Patricia Carney, CM, PC, Member of Parliament 1980–88, senator 1991–2008, journalist, economist (born 26 May 1935 in Shanghai, China; died 25 July 2023). Pat Carney’s career was marked by many firsts. After working as the first female business columnist with a major daily newspaper in Canada, she became the first female Conservative politician from British Columbia to be elected to Parliament, in 1980. She was re-elected in 1984 and served as Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, Minister of International Trade and president of the Treasury Board. She was the first woman to head each portfolio. In 1990, she became the first woman from British Columbia to be appointed to the Senate. Carney played a key role in negotiating NAFTA and cast the deciding vote that kept abortion legal in Canada.
Early Life and Career
In 1939, Pat Carney’s parents brought her to Canada from Shanghai, where her father had worked as a policeman. They settled in the Kootenays, where Carney attended Nelson High School. She graduated with a BA in economics and political science from the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she also worked on the student newspaper, the Ubyssey, from 1952 to 1955. She also earned a master’s degree in community and regional planning from UBC.
After graduating from UBC in 1960, Carney became a successful business columnist, writing principally for the Vancouver Sun and the Province. She was the first female business columnist to write for a major daily newspaper in Canada. In 1970, she started her own consulting firm on northern Canadian matters. She prepared studies on subjects such as pipelines, satellite communications and labour relations.
Career in Politics
After returning to Vancouver from Yellowknife, Carney ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Vancouver Centre in the 1979 federal election but was narrowly defeated. The next year she was elected, making her the first female Conservative politician from British Columbia to be elected to Parliament. She served as the opposition critic for energy and finance.
Carney was re-elected in 1984 and was appointed Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. Her main responsibility was to work out a new energy deal with the Western provinces, called the Western Accord. She oversaw the dismantling of the National Energy Program and the deregulation of the oil and gas industry.
In a June 1986 Cabinet shuffle, she became Minister of International Trade and president of the Treasury Board. She was deeply involved in the softwood lumber dispute and the free trade negotiations with the US. (See Canada and NAFTA.) Senator Hugh Segal called her role in the NAFTA talks “seminal, clear cut and demanding” and said that she “brought a Pacific-coast sensibility to discussions that would have been otherwise only about Central Canada.”
Carney retired to private life before the 1988 election and returned to the newspaper business as executive editor of Pacific Press. On 30 August 1990, she became the first woman from British Columbia to be appointed to the Senate. There she championed women in politics and the preservation of Canada's heritage lighthouses and maritime history.
In 1991, Carney broke ranks and voted against an anti-abortion bill that had been introduced by her party. The bill failed to pass into law by a single vote. “There was no doubt about how I would vote,” she wrote in the Globe and Mail at the time. “I had told my voters that I believed a decision on an abortion was the right of a woman, her conscience and her doctors. For personal reasons, I would not have an abortion, but that was my choice; I knew other women had their own reasons to make a different one.”
From 1990 to 1999, Carney served as an Adjunct Professor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning. She served on the board of directors of the Vancouver YWCA and was a member of the Advisory Councils of the UBC School of Journalism and of the Dean of Science at UBC. She was also on the board of directors of Rogers Media Inc., BC Sugar Refinery and Pacific Press.
She also published two books: the memoir Trade Secrets (2000) and the short story collection On Island: Life Among the Coast Dwellers (2017), which was inspired by her retirement life on Saturna Island in BC.
Pat Carney received the Vancouver YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in 1984 and the UBC Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in 1989. She received an honorary Doctor of Laws from both the University of British Columbia (1990) and Simon Fraser University (2010). She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2011.