Friday, September 09, 2005

King of the World

While Trudeau and Macdonald are in a dogfight, the tournament's top seed seems certain of being bounced by Wilfrid Laurier. After consulting with my astrologer, I've decided to help King out and therefore present, "A Case for King" (even though, I myself would vote for Laurier).

A Case for King

Not only was he Canada's longest serving PM, but he is the longest serving PM in commonwealth history. Yeah, longevity doesn't equal greatness, but obviously Canadians at the time thought he was doing a good job when they kept re-electing him.

King was, without a doubt, the greatest politician in Canada's history. He made minced meat of Arthur Meighen during the King/Byng affair and deked left or right, depending on who he perceived to be the larger threat of ending his God given right to rule. He inherited a party decimated during WW1 but is one of the few PMs to see his successor win a majority.

He managed the country through World War 2 and was a valuable player in the allied war effort. He accomplished what Borden failed to do, by keeping the country united through a very divisive time, an event that has spawned the most often used essay question in freshman university history classes across Canada: "Compare and contrast the two conscription crises". He also deserves some credit for laying the groundwork for Canada's post war economic boom by recruiting a plethora of talented Canadians to his Cabinet and to the civil service.

But are there any legacy items? After X years, he must surely have accomplished something besides re-election, right? Here's a partial list:
-Relief programs during the depression and unemployment insurance
-CBC, the National Film Board, and Trans-Canada Airlines
-Old Age Pensions
-Child Allowances (probably the first major step towards the welfare state)

It may not be as earth shaking a resume as some of the other PMs have but King was Prime Minister after the country had been sewn together and before the era of big government. Quick Quiz: Name 5 accomplishments of Wilfrid Laurier. Or Robert Borden. Or RB Bennett. One wonders how bold Pierre Trudeau or Lester Pearson would have been as Canadian Prime Minister circa 1928...or 1942...or 1950...

King also advanced Canadian autonomy dramatically. Maybe not as much as Macdonald or Trudeau, but at least as much as Pearson or Borden. At the Balfour conference he argued for, and received, equal status of all the Commonwealth countries. In 1931 he signed the Statute of Westminster which made the Supreme Court of Canada the final court of appeal. This was likely a larger step towards Canadian independence than the Maple Leaf flag since it led to a concrete, rather than a symbolic, independence.

And I hate to go negative against a politician everyone admires, but Laurier's record is based on dignified leadership and sunny compromises (two things King delivered as well). Are there any real accomplishments to his name? Whenever he tackled a big issue like free trade or conscription, he lost. His success is based on saying one thing in Quebec and a different thing in Ontario. Plus, he was one of the most decentralizing PMs in Canada's history.

Yes, in his personal life King wasn't a model citizen. But John A was a drunk and PET was an arrogant prick. If his dead dog gave him good advice on running the country, then he shouldn't be penalized for it. He gave this country 22 years of Peace, Order and Good Government - that must be worth something.


  • Laurier settled the West, that is why he is the greatest PM. Laurier is also the father of the multicultural nation -- he oversaw massive immigration from countries other than Britain for the first time.

    It must also be remembered that Laurier was PM in a jingoistic time period when "race" and "empire" were the ideas that drove nations. Laurier, with his diplomacy, was able to steer Canada through these currents safely -- a place where MacDonald, and later Borden, would drop the ball.

    Also, I can't be certain, but I don't think Laurier would have kept Jewish refugees out of Canada like King did during WWII.

    (Footnote: if memory serves, Bennett created the CBC or CBC radio at least).

    By Blogger Simon Pole, at 11:17 p.m.  

  • Are you sure it was King who signed the Westminster Supreme Court decision? It was in 1931, and King was defeated in the 1930 election by R. B. Bennett.

    By Blogger Ryan Ringer, at 12:49 a.m.  

  • Decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada could still be appealed to the Privy Council in civil matters until 1949 and in criminal cases until 1933.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:38 p.m.  

  • "King also advanced Canadian autonomy dramatically. Maybe not as much as Macdonald or Trudeau, but at least as much as Pearson or Borden."

    Wrong, wrong, wrong! From the Chanak Crisis, to the 1926 Imperial Conference (resulted in the Balfour Declaration that formed the basis of the Statute of Westminster), to his two-faced lines of "we will support Britain" and "we will go if WE chose" leading up to WWII, King is the one man who could claim responsibility for making Canada an independant country. Macdonald created a colony and Trudeau cemented something that was already an international fact. They were both nation builders, but they were not about giving Canada an independant voice in world affairs. Unlike Trudeau, though, King built the nation by getting people to agree with each other (entering WWII and the Conscription Crisis are the best examples).

    For anybody who doesn't understand why historians like King, read Michael Bliss' chapter on him in "Right Honourable Men".

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 4:49 p.m.  

  • I thought a Conservative created the CBC, not King.

    By Blogger Michael Fox, at 11:42 a.m.  

  • I think Bennett gave us CBC radio and King's responsible for the move to TV and the early support they got.

    Blue Grit - you might be right on the Westminster thing. But as Jason says, King did a lot for Canadian independence.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:42 p.m.  

  • Laurier:

    1. Settled the West.
    2. Managed the French/English currents ably (Manitoba schools, Boer War).
    3. Founded the Royal Canadian Navy.
    4. Set high standards for the next century (20th c. will be Canada's).

    Fifth one... that's tough... Honestly, I think the four above are enough.

    By Blogger The Tiger, at 7:43 a.m.  

  • Now that's a post I can relate to. You really got me thinking, I enjoy reading this blog.

    I don't know how others feel, but I'm definitely looking into immigration to Canada as an option. The good ól US of A aint what it used to be.

    By Blogger Johnny Canuck, at 3:36 p.m.  

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  • I was just researchong articles on Canadian autonomy and fell on your site. I am trying to find which "Prime Minister strenghtened commercial links with Great Britain and at the same time, reinforced canadian autonomy". I can't figure out if it was Laurier, Borden or MacKenzie King. I read about Laurier giving preferential tariff to Great Britain and also trying to gain more autonomy for Canada. And King certainly tried to gain autonomy but I don't find anything about strenghtening commercial links. Have any ideas? I would appreciate. It's for a quiz.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 9:27 p.m.  

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