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Profiles of Alberta Women

Anne McLellan

Anne McLellan
Image courtesy of the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Personal life and education

On August 31, 1950 Anne McLellan was born to Gilmore and Joan in Hants County, in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. She grew up with her siblings John and Jean on a dairy farm near the town of Truro that had been in the family for over two hundred years. Anne’s parents were both active politically, Gilmore with the local Liberal Party organization and Joan with municipal politics, serving as deputy reeve of the county. Joan, an Englishwoman, had come to Canada from Yorkshire, England after the Second World War, at which point she met and married Gilmore.

Anne’s parents, particularly Joan, instilled in her an interest in politics. Their family was the first in their village of 450 people to purchase a television. Anne would watch the nightly news with her parents and siblings and then discuss the issues together.1 It was these experiences, and the example set by her mother, that would inspire Anne to eventually step into politics herself, but not before a long and full career in law.

After finishing high school in 1968, Anne attended Dalhousie University, where she undertook a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, graduating in 1971. While an undergraduate, Anne was an active member of the Young Liberals Club, involving herself in the party in which she would serve for the whole of her career. She followed the bachelor’s degree with a degree in law, also at Dalhousie, graduating in 1974. She then went to London, England to pursue a master’s degree in law at King’s College, University of London, finishing in 1975.

My mother was very much out there and you get used to being around a powerful, assertive woman; you get used to having people coming to the house to solicit her opinion on issues and look up to her in terms of helping solve their problems.

iKNOW Politics, “Interviews: Anne McLellan,” iKNOW Politics, June 11, 2009.

Legal career

Returning to Canada after completing her degree in 1976, Anne was admitted to the bar in Nova Scotia and began her career in law, working at a law firm in Halifax. However, she soon returned to the academy, joining the law faculty at the University of New Brunswick that same year. There she taught contract law and constitutional law, serving as assistant professor, and for a short time as acting associate dean.

While teaching constitutional law, Anne developed an interest in the constitutional rhetoric of Peter Lougheed, the Alberta premier who, along with other premiers of the country, tangled with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau over his efforts at constitutional patriation in the early 1980s. Hoping to learn more about the Alberta perspective, in 1980 Anne moved to Edmonton after accepting a position as an associate professor with the University of Alberta’s law faculty, where she specialized in constitutional law, civil liberties, and human rights. While at the University of Alberta, she served in various roles, including professor, associate dean, and finally acting dean in 1991-1992. In 1987 Anne took a sabbatical year to serve as a visiting scholar at Duke University in North Carolina, where she taught a course on comparative civil liberties.

Political career

Throughout her time studying and working in academia, Anne continued her involvement with the Liberal party in Canada, both on the east coast and in Alberta. She primarily provided support with policy and organization for the election campaigns of other candidates, but in late 1992 was approached by some fellow Liberals who asked her to run. The group, made up primarily of women, told her they had heard her speak on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and thought she should put herself forward as a candidate, running for the former electoral district of Edmonton Northwest in the 1993 federal election.2 With a woman campaign manager, and a campaign team made primarily of women, Anne flipped the Conservative district, beating both Progressive Conservative incumbent Murray Dorin and Reform party runner-up Richard Kayler. The first count had Anne beating Kayler by one vote, which increased to twelve after a recount.

I think, one of the big challenges for women … is accommodating or trying to make sure you have some kind of balance in your life around work, and if you’re in federal politics in a big country like Canada, the geographic distance is so great, you’re away from home and the parliament is sitting probably 4 days a week; how do you balance that with any kind of normal family life?

iKNOW Politics, “Interviews: Anne McLellan,” iKNOW Politics, June 11, 2009.

Anne thus became the first Liberal to be elected in Alberta since 1968, and would go on to hold her seat through three more elections: in 1997 for the new constituency of Edmonton West, and again in 2000, and in 2004. After the 1993 election, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Anne to the positions of minister of energy, mines, and resources and minister of forestry, which she held from 1993 to 1997.3 While in that position, she worked to improve the relationship between the energy industry and the Liberal party, serving on the Oilsands Task Force that encouraged development of the Alberta oil sand through cuts to taxation both provincially and federally.

Following her re-election in the 1997 federal election, Chrétien named Anne minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, a position she held until 2002. In that capacity, Anne oversaw reform of youth justice, introducing Bill C-7, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, in 2001. The act replaced previous legislation, which had seen an overuse of courts and incarceration, disparity in sentencing, and ineffective reintegration, with a system that sought to be fairer, and to focus on rehabilitation and reintegration.4 That same year, three months after the September 11 terror attack in the United States, she introduced Bill C-36, which became the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, which, while seeking to prevent terrorist acts in Canada and to secure Canada’s borders, elicited much criticism and discussion, particularly around civil liberties.

Anne held a number of other cabinet positions with the Liberal government for shorter periods. From 2000 to 2003 she was the minister responsible for Northwest Territories, and from January of 2002 to December of 2003, Anne served Canada as Minister of Health. In the latter role, she oversaw the creation of both the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, a non-profit that works to ensure and improve patient safety and healthcare, and the Health Council of Canada, an independent body that produced reports on various aspects of healthcare and health services in Canada. As Minister of Health Anne also saw Canada through the SARS outbreak of 2003.

After the victory of the federal Liberal party in Canada’s 2004 election, Prime Minister Paul Martin asked Anne to serve as deputy prime minister, and as the minister responsible for public safety, both of which she accepted. During the 2004 election, Anne’s role as the face of Alberta in federal politics was affirmed by a group of former provincial Conservatives when they endorsed her over the Conservative candidate in her riding. Speaking for the group, Dennis Anderson said that “We believe that McLellan has been an exceptional representative not only for her riding but for the city of Edmonton and for the province of Alberta.”5 Anne served as both deputy prime minister and minister responsible for public safety until February of 2006, when she lost Edmonton Centre to Laurie Hawn.

Throughout her time in office, Anne served as a member on many cabinet committees, including ones on economic development policy, government communications, public security and anti-terrorism, economic union, expenditure review, Aboriginal affairs, and Canada-US relations. She also chaired committees on social development policy, social union, priorities and planning, and security, public health, and emergencies, and served on the Treasury Board. From 1994 to 2002 she was federal interlocutor for Métis and non-status Indians in the House of Commons.

Career after politics

After retiring, Anne joined Bennett Jones LLP where she serves as a senior advisor, giving the firm’s clients strategic planning assistance both nationally and internationally.6 She has continued to work in administrative roles with a variety of organizations, serving on boards for Cameco Corp., the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, the Institute for Research for Public Policy, and others.7 She has also continued her work with academia, serving as a distinguished scholar in residence at the University of Alberta’s Institute for American Studies, chair of Pearson College’s board of directors, chair of Dalhousie University’s Dalhousie Advisory Council and, in 2015, as the seventh chancellor for Dalhousie. Additionally, Anne has lent her expertise to a wide range of volunteer organizations, serving as Chair of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, and volunteering with groups including United Way, Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre, Canadian Blood Services, Habitat for Humanity, and others.8

Although her career as a politician ended in 2006, Anne has continued a strong relationship with Canada’s Liberal party, and has continued to serve in various capacities. In 2016 she was asked to head a task force that assisted with the Liberal government’s plan to legalize marijuana in Canada. The task force consulted with experts and other stakeholders for developing a framework for the legislation, reporting back to the government in the fall of 2016 with its report on legalization and regulation.9

Anne was again called to an advisory role in 2019, when she was appointed to serve the House of Commons as the Special Adviser to Review the Roles of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Coming in response to the SNC-Lavalin affair, wherein Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was accused of trying to influence Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, Anne was appointed to review the question of whether the positions of Minister of Justice and Attorney General should be separated. Anne produced an extensive report on the question, done in consultation with other past attorney generals, past prime ministerial chiefs of staff, and other experts and academics.10

After the Liberals formed government following the 2019 election. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed her an unpaid adviser to help address issues of western alienation. In the election that year the Liberal government failed to secure a single seat in Alberta or Saskatchewan, and faced accusations of disinterest and neglect of the western provinces. Anne’s appointment to the position was well received in Alberta, with prominent political figures including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and representatives from the energy industry praising her appointment.11

From the time of her move to Edmonton in 1980, Anne McLellan has worked to further the interests of Albertans in both the educational and political spheres. Her contributions as an academic in the fields of constitutional law, human rights, and civil liberties, and her representation of Alberta on the federal stage in the Liberal Party of Canada, have helped to give voice to the concerns of the province since her historic win in Edmonton Northwest in 1993.

Read more about Anne McLellan


1 iKNOW Politics, “Interviews: Anne McLellan,” iKNOW Politics, June 11, 2009,

2 Ibid.

3 In 1995 the two offices were abolished, and the office of Minister of Natural Resources was established.

4 Canada, Department of Justice, “The Youth Criminal Justice Act: Summary and Background,” Ottawa: Department of Justice, 2013,

5 Kyle Bakx, “’She Knows Oilsands’: Energy Industry Welcomes McLellan Appointment as Trudeau’s Adviser on Western Canada,” CBC News, Nov. 5, 2019,

6 “Hon. A. Anne McLellan P.C., O.C., A.O.E,” Bennett Jones, accessed on April 13, 2021,

7 A list can be seen here:

8 “Hon. A. Anne McLellan,” The Alberta Order of Excellence, 2021,

9 Canada, Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada, Ottawa: Health Canada, 2016,

10 Paul Wells, “The McLellan Report Would Have Ended the SNC Affair Before it Began,” Maclean’s, Aug. 19, 2019,

11 Daniel LeBlanc and James Keller, “PM Taps Anne McLellan as Western Adviser,” The Globe and Mail, Oct. 29, 2019,

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