International Women's Day 2018: Vancouver's 30 most influential female politicians in history

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      Let the debate begin.

      In advance of International Women's Day on Thursday (March 8), I decided to prepare a list of the 30 most influential B.C. female politicians in history.

      As you read the list, keep in mind that influence can be wielded in positive and negative ways. This is not a ranking of the greatest female politicians in Vancouver history.

      1. Grace McCarthy

      The long-time Vancouver–Little Mountain Socred MLA and cabinet minister played major roles in the development of SkyTrain, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, Expo 86, and VanDusen Botanical Garden. She rebuilt the right-wing coalition in B.C. following the surprising NDP win in 1972 and later brought down a premier, Bill Vander Zalm.

      During her tenure as finance minister, Carole Taylor was a strong supporter of arts and culture.

      2. Carole Taylor

      As the finance minister in Gordon Campbell's second B.C. Liberal government, she secured deals with public-sector unions, ensuring there was no job action during the 2010 Winter Games. She also loosened the purse strings somewhat following Campbell's tight-fisted first term, resulting in modest increases to welfare rates and more funding for arts and culture. Throughout her term in office, Taylor steadfastly opposed the introduction of a harmonized sales tax, which probably ensured the Liberals' reelection in 2009. As a Vancouver city councillor from 1986 to 1990, Taylor raised her voice against growing racial backlash against immigrants from Hong Kong.

      Christy Clark's premiership was marked by several ups and downs.

      3. Christy Clark

      The first woman to be elected premier of B.C., Clark's government passed five successive balanced budgets, presided over a growing economy, and gave the green light to the controversial Site C hydroelectric dam, which has been marred by serious cost overruns. Clark demanded that a plebiscite be held in advance of large-scale transit expenditures, which significantly delayed the expansion of Metro Vancouver's rapid-transit network, and B.C. housing prices rose sharply during her tenure as premier. 

      Andrea Reimer has driven Vision Vancouver's far-reaching environmental agenda.

      4. Andrea Reimer

      As Mayor Gregor Robertson's closest ally on council for a decade, Reimer drove the green agenda, which has led to dramatic advances in cycling infrastructure, green buildings, and climate-change adaptation strategies. Reimer also drove reconciliation efforts with First Nations, the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood plan, and the city's open-data initiative; at the regional level, she championed sensible waste-management efforts and a regional growth strategy that protects natural habitat and farmland.

      Low-income Vancouver residents always knew they had a friend in Libby Davies.
      Stephen Hui

      5. Libby Davies

      A left-wing icon who served on park board, city council, and for 18 years in Parliament, her greatest legacy may have been in convincing the public and other politicians to look upon illicit-drug addiction as a health issue and to take the housing crisis seriously. This set the stage for a legal supervised-injection facility and a host of other measures. Davies also amplified the voices of marginalized people in her riding, be they sex workers, homeless people, or family members of missing and murdered women.

      Joy MacPhail was a force to be reckoned with in the B.C. legislature during her political heyday.

      6. Joy MacPhail

      The three-term NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings was deputy premier and held the following cabinet portfolios between 1993 and 2001: social services, health, education, labour, and finance. After the Mike Harcourt government initially expanded welfare programs, she was appointed to scale things back and change public perceptions, which was accomplished by introducing a controversial three-month residency requirement. While this alienated antipoverty advocates, it might have helped the NDP win reelection in 1996. MacPhail was an ally of Downtown Eastside activists fighting to protect children and youth from sexual predators. She and fellow New Democrat Jenny Kwan kept the party alive from 2001 to 2005 when it had only two seats in the legislature.

      Kim Campbell is best known as Canada's first female prime minister, but long before that she served as a Vancouver school trustee and the MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey.
      Martin Dee/UBC

      7. Kim Campbell

      She was Canada's first female prime minister. But her most influential action came as justice minister in the Brian Mulroney government when she introduced rape-shield legislation, protecting a person's sexual past from becoming a subject in sexual-assault trials. She introduced abortion legislation, which failed to pass in the Senate, and that means that Canada has no law governing abortions. As an MLA, she fought attempts by then premier Bill Vander Zalm to stop provincial funding of abortion services.

      Pat Carney was a hard-working B.C. senator from 1990 until she retired in 2008.

      8. Pat Carney

      The former Vancouver Centre Progressive Conservative MP served as energy minister and international trade minister in the Mulroney government. In these roles, she scrapped many parts of the former Trudeau government's National Energy Program and was the lead minister in free-trade talks with the U.S. government. Later as a senator, she fought tirelessly on marine issues, including preserving B.C. lighthouses.

      Liberal MP Hedy Fry has won eight elections and never lost in Vancouver Centre.
      Yolande Cole

      9. Hedy Fry

      B.C.'s longest-serving parliamentarian, Fry worked with the NDP's Jenny Kwan and then mayor Philip Owen in the late 1990s to advance the Vancouver Agreement, which was a landmark intergovernmental deal to deliver more services to addicts and other marginalized Vancouver residents. The Liberal MP has been one of the LGBT community's greatest champions, bringing their issues into the mainstream and advancing equality.

      As an NPA politician Jennifer Clarke had tremendous influence on Vancouver in the 1990s.

      10. Jennifer Clarke

      As a three-term NPA city councillor from 1993 to 2002, Clarke handled many of the major files, pushing forward with the Canada Line, supporting Vancouver's bid to host the 2010 Winter Games, opposing a megacasino on the Vancouver waterfront, and ensuring Vancouver played a leading role at the regional level. She was trounced by Larry Campbell when she ran for mayor in 2002, but not before she and her NPA colleagues approved the sale of surplus density in Gastown, which revived the historic neighbourhood.

      Jenny Kwan has consistently spoken out against racism during her political career.
      Gabriel Yiu

      11. Jenny Kwan

      One of a select few to have served as a Vancouver councillor, MLA, and MP, Kwan held three cabinet portfolios in the Glen Clark government. Like Davies, Kwan has been a strong advocate of Vancouver's urban Indigenous community, immigrants, and kept the pressure on right-wing governments to address housing, homelessness, and illicit-drug addiction.

      Patti Bacchus didn't back down from political battles as the long-time chair of the Vancouver school board.

      12. Patti Bacchus

      The long-term chair of the Vancouver school board successfully fought against those who wanted to close East Side schools and played a leading role in amending gender expression and gender identity policies to make schools safer for the LGBT community. She also made great inroads in persuading the provincial government to spend more money providing seismic upgrades to local schools.

      Jody Wilson-Raybould has tremendous influence as the justice minister, but with just over two years in office, she still hasn't accomplished some of her biggest goals.

      13. Jody Wilson-Raybould

      As justice minister, Wilson-Raybould brought in assisted-dying legislation, which set the stage for more than 2,000 Canadians to legally end their lives and avoid more pain and suffering. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires free, prior, and informed consent for resource projects to proceed, but Wilson-Raybould has interpreted that to mean that Indigenous people do not have a veto. That is one reason why projects like the Site C dam and the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion are proceeding in the face of opposition from First Nations. Wilson-Raybould, a former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has also declared that she wants to rid the justice system of racism.

      Suzanne Anton had Christy Clark's ear when she was attorney general of B.C.
      Stephen Hui

      14. Suzanne Anton

      First elected as a park commissioner in 2002, the indefatigable Anton graduated to council in 2005 and was one of the NPA's most influential members during the one term that Sam Sullivan was mayor. A long-time supporter of Vancouver's Olympic bid, she promoted cycling and a densification program known as "ecodensity", but after Vision Vancouver took control of council, she voted against its Short Term Incentives for Rental program. In 2013, Anton was elected as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview and became the province's second female attorney general.

      Lynne Kennedy initially ran for council as a heritage and women's rights advocate, but later became a major player in licensing issues.

      15. Lynne Kennedy

      The former NPA councillor spearheaded Vancouver's bylaw banning smoking in pubs and restaurants and had a big hand in liquor-licensing issues in the 1990s. She also helped lay the foundation for the revival of Gastown. And she helped preserve the Stanley Theatre, which was accomplished by transferring its excess density to the Wall Sheraton Hotel in return for $1.4 million. It marked the first time density had been transferred across the city, setting a precedent many more such density transfers in the future.

      May Brown was on council for 10 years, but her political influence lasted for many more decades than that.

      16. May Brown

      A federal Liberal heavyweight, Brown served on council for 10 years, playing a key role in a wide range of areas, including city finances. Brown was one of the people elected with TEAM (The Electors Action Movement), which introduced modern planning principles vastly expanded public consultation. The party helped stop a freeway from being built through Chinatown and Gastown. She was also a key ally of Gordon Campbell's when he was mayor. Brown's penchant for honesty kept her out of trouble throughout her political career.

      Grace MacInnis's trail-blazing life was celebrated in a biography by Ruth Latta and Joy Trott.

      17. Grace MacInnis

      The daughter of Co-operative Commonwealth Federation founder J.S. Woodsworth, MacInnis was a CCF MLA during the Second World War and an NDP MLA for Vancouver Kingsway from 1965 to 1974. She focused on housing, consumer protection, and women's equality in the legislature, Parliament, and in political backrooms. She was the first woman to be elected as an MP who didn't run in her deceased husband's riding.

      Heather Deal has been one of the most successful female politicians in Vancouver history, having never lost an election since 2002.

      18. Heather Deal

      She's become Vision Vancouver's queen of culture while also advocating for biodiversity, food carts, heritage protection, and the creative economy. A former biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation, Deal shores up Vision Vancouver's support in Kitsilano and downtown with her high public visibility and down-to-earth nature. She's never lost an election since first running for park board in 2002, which is a testament to her ability to connect with voters.

      Two NDP giants, Darlene Marzari and Margaret Mitchell, pose with then Opposition Leader John Horgan in 2015.
      Suzanne Christensen

      19. Darlene Marzari

      Once a city councillor with TEAM, Marzari's greatest impact likely came much later when she was municipal affairs minister in the Mike Harcourt government. She introduced the Growth Strategies Act, which had a profound impact on regional governments across the province. Three years ago, she was made an honourary member of the Planning Institute of B.C. in recognition of her work in advancing proper planning principles at the municipal and provincial levels of government.

      20. Margaret Mitchell

      Long-time NDP MP Margaret Mitchell's most famous moment came when she rose in Parliament to highlight domestic violence, only to be met with laughter and mockery from the other side of the House. But Mitchell is also noteworthy for being the first to raise the Chinese head tax in Parliament and often crusaded for a better deal for women in society. The former sociologist represented Vancouver East from 1979 to 1991 and died last year.

      Rosemary Brown received the Order of Canada in 1996.

      21. Rosemary Brown

      Often the conscience of the NDP  when she served as the MLA for Vancouver-Burrard from 1972 to 1979, she was the first woman of African ancestry to be elected to a Canadian provincial legislature. A tireless human rights advocate, Brown was the first woman to run for the leadership of a major federal party, coming second behind Ed Broadbent in 1975. This brought many feminists into the NDP to support her candidacy. The effects were felt years later when Mike Harcourt became the NDP premier in 1991 and created the first ministry of women's equality.

      22. Mary Ellen Smith

      A suffragette during the First World War, Smith was the first woman to be elected to the B.C. legislature in 1918 in a by-election following the death of her husband, finance minister Ralph Smith. Smith played a key role in allowing women to serve as judges, raising the minimum wage for women and girls, introducing welfare for "deserted wives", and creating juvenile courts. As an MLA for Vancouver and later the first female cabinet minister, she was a harsh critic of Asian immigration and supported eugenics. 

      Constance Barnes livened up Vancouver parks during her two terms as a park commissioner.
      Charlie Smith

      23. Constance Barnes

      The former chair of the Vancouver park board promoted concerts and other cultural events in local parks during her two terms from 2008 to 2014. She also played a pivotal role—along with fellow former commissioners Niki Sharma and Sarah Blyth—in educating the public about cetaceans in captivity. That set the stage for the current park board to finally ban keeping whales and dolphins on display in public parks.

      Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark (second from left) has delivered free adult basic education, which had been revoked by the previous B.C. Liberal government.

      24. Melanie Mark

      The Vancouver–Mount Pleasant MLA has only been in politics since 2016, but she's already in cabinet and as the minister of advanced education, she granted tuition waivers to kids aging out of government care. She also restored free adult basic education while serving as an important role model to urban Indigenous youth aspiring to become politicians in the future.

      NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball has ensured that arts and culture remained high on the city's agenda through her three terms in office.

      25. Elizabeth Ball

      What's not often noticed is the role that this three-term councillor has played in banishing homophobia from the NPA. Sometimes more liberally minded than other members of her party, Ball is also the most knowledgeable member of council about arts and culture, which has pushed Vision Vancouver politicians to embrace the creative economy. Vancouver's cultural renaissance is due, in part, to Ball's consistent efforts in this regard.

      In 2014 Adriane Carr became the first candidate for Vancouver council to receive more than 70,000 votes.

      26. Adriane Carr

      Her story hasn't been completely written yet, but in her first two terms on council, Carr helped strengthen the Green party's presence in Vancouver. Thanks in part to her efforts, there's a Green school board chair and a Green park board chair, and the party could be poised for major gains in the 2018 election. As a councillor, she has been a strong opponent of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and has mostly supported Vision Vancouver's initiatives around the environment and reconciliation with First Nations.

      27. Helen Boyce

      She was the first person to serve as a city councillor, park board commissioner, and school trustee. Her political legacies include establishing a bike lane around Stanley Park and VanDusen Botanical Garden.

      Mable Elmore has proven to be an adept political organizer since being elected as the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington.
      Stephen Hui

      28. Mable Elmore

      The Vancouver-Kensington MLA has shown that a backbench and an opposition MLA can have influence by taking up important social issues—in her case, the plight of temporary foreign workers and live-in caregivers. The former transit operator and long-time peace activist is a key NDP political organizer in Vancouver, mobilizing support in the LGBT community and among those who fear the party is veering too far to the right. It's one reason why John Horgan was able to form a minority government.

      Helena Gutteridge was an antiracist long before antiracism became popular with the mainstream.
      Vancouver Public Library Special Collections

      29. Helena Gutteridge

      She became Vancouver's first female city councillor in 1937 and only served one term, but her steadfast opposition to racism against Chinese Canadians and Japanese Canadians has earned her a place in the history books. Gutteridge was a long-time CCF activist suffragette, and supporter of workers' rights.

      Ellen Woodsworth's passion for society's underdogs infused her approach to government through two terms on council.

      30. Ellen Woodsworth

      Carrying on in the tradition of Gutteridge and MacInnis, Woodsworth pushed relentlessly for better housing and far more community involvement in decision-making during two terms on city council. As vice chair of the peace and justice committee, she helped rally Vancouverites against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, resulting in the largest peace demonstration since the 1980s. Woodsworth worked with fellow councillor Anne Roberts on more gender-inclusive city policies and worked with another councillor, Tim Stevenson, in advancing greater equality for LGBT residents.