Making a Difference in Canadian Politics

1916 The Liberal Government in Manitoba is the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize the voting rights of women and their right to stand for office.
1921 Nellie McClung, a strong advocate of women’s rights, is elected as a Liberal MLA in Alberta.
Liberal MLA Mary Ellen Smith is appointed to the British Columbia cabinet. As the first woman in the British Empire to hold this position, Smith is also an outspoken advocate of BC’s first Mothers’ Pensions and Female Minimum Wage Acts.
1930 Prime Minister MacKenzie King appoints Cairine Wilson as Canada’s first woman senator. Cairine Wilson was an outspoken critic of anti-semitic attitudes and later served as Canada’s first female delegate to the United Nations in 1949.
1944 Canada’s first universal social program is created with the passage of the Family Allowance Act.
1947 The Canadian Citizenship Act, the first naturalization law created by a Commonwealth nation (which made Canadian citizenship independent of British subject status), was passed to simplify Canadian citizenship and to promote the development of a national community. This Act also gives married women full control over their citizenship so that it is no longer gained or lost through marriage.
1949 Nancy Hodges , a Liberal MLA, is named the Speaker of the British Columbia Legislature. She is the first woman in the Commonwealth to hold this position.
1954 As Minister of External Affairs, Lester Pearson appoints Elizabeth MacCallum as the Canadian chargé d’affaires in Lebanon. She is the first female head of mission in the Foreign Service.
Minister of Labour Milton Cregg, V.C. sponsors the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which guarantees equal pay for equal work within federal jurisdiction.
1963 As Minister for Health and Welfare, Judy LaMarsh secured amendments to the British North America Act to allow for the establishment of the Canada Pension Plan and the creation of a foundation for a national medicare system.
1967 A Royal Commission on the Status of Women is created by Prime Minister Lester Pearson.
1971 Amendments to the Canada Labour Code are implemented which include prohibition of discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sex and marital status, reinforcement of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and provisions for a 17-week maternity leave.
The new Unemployment Insurance Act comes into effect. It provides women with more universal coverage, increased eligibility and new benefits in the event of sickness, maternity and retirement.
The Office of the Coordinator, Status of Women, is created within the Privy Council Office.
1972 Muriel Fergusson, a Liberal senator, becomes the first female Speaker of the Senate of Canada.
The Canadian Human Rights Act is passed. Along with provisions outlining prohibited areas of discrimination, this Act enshrines the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
1973 The Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women is established by Prime Minister Trudeau. As an autonomous institution reporting directly to Parliament, the Council promotes changes to legislation concerning pensions, taxation, parental benefits, health care, employment practices, sexual assault, wife battering, human rights and constitutional reform.
1974 The Canada Pension Plan Act is amended to more adequately reflect the interests and contribution of women.
1975 A spouse’s allowance is introduced to provide for low-income seniors until they reach the age of 65 and are therefore eligible for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. (Both income support programs were introduced by previous Liberal governments.)
Sylvia Ostry is named Canada’s first deputy minister (of Consumer and Corporate Affairs).
1976 Status of Women Canada is removed from the Privy Council Office and becomes its own federal department to promote equal opportunities for women in all spheres of Canadian life.
1977 Reforms to the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan are made which allow for the splitting of benefits upon the dissolution of a marriage.
1978 The Canadian Human Rights Commission is created with a mandate to discourage and reduce discriminatory practices.
1980 Jeanne Sauvé becomes the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Commons.
1981 Canada ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
1982 Equality for women is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Minister of Justice Jean Chrétien appoints Bertha Wilson as the first woman justice to the Supreme Court of Canada.
As Minister of Justice, Jean Chrétien brings in legal reforms including the rape shield provision which declares that the past sexual behaviour of rape victims cannot be used against them in court.
Iona Campagnolo becomes the President of the Liberal Party of Canada, the first woman to become president of a national political party.
1983 Jeanne Sauvé is the first Canadian woman appointed as Governor General.
The Canadian Human Rights Act is amended to prohibit sexual harassment and to ban discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and family or marital status.
Mandatory affirmative action programs are established in all federal government departments.
Canada’s constitution is amended to recognize and to affirm that aboriginal and treaty rights are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
1984 The creation and funding of women’s studies departments at five Canadian universities.
1988 Ethel Blondin-Andrew becomes the first aboriginal woman elected to the House of Commons.
1993 Catherine Callbeck forms a Liberal government in Prince Edward Island, the first elected woman premier of a Canadian province.
Member of Parliament Sheila Copps becomes the first woman deputy Prime Minister of Canada.

Hedy Fry is the first black woman elected to the federal Parliament and appointed to the federal Cabinet.

The largest women’s Liberal caucus in Canadian history is elected to the House of Commons – 36 – and represents 20% of the national Liberal caucus.
1997 55.5% of senators appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien are women.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s judicial appointments of women represent 33% of total appointments to the bench. In the years 1984 to 1993, 19% of judicial appointments were women.

Nancy Karetak-Lindell is the first Inuit woman elected to the House of Commons.

The Liberal Party fielded 84 women candidates in the June 2, 1997 federal election, representing 28% of Liberal candidates. A record 37 Liberal women were elected, representing 24% of the Liberal caucus in the House of Commons.
1999 Beverley McLachlin was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the first woman in Canada’s history to hold this post.
2000 Adrienne Clarkson, a Hong-Kong born Canadian broadcaster, was appointed Governor-General by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Her appointment was extended in 2004 by Prime Minister Paul Martin.
2004 76 Women candidates ran for the Liberal Party of Canada in the June 28 election, representing 25% of all Liberal candidates. 34 women Liberals were elected to the House of Commons, representing 24% of Liberal members of the House of Commons.

Parliament establishes the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, chaired by Anita Neville.

Parliament appoints Liza Frulla as a full minister with responsibility for the Status of Women.