Sharon Carstairs

Sharon Carstairs PC CM (born April 26, 1942) is a Canadian politician and former Senator.[1]

Sharon Carstairs

Canadian Senator
In office
September 15, 1994  October 17, 2011
Appointed byJean Chrétien
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for River Heights
In office
Preceded byWarren Steen
Succeeded byMike Radcliffe
Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party
In office
Preceded byDoug Lauchlan
Succeeded byPaul Edwards
Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba
In office
Preceded byGary Filmon
Succeeded byGary Doer
Leader of the Second Opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba
In office
Preceded byGary Doer
Succeeded byPaul Edwards
Personal details
Born (1942-04-26) April 26, 1942
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Political partyLiberal
Other political
Manitoba Liberal Party
RelationsHarold Connolly, father
Minister with Special Responsibility for Palliative Care (2001-2003)
Leader of the Government in the Senate (2001-2003)
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate (1997-1999)

Early life

Carstairs was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia,[1] the daughter of former Nova Scotia Premier and federal Senator Harold Connolly and his wife Vivian.[2] She was educated at Dalhousie University, Smith College, Georgetown University, and the University of Calgary.[1]

Alberta politics

She later moved to Western Canada, and was an unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Calgary-Elbow in the 1975 Alberta provincial election. She served as President of the Alberta Liberal Party between 1975 and 1977, and was on the national executive of the Liberal Party of Canada in the same period.

Manitoba Liberal leader

Carstairs became leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party in 1984,[1] at a time when the party held no seats in the legislature. She was defeated in a 1984 by-election in Fort Garry,[3] but was elected for River Heights in the 1986 provincial election, defeating incumbent Tory Warren Steen.[4] For the next two years, she was the only Liberal in the legislature.

Carstairs led the Liberal Party to a dramatic resurgence in the 1988 provincial election, which saw the election of a Progressive Conservative minority government under Gary Filmon and the reduction of the New Democratic Party of Manitoba from government to third party status. Carstairs's Liberals won 20 of 57 seats for their best showing since 1953, largely by drawing many centre-left voters from the NDP. Carstairs became leader of the opposition, the first woman to hold such a position in any Canadian legislature.[5]

It initially seemed that Carstairs had a strong opportunity to lead the Liberals to victory in the following election and become the first woman elected in her own right as a provincial premier in Canada. The 1990 election, however, saw the Tories returned with a majority government and a resurgent NDP under Gary Doer regain official opposition status. The Liberals were reduced to only seven seats.[5] Many Liberals felt Carstairs had squandered their best chance in three decades to form government.

A strong opponent of the Meech Lake Accords,[5] Carstairs remained party leader and, in 1992, campaigned for the "No" side on the Charlottetown Accord, with financial assistance from former party leader Israel Asper. Her efforts were opposed by others in the Liberal Party, and she frequently argued with Lloyd Axworthy on constitutional matters. Carstairs resigned as party leader in 1993. The party has continued to decline since her departure, and has never come anywhere near as close to winning government as it did in 1988. In 1993, Carstairs published an autobiography entitled Not One of the Boys.[2]


On September 15, 1994, at the recommendation of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn appointed Carstairs to the Senate of Canada.[1] Carstairs had supported Chrétien's campaign to become party leader in 1990.

She held the position of Leader of the Government in the Senate from January 2001 to December 2003,[1] and also served as Minister with Special Responsibility for Palliative Care in Chretien's cabinet.[2]

She did not serve in the cabinet of Chretien's successor, Paul Martin, when he took office in December 2003.

From April 2006 until December 2009, Carstairs continued her earlier work in cabinet by serving as chairperson of the Special Committee on Aging which issued a report that helped get palliative care added to the core curriculum in Canadian medical schools. She also helped create the Canadian Virtual Hospice, a website with information on palliative care.[6]


In October 2011, Carstairs announced she was resigning from the Senate, six years earlier than required, in order to return to private life.[6]

In retirement, she and her husband intended to remain in Ottawa to be close to their children. Carstairs became chairwoman of the board for a network centre of excellence on caring for the frail elderly, pending the approval of a grant from the federal government.[6]

In 2015, the RCMP investigated her expenses that she had submitted to the Senate but did not lay charges.[7][8]

Honours and awards

On June 30, 2016, Carstairs was made a Member of the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston for "her public service and her work as a champion of palliative care." [9]


  1. Sharon Carstairs – Parliament of Canada biography
  2. "Carstairs announces retirement from politics". Winnipeg Free Press. March 26, 2011. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  3. "People" (PDF). Canadian Parliamentary Review: 37. Winter 1984–1985. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  4. "River Heights". Manitoba Votes 2003. CBC News. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  5. "Sharon Carstairs: voice of the Liberals". CBC Digital Archives. CBC News. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  6. Rabson, Mia (October 7, 2011). "Carstairs retiring from Senate, politics". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  7. "Former Manitoba senators Sharon Carstairs and Rod Zimmer under scrutiny". CBC. June 5, 2015. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  8. Thibedeau, Hannah (2 March 2017). "Sharon Carstairs asks Senate to reimburse legal fees after expenses scandal". CBC.
  9. Globe and Mail Staff (June 30, 2016). "Canada's Honour Roll". Globe and Mail.
26th Ministry – Cabinet of Jean Chrétien
Cabinet post (1)
Predecessor Office Successor
Bernie Boudreau Leader of the Government in the Senate
Jack Austin
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