The Right Honourable, Madame Speaker, Her Excellency and the List Goes On

Jeanne Sauvé could be described as a journalist, a stateswoman, a vicereine, a philanthropist but perhaps most aptly as a trailblazer. On this day in 1980, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced that Sauvé, then MP for Laval-des-Rapides, would be the next Speaker of the House of Commons, the first and only woman out of 35 members elected to hold the office in Canada. Of course it took convincing on Trudeau’s part as the opinionated Sauvé was resistant to exercise the impartiality that the role demanded, especially as she prepared to campaign on the side of unity leading up to the Quebec referendum of 1980. In the end an exception was made allowing Sauvé to express her opinion while moderating democratic discourse in the House.

Of course that wasn’t Sauvé’s first “first” nor would it be her last. After a successful career as a political reporter and CBC broadcaster, Sauvé entered politics and was the first woman from Quebec to be appointed cabinet minister, serving as Minister of State for Science and Technology from 1972 to 1974 and subsequently as Minister of the Environment and Minister of Communications. She resigned as Minister when Trudeau came calling again – this time Sauvé accepted without hesitation and was sworn in as the first woman Governor General of Canada in 1984, retiring in 1990.

Encouragement came early for Sauvé from her father, Charles Benoît who took her along on visits to Parliament Hill, telling her she could follow in the footsteps of Agnes Macphail, Canada’s first woman Member of Parliament. Sauvé’s accomplishments include Opinions, an acclaimed public affaires program for teens, millions in Parliamentary spending reforms as Madame Speaker, establishing the first daycare for Parliament staff, MPs and senators, extensive charitable work and endowments and working mother. At a time when criticism for working outside the house was common for women, Sauvé filled Macphail’s shoes more than adequately, not to mention the role of vanguard.

– Tara Losinski