April 13, 2009

Aboot that honorary degree

So Arizona State University refuses to give the first black President of the United States an honorary degree, yet it bestowed one in 2005 on the first female Prime Minister of Canada, Kim Campbell.

While Kim Campbell is most certainly a highly accomplished Canadian woman (although she lives in Paris now [and not Paris, Ontario either] ) it might be instructive to recall how she got to be Prime Minister and especially how she failed to stay on as Prime Minister.

Campbell was first elected to Parliament in 1988 as a random backbencher from Vancouver, the only federal election she ever won. It was a safe seat formerly held by a prominent cabinet minister, Patricia Carney, who chose not to run again that year.

Although her Progressive Conservative Party had received a huge mandate in 1984, taking 211 of the House of Commons' 295 seats, four years later it was a party in precipitous decline, mostly on account of its ostentatious leader Brian Mulroney, who remains arguably the most despised personage in Canadian political history.

(But for the Black Donnellys, Paul Bernardo, and Celine Dion, likely the most despised figure in Canadian history, period.)

Still, the PCs managed to hang on to 169 seats in 1988.

By 1993, however, Brian Mulroney's popularity was in such desperate tatters that he resigned in February. Campbell ran successfully for the party leadership at its convention in June, and that's how she became Prime Minister: by electing her its leader, the Conservative Party — not the Canadian electorate — made her Prime Minister.

But the determined Canuckians would soon have their opportunity.

On October 25, 1993, Kim Campbell led her party to the worst defeat in Canadian parliamentary history, in which the Conservatives went from 169 seats to two. Two out of 295. For a comparison, consider the Republicans winning three seats in the House of Representatives.

Now that's an accomplishment, albeit not an honorary one.

And Campbell wasn't even among the two; she lost her own seat in the riding of Vancouver Centre [sic] and in so doing became the first sitting Canadian Prime Minister ever to lose to a previously unknown candidate, the Liberal (and extremely liberal) Hedy Fry.

Thus Kim Campbell, who only ever won one federal election, was Prime Minister of Canada essentially by default for all of 132 days, after which she retired from politics. And moved to France.

Yet no honorary degree for Obama, who has only visited France.


Anonymous said...

Jeez, she seems to have made this a cottage industry.

Ordinary Jill said...

Isn't the Canadian Prime Minister always chosen by the majority party leadership rather than the Canadian electorate? I thought that was how parliamentary democracies worked.

illusory tenant said...

Right, but usually the leader takes the party into an election. If the party wins enough seats, its leader becomes Prime Minister.

In Kim Campbell's case, she became Prime Minister only because the sitting PM, Brian Mulroney, resigned.

Clutch said...

I'm not saying that the ASU administration is racist or petulant because Obama beat McCain.

But I doubt it's escaped them that some of their donors are.

ProngedHeat said...

'Lyin' Brian' is currently the subject of a public inquiry in Canada, investigating, among other things, his receipt of $300,000 in cash, just as he was leaving office, from a German lobbyist who had been peddling airplanes for European manufacturer Airbus.

This would be the same lobbyist who contributed funds to Mulroney's campaign to defeat Joe Clark in the Conservative leadership race.

Previously, our laughably inept national police force, the R.C.M.P., had investigated Mulroney only to be sued successfully by Mulroney for this audacious act.

However, new facts have emerged, for example, Mulroney waiting six years before declaring the money as income to Canada Revenue, which coincided with the lobbyist suddenly coming under scrutiny in Germany for his shenanigans.

It all brings to mind two of Brian's fave quotes: "There's no whore like an old whore," and "Ya dance with the one that brung ya."

illusory tenant said...

Good stuff.

Andrew Golden said...

Did I miss the point where someone explained why ASU was required to give Obama an honorary degree? It's a nice touch and all, I'll grant you, but I'm not sure why this is noteworthy unless someone's out-and-out said they won't give it to him for, say, reasons of racism. I didn't see the University of Chicago offering McCain an honorary degree, and he's certainly equally qualified in Illinois as Obama is in Arizona.

illusory tenant said...

It was noteworthy to me on account of the Canadian angle. I don't think ASU is required to do anything with respect to bestowing honorary degrees.

And I don't draw any conclusions, but it's fair to wonder why an American university would so honor the first female PM of Canada but not the first black president of the United States.