Ms Campbell, currently the Defence Minister, squeaked a narrow victory over the Environment Minister, Jean Charest, in large part because she appealed to rank-and-file members of the Conservative Party who wanted a change from traditional male-dominated politics.
'I don't think it will necessarily change the political agenda right away, but it is certainly a very strong symbol,' Chantal Maille, a political scientist at Montreal's Simone de Beauvoir Institute, said yesterday.
The Conservatives also won rare praise from Montreal's La Presse, the largest French-language newspaper in the country. 'Tory delegates dared to elect a female prime minister; a historic gesture. They also dared . . . to elect a twice-divorced woman despite the petty attacks on her personal life.'
The new leader promised a shift to a more consensual style of politics but the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties were not buying it. The New Democratic Party (NDP) leader, Audrey McLaughlin said Ms Campbell is really only the Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, in a skirt and she will be saddled with his unpopular policies because she was a member of his cabinet and supported them.
Like one of her role models, Baroness Thatcher, Ms Campbell asked for no special considerations as a female politician, arguing that her party should pick someone who could offer the strongest leadership. Indeed, she has been adversely critical of feminist advocacy groups and even talked of cutting off their government funding.
There was also a lot of speculation yesterday about the possibility that Ms Campbell has only won herself a summer job as prime minister. The opinion polls leading up to the convention all showed that she would be less popular with the general public than her rival, Mr Charest, even though she retained the edge with party activists.
The Tories are nearing the end of their five-year mandate, and an election must be held by this November. Unless she is able in the next two or three months to improve her own and her party's image with the public, she is likely to become the leader of the opposition after that election.
Mark Lawson, page 20Reuse content