Kim Campbell

Craig Turner is Canada bureau chief for The Times

California’s small and low-profile international diplomatic corps gained a bit of extra wattage in October with the arrival in Los Angeles of Kim Campbell as Canada’s new consul general. Campbell is a former Canadian prime minister, and the only woman to hold that position in her country’s 129-year history.

The selection of a former national leader to a second-level diplomatic post caused surprise on both sides of the border, especially since she was appointed by the man who defeated her in Canada’s last election--current Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Campbell, however, has been surprising Canadians for years.

During the five years it took her to rise through the ranks of Parliament to become prime minister, she won a reputation for speaking her mind, seeking out innovation and refusing to retreat from controversy. When the unpopular Brian Mulroney resigned after nine years in office, the Progressive Conservative Party convention turned to Campbell as its savior in June 1993.


But Campbell’s fall was even more precipitous than her ascent. Obligated to call an early election, Campbell became ensnared in a series of glaring campaign missteps and led the party to a humbling defeat on Oct. 25, 1993. The Conservatives hung on to only two seats in Parliament, while Chretien’s Liberal Party won 177. Campbell lost in her own Vancouver parliamentary district.

And so, Campbell’s place in Canadian history--she was the first prime minister from Canada’s west coast as well as the first woman--carries something of an asterisk.

Campbell, 49, spent the year after her defeat on a fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and she also was Regent’s Lecturer at UC Irvine for two weeks last February. But she could not be accused of hiding from the Canadian public. She sat in as temporary host for a Vancouver talk radio program for five weeks this year, published her memoirs, “Time and Chance,” and went on a cross-country book-promotion tour.

As consul general, she will represent Canadian government interests in five Western states. Much of the consul general’s work involves the entertainment and media industries, and Campbell is likely to face complaints from U.S. companies about efforts to limit their access to the Canadian market.

The most recent example is a prohibitive tax imposed by the Chretien government on Sports Illustrated, prompting the magazine to discontinue its Canadian edition. The United States has filed a complaint before the World Trade Organization on the matter. U.S. officials also are alarmed that Canadian cable-television companies have been forced to substitute Canadian-owned channels for U.S. channels; that the U.S. bookselling chain Borders was blocked from opening stores in Canada, and at lobbying by Canadian film distributors for tougher limits on foreign investment in the movie industry here.

For Campbell, these aren’t new issues. She defended Canadian cultural protectionism before President Bill Clinton at a world economic summit in 1993. Campbell was interviewed in Toronto just before she left for Los Angeles.



Question: Many people in Canada found this appointment surprising. How did it come about?

Answer: One of the things that’s hard for people when they leave public life, whether they leave voluntarily or have retirement thrust upon them, is that . . . you leave with this knowledge, and the challenge is to find a place to use it . . . . I wanted to find something that would continue to involve me in public issues and to use what I’ve learned. The prime minister and I had talked about the possibility of a diplomatic appointment and . . . I think this is an extraordinarily wonderful opportunity.

It’s going to be hugely interesting to explore what Californians are doing at various levels of government to meet the challenges of immigration, education, social policy, etc. and give some feedback to my own country about what I think is working and what isn’t working and obviously I can also share with Californians and other people in the territory what we do in Canada.

Q: You’ll also be placed in the position of defending the policies of a government that you opposed while in office. Did that give you pause before deciding to accept this job?

A: The Liberals have moved on issues like trade and taxation [in a direction] that I do feel comfortable with. If I didn’t think I could do it with a good conscience I wouldn’t. Certainly in the area of cultural policy I don’t see much difference. I am a cultural nationalist.

Q: What do you mean by “cultural nationalist?”

A: Notwithstanding that the world is becoming very globalized, there is a fundamental basis on which we still live territorially . . . . If my neighbor is playing the stereo too loud, the fact that I can get on the Internet and complain to somebody in Stockholm doesn’t help. The rules and regulations on public mischief are territorially based. If I get run over by a bus I’m going to go to a hospital where . . . the services are going to be governed by decisions that have been made by people who share that community with me. And so, the development of community ties . . . is very much a function of where we live.

I believe a political community cannot survive and cannot function in a democracy unless that community can articulate its reality in its own voice. That’s the underlying question of Canadian cultural policy--to make room for Canadians to see their own society reflected back to themselves. One of the problems that we’ve had in Canada is our media market has been so dominated by American output. . . The United States is a huge, dynamic society and has this huge outpouring of cultural product that reflects the American reality, the American outlook, the American way of life and often it’s hard for Americans to understand there may be a different way of seeing the world.


If you can turn the tables, imagine what it would be like in the United States if all you ever saw was British television programming. You can’t complain that it isn’t high quality, because it’s outstanding--wonderful actors and actresses, fine production qualities, everything from mystery to drama to music. But after a while, because television confers a certain legitimacy and star quality and celebrity . . . there would come to be a disconnect in your society. People would be living in one reality, but what they see is something totally different and they might come to feel that their own reality was less valuable than what they saw on television and perhaps come to feel that their own society was second best . . . . That’s a problem Canadians face.

In Canada, we are a huge, huge country with a relatively small population. The population of Canada is roughly equivalent to the size of California . . . . So for us, the media are terribly important as a way of helping us know one another . . . . Nobody is trying to shut American culture out, but Canada is a different country. We have a different way of doing things, different history, different traditions . . . . So we need to make some room for our own voice. That’s the challenge.

I sometimes argue that the relationship between Canada and the United States is like the relationship of women and men. Women live in a society dominated by men and they understand where men are coming from; and men just assume that women think like they do. Well, they don’t. And Americans just assume we think like Americans do. We don’t.

It doesn’t mean we don’t love you. It doesn’t mean that America isn’t our favorite place to go when we’re not at home. It doesn’t mean we don’t admire aspects of the American society . . . . But it doesn’t mean we want to be Americans . . . . We’re not the only country concerned about this, but its a bigger problem for us because . . . it’s harder [for us] to control.

Q: The American response to Canadian protectionism is that the United States has no problem with Canada promoting or subsidizing its own media, but does object to attempts to keep U.S. products out of Canada. Sports Illustrated is a good example. Here’s a magazine that is being barred from a market even though there is no Canadian sports magazine.

A: But the economies of scale are such that what American cultural industries can do is virtually dump into the Canadian market. The question is, should a magazine be able to dump into Canada and take revenues that no Canadian magazine can ever equal because they don’t have that big a market . . . . In a country [where the population] is one-tenth the size of the United States, you’re not on an equal playing field.


Q: You sound like you’ve given a lot of thought to this issue. Do you expect cultural conflicts to be at the top of your agenda in Los Angeles?

A: I think it’s a hard issue. The political battles are fought in Washington but much of the opinion battle will be fought in California. So in a sense, my job is to support the work at the political level by our embassy in Washington. But I think there are a lot of wonderfully positive things to do . . . . One of the things I want to do is promote strategic alliances between Canadian and American companies in a whole range of areas. We can do wonderful work together.

Q: Such as?

A: In high-tech areas, biotechnology . . . . Both of those are areas of growing importance in Canada. Even in the aerospace industry, even though it is not thriving as it was before the end of the Cold War, there are some important relationships that exist between Canadian and American companies . . . . Another mandate is to promote Canadian studies and awareness of Canada. That’s not always easy to do in the United States.

Q: Have you spent much time in Southern California?

A: I’ve spent more time in Northern California. I have friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. But again--and this is part of the legacy of being a Canadian--I feel I know it . . . . American landscapes, and particularly major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, are very much better understood by Canadians who’ve never been there than a place like Vancouver or Toronto would be by Americans who haven’t been there. I’ve read so many books that take place in Los Angeles, seen movies that take place in Los Angeles, watched television that takes place in Los Angeles, . . . though I long ago learned that reality is always more complex and interesting than what you think you know when you haven’t been some place. So it’s really going to be a voyage of discovery for me.

Q: You seem to have bounced back from what must have been a very painful defeat. How did you deal with it?

A: I wouldn’t want to give the impression that somehow, I woke up and said, ‘Well, so much for that!’ It was a hugely devastating defeat . . . . But I’m a student of politics, not just a practitioner. I was a political science professor in my first career . . . . I was a realist; I knew that regardless of what Canadians thought of me, there was this huge well of anger at our party and it would have been performing a miracle to have pulled out of that . . . . It was just a process of coming to terms with it.


I find in Canada now that people are hugely friendly to me . . . On my book tour last spring one of the women whose company was sponsoring the lunch said to me one day, “You’ve done a lot of things as a role model for women and to lower barriers, but maybe the most important thing was that after the events of ‘93, you survived.” . . . It didn’t crush me or destroy me.

Just as you shouldn’t think too much of yourself if you get elected, you shouldn’t feel too little of yourself if you don’t . . . . I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being a “former prime minister.” I want to move on and grow. I can’t divest myself of the title, and it meant a great deal to a lot of people that I was there, however briefly. It was a huge milestone for Canadian women. That’s why I have to find a line between respecting having accomplished that and spending the rest of my time living on it. I’m too young to do that.