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Born in Vancouver, B.C. on October 14, 1927, Grace McCarthy (nee Winterbottom) was first elected to the provincial legislature of British Columbia as a member of the Social Credit party in 1966. She was re-elected in 1969; defeated in 1972 when the NDP won power; and re-elected in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1986. Following two unsuccessful runs, she became party leader in 1993, but resigned in May 1994 following a by-election loss.
McCarthy opened her first florist shop on East Hastings Street in 1944 at the age of seventeen. In 1948, she married Raymond McCarthy. The couple eventually owned and operated the Grayce Florists chain until the mid-1970s. In 1961, McCarthy was elected to the Vancouver Parks Board, and held that position until 1966, when she was elected as the MLA for Vancouver Little Mountain. W.A.C. Bennett, Premier of British Columbia and leader of the Social Credit Party, appointed her as a minister without a portfolio. She was re-elected in 1969. After the NDP defeated the Socreds in 1972, McCarthy was elected Social Credit Party president in 1973, increasing membership in the party from 5,000 to 70,000 in two years. With the re-election of the party under Bill Bennett in 1975, McCarthy was appointed Minister of Recreation and Travel Industry, Provincial Secretary, and was the first woman in Canada to be appointed Deputy Premier. Until her resignation in 1988 under the leadership of Premier Bill Vander Zalm, McCarthy served in many other roles, including as Minister of Economic Development, Human Resources, Government Services, Social Services, Tourism, and the minister responsible for B.C. Transit. She ran unsuccessfully for party leadership in 1986, losing out to Vander Zalm, and in 1991, losing to Rita Johnston. In 1993, she successfully won leadership of the party; however, facing a decimated party and a by-election loss in Matsqui, McCarthy resigned in 1994.
McCarthy is credited with many significant accomplishments over her political career. Early in her career, she lobbied successfully for home-ownership for women in an era when women were not considered for a mortgage without a male guarantor. She was instrumental in bringing Expo ’86 to Vancouver and oversaw the building of the first SkyTrain line. As Minister of Tourism, she spearheaded the building of the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre at Canada Harbour Place. Serving as Minister of Social Services, Grace McCarthy established Canada’s first Hot Line to respond to abused children, and brought the most comprehensive legislation to stop child abuse in the country.
She received many honours during her lifetime, including the Order of Canada (1992), the Order of British Columbia (2004), an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, among others. She established the CH.I.L.D. Foundation in 1995 to raise funds for research for children suffering from Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and liver disorders, and continued to serve as that foundation's volunteer Chairman of the Board until her death.
McCarthy passed away on May 24, 2017.
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Updated August 9, 2017 MH