Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Great One

After three weeks of voting, the field is down to two: John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's first two long-serving PMs. While it's tempting to imagine this vote will break down on Liberal/Conservative lines, these are leaders from a time when the words meant something different. Laurier championed provincial rights and supported free trade. Macdonald believed in government intervention and created the tariff to help Ontario business.

I have no idea which of the two will win, but you can make a good case for either. And that's exactly what I'll be trying to do over the next week.

(4) Laurier (def Meighen 76-24, def Chretien 75-25, def King 66-34)
(2) Macdonald (def Campbell 92-8, def Mulroney 73-27, def Trudeau 65-35)

Greatest Prime Minister - Final Round
Final Matchup
(2) John A. MacDonald
(4) Wilfrid Laurier

(view results)


  • Hmmm. I think these two people were also involved in something called "Canada's Century" and the "National Dream."

    I can't be sure though. All this mind-numbingly boring talk of provincial rights and government intervention has clouded my memory.

    Why make Canada's greatest leaders out to be little men?

    By Blogger Simon Pole, at 12:59 p.m.  

  • I don't consider either of these men to be the greatest PM, but my vote goes to MacDonald. The National Policy and his railway (which the Liberals opposed) really are what built Canada.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 1:52 p.m.  

  • I think it says too much about our country when a poll like this narrows down to leaders from so many years ago. These men had a vision of a great and free country which would be an example for the world. Lately Canada has become a victim society dominated by the courts, and a redistributionist grab bag in which Prime Ministers' great aspirations are new deals with other governments on how to carve up taxpayers, with an eye only on preventing further slippage.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:02 p.m.  

  • As usual, I'm going against what Cherniak says.

    Laurier was a visionary and a good man. Would that all of Canada's prime ministers were that good.

    Laurier was the best, bar none.

    Macdonald, great as his accomplishments were, was a vicious drunk, a racist, and a trade protectionist.

    There is only one choice for someone who believes in classical liberal principles.

    By Blogger The Tiger, at 7:01 p.m.  

  • CG,

    Although Laurier supported free trade in principle, he did not support it in Canada. He was in greater support of free trade than Macdonald, perhaps, but Laurier was a self-proclaimed moderate protectionist. The times required that Canada implement moderate tariffs to support the economy, and Laurier knew that. In a more established country, it is likely that Laurier would have been in full support of elimination of tariffs.

    His Liberal party wanted to reduce/remove the tariffs, but Laurier was more capable of predicting what the future required.

    Perhaps the Twentieth Century didn't belong to Canada as much as Wilfrid anticipated, but he sure tried. My vote goes to Laurier.

    By Blogger geoff, at 8:06 p.m.  

  • Re: My previous post

    I shouldn't say Laurier didn't support free trade in Canada, because he did. He simply knew that Canadian manufacturers wouldn't stand a chance against the established businesses of Britain and (even more so) the USA without tariffs in place.

    I did go on to say something like that later in the post, but the first line almost implies that he was against free trade (which he certainly was not).

    By Blogger geoff, at 8:10 p.m.  

  • Macdonald and Laurier, I think, are equally indispensible to Canada's evolution as a nation. Without Macdonald, Canada would have collapsed and fallen under the influence of the United States. Without Laurier, the Tories post-Macdonald would have continued to rule, and they weren't exactly what you could call promoters of a strong Canadian identity.

    In the end, I have to vote for Laurier, because of his liberalism and moderation, but its close, and future votes may go to Macdonald. I don't think either of these two men would be ashamed to lose to the other if they were alive today, as they were both truly great.*

    *(In my opinion, there are really only five Great Canadian prime ministers: Macdonald, Laurier, Borden, King and Trudeau.)

    By Blogger Ryan Ringer, at 8:36 p.m.  

  • geoff; You're right on the protectionism side. I think you could conclude that Laurier was a free trader relative to his time, but he would have never supporter complete free trade or something like NAFTA.

    The 1911 reciprocity deal was an absolute steal for Canada. It really only covered the goods we wanted it to cover and Laurier would have been foolish not to sign it.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 8:41 p.m.  

  • I think you are right on this one. The vote won't necessarily split on Lib/Con lines. There are a great many small 'c' conservatives who greatly respect Laurier...myself included. I wish our current leaders where as skilled as he was.

    By Blogger Greg Staples, at 10:31 p.m.  

  • With all of our current focus today on left and right politics, there is a lot of judgment of these two based upon our modern political ideologies. Would he be one of us now, today? Well, that's kind of an irrelvant question and not important in determining if he was the Greatest Prime Minister. Did he make Canada a greater nation or not? That, to me, seems more pertinent than whether I'd agree with his choices today. And both men brought forward great policies that advanced the nation.

    Forming a country is hard to compete against. But Macdonald didn't do it alone and he accomplished it with quite a bit of thuggery and trickery, in addition to inspired leadership and political skills. We tend now to forget the bipolar division of the time was not left-right, but independence vs. Empire. Macdonald was guided throughout his life by his loyalty to the British Empire and is famous for stating “A British subject I was born; a British subject I will die.” Laurier on the other hand was famous for "The twentieth century belongs to Canada" (not the Empire); he was instrumental in forging an independent, sovereign nation separate from England.

    So for that, all other things being equal (and they aren't), I have to say that Laurier was the Greatest Prime Minister.

    We can close the vote now. ;-)


    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 3:01 p.m.  

  • Re: Macdonald a racist

    For his time, he was actually quite progressive in many areas. He was an Ontario Protestant who was quite willing to tolerate Quebec Catholics - which put him at odds with the Orange Lodge. He even wanted to extend the vote to women and natives who owned property.

    By Blogger Ryan Ringer, at 6:57 p.m.  

  • "He even wanted to extend the vote to women and natives who owned property."

    Well that would certainly put MacDonald way to the left of most of the currrent CPC crew.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:58 a.m.  

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