Does the name Barbara Leaman ring a bell? What about the name Barbara McDougall? In fact, they are one and the same person. You may remember Barbara from school or from the Leaside neighbourhood or as Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs (now called the Minister of Global Affairs).
Barbara Leaman grew up in Leaside at the corner of Bessborough Dr. and Rolland Rd. across the street from where I grew up myself. She attended Rolph Road School from Kindergarten to Grade 8, but I believe Barbara skipped one of those grades. She certainly didn’t skip Grade 2, however, because at the 75th anniversary celebration of Rolph Road School Barbara reminded the audience that her Grade 2 teacher, Miss Turnbull, used to put kids over her knee and spank them if they misbehaved. I don’t remember that, but I was a couple of years ahead of her at Rolph and I never skipped a grade.
Barbara went on to excel at Leaside High School. You can still see her name, Barbara Leaman, on the wall beside the entrance to the school auditorium across from the principal’s office. After graduating, she obtained a degree in Political Science and Economics from the University of Toronto and then went on to a successful career as a Chartered Financial Analyst, business journalist and television personality in British Columbia.
Elected to parliament in 1984, Barbara was immediately appointed to the federal cabinet as Minister of State (Finance). In that capacity she was responsible for guiding legislation through the House of Commons to bail out the depositors of Alberta’s bankrupt Northland Bank. The legislation provided for a 100% repayment of a depositor’s money as opposed to the much lower amount guaranteed by the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CIDC). Barbara and the legislation were both attacked viciously every day for weeks not only by the Opposition parties in the House of Commons but by her former colleagues in the media as well, who accused her of bailing out the Northland Bank shareholders rather than the bank depositors, as was the actual case. However, the rookie MP stood her ground. The bill was enacted into law and in so doing saved the pensions of thousands of Canadians whose pension funds were invested in Northland Bank. Incidentally, it also saved the $2 million of our Leaside taxpayers’ money since the Borough of East York had temporarily invested our property tax revenue in short term Northland Bank deposit certificates.
Having proved herself under heavy attack, Barbara went on to serve in a number of other federal cabinet portfolios, including Minister Responsible for the Status of Women where she was a strong voice in cabinet and in parliamentary debates on the abortion issue and defending women’s right to free choice. Later she was appointed Minister of Employment and Immigration and then replaced the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark as Secretary of State for External Affairs (now called the Minister of Global Affairs). During her time in that portfolio she was directly involved in such issues as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO’s role in Bosnia and Somalia and the creation of NAFTA.
Since leaving parliament in 1993, Barbara has served as a director of a number of Canadian corporations, including The Bank of Nova Scotia.
In this 150 anniversary year of our country it is important that we not forget the contributions made to Canada and to the world by Leasiders such as the Hon. Barbara Leaman McDougall.
Alan Redway is a former East York mayor and federal cabinet minister.