Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.
From the Chronicle Herald for August 6, 2015 by Michael de Adder.
It’s August 11, 2015 and that means that the 42nd Canadian General Election is only a mere 69 days away. If that seems horribly long and tedious, just remember it could be worse. That being said, between now and October 19th, I intend to do a couple of posts related to our own electoral history. The first of which is a visual look back at past Prime Ministers in the act of campaigning along with some fast facts about these 22 individuals.
For the most part, the story of Canadian federal politics is one of two parties duking it out: the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. (The latter renamed themselves the Progressive Conservative Party in 1942 and dissolved in 2003 in order to create today’s modern Conservative Party). The rise of farmers’ unions in the 1920s led Canada to shift away from the two-party system, (the creation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1932 is notable as they became the New Democratic Party in 1961). To this day, Canada remains a multiparty parliamentary system. Please click on the images below to learn more about each leader.*
Sir Wilfrid Laurier speaking from the platform of a railway observation car during the federal election campaign of 1904. Laurier went on to beat Robert Borden’s Conservatives and was re-elected for a third time as Prime Minister.
Wilfred Laurier campaigning in the 1908 federal election. He was re-elected with a fourth majority, defeating Borden and his Conservatives for a second (and final) time.
Laurier campaigning in Berlin, Ontario in 1908.
Robert Borden was Prime Minister from 1911 to 1920 and oversaw a coalition “Unionist” government during WW1. Laurier vs Borden in the 1917 election was highly contentious. Conscription was the main issue of the election—Borden was in favor and won. (Note: Sources claim this is a photo of him campaigning, but the photo is undated so that may not be true).
William Lyon Mackenzie King at a Liberal Party rally during the federal election campaign of 1921. Apparently during the early 1920s, if you were campaigning in Canada you had to pretend you were actually in Britain. (King went on to win a minority government, defeating Conservatives under Prime Minister Arthur Meighen).
King speaking during the federal election campaign of 1926. he went on to defeat Meighen’s Conservatives and win a minority government.
Library and Archives Canada titled this as “Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent with children, probably during election campaign” so that’s good enough for me to include it here! Ah, politicians paying attention to youth. What a novel idea. St. Laurent was re-elected with a majority).
Lester B. Pearson campaigning during the 1958 election. His Liberal party lost to Diefenbaker’s Conservatives.
John and Olive Diefenbaker beside a campaign train during the 1958 general election.
John Diefenbaker smiles as he is carried on the shoulders of members of a large crowd in Quebec City bearing election posters with slogans such as “Victoire assure pour Diefenbaker Dufresne.” Diefenbaker was re-elected with the largest majority to date in Canadian history, defeating Pearson’s Liberals.
Lester B Pearson during the 1965 General Election. Pearson was re-elected with a second minority, defeating Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives.
Life was pretty good for Pierre Trudeau in 1968. His widespread popularity, accelerated by his federal campaign run, was dubbed “Trudeaumania” and it lasted for a few years. In these two pictures, Trudeau is running away from some overzealous fans.
“Pierre Trudeau sticks his tongue out to Canadian Press Photographer Peter Bregg during the 1972 election campaign. This photo was taken aboard the campaign plane where such antics were considered off the record. The photo was not made available until after the death of the prime minister.” – Huffington Post.
As you can see, campaigning from trains has been popular throughout Canadian history. Here is Pierre Trudeau addressing a crowd during his ‘Whistle Stop Tour of the Maritimes’ from the 1974 election campaign. He was reelected for a third time, defeating Stanfields’s Progressive Conservatives with a majority.
Joe Clark at a campaign rally during the 1979 General Election. He went on to defeat Trudeau’s Liberals, but his minority government fell a year later and Trudeau resumes being Prime Minister for another four years.
“Brian Mulroney speaks with staff on his bus during the 1984 federal election campaign.” (Ottawa Sun). He defeated the Liberals, led by Prime Minister John Turner, and won the most seats in Canadian history.
Three male party leaders shown here – (From left to right) Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney, Liberal John Turner, and NDP Ed Broadbent during the 1988 General Election. Mulroney was re-elected with a second majority.
Jean Chretien deals with fans and hecklers during the 1993 General Election. Chretien’s Liberals won and the previously governing Progressive Conservative party went from 156 seats to a measly 2 seats—the worst defeat of a governing party in the Western world.
Jean Chretien at a campaign rally in the 1993 General Election.
Opposition leader Stephen Harper questions Prime Minister Paul Martin during a 2004 election debate. Although Martin won this round, the Sponsorship Scandal (http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/groupaction/
) led to his downfall. His minority government was defeated in 2006 by current Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party.
Fast Facts about Canadian Prime Ministers:
- Average age? 56 years old.
- Want to be PM? Perhaps consider law school. The vast majority worked as lawyers prior to assuming office.
- Quebec is where most (7/22) have come from.
- There are two ways to become PM: election or party appointment. With the latter, since there are no term limits, resignations are quite common. Half of our PMs originally won the job via internal appointment. Generally they call an election shortly after assuming office to make things officially democratic.
- Canada’s only female PM, Kim Campbell, was not elected (she replaced Brian Mulroney) and lost her job 4 months in. Jean Chretien’s Liberals easily defeated the PC Party as they were about as popular as getting a root canal at the time. (They went from 154 to 2 seats in the House of Commons).
- William Lyon Mackenzie King is our longest serving PM, (21 years, 154 days, non-consecutively).
- Campbell isn’t the shortest serving; John Turner (79 days) and Sir Charles Tupper (68 days) rank below her.
- Stephen Harper is currently our 6th longest serving PM (9+ years).
- Although Tupper was the oldest to be elected (74 years), he was not our oldest PM. That title goes to our first, Sir John A. Macdonald, who died in office at the age of 76 years after holding the job (non-consecutively) for over 19 years.
* Note: Regrettably, I was unable to find pictures of Sir John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie campaigning. If anyone has any, please feel free to share them in the comments!
“Prime Ministers of Canada Biographical Information,” Library of Parliament. Accessed from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/parlinfo/compilations/federalgovernment/primeministers/Biographical.aspx
Schlee, Gary. Canadian Prime Ministers. Accessed from: https://canadianprimeministers.wordpress.com/
Pictures: Getty Images, Huffington Post Canada, Library and Archives Canada, LIFE Magazine.