Senator Sharon Carstairs retired on October 17, 2011.
For Senator Sharon Carstairs politics is something that was learned at the dinner table in a family that put an emphasis on education and political dialogue. When Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Senator Carstairs Leader of the Government in the Senate January 9, 2001, it was the beginning of another path in politics. She served as Leader until December 12, 2003.
Sharon Carstairs was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vivian and Harold Connolly. At the time of her birth, her father was the MLA for Halifax North and Minister of Industry and Trade. During her childhood, he served in numerous portfolios and became the Premier of Nova Scotia in 1954 and was appointed to the Senate in 1955.
Senator Carstairs attended Dalhousie University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History. She went on to achieve a Masters of Arts in Teaching at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1963. She has taught in Massachusetts, Alberta and Manitoba in public, private and Catholic school systems. Her interest and commitment to quality education remains unwavering.
Political involvement moved from the dinner table to the grassroots in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Manitoba. She has been a campaign volunteer, candidate and provincial MLA in Manitoba. In 1988, she led the Liberal Party in Manitoba to a monumental election gain and became the first woman to lead the Official Opposition in a Canadian Legislative Assembly.
After a very successful run as Leader of the Opposition, Senator Carstairs was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Chrétien on September 15, 1994 to represent the province of Manitoba. She has served on the Aboriginal Peoples committee as well as the Agriculture and Forestry; Social Affairs, Science and Technology and the Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee. She has been the Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Sub-Committee to update "Of Life and Death" and Deputy Chair of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. Senator Carstairs represented the Senate on the Parliamentary Buildings Advisory Council from 1997-2001. From 1997 to 1999 Senator Carstairs served as the first woman to be Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.
As Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Carstairs was a member of Cabinet and was the government's representative in the Upper Chamber. She was also responsible for answering all questions for the Government during the Senate's Question Period and shepherding government bills through the Senate.
On March 14, 2001, Prime Minister Chrétien gave Senator Carstairs special responsibility for palliative care. Palliative care is a cause that Senator Carstairs had championed long before her appointment. She assisted Health Minister Anne McLellan in supporting the federal government's interest in the development of palliative care by working with provinces, territories and non-governmental organizations, to ensure that palliative care is meeting the needs of Canadian patients, families and care givers. This new appointment was a major step forward in the federal government's commitment to quality end-of-life care in Canada.
Senator Carstairs is the author of Not One of the Boys, an autobiography and a contributing author to Dropped Threads, a book of Canadian women's stories. She is also the co-author with Tim Higgins of Dancing Backwards: A Social History of Canadian Women in Politics.
Senator Carstairs is married to John Esdale Carstairs, a retired corporate lawyer. They have two daughters, Catherine and Jennifer. They divide their time between Ottawa and their Manitoba home.