Honourable Sharon Carstairs, P.C., C.M.

The Honourable Sharon Carstairs is a trailblazer for being the first woman in Canada to be elected the leader of the official opposition, taking the helm of the Liberal party in Manitoba. She has lived her life as an activist beginning with her graduation from Dalhousie University with a BA in political science and history. The first woman to become the president of the National Federation of Canadian University Students at Dalhousie she was also the Atlantic Universities Students vice president. Following graduation, she accepted a full scholarship to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and completed a degree receiving a Master of Arts in The Teaching of History. Following this degree she taught for two years in a private school for girls in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Following her return to Canada she accepted a teaching position with the Calgary Catholic School System and taught high school until 1972. She became active in the Liberal Party in Alberta and became the first president of the Women’s Liberal Association. In 1975 she became the first woman to be elected president of the Liberal Party of Alberta. She also ran that year as a provincial candidate but was not elected.

In 1977 the family, which now comprised of husband John whom she married in 1966 and daughters Catherine and Jennifer, decided to leave Alberta and move to Manitoba. In 1984 she sought the leadership of the Liberal Party in Manitoba. Winning on the first ballot she became the first woman to lead a major political party in the province. Elected to the legislature in the General Election of 1986 to represent the constituency of River Heights, she was re-elected in 1988 and 1990.

In 1994 following her retirement as leader of the Liberal Party in Manitoba she was appointed to the Senate of Canada. At her request, Prime Minister Jean Chretien also gave her the designation as Minister with Special Responsibility for Palliative Care.

This was her passion, and it gave her the opportunity to direct more federal money into palliative care for both programming and research. One of the most important initiatives was the original funding to establish the Canadian Virtual Hospice located in Winnipeg. This interactive website which reaches millions of Canadians and others throughout the world has been described by the American Palliative Care Association as Canada’s gift to the world in Palliative Care.

Following her early retirement, she has continued her activities. She was the original chair of the Frailty Network located at Queen’s University. She is currently the chair of the International Centre for Dignity and Palliative Care in Winnipeg. She is a member of the Order of Canada which in her citation recognized her political achievements, her efforts on behalf of Palliative Care and her work to prevent family violence.

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