Monique Bégin was born on March 1, 1936, and passed away on September 8, 2023. She was born in Rome to her father, Joseph Lucien Bégin, a Canadian-born sound engineer, and her mother, Marie-Louise Vanhavre, a Belgian-born accountant. Bégin spent her early years in France and Portugal before moving to Canada at the end of World War II.
She pursued her education in sociology, obtaining an MA degree from the Université de Montréal and later a PhD from the Sorbonne. Her early life in Montreal was not without its challenges, but she often credited her involvement with community groups and her membership in the Girl Guides of Canada as life-saving experiences.
Bégin’s political journey began in 1967 when she was appointed as the executive secretary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. This body published its groundbreaking report in 1970. She then successfully ran for office in the House of Commons of Canada as a Liberal candidate in the Saint-Michel riding in Montreal in the 1972 election. Alongside Albanie Morin and Jeanne Sauvé, she became one of the first women ever elected to the House of Commons from Quebec.
Her political influence grew when she was appointed to the Canadian Cabinet by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Bégin served as Minister of National Revenue from 1976 to 1977 and later as Minister of Health and Welfare from 1977 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984. During her tenure, she introduced the Canada Health Act in Parliament, which remains in force today. She chose not to run in the 1984 election and subsequently retired from politics.
After her political career, Bégin transitioned into academia. In 1986, she joined both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University as the first joint Ottawa-Carleton Chair of Women’s Studies. From 1990 to 1997, she served as the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa and continued to teach as a professor emeritus.
She also co-chaired Ontario’s Royal Commission on Learning with Gerald Caplan from 1993 to 1995. In 1997, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and later elevated to a Companion of the Order in 2020. Bégin served as the Treasurer for the International Centre for Migration and Health.
Honors and Memoirs
In 2015, Bégin received the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. She also published a memoir in 2018 titled Ladies, Upstairs!: My Life in Politics and After.
Monique Bégin leaves behind an indelible legacy as a trailblazer in both politics and academia, breaking barriers for women and contributing significantly to Canadian society. She will be remembered for her advocacy, her leadership, and her lifelong commitment to public service.