Elizabeth Rowley

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Elizabeth Rowley
Elizabeth Rowley, October 2019.jpg
Leader of the Communist Party of Canada
Assumed office
January 31, 2016
Preceded byMiguel Figueroa
Leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)
In office
Preceded byHassan Husseini
Succeeded byDave McKee
East York School Board Trustee
In office
Personal details
Born1949 (age 71–72)
British Columbia, Canada
Political partyCommunist Party of Canada
Alma materUniversity of Alberta

Elizabeth Rowley (born c. 1949) is the current leader of the Communist Party of Canada. A long-time politician, writer, and political activist, Rowley served as a school trustee in the Toronto Borough of East York. Before becoming leader of the Communist Party of Canada, Rowley was leader of the Communist Party of Ontario. She has been a member of the Central Executive of the Communist Party of Canada since 1978,[1] and has campaigned for office many times at the municipal, federal and provincial levels. Rowley was elected leader of the Communist Party of Canada in January 2016 by the Party's Central Committee, following the retirement of Miguel Figueroa. She is the first female leader of the Communist Party of Canada.

Early life and activism[edit]

Born in British Columbia in 1949, Rowley attended the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and was active with the Young Communist League of Canada. She joined the Communist Party in 1967. As a young activist, Rowley campaigned against the War Measures Act during the October Crisis in 1970. She was the Party’s youngest candidate in the 1972 federal election, campaigning on issues such as women's reproductive rights, as abortion was then illegal in Canada, as well as calling for an end to the Vietnam War and Canada's participation. After travelling across the country and spending a short time in Quebec, she moved to southern Ontario and worked as a typesetter apprentice and secretary in Windsor, where she became a local party organizer.

In 1975, she became Ontario Provincial organizer and moved to Hamilton. There, she became involved in many labour struggles to defend jobs, living standards, labour rights, women’s equality, social programs and Canadian sovereignty. While campaigning to ban the Ku Klux Klan, Rowley’s apartment was destroyed by arson and, the following year, her car was fire bombed.

In 1978, Rowley stood for a seat on the Hamilton Board of Control in the last election to that body before it was dissolved prior to the city's 1980 election. Early in the campaign, Rowley was formally asked by the city's Streets and Sanitation Department to remove her election signs from public property, as their placement violated a local bylaw [2] During her campaign, she advocated for lower property taxes for homeowners, the construction of affordable housing, and a 20-cent bus fare. She told the Hamilton Spectator that she was opposed to amalgamation, a proposed expansion to the Hamilton Airport, the Upper Ottawa Street dump, and cutbacks to cultural funding.[3] On election night, Rowley finished 6th out of 8 candidates with 13,320 votes.[4]

Fight to save the CPC[edit]

During the Communist Party's internal dispute following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Rowley was one of the first activists expelled from the Party by General Secretary George Hewison after she vociferously opposed his proposals to abandon Marxism-Leninism as an ideology and liquidate the Communist Party of Canada into a broad-left formation. Along with former Party Secretary William Kashtan, Miguel Figueroa, Kimball Cariou and others, she was instrumental in the membership struggle to block attempts to dissolve the Communist Party of Canada during the early 1990s.

Reinstated by the membership, Rowley helped lead an initiative to take Hewison's group to court, becoming the chief negotiator for the pro-Leninist side. The resulting legal settlement saw the assets of the party being split in half, with the Leninist group keeping the Party name. Over 15 per cent of the membership also left the Party during the split. The Communist Party held a new 30th Central Convention in 1991, at which Rowley was again elected to the party leadership. Within a few years, the party had begun another legal challenge, this time to maintain its identity as a registered political party. After the de-registration of the party in 1993, the Figueroa case was launched.

CPC Ontario leader and school trustee[edit]

Rowley moved to Toronto in 1988 after being elected leader of the Ontario Committee of the Communist Party, one of the first women leaders of an Ontario political party. She led the Ontario Committee of the Communist Party in a number of campaigns, including against the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, as well as the 1990 general election. For many years Rowley has strongly opposed the NAFTA and other trade agreements that she believes threaten public services, promoted public education and medicare, as well as civil rights and labour causes.

During the mid-1990s Rowley became a powerful grassroots spokesperson against the cutbacks imposed by Mike Harris Conservative government in Ontario, including the Ontario Days of Action. Despite red-baiting, Rowley was elected school trustee in the former Toronto borough of East York for Ward 2. Rowley served along with fledgling politicians like Gail Nyberg and Jane Pitfield from 1994 to 1997, when the board was amalgamated. After her term as school trustee, Rowley returned to the Ontario leadership of the Communist Party of Canada. In 2001, she was again re-elected to the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Canada, and also replaced Hassan Husseini as leader of the Ontario Communist Party around the same time.

Since then, Rowley has been a regular columnist for the People's Voice, a working class newspaper which describes itself as a socialist press. She has also written numerous articles on public resistance in Canada that have been translated into several languages and published around the world.[citation needed] Rowley has spoken at international conferences and progressive forums in Europe, America and Asia, and has represented the Communist Party of Canada several times at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties. She has been outspoken on issues such as the G20 arrests in Toronto, the Rob Ford administration, migrant and immigrant rights in Toronto, for a single, secular school board, for public auto insurance, for peace and anti-racism, proportional representation, and much more.

Leader of the CPC[edit]

Rowley was elected Party Leader by the Communist Party of Canada's Central Committee at a meeting in Toronto on January 30–31, 2016. The change of leadership followed the retirement of Miguel Figueroa, who stepped down for health reasons after serving in the office for 23 years. Although not the first woman to serve in the Communist Party of Canada's leadership, she is the first female leader of the Communist Party of Canada.[5] In the spring of 2016 Rowley launched a 15-city tour of Canada, speaking to members and supporters of the Communist Party of Canada about the Party's upcoming 38th Central Convention and the CPC's campaign against the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Personal life[edit]

In 1981 Rowley married a steelworker, in the middle of the 125 day-long Hamilton Stelco strike. She is the mother of two adult children. In her spare time, Rowley enjoys gardening at her home in East York, Toronto.

Electoral record[edit]

Election Constituency Votes % Notes
1972 Canadian federal election Edmonton—Strathcona 152 0.28% Running as an independent
1974 Canadian federal election Windsor—Walkerville 165 0.41%
1979 Canadian federal election Hamilton Mountain 102 0.20%
1980 Canadian federal election Hamilton Mountain 65 0.13%
1981 Ontario general election Hamilton West 260 0.99%
1984 Canadian federal election Hamilton East 87 0,23%
1988 Canadian federal election Hamilton East 133 0,36%
1990 Ontario general election Oakwood 197 1.0%
1993 Canadian federal election Broadview—Greenwood 151 0.38% Running as an independent
1994 Toronto municipal election Public School Trustee - Ward 2 (East York) 1,357 15.38% Won 1 of 2 seats on the Toronto District School Board[6]
1997 Toronto municipal election Councillor - Ward 1 (East York) 5,707 9% [7]
1999 Ontario general election Don Valley East 91 0.22%
2000 Canadian federal election Etobicoke North 347 1.08%
2003 Ontario general election Scarborough Centre 241 0.58%
2004 Canadian federal election Scarborough Southwest, 168 0.44%
2006 Canadian federal election Scarborough Southwest 120 0.29%
2007 Ontario general election Brampton—Springdale 150 0.43%
2008 Canadian federal election Windsor West 125 0.32%
2011 Canadian federal election Brampton—Springdale 219 0.43%
2015 Canadian federal election Sudbury 102 0.20%
2019 Canadian federal election Davenport 137 0.26%
2021 Canadian federal election Toronto Danforth 204 0.43%


  1. ^ "Elizabeth Rowley". CBC. Retrieved December 20, 2010.
  2. ^ "Remove signs, hopeful told," Hamilton Spectator, Tuesday, November 7, 1978, pp. 7.
  3. ^ "Eight seek election to board of control: Rowley," Hamilton Spectator, Friday, November 18, 1976, pp. 25.
  4. ^ "Who won in your ward" Hamilton Spectator, Tuesday, November 14, 1978, pp. 9
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 12, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "SCHOOL BOARD - Final results". Toronto Star. November 17, 1994.
  7. ^ "Municipal council results". Toronto Star. November 16, 1997.