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Henri Bourassa, politician, journalist (born 1 Sept 1868 in Montreal; died 31 Aug 1952 in Montreal). Henri Bourassa was an important Canadian nationalist leader who supported Canada’s increased independence from the British Empire. Bourassa was also an advocate for French Canadian rights within Canada.
Mary Irene Parlby (née Marryat), Alberta MLA (1921–35), women’s rights advocate, activist (born 9 January 1868 in London, UK; died 12 July 1965 in Red Deer, AB). Irene Parlby served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta for 14 years. She was the first woman in Alberta, and the second in the British Empire, to be appointed to a cabinet position. One of the Famous Five appellants in the Persons Case, Parlby was a compelling advocate for women’s rights. Known as the “Women’s Minister,” her career in activism and legislation was dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and children, such as with Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. She was also a delegate to the League of Nations in 1930. However, she has also been criticized for her views on eugenics and for her support of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1966 and an honorary senator in 2009.
Irene Parlby and the United Farmers of Alberta
Most Canadians, if they have heard of Irene Parlby, know her as one of the “Famous Five.” This group of five Alberta women were plaintiffs in a court case that argued women were indeed persons under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867) and thus entitled to be named to the Senate. It was a landmark case in the long struggle by women to achieve political and legal equality in Canada. But Parlby’s historical significance rests on much more than just the Persons Case.
Robert Bourassa, premier of Québec (1970–1976 and 1985–1994), politician, lawyer, economist (born 14 July 1933 in Montréal, QC; died 2 October 1996 in Montréal).
Eva Aariak, politician, second premier of Nunavut (born 10 January 1955 in Arctic Bay, Northwest Territories [now Nunavut]). Eva Aariak has the distinction of being Nunavut’s first female premier, and she has been instrumental in the promotion of Inuit languages in the territory. (See also Inuktitut and Indigenous Languages in Canada.)
Alfonso Gagliano, politician (born 1942 in Italy; died 12 December 2020). Alfonso Gagliano was the Member of Parliament for the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Leonard from 1984 until 2002. Following the 1997 election, he served as Minister of Public Works and Government Services in the cabinet of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. He was also chair of the electoral commission of the Liberal Party in Quebec. Gagliano resigned from cabinet and the House of Commons to accept a position as ambassador to Denmark. He was fired by Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 for his role in the sponsorship scandal.
Great Coalition of 1864
The politics of the Province of Canada in the early 1860s were marked by instability and deadlock. The Great Coalition of 1864 proved to be a turning point in Canadian history. It proved remarkably successful in breaking the logjam of central Canadian politics and in helping to create a new country. The coalition united Reformers and Conservatives in the cause of constitutional reform. It paved the way for the Charlottetown Conference and Confederation.
Andrew John Weaver, OBC, FRSC, climate scientist, leader of the BC Green Party 2015–20 (born 16 November 1961 in Victoria, BC). Andrew Weaver is a leading climate change researcher who made historic gains for the Green Party of British Columbia in his second career as a politician. In 2013, he was elected the province’s first Green MLA. In 2017, he led the Greens to three seats. After the 2017 election, he engineered a power-sharing deal with the BC New Democratic Party and toppled the Liberal government of Christy Clark to help John Horgan become premier.
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51). She was also the first female member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. Macphail was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the New Democratic Party). She was a noted pacifist and an advocate for prison reform. As a member of the Ontario legislature, she championed Ontario’s first equal pay legislation (1951).
William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King, prime minister of Canada 1921–26, 1926–30 and 1935–48 (born 17 December 1874 in Berlin [Kitchener], ON; died 22 July 1950 in Kingsmere, QC). William Lyon Mackenzie King was the dominant political figure in an era of major changes. He was leader of the Liberal Party from 1919 to 1948, and Prime Minister of Canada for almost 22 of those years. King was Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. He steered Canada through industrialization, much of the Great Depression, and the Second World War. By the time he left office, Canada had achieved greater independence from Britain and a stronger international voice. It had also implemented policies such as employment insurance.
Jody Wilson-Raybould (“Puglaas” or “woman born of noble people” or “woman with integrity” in Kwak’wala), politician, lawyer (born 23 March 1971 in Vancouver, BC). Jody Wilson-Raybould is the independent MP for Vancouver Granville. She was federal minister of justice, attorney general and minister of veterans affairs in the government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Prior to her career in federal politics, she was a BC crown prosecutor, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and member of the BC Treaty Commission. As Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister, Wilson-Raybould introduced groundbreaking legislation, including Bill C-14 on medically assisted dying, C-16 on gender identity and human rights, and C-45, The Cannabis Act. She has helped to build bridges between First Nations communities and the Canadian government and is committed to helping Indigenous peoples seek self-government and gain equality in education, health care and legal rights.
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Inuk Member of Parliament (born 4 November 1993 in Baker Lake, NU). In 2019, Qaqqaq became, at age 25, Nunavut’s youngest MP in history, and the first from the New Democratic Party (NDP) since Nunavut became a territory in 1999. Before entering politics, Qaqqaq was a public speaker and activist who raised awareness of the various crises that Inuit face (suicide, food insecurity, housing, climate).
Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien, CC, PC, OM, QC, prime minister of Canada 1993–2003, lawyer, author, politician (born 11 January 1934 in Shawinigan, QC). Lawyer and longtime parliamentarian Jean Chrétien was Canada’s 20th prime minister. Early in his political career, Chrétien helped negotiate the patriation of the Canadian constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Prime Minister, he led the federal government to its first surplus in nearly 30 years. However, his administration also presided over a costly sponsorship program in Quebec that sparked one of the worst political scandals of modern times. His government committed Canadian forces to the Kosovo conflict (1999) and to the war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2002). Chrétien publicly refused to provide direct support for the subsequent American war in Iraq. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, he is involved in several international organizations dedicated to peace, democracy and other global concerns.
Prime Minister of Canada
The prime minister (PM) is the head of the federal government. It is the most powerful position in Canadian politics. Prime ministers are not specifically elected to the position; instead, the PM is typically the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons. The prime minister controls the governing party and speaks for it; names senators and senior judges for appointment; and appoints and dismisses all members of Cabinet. As chair of Cabinet, the PM controls its agenda and greatly influences the activities and priorities of Parliament. In recent years, a debate has emerged about the growing power of prime ministers, and whether this threatens other democratic institutions.
Ellen Louks Fairclough, politician (born on 28 January 1905 in Hamilton, Ontario; died 13 November 2004 in Hamilton). A chartered accountant by profession, she became secretary of state and Canada's first woman federal cabinet minister in John Diefenbaker’s 1957 Conservative government. She was instrumental as head of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in pushing for less racist immigration policies. She also pushed for granting Status Indians the right to vote (see Indigenous Suffrage.)
John George “Dief the Chief” Diefenbaker, PC, CH, KC, FRSC, prime minister 1957–63, politician, lawyer (born 18 September 1895 in Neustadt, ON; died 16 August 1979 in Ottawa, ON). John Diefenbaker was Canada’s 13th prime minister. He was well known as a defence lawyer before his election to Parliament, and was an eloquent spokesman for “non-establishment” Canada. A supporter of civil rights for all, Diefenbaker championed the Canadian Bill of Rights and the extension of the right to vote to First Nations peoples. He also played an important role in the anti-apartheid statement that led to South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961. He was a charismatic and popular speaker; but he was also a divisive force within the Progressive Conservative Party. He was criticized for his indecision concerning nuclear missiles on Canadian soil; for his strained relations with US President John F. Kennedy; and for his cancellation of the Avro Arrow project.
Douglas Jung, CM, OBC, politician, lawyer, soldier (born 25 February 1924 in Victoria, BC; died 4 January 2002 in Vancouver, BC). Douglas Jung was a member of Force 136, a group of Chinese Canadian soldiers who fought behind enemy lines in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. After the war, Jung became a lawyer in British Columbia and was the first Chinese Canadian lawyer to appear before the BC Court of Appeal in 1955. On 10 June 1957, Douglas Jung was elected as the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament.
John Foote, VC
John Weir Foote, VC, Presbyterian minister, soldier, Member of (Ontario) Provincial Parliament, cabinet minister (born 5 May 1904 in Madoc, ON; died 2 May 1988 in Cobourg, ON). During the Second World War, Honorary Captain John Foote was the only Canadian chaplain to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for bravery among troops of the British Empire.