Prince Edward Island's Famous Five.

AuthorMcQuaid, Sean
PositionSketches of Parliaments and Parliamentarians

Most historically conscious Canadians are familiar with the original Famous Five, the five Alberta women whose 1927-1929 Supreme Court of Canada petition (the Persons Case) finally established women as persons in the eyes of the law. The victorious quintet--activists Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby--became icons as champions of women's rights. But fewer Canadians know about Prince Edward Island's local version of the Famous Five from 1993, when women occupied five key executive and parliamentary positions in PEI's provincial administration--the first such landmark representation in any Canadian political jurisdiction.

The Callbeck Comeback

With or without the rest of the latter-day Famous Five, 1993 would have marked a historic breakthrough for Catherine Callbeck. A Prince Edward Island political veteran who had served as a 1970s provincial ML A and Cabinet minister, Callbeck had left PEI politics to concentrate on her family's business (Callbecks Ltd.) in 1978. Returning to elected politics a decade later as a federal MP in 1988, Callbeck came back to provincial politics in 1993 when she ran successfully for the newly vacant leadership of PEI's then-ruling Liberals, becoming the party's first female leader and PEI's first female Premier. Appointed Premier in January, she became PEI's (and Canada's) first-ever elected female Premier in the subsequent March election.

The Mella Factor

It was a tough year to be a Progressive Conservative. The federal version of the party would be reduced to a mere two seats in the 1993 federal election, and PEI's provincial PCs had even worse luck that March, when the party was reduced to a single seat. That lone opposition seat was filled by Pat Mella. Once a faculty member at Ottawa's St. Patrick's College, Mella had come home to raise her family and pursue a teaching career in PEI's secondary schools. She won the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party in 1990 and became the first female leader of a political party in PEI history. The 1993 campaign pitting her PCs against the Callbeck Liberals marked the first election in which both main contenders for the Premier's job were women. As the only PEI PC elected in 1993, Mella served as Leader of the Official Opposition in the Legislative Assembly thereafter.

Speakers Three

Callbeck and Mella were not the only prominent women in the 1993 Legislative Assembly. The hon. Nancy...

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