On this day in history…

…a woman named Deb Grey became the first elected Reform party MP. On March 13th, 1989 Grey was elected by the constituents of the federal riding of Beaver River in Northern Alberta.

Affectionately called the “Iron Snowbird” by constituents and supporters Grey won the 1989 by-election just months after finishing fourth place in the previous General Election. The riding was vacated due to the death of John Dahmer, a PC MP in the Mulroney government.

At the time, she was described as a better communicator than most politicians by Preston Manning, the leader of the new Reform Party which had only formed 16 months earlier. Her common sense communication style likely rooted from her profession as a school teacher, her job before being sent to Ottawa to represent Beaver River.

Her campaign reflected much of the populism for which the party became famous, including taking a letter from the residents of Beaver River to the Central Bank over inflation caused by overspending in Central Canada. Particularly memorable for people that worked on her campaign was the “cavalcade of cars” dressed up in Reform colours which assembled from all points in the riding, from neighbouring regions and indeed from all corners of Alberta to distribute literature throughout the riding to promote their candidate. Grey also took advantage of growing Western anger with Mulroney’s government and famously warned Mulroney “beware the Ides of March, because Beaver River has a surprise for you.” She was also able to gain support by attending the PC nomination battle and introducing herself between the ballots of that contentious meeting. Logically, some supporters of losing candidates saw a better choice in Grey.

After carrying the Reform banner to Ottawa, Grey served as deputy leader, interim Opposition leader (only female leader of the opposition in history). She also had the pleasure of having her coffee made and office plants watered by the current Prime Minister; Stephen Harper was her first legislative assistant.

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