Canada

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Alexander Mackenzie , Liberal, 1873–78 . Lacking in the cunning, colorful ways of his predecessor, he tried to get hy with hard work, honesty, reliability, and humility. But he also lacked luck: came to the helm just as prosperity gave way to depression and naturally got the blame. Forced to pull back on construction of Canadian Pacific, he appeared simply unimaginative and dull. Recent research has revealed an above-average man but clearly no match for the wily Macdonald. Respectful of the Crown and the British allegiance, yet refused a knighthood three times.

Sir John Abbott , Conservative, 1891–92 . First Canadian-born P.M. A reluctant, compromise candidate with no stomach for politics and no talent for holding together the tricky alliances molded by Macdonald. After a few failures, weary and ill, he resigned his office in disgust.

Sir John Thompson , Conservative, 1892–94 . First Roman Catholic P.M., called by Macdonald “the great discovery of my life.” Alert and able, he recognized in Manitoba’s decision to abolish state-supported Catholic schools an issue of extreme danger. Invited to Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria—he accepted partly to strengthen his hand among pro-British Canadians—he dropped dead at the royal luncheon at age of 52, ending a promising career.

Sir Mackenzie Bowell , Conservative, 1894–96 . Tiny, noisy, bigoted, and aggressive. Least successful P.M., his chaotic administration being marked by internal squabbling. Finally, his own Cabinet (“that nest of traitors!” he called them) ganged up and forced his resignation.

Sir Charles Tupper , Conservative, 1896 . Came to office too late (age 75) and for too short a time (three months) to have a fair chance. A hard-working bulldog trying to pull together a party still shattered by Macdonald’s death. Conducted a strong campaign in 1896 election but everything was against him.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier , Liberal, 1896–1911 . First of French descent, vain, dapper, eloquent in both languages; considered it his prime objective to bring the two national groups, “long estranged from each other, gradually to become a nation.” Succeeded better than any Prime Minister before or since. Lucky to govern during sunny prosperity and western expansion. Met stiff opposition in Quebec when he supported Canadian participation in the Boer War. His advocacy of limited economic reciprocity with U.S. cost him the 1911 election. As Opposition leader during World War I, supported the government but refused to vote for conscription, anathema in Quebec.

Sir Robert Borden , Conservative, 1911–20 . An uninspiring work horse of high integrity. Grew in stature us war in Europe put increased burdens on the office. Having failed to enlist Laurier in a Conservative-Liberal coalition in 1917, he assumed full responsibility for ugly conscription crisis. Won the right for Canada to sign the Versailles Treaty in its own name—a significant advance toward independent status. Left politics by choice. Frugal, he often bicycled to his office.

Arthur Meighen , Conservative, 1920–21; 1926 (for 3 months) . Brilliant lawyer and gifted orator, was said to memorize large sections of books after a single reading. Clear and precise, addressed the electorate as jurors, creating a cold, haughty impression. His strong pro-conscription stand doomed him in Quebec, and his British sympathies failed to win enough support elsewhere to sustain him.

William Lyon Mackenzie King , Liberal, 1921–26; 1926–30; 1935–48 . Was Prime Minister longer than any other man in the entire British parliamentary system. Knew how to use his colorless and cautious manner to best advantage, displaying courage and tenacity when least expected. His World War II statement, “Not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary,” was typical of his strategy. Played a strong game of defensive politics, revealing his hand only when he held all the aces. His strength lay in his Cabinets, always highly diversified, with strong French representation. Had an insatiable appetite for administrative detail, keeping in direct touch with all parts of his complex political machinery. Gradually gained control over diplomatic relations—demurely declining further guidance from London. During World War II he became an important figure at the Quebec Conference, consulting with Churchill and Roosevelt. Remained a bachelor with little taste for social life. Politically a pragmatist, he was personally a mystic. He conferred from time to time with his departed parents through spiritualists.