Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Canada's Most Consequential Prime Ministers

Now that Stephen Harper has surpassed most of history's inconsequential prime ministers and solidified his hold on minority power (one poll had Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition at 22%, a new all-time low for the once mighty Liberals) and has apparently entered majority government territory, we should begin to contemplate what kind of leader he will be, and who he will stack up against.

I think we non-experts can quite easily rate the political success of statesmen if we understand that a leader's tenure first falls under one of the three Ts: transformational, transactional or transitional. A transformative leader makes a substantive impact on the national progress (or regress) of his country. A transactional leader is a caretaker of sorts, one who may know how to win power, but not what to do with it. Such a leader is more famous for his personality and style, than for any meaningful accomplishment while in office. And transitional leaders have the briefest of tenures (under 2 years), and are either unusually unlucky or found wanting in some regard. Mutually inconsequential, this group can only be differentiated and ranked according to the number of days, weeks or months in power. That out of the way then, here in my opinion, for better or for worse, are the most consequential prime ministers in Canada's confederal history:

Transformational Prime Ministers (measured by substance)
1. Sir John A. MacDonald, Con (Confederation)
2. William Lyon McKenzie-King, Lib (WW2 - Canada's F.D.R.)
3. Sir Wilfred Laurier, Lib (Development & Expansion)
4. Sir Robert Borden, Con (Great War)
5. Brian Mulroney, Con (Free Trade, Foreign Affairs)
6. Pierre Trudeau, Lib (Patriation of Constitution & Charter)
7. Lester Pearson, Lib (Flag, Healthcare, Peacekeeping)

Transactional Prime Ministers (measured by style)
8. John Diefenbaker, Con (Traditionalist/Populist)
9. Louis St. Laurent, Lib (Sound/Sensible/Dutiful)
10. Jean Chretien, Lib (Folksy/Low Expectations)
11. Alexander McKenzie, Lib (Honest/Unimaginative)
12. Richard Bennett, Con (Impersonal/Aloof)
13. Arthur Meighen, Con (Eloquent/Principled)
14. Sir John Thompson, Con (Loyal)

Transitional Prime Ministers (measured by spell)
15. Paul Martin, Lib (26 months)
16. John Abbott, Con (17 months)
17. Sir MacKenzie Bowell, Con (16 months)
18. Joe Clark, Con (8 months, 26 days)
19. Kim Campbell, Con (4 months, 12 days)
20. John Turner, Lib (79 days)
21. Sir Charles Tupper, Con (69 days)

Full disclosure: I’m a diehard Tory and a staunch traditionalist, so you are entitled to read into any bias that you believe might have affected my choice of ranking. Note though that I did struggle on a number of fronts. For example, it is debatable whether Trudeau should rank higher or lower than Mulroney. They both had a major impact - perhaps it would have been fairer to place Trudeau higher, particularly on the unity front. But Mulroney was much stronger on the economy and foreign affairs. Similarly, Laurier and King. Personally, I much prefer Arthur Meighen over King, but all the eloquence in the world couldn’t win Meighen lasting power. Some may feel Chretien should rank higher, given his three consecutive majorities. But what did he do, other than balance the books and almost lose the country in the 1995 referendum? It was especially painful to rank Pearson ahead of Diefenbaker, because Pearson more than anyone vandalized our heritage and institutions, whereas the Chief upheld the greatest respect. However, Pearson gave Canada its modern character, and reality requires that we recognize the impact this had, however insidious.

All that being said, watch for Harper over the next dozen or so years to eventually move into the number 2 spot. Remember, you heard it here first.

Fun fact: Sir John Thompson, while PM of Canada, died in Windsor Castle after receiving a knighthood from Queen Victoria. He was 49.


Beaverbrook said...

It's interesting to note that while most of confederation has been under Liberal ministries (basically 100 of the 140 years), most of the prime ministers have been Conservative (13 out of 22).

Anonymous said...

Would you be so kind as to supply your definition of Toryism again? I think you shared it with me once before, but I can't recall the specifics.


Beaverbrook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beaverbrook said...

Something wrong with comment links. Here goes again:

Burton, the Radical Tory Manifesto (right sidebar under "Weeping Cavalier") tells it all. Today's Conservatives are not necessarily loyalists, but a Tory is. A Tory in the truest sense would be considered a radical today. He believes in the prerogatives of the Crown and the legitimacy of royal powers, he supports the natural family and the maintenance of natural heirarchies over social levelling, he revels in the hope of English parliamentary debate, he's an Anglophile, he might even still support the Anglican Church. Die hard is actually too strong of a term and makes me sound like a Jacobite, but I probably have a greater affinity for Toryism than most Conservatives.

Scott said...

Yes, most conservatives tend to be overly Whiggish or classically liberal - no great problem, compared with being a Grit, or Labourite, etc, but, that said, not exactly harmless either.

Eric said...

What exactly did Laurier do that was so great, other than hang around a long time? I often hear a lot of vague terms thrown around in reference to his rule, but very few concrete examples.

Also, Pearson may have played a big role in Peacekeeping, but he did so before he was PM, not during his rather short four-year tenure. Healthcare was something he opposed, but only approved because of NDP pressure. And Pearson healthcare is virtually unrecognizable from anything we use today.

Both very overrated Liberals in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Harper is indeed the great hope for those of us in the UK, the US, or Australia, who feared that Canada was going the way of NZ and starting to see itself as a kind of NGO.

But will someone please urge him to get in touch with Blair and Howard and suggest pooling our Iraqi/Afghani contingents into some kind of Commonwealth Force, as in Korea, so that we can actually pull our weight?

Britain was never and is not, and Canada & Australia are not and will never be, great countries in their own right. It is only when we work together that we have been or can be a great people. Perhaps Mr Harper is the chap to nudge us in that direction.


Beaverbrook said...

Bang on, Cato. It's called leverage, and the way to leverage our power is to pool it, instead of relegating ourselves as junior partners all the time.

Laurier did much of the nation-building, Eric. He saw the creation of Alberta and Sakatchewan, created the Royal Canadian Navy, seny a Canadian contingent to the Boer the longest consecutive serving PM in Canadian history (4 majorities), he had a tremendous impact and was a great visionary.