Ellen Louks Fairclough (1905–2004) politician
Ellen Louks Fairclough, Canada’s first woman federal cabinet minister, presided over a major overhaul of the country’s longstanding “white Canada” immigration policy. Regulations implemented on February 1, 1962, eliminated almost all elements of race-related exclusion and led to a significant increase in immigration from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, most notably from the West Indies (see West Indian immigration).
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Ellen Louks became a chartered accountant. During the 1930s she helped her husband, businessman D. H. Gordon Fairclough, to organize the Young Conservative Association of Hamilton. She served as a city alderman (1946–49) and deputy mayor (1950) before winning a seat in the House of Commons in 1950. When John Diefenbaker became prime minister in 1957, he named Fairclough secretary of state and in the following year appointed her to the newly created post of minister of citizenship and immigration. Upon taking up the post in May 1958, she was immediately confronted with the press of applicants for sponsored immigration and a growing backlog in applications. The Conservative government sought to limit the extent of family sponsorship, then backed down. As Fairclough explained, she rescinded the restrictive Order in Council 1959–310 because it was based on previous legislation enacted by the Liberals, and she was therefore willing to reconsider the government’s position in anticipation of more extensive revisions. These revisions were finally implemented in the immigration regulations of 1962, which established skills, rather than race, as the basis for Canadian immigration. The new regulations also made the General Board of Immigration Appeals largely independent of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. In 1962, Fairclough was made postmaster general but was defeated in the election of 1963, at which time she retired from politics. She died on November 13, 2004.