Pat Duncan

Premier of the Yukon • May 2000 to November 2002


You can learn a lot about someone by visiting them in a brand new office. The walls may be bare, the bookcases empty, and the desk swiped clean, yet there are always just a few objects that make their way into the space – those of utmost importance.

For newly appointed Senator Pat Duncan, this includes the front panel of an old t-shirt. ”You know that expression: been there, done that, washed the car with the t-shirt? Well, for me, this is the t-shirt.”

The fabric reads: ‘no woman, idiot, lunatic, or criminal shall vote.’ It’s a quote from the 1890 Election Act of Canada.

Duncan was given the t-shirt as a gift from a friend long before the future premier started her career in politics. Unplanned, her husband happened to be wearing the t-shirt one day in 1996 when Duncan first filed her nomination papers to run for the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Its worn, faded look shows its value. The Duncans have literally used it to wash their car – and now it sits in an office of the Canadian Senate.

Duncan was born in 1960 in Edmonton, Alberta as the youngest of five children. Her family moved to Whitehorse, Yukon when she was four-years-old. She married, became a successful business owner, worked in media, and served as the Executive Director of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

She was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1996, as one of three Yukon Liberals elected. The other two caucus members were father and daughter. Duncan was elected as leader in 1998. In 2000, Duncan led the Yukon Liberals to their first ever victory and became the first – and to date, only – female premier of the Yukon. Two years later, Duncan called an election. The party lost all seats but hers, and her premiership concluded. She was defeated as party leader in 2005.

Duncan was appointed to the Senate in December 2018.

When asked about why more women don’t run for office, Duncan offers the insight of someone who’s lived it first-hand. ”Women tend to put other people first. We tend to think, oh so and so is smarter than I am. And so I tell women, you know, it’s your skill set that makes you every bit as qualified for this job as the next person. It’s just a matter of having self-confidence and making sure that the circumstances are right for you.”

Hear more about the Canadian women who have served as a First Minister by checking out our No Second Chances Podcast.