Monique Bégin, OC, politician and academic (born 1 March 1936 in Rome, Italy). A founding member of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (Québec women’s federation), Bégin was elected to the House of Commons in 1972, making her one of the first Québec women in federal Parliament — a distinction she shares with Albanie Morin and Jeanne Sauvé. She was influential in federal politics as minister of Health in the Liberal government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. After leaving politics, Bégin went on to pursue a brilliant academic career.
Education and Early Career
After earning a teaching certificate (1955), a BA (1958) and a master’s in sociology from the Université de Montréal (1961), Monique Bégin pursued doctoral studies in Paris (from 1961 to 1963). In 1966, she was one of the 16 signatories of the Charter of the Fédération des femmes du Québec. The following year, she served as the executive secretary general of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.
Bégin’s political career began when she was elected in the Saint-Michel riding as a Liberal member of the House (1972). She was re-elected in 1974, 1979 and 1980 — in the last two of these elections, she won with the greatest majorities ever recorded in a Canadian federal election.
First as minister of National Revenue (1976–77), then as minister of National Health and Welfare (1977–84), she oversaw three increases in the old-age supplement for senior citizens in need, as well as the creation of the child tax credit and the passage of the new Canadian Health Act (1984), which strengthened the health-insurance system (see Health Policy). She introduced the policy of transferring health services to Indigenous peoples.
After more than 10 years in the House of Commons, Bégin returned to teaching and embarked on an academic career. She has held teaching positions at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana (1984–85) and at McGill University in Montréal (1985–86). In 1986, the University of Ottawa named her first incumbent of the Joint Chair in Women’s Studies with Carleton University. In 1990, she became dean of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, where she served until her retirement in 1997 and where she is now professor emeritus. She is also a visiting professor at the university’s Telfer School of Management.
From 1993 to 1995, Bégin co-chaired Ontario's Royal Commission on Learning. From 2005 to 2008, she was a member of the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health.
Honours and Awards
In 1976, Bégin was named to the Queen’s Privy Council. She has received honorary doctorates from 14 universities for her contributions to human rights and public policy. In 1984, she won the first Dr. Brock Chisholm Medal, offered by the Medical Society of the World Health Organization in Geneva. She became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1996 and an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1998.In 2008, she was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and in 2013, she was named an Honourary Life Member of the Canadian Healthcare Association for her many contributions to the healthcare system. In 2015, she received the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.