Ruin of Canada's Tories yet to land on her feet

Missing Persons No. 20
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The Independent Online


From political-science teacher and lawyer to prime minister and then shoe saleswoman in less than a decade. It has been a meteoric rise and fall for Avril Phaedra "" Campbell.

But it is the stuff of great autobiography, Ms Campbell promises from Vancouver, where she is finishing a book for publication in spring. She occasionally shows up in Ottawa to attend those ceremonies to which all ex-prime ministers are invited, and is entitled to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police security escort. But it is under-employed compared to two years ago, when the Progressive Conservative Party's national convention chose her as leader.

How the Conservative Party lost its comfortable majority - 200 seats out of a chamber of 295 seats - that Ms Campbell inherited to end with just two seats in four months, between her swearing-in as Prime Minister and the election in October 1993, is still debated.

Ms Campbell blames the economy, public mood, her predecessor, the media and her campaign organisers for the debacle, but not herself. Now 48, Ms Campbell had been involved in federal politics for less than five years when she declared her candidacy to succeed Brian Mulroney. There were about half a dozen other candidates, but Ms Campbell's campaign hit the ground running with such momentum that all but one of them, the current Conservative leader, Jean Charest, dropped out within days.

She initially appeared as a fresh alternative to the men in suits who had dominated Canadian politics since confederation. She said she read Tolstoy in Russian, played Bach on the cello and could cross legal swords with Supreme Court justices. She had a quick wit and the cameras were kind. But a disastrous campaign revealed her inexperience. Ms Campbell could not even hold her own seat, and six weeks after the election she stepped down. Later, in Boston, she was spotted at a trade show demonstrating running-shoes designed by her Russian-immigrant boyfriend, Gregor Lekhtman. Hence her new label as shoe saleswoman.

The Campbell career is not over, however. It is rumoured that she is being considered as the next ambassador to Moscow.