background, I could do a lot for Prince Edward Island,” said Callbeck.

“The Senate is a very valuable institution. I felt that when I went into it and I still feel that way.”

Leading the way

Callbeck said she didn’t think of herself in those early years as a trailblazer, but said she did meet with sexism in her early political life.

But, she had always been a woman in a man’s world:  the only woman while at Mount Allison getting her bachelor in commerce, the lone female teaching business at what is now the New Brunswick Community College and, often the lone woman in the boardroom.

“When I got in, I know there were a lot of people that felt that women shouldn’t be in politics. I was told that. I didn’t really let that interfere.”

 “I was presented with an award in Ottawa for being a trailblazer. I didn’t see it when I was doing it. When I look back and realize that I was the only woman or the first woman to be elected premier, yeah,” ... her voice trails off and then she continues. “It’s big for a shy kid coming from Bedeque.”

After her retirement, Callbeck was named a member of the Order of Canada.

 

Timeline

July 25, 1939 — Catherine Sophia Callbeck was born in Central Bedeque to Ralph R. Callbeck and Ruth (Campbell) Callbeck.

1960 — Bachelor of commerce degree from Mt. Allison University.

1963 — Bachelor of education degree from Dalhousie University.

1974 — Elected to the P.E.I. legislature as member for the Fourth District of Prince

1974 to ’78 — First female minister of health and social services, minister responsible for the disabled and minister responsible for non-status Indians.

1988 — First woman elected as the Member of Parliament for Malpeque, making her the second woman ever from P.E.I. to be elected to the House of Commons.

Jan. 25, 1993 — She is sworn in as the first female premier of P.E.I.

March 29, 1993 — Callbeck is elected as the member for First District of Queens.

Sept. 23, 1997 — Called to the Senate.

 

Editor’s note: This article appeared as two pieces in July 2014: Catherine Callbeck looks back fondly on her time in Senate and Catherine Callbeck called a trailblazer for women in politics

Catherine Callbeck was among those “First Five.”

In 2014, the former premier and senator marked her retirement from the Senate and from political life.

For women in politics on Prince Edward Island Callbeck — the first female MLA to represent her district and riding as an MP, the first and only female Island premier  and the first elected female premier in Canada - was  a trailblazer.

“She stirred my interest in politics when I moved from the mainland to Bedeque. She, at that time, was the Minister of Health for the province and then became a neighbour,” said Nancy Guptill, who was in that photo. “She certainly did a lot of leadership roles, not just in politics, but also within the community.”

Guptill was Speaker of the House from 1993 to 1996, during the time Callbeck was premier and represented the former District of 5th Prince from 1987 to 2000.

“I think it was the Status of Women that initiated (the photo), recognizing that there should be something, a picture taken, because it was quite incredible that you would find five women in the top jobs,” Guptill said.

 “It set the bar pretty high on P.E.I. to put women in those kinds of roles,” Paula Biggar, a former deputy Speaker said of the province’s political landscape at that time. “For women to get into politics in general is a challenge, certainly provincial politics.”

RELATED: History is her story, too 

A place in the Senate

Ahead of her retirement,  Callbeck reflected on her time in the Red Chamber.

“There were all kinds of rumours going about that I was going to be appointed to the Senate before anyone had ever approached me,” recalled Callbeck.

“I made it my business to look into it and talk to some people I knew that were in the Senate. If I was going to think about this, I wanted to really know what the Senate did and if it was something of interest to me.”

Seeing it as an extension of community service, when she did get the call from then Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Callbeck accepted the offer.

But first Chretien asked her why she wanted to be a senator.

“I thought, with my background, I could do a lot for Prince Edward Island,” said Callbeck.

“The Senate is a very valuable institution. I felt that when I went into it and I still feel that way.”

Leading the way

Callbeck said she didn’t think of herself in those early years as a trailblazer, but said she did meet with sexism in her early political life.

But, she had always been a woman in a man’s world:  the only woman while at Mount Allison getting her bachelor in commerce, the lone female teaching business at what is now the New Brunswick Community College and, often the lone woman in the boardroom.

“When I got in, I know there were a lot of people that felt that women shouldn’t be in politics. I was told that. I didn’t really let that interfere.”

 “I was presented with an award in Ottawa for being a trailblazer. I didn’t see it when I was doing it. When I look back and realize that I was the only woman or the first woman to be elected premier, yeah,” ... her voice trails off and then she continues. “It’s big for a shy kid coming from Bedeque.”

After her retirement, Callbeck was named a member of the Order of Canada.

 

Timeline

July 25, 1939 — Catherine Sophia Callbeck was born in Central Bedeque to Ralph R. Callbeck and Ruth (Campbell) Callbeck.

1960 — Bachelor of commerce degree from Mt. Allison University.

1963 — Bachelor of education degree from Dalhousie University.

1974 — Elected to the P.E.I. legislature as member for the Fourth District of Prince

1974 to ’78 — First female minister of health and social services, minister responsible for the disabled and minister responsible for non-status Indians.

1988 — First woman elected as the Member of Parliament for Malpeque, making her the second woman ever from P.E.I. to be elected to the House of Commons.

Jan. 25, 1993 — She is sworn in as the first female premier of P.E.I.

March 29, 1993 — Callbeck is elected as the member for First District of Queens.

Sept. 23, 1997 — Called to the Senate.

 

Editor’s note: This article appeared as two pieces in July 2014: Catherine Callbeck looks back fondly on her time in Senate and Catherine Callbeck called a trailblazer for women in politics

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