Pride in her community and a desire to give back were two of the biggest reasons why Hon. Elizabeth Hubley first put her name on the ballot.
Giving back to one’s community was something instilled in the former Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly and retired Senator at an early age, although she never envisioned that she would one day do so as an elected official.
“I thought it was really exciting. It was fun to be involved,” Hubley said of why she got involved in politics. “There didn’t seem to be any issues that drive me to join the Liberal Party. My father was definitely a Liberal, and I was proud to be a Liberal, too.”
THE EARLY LIFE OF LIBBE HAYWOOD
Libbe, as she is affectionately called by family and friends, was born on Sept. 9, 1942, in Howlan, Prince Edward Island, the third of four children born to Bennett Johnstone (BJ) and Florence (Brown) Haywood. Her father was a farmer and her mother a homemaker who, later in life, worked outside the family home. The family moved from Howlan to Charlottetown when Hubley was around five years old.
Education was important in the Haywood household, and young Libbe was a good student.
“We were all encouraged to do the best we could, there was no question about it. Education was top of the list.”
There were rules to follow and expectations for each of the four Haywood children.
“We ate together. We went to church on Sunday. We had chores to do. We often said that Mom could straighten us up with a look across the room.
“Thinking back on growing up in Howlan it was idyllic.”
Her mother, Florence, doted on the children.
“She was soft spoken, was selfless and hard working,” Hubley said with great affection for her mother.
When asked about her father, Bennett (BJ), a smile immediately crossed her lips, and the adoration and love she had for him was evident.
“He had a wonderful sense of humour, sometimes an irreverent sense of humour, and loved to tease and have fun,” said Hubley. “He was a big man. We all took after him in terms of height.”
Hubley recalled that music was present in the home growing up, with her father on the fiddle and neighbours dropping by for impromptu gatherings, and added that they all listened to Don Messer and his Islanders. It was great entertainment for the Haywood children, which included older sister Eleanor (Tom Davies) and brothers Ken (Dianne Webster) and Ben “BJ” (Leona Lavandier), who is deceased.
“Sunday night there was always music in the house,” said Hubley, a celebrated fiddle player and lifetime member of the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers’ Society.
“All of my father’s family were fairly musical, good singers, and could play piano, mostly cording. When Dad played the fiddle, he called it jigging. I get a kick out of thinking about it. It certainly proves he had a sense of humour.”
Looking back, that is when her love of the arts and of performance was born.
In her late teens, Hubley did what many young Islanders do and headed west, moving to Calgary.
There, her love of the arts grew as she enrolled in dance and art lessons, broadening her artistic knowledge and horizons. Hubley dabbled in modelling when she lived in Calgary and later when she moved east to Montreal. She also worked jobs in the finance field.
In 1966, she married Richard ‘Dick’ Hubley. In the early years of their marriage, the couple lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Libbe worked to support her husband who was studying law at Dalhousie University. Many in their circle of friends were doing the same.
“I was working at GMAC (a financial services company) to support us. I also taught fitness classes at the YW, and I had painting classes with (Nova Scotia artist) Jeannie Edmonds Hancock. For a short time, I was teaching art in Halifax under her tutelage. It was a great time in our lives and I loved it,” she recalled. “The opportunity arose, so I attended NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) for two years before we came back to the Island.”
In Halifax, she had her first behind-the-scenes foray into politics, as the couple campaigned for a friend who was running in the federal election.
It was a thrilling experience, one that began a life-long love of politics.
THE RETURN TO PEI AND A LOVE OF POLITICS
The Hubleys returned to PEI in 1976, settling into a large fixer-upper in Kensington, a home that they shared with their six adopted children – Brendan, Susan, Allan, Amos (deceased), Jennifer, and Florence.
“We have a great family and that was a great time for me,” said Hubley, a warm smile crossing her lips as she recalled those early years.
Dick became a successful lawyer and Libbe’s passion for the arts and dance led her to starting the traditional dance studio, Stepping Out, the home of the Lady Slipper Dancers. As she raised a family, she ran the dance studio and volunteered in her community and with the Liberal party.
Hubley became active behind the scenes of the Liberal party, and recalled the most memorable political event she attended prior to her run at politics.
It was at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School, and there was a very special guest who was scheduled to attend.
“Pierre Elliott Trudeau was there and I, of course, attended. He was just so charismatic, I can only relate it to another story,” she said, a child-like grin etched on her face as she spoke about the man who was Canada’s 15th prime minister.
“A friend of mine in Halifax described how Wilson Pickett – THE Wicked Pickett, the musician – came into one of the seedier clubs in Halifax in a satin suit. The world stopped for a moment."
"It was like that,” she said, referring to being in Trudeau’s presence and his magnetism.
Hubley found being in the political trenches to be electrifying.
“It was exciting to win. Even working the backroom, I enjoyed that,” she said. “When you are interested in politics you follow what happens -- what takes place in politics – you do get a sense of what politics is.”
Hubley would have been quite content working the political backroom, helping others reach their goal of sitting in Parliament or in the provincial legislature.
That all changed when, in the late 1980s, members of the Liberal Party of Prince Edward Island approached Hubley and asked her to seek the party's nomination in the dual-seat riding of 4th Prince.
“I hadn’t intended to run but it was, again, during the era of Joe Ghiz where he had committed to bringing a number of women into the legislature, so I was approached to run. That was it.”
She immediately questioned her ability to get elected.
Would anyone vote for her? Did she have what it takes to win the nomination? Would she have enough time and the energy to commit to a campaign and to the job if she won?
“I had a family, six kids. I certainly did work in the community, but I did not sense I had any great following. I wasn’t confident,” she said.
“Even when we had the nomination – and the nomination is the hardest part to get – I think there were two men running and I was the only woman.”
Hubley went on to win the Liberal Party’s nomination in the dual-seat riding of 4th Prince.
“Nobody was more surprised than I was,” she recalled with a laugh.
“My running mate in 4th Prince was Stavert Huestis, and he shared his experience with me.”
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Hubley spent weeks on the campaign trail shaking hands, knocking on doors and listening to voters’ concerns.
She was fortunate to have Huestis' advice, as he was a veteran politician and MLA. Campaigning was a dawn-until-dusk operation, no easy task when she had a home to run, a dance studio, a spouse, and six children.
Hubley felt then, and she still does today, that women pondering politics as a future path face a great deal more challenges than men, including when it comes to making the decision to run, in getting the nomination, campaigning, and after they are successful in their bid for election.
Being a busy mother and the primary person in the household responsible for caring for the children and the home was something that almost prevented Hubley from entering the political fray as a candidate.
She asserted that juggling a home, children, marriage, and the demands of campaigning – and later as an elected official – can be a delicate and sometimes overwhelming balancing act, but one possible for women to do.
“It is important that in order to get women into politics or keep them there, assure them that they are going to be able to maintain their family” was Hubley’s advice to those hoping to see more women elected.
“We can’t compete like a man competes. We have to do it a way a woman will do it. That means there has to be changes.”
ELIZABETH HUBLEY – MLA
On election night, May 29, 1989, Hubley won the seat. Hers was the story of the night as she took a seat that had been held for more than a decade by the Conservatives.
A record number of women were elected in 1989, something that Hubley found empowering.
“I think there were eight of us women, nine counting Pat, that were elected. It was a great time for women,” she reflected. “Not all the women who ran won, but a good percentage of us were successful.”
She put as much energy as possible into her new job, balancing it the best she could with home, business and family obligations.
“I was really earnest in meeting with constituents and solving their problems. I was really proud of that work,” said Hubley.
“You learn early on, when attending caucus meetings and hearing the concerns of Islanders from all members around the province, that there are many, many issues on the plate for government to address. You present your issue and do a vigorous follow up.”
With her first term under her belt, Hubley sought and again won the Liberal nomination in 4th Prince. In the March 29, 1993, general provincial election, Hubley retained her seat for a second term.
BEING ONE OF PEI’S FAMOUS 5
From 1991 to 1995, Hubley held the role of Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a position she relished and thoroughly enjoyed.
“I liked the deputy speaker role. I guess there is a bit of, I don't know, entertainer in me,” Hubley said with a laugh referring to some of the theatrics, pomp, and circumstance associated with the position.
That position secured Hubley a place in political history on Prince Edward Island and in Canada. In 1993, Hubley became one of five women who held the key positions of political power in the province, known as the PEI Famous 5.
“After 25 years it still fills me with a sense of pride that I have been part of that photograph. It is interesting. At the time, we underestimated its historic significance. We were all just doing the job that we were elected to do.”
Years later, the photo that marked the occasion became a topic of discussion, as it held a prominent place in her Senate office, a space she occupied for more than 16 years.
“I have boasted about it on many, many occasions in other countries, when five women on PEI held the five top political jobs, reminding young politicians they, too, can do that,” said Hubley. “I’ve had many great opportunities to celebrate the fact that there were five of us.”
She added, “It became a discussion piece and always received a positive and applauded response.”
Hubley, when asked, said she does not know why that historic moment has not happened again or if it ever will.
“These women earned those positions. Who would have known that Pat would be elected the only person for her party and then leader of the Opposition or that Catherine would return to PEI and win the premiership, or Marion’s appointment as Lieutenant Governor, or Nancy as Speaker and myself as Deputy Speaker?
“It just happened. It was a wonderful occasion.”
Hubley hoped to have a third term as a MLA. It was not to be. She was unsuccessful in her bid to win the nomination in her district to represent the Liberal Party of PEI in the 1996 general election, which ended her career in provincial politics.
Hubley took time off to focus on family before accepting an appointment with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board of Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown. It was work she enjoyed and greatly appreciated.
Five years after her time as MLA ended, she received the call from then Prime Minister Jean Chretien asking her if she would accept a position in the Senate. Elizabeth Hubley officially became a member of the Senate of Canada on March 8, 2001.
Hubley, in looking back at her time as a Senator, said that all her experiences in life, particularly her years as MLA, served her well in the role.
“Everything that you have ever done in life is a benefit. Everything,” she stressed. “If you attend Women’s Institute meetings, you know how much goes into the decision making. If you are a caregiver of any kind, you know what supports are needed for that position.”
“Absolutely every bit of experience you’ve had in whatever role you have chosen in life you will be useful when you get into politics, every bit.”
The role of Senator was one in which Hubley took great pride. She added that with it came more knowledge of democracy and how government works.
“The Senate was pretty special.”
Hubley held many roles as a Senator, including deputy leader and deputy whip of the Senate Liberals and deputy opposition whip in the Senate. She sat on numerous committees: Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budget and Administration, Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Standing Committee on Human Rights, Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to name a few.
She worked on many areas and issues, including post-secondary education.
One of the achievements – are there are many – she is most proud of from her time in the Senate was her work in establishing the third Saturday in May as National Fiddling Day by shepherding Bill S-18, An Act Representing National Fiddling Day, through parliament.
That garnered more headlines for her, both at home on PEI and throughout Canada than anything else while she was in the Senate of Canada.
It was a great achievement for the fiddle player and lover of the arts, someone who still plays the fiddle almost daily, paints, and whose home holds countless pieces of art, many painstakingly created by her own hands.
Hubley retired from the Senate in September 2017 on her 75th birthday.
GETTING WOMEN ELECTED
Since that historic moment when five women held the top roles of political power, there have been fewer women elected to the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. In 2020, women occupied only seven of the Assembly’s 27 seats.
“It takes a positive effort of behalf of the Premier to increase the number of women who are going to run. They still have to get elected,” Hubley surmised. “They still have to go through all of the processes to secure the nomination but at least the door can be made a little wider for them to make that decision.
“Nobody likes to run and lose. That’s not in their DNA. We want to win.”
In order to get more women elected, more must be done to eliminate the barriers that prevent women from getting on the ballot – or even putting their names forward, said Hubley.
Women are the nurturers of the family, most often run the home, and their family is their main priority, added Hubley. These things need to be recognized and adequate supports provided if women are to enter public life, she asserted.
“We should at least address the fact that she does have a family and she is probably one of the most important nurturers to those young and older children,” added the mother of six, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of one. “They need their mother and they need their father, too, but to me that was always one of my priorities, it was always family.”
ADVICE FROM A VETERAN POLITICIAN
Just do it – it is Hubley’s single most important piece of advice she can share with women who are struggling with the decision to seek nomination and contribute to their community.
“If you are thinking about it, the interest is there and you have to have a vision for our province,” said the retired politician.
“You will learn early on that people are very anxious to tell you what they would like to see happen. And the issues are visible.”
She asserted that gender should never be an issue when it comes to politics, adding that diversity is paramount in ensuring that the needs of all are represented.
“Our population is 51 per cent women. That says it all. We have to look at the diversity within our society. Politics should reflect the diversity of our province and country. We, as women, have to be there.”
As she looked back on her political career, Hubley admitted it is overwhelming to have had the privilege to serve the people of Prince Edward Island as both a member of the Legislative Assembly of PEI and as a member of the Senate of Canada.
She is humbled to have had those opportunities.
“It is something that you can’t fathom until you are there. All of a sudden the reality of sitting in the legislature in Charlottetown, that historic building,” she said, almost in awe of the accomplishment.
It is something she said would not change and, if given the chance, would do again.
“Absolutely, no hesitation,” she added. "For me that sense of public service or that opportunity to become involved in public service, that’s been the greatest gift.”
She has no regrets – every moment has been a chance to learn and grow.
“It has been an extraordinary life. There are many qualified women but I had the opportunity,” Hubley concluded.
“Opportunities come along in life and and it is up to you to seize that opportunity. I had no problem doing that. I loved it, just loved it.”