Tag Archives: prime minister

Canadian PM Wilfrid Laurier Quotes

  • Canada has been modest in its history, although its history, in my estimation, is only commencing. It is commencing in this century. The nineteenth century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that Canada will fill the twentieth century. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Confederation is a compact, made originally by four provinces but adhered to by all the nine provinces who have entered it, and I submit to the judgment of this house and to the best consideration of its members, that this compact should not be lightly altered. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • I claim for Canada this, that in future Canada shall be at liberty to act or not act, to interfere or not interfere, to do just as she pleases, and that she shall reserve to herself the right to judge whether or not there is cause for her to act. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Let them look to the past, but let them also look to the future; let them look to the land of their ancestors, but let them look also to the land of their children. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • A colony, yet a nation – words never before in the history of the world associated together. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • We are here a nation, composed of the most heterogeneous elements–Protestants and Catholics, English, French, German, Irish, Scotch, every one, let it be remembered, with his traditions, with his prejudices. In each of these conflicting antagonistic elements, however, there is a common spot of patriotism, and the only true policy is that which reaches that common patriotism and makes it vibrate in all toward common ends and common aspirations. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Fraternity without absorption, union without fusion. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • For us, sons of France, political sentiment is a passion; while, for the Englishmen, politics are a question of business. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Two races share today the soil of Canada. These people had not always been friends. But I hasten to say it. There is no longer any family here but the human family. It matters not the language people speak, or the altars at which they kneel. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Why, so soon as French Canadians, who are in a minority in this House and in the country, were to organise as a political party, they would compel the majority to organise as a political party, and the result must be disastrous to themselves. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • If I were not French I would choose to be – Scotch. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • He is ready, if the occasion presents itself, to throw the whole English population in the St. Lawrence. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • I am quite prepared, if we can do it without any disrespect to the Crown of England, to bring our titles to the marketplace and make a bonfire of them. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • It would be simply suicidal to French Canadians to form a party by themselves. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Quebec does not have Opinions, but only sentiments. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • This country must be governed, and can be governed, simply on questions of policy and administration and the French Canadians who have had any part in this movement have never had any other intention but to organise upon those party distinctions and upon no other. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • The Divinity could be invoked as well in the English language as in the French. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • I am a subject of the British Crown, but whenever I have to choose between the interests of England and Canada it is manifest to me that the interests of my country are identical with those of the United States of America. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • I am not here to parade my religious sentiments, but I declare I have too much respect for the faith in which I was born to ever use it as the basis of a political organization. – Wilfrid Laurier
  • Whether splendidly isolated or dangerously isolated, I will not now debate; but for my part, I think splendidly isolated, because the isolation of England comes from her superiority. – Wilfrid Laurier  


Quotes from Canada’s earliest PMs


Here are ten quotes from five of our country’s earliest Prime Ministers:  Alexander Mackenzie (1873-1878), Sir John Abbott (1891-1892), Sir John Thompson (1892-1894), Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1894-1896), and Sir Charles Tupper (1896).  

  • I have always held those political opinions which point to the universal brotherhood of man, no matter in what rank of life he may have taken his origin. – Alexander Mackenzie
  • But I refer to it now merely to say this: that the Reformers of this country will remember — those who were not alive at that time by reading, and those who were alive by having been in the midst of these events — with gratitude that it was the great leaders of the Reform party who first gave perfect civil and religious rights to the people of Canada. – Alexander Mackenzie
  • We shall all respect the principles of each other and do nothing that would be regarded as an act of oppression to any portion of the people. – Alexander Mackenzie
  • I hate politics and what are considered their appropriate measures. I hate notoriety, public meetings, public speeches, caucuses and everything that I know of which is apparently the necessary incident of politics—except doing public work to the best of my ability. – Sir John Abbott
  • I cannot promise that my services shall be of great account, or that I shall render great service to my country. I can promise that my whole strength of mind and talent, whatever it is, shall be devoted to its interests. – Sir John Abbott
  • We look forward to it as one of the aims which are to be accomplished in the public life of Canada, because the Conservative party believes that the influence of women in the politics of the country is always for good. I think, therefore, that there is a probability of the franchise being extended to the women on the same property qualifications as men. –  [on women’s suffrage] Sir John Thompson
  • I hope the time is fast approaching in Canada when we shall never hear the question raised of a man’s birth, or the creed that he professes. We live in a country and under a constitution in which every man has a right to act as his judgment dictates, or as his education leads him, upon matters of this very important character. – Sir Mackenzie Bowell
  • I have lived long enough to come to the conclusion, that if a man believes in one particular principle, or one particular creed and thinks it is the best, it is not for me to interfere with his conscience, nor do I think any one else should interfere with his conscience, or with the course which he may think proper to pursue, so long as he does not attempt to interfere with others. – Sir Mackenzie Bowell
  • The human mind naturally adapts itself to the position it occupies. The most gigantic intellect may be dwarfed by being cabin’d, cribbed and confined. It requires a great country and great circumstances to develop great men. – Sir Charles Tupper
  • Each little Province is a little nation by itself. – Sir Charles Tupper


Canada’s Prime Ministers on Politics

Sir John A. Macdonald is Canada’s first Prime Minister

and a grand and colourful character whose accomplishments

helped forged a nation from sea to sea.


Over the course of the next two months, we will focus on providing quotes from our country’s Prime Ministers.

We begin with the quotes and quips of perhaps our greatest leader, Sir John A.:

  • Politics is a game requiring great coolness.
  • Anybody may support me when I am right. What I want is someone that will support me when I am wrong.
  • An election is like a horse-race, in that you can tell more about it the next day. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • There were, unfortunately, no great principles on which parties were divided – politics became a mere struggle for office. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • If you would know the depth of meanness of human nature, you have got to be a Prime Minister running a general election. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • Politics is a game requiring great coolness and an utter abnegation of prejudice and personal feeling. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • Give me better wood and I will make you a better cabinet. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • The time has come, I think, when we must choose men for their qualifications rather than for their locality. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • We are all mere petty provincial politicians at present; perhaps by and by some of us will rise to the level of national statesmen. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • The Government are merely trustees for the public. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • I don’t care for office for the sake of money, but for the sake of power, and for the safe of carrying out my own views of what is best for the country. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • Even if all the territory Mr. Mowat asks for were awarded to Ontario, there is not one stick of timber, one acre of land, or one lump of lead, iron or gold that does not belong to the Dominion, or to the people who purchased from the Dominion Government. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • Had I but consented to take the popular side in Upper Canada, I could have ridden the Protestant horse much better than George Brown, and could have had an overwhelming majority. But I willingly sacrificed my own popularity for the good of the country, and did equal justice to all men. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • He shall hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour. [referring to Louis Riel] – Sir John A Macdonald
  • I have no accord with the desire expressed in some quarters that by any mode whatever there should be an attempt made to oppress the one language or to render it inferior to the other – I believe that would be impossible if it were tried, and it would be foolish and wicked if it were possible. – Sir John A. Macdonald
  • I would be quite willing, personally, to leave that whole country a wilderness for the next half-century but I fear if Englishmen do not go there, Yankees will. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • But if it should happen that we should be absorbed in the United States, the name of Canada would be literally forgotten; we should have the State of Ontario, the State of Quebec, the State of Nova Scotia and State of New Brunswick. Every one of the provinces would be a state, but where is the grand, the glorious name of Canada? All I can say is that not with me, or not by the action of my friends, or not by the action of the people of Canada, will such a disaster come upon us. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • If Canada is to remain a country separate from the United States it is of great importance to her that they (the United States) should not get behind us by right or by force, and intercept the route to the Pacific. But in any other point of view, it seems to me that the country is of no present value to Canada. We have unoccupied land enough to absorb immigration for many years, and the opening up of the Saskatchewan would do to Canada what the Prairie lands of Illinois are doing now – drain away our youth and our strength. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • The word ‘protection’ itself must be taboo, but we can ring the changes on National Policy, paying the U.S. in their own coin. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • There is no maxim which experience teaches more clearly than this, that you must yield to the times. Resistance may be protracted until it produces revolution. Resistance was protracted in this country until it produced rebellion. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • When fortune empties her chamber pot on your head, smile and say, ‘We are going to have a summer shower.’ – Sir John A Macdonald
  • I am afraid I shall have to give you the answer of the Irish servant who got into a place where the food was not as it should be – ‘there’s too much to swallow and too little to eat’. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • A compliment is the statement of an agreeable truth; flattery is the statement of an agreeable untruth. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • Never write a letter if you can help it, and never destroy one. – Sir John A Macdonald
  • A sweet smile from the teeth outwards. [referring to John Abbott] – Sir John A Macdonald
  • When a man has done me an evil turn once, I don’t like to give him the opportunity to do so twice. – Sir John A Macdonald
  •  [Macdonald was well known for his wit and also for his alcoholism. He is known to have been drunk for many of his debates in parliament. Here is a story from an election debate in which Macdonald was so drunk he began vomiting while on stage.]  His opponent quickly pointed this out and said: “Is this the man you want running your country? A drunk!” Collecting himself, Macdonald replied “I get sick … not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.” – Sir John A Macdonald


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Happy Birthday Sir John A. Macdonald!


“If I had influence over the minds of the people of Canada, any power over their intellect, I would leave them this legacy: ‘Whatever you do, adhere to the Union. We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.”

Happy Birthday Sir John A.! We certainly miss your national vision and your leadership today. For more, click here to see the By George archived articles on this great man.



If you were Prime Minister…

I asked my friend’s little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be Prime Minister of Canada some day.

Both of her parents, NDP supporters, were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were Prime Minister what would be the first thing you would do?”

She replied, “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed, and said, “Welcome to the NDP Party!”

“Wow…what a worthy goal!” I told her. I continued, “But you don’t have to wait until you’re Prime Minister to do that. You can come over to my house, mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I’ll pay you $50. Then I’ll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out. You can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.”

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?”

I smiled and said, “Welcome to the Conservative Party.”

Her parents still aren’t speaking to me.


If you were Prime Minister…

       I asked my friend’s little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be Prime Minister of Canada some day. 

       Both of her parents, NDP supporters, were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were Prime Minister what would be the first thing you would do?”

       She replied, “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.”  Her parents beamed, and said, “Welcome to the NDP Party!”

       “Wow…what a worthy goal!” I told her. I continued, “But you don’t have to wait until you’re Prime Minister to do that. You can come over to my house, mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I’ll pay you $50. Then I’ll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out. You can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.”

       She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?”

       I smiled and said, “Welcome to the Conservative Party.”

       Her parents still aren’t speaking to me.


(ed. – This joke first appeared in By George Journal in Fall 2009 and it also can be found in our e-book Keep ‘Em Laughing – which you can learn more about in this post – Guffaws about politics and campaigning.)


PMs and their Wingmen

Through the ages, our Canadian Prime Ministers have had a few elected bench mates who loyally served them as their trusted wingmen – their closest advisors, often the Cabinet’s Mr. Fix-It or a dependable Party workhorse. Often, we can look back at the PM’s tenure and see the successes (or failures) of their governments as reflective in how effective their wingmen were in advising on crisis situations and managing the caucus.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had a series of wingmen through his time as Leader of the Conservative Party. At the beginning there were old Reform partners, like Vic Toews, Jason Kenny and Jim Prentice, who provided a great deal of input. Throughout his stint at 24 Sussex Drive, Mr. Harper has called upon an Ontario triumvirate of Mike Harris ministers — Jim Flaherty, John Baird and Tony Clement.

John BairdOf all these men mentioned, perhaps the person with the greatest personal suasion was John Baird – close friend of the family, (wing)man-about-Ottawa and one of Mr. Harper’s earliest political operators east of the Prairies.  For this reason, Baird’s resignation is a huge loss for the Prime Minister – and an untimely exit for a Party rallying their troops for the next election battle. Baird’s departure, along with the resignation of Jim Flaherty a month before his death last year, has resulted in two of Harper’s most powerful ministers vacating his inner circle in less than a year.

So, the Harper Government of Fall 2015 will look very different from its image of not 12 months ago. Gone are the leading support cast that so defined the Harper Government:

Jim “Smiling” Flaherty and John “Attack Dog” Baird

There is a huge vacuum that will need to be filled in the coming months…

Beside every PM is…

This turn of events today, got By George reflecting on past Prime Ministers and their able wingmen. In the last 40 years, how can we forget these Trojan MPs who worked so hard for their Leader?

PM Pierre Trudeau’s operatives: Allan MacEachen, Daniel MacDonald and Francis Fox, and there was P.E.T.’s “White Knight of Bay Street”, his Finance Minister John Turner

PM Brian Mulroney’s main dancing partners: Michael Wilson, westerners Don Mazankowski and Harvey Andre, and the unforgettably humourous John Crosbie.

PM Jean Chretien’s henchmen: PM-in-waiting Paul Martin, John Manley, “Rat Pack” members Sheila Copps and Brian Tobin, and then there was the Leader’s ultimate Parliamentary caretaker: Herb Gray.

For politicos, the mention of each of these Cabinet Ministers conjures up fiery debates and events that have defined their Prime Minister and his time in office.

As John Baird departs the Hill, one must wonder who can fill the role as both mirror and foil for Stephen Harper now? Who will be his new wingman?


PHOTO CREDIT: By DFATD (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Sir John A. Day!

John_A_MacdonaldThis January 11, 2015 marks a special anniversary for our country: the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Since 2002, this day is set aside for Canadians to remember their first Prime Minister, one of the Fathers of Confederation. So it is fitting to that we take this occasion to highlight a few interesting facts and celebrate the man.

Through the years, By George has lamented the ignored legacy of Sir John A in many of our posts (and we have tagged “John A. Macdonald“). We have compiled lists of his quotes and a few years back featured our 10 favourite quotes.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A., Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote a stirring piece that commemorates our first PM. PM Harper writes:

Others had ruminated about Confederation but only he saw how to get it done — how to make the case for unity, how to rally common hopes and fears, how to overcome different perspectives and interests.

But Macdonald did more than achieve it; he made it work…. Of the greatest importance for all of us, perhaps, was that Macdonald appropriated from the British constitution its conception of freedom, of “ordered liberty,” of the balancing of popular rule and minority rights, of (in the terms of the era) equality before the law and governments responsible through the legislature to the voters.

Richard Gwyn, the celebrated biographer of John Macdonald wrote in the Toronto Star a column trumpeting: “Sir John A. Macdonald, the greatest PM of all”

Gwyn makes the point that “had there been no Macdonald, there would be no Canada for anyone to be a citizen of.”

Under Macdonald’s leadership as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891), the country was extended from sea to sea, giving — at last — it a certain geographical coherence. Macdonald also led Canada to achieve the National Dream, a railway the entire way from eastern Canada to the West Coast. The railway, together with Macdonald’s policy of high tariffs to protect Canadian companies from their far more efficient American rivals, made it possible for Canadians to do business with and get to know each other despite all their differences (French vs. English, Catholic vs. Protestant, Aboriginal vs. European) and the immense distances between them.

By other initiatives, Macdonald fashioned a distinctive Canadian way of getting things done that has stayed with us ever since.

In a National Post article noting the significance of this day, Bob Plamondon, respected political observer and author, makes the perceptive comment:
Macdonald’s greatest gift to us, then as now, was to show us how we can be stronger as a nation when we celebrate and respect our diversity.

All of this is by way of hanging our collective heads with the discouraging fact that Canadians really do not know enough about Macdonald and his legacy. On Canada.com, there is a telling release this week: Poll conducted ahead of the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth

One in four Canadians can’t identify Sir John A. Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada, according to a new poll commissioned by Historica Canada.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, shows Canadians don’t know their history as well as Historica would hope. Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians don’t know the year of confederation, and 44 per cent don’t know Canada turns 150 years old in 2017.

So, today, take a moment and share a story or two about our first Prime Minister. Talk about him. Toast his legacy. Canada is very much a living testament to Sir John A. Macdonald’s vision and efforts. It is so important that more Canadians appreciate this fact.

Quiz: Canadian Prime Ministers

To coincide with celebrating the 200th birthday of our country’s first Prime Minister Sir John. A Macdonald, Historica Canada* released a (rather tough) quiz to test Canadians’ knowledge of their prime ministers. Test yourself…


  1. Which Prime Minister served for the shortest amount of time, just 69 days?
  2. In 1951, which Prime Minister became the first to live at 24 Sussex Drive?
  3. Who is the only Prime Minister since 1951 not to live at 24 Sussex Drive?
  4. Who was the first Prime Minister born in Canada?
  5. While vacationing in Barbados, which future Prime Minister saw former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker struggling in the ocean and pulled him to shore?
  6. Which Prime Minister refused the offer of knighthood three times, making him the only one of the first eight Prime Ministers not to be knighted?
  7. In the 1926 federal election, what future Prime Minister lost the Prince Albert seat to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King?
  8. Which Prime Minister died of a heart attack at Britain’s Windsor Castle shortly after meeting with Queen Victoria?
  9. The father of which Prime Minister served as a cabinet minister in four different Liberal governments?
  10. Which Prime Minister initially favoured a flag design with three maple leafs and blue bars instead of red?
  11. Which Prime Minister introduced income tax to Canada, meant to be a temporary measure?
  12. Who was the youngest person to become Canadian Prime Minister at age 39?
  13. Which Prime Minister presided over the creation of Canada’s Navy, a move that contributed to his defeat in the next election?
  14. Which Prime Minister competed on the Reach for the Top television quiz show with his Toronto high school?
  15. Who was the only Prime Minister born in New Brunswick (although he represented an Alberta riding)?
  16. Which Prime Minister at one point owned the Belleville Intelligencer, a newspaper that opened in 1834 and still operates today?
  17. Which future Prime Minister acted as a student advisor to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker?
  18. Who was the first Prime Minister born after Confederation?
  19. Who was Prime Minister when Canada was appointed its first woman governor-general, Jeanne Sauvé?
  20. “The Farm,” the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons, was owned by which former Prime Minister (and is where that Prime Minister died)?
  21. Which Prime Minister shares a birthday with Sir John A. on January 11?

To see the answers to these questions, scroll to the bottom of the Canada.com post on the history of Canada’s Prime Ministers, where this list of questions was first seen.

*Historica Canada is the largest independent organization devoted to enhancing awareness of Canadian history and citizenship. Visit www.HistoricaCanada.ca


30 years ago today!!


30-years ago today, the Progressive Conservatives swept across Canada in a remarkable election that ushered in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

This government did a lot of small things wrong, and Mr. Mulroney wasn’t the most popular of Prime Ministers. However, he and his government got a few big things right: Canada – US Free Trade leading to a North American agreement, GST helping to eliminate deficit spending, an enviable environmental record, leading the call for the end to apartheid and projecting Canada favourably on the world stage.

Happy Anniversary Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservatives of 1984!

The (factual) record of Pierre Trudeau

The Truth about Trudeau by Bob Plamondon is one of those books that is destined to redefine the manner Canadian historians and writers pen biographical accounts. This is a book that makes an unchallengeable case on the record of a Prime Minister, wholly contrary to the prevalent narrative of our country’s liberal, chattering-class. Bob Plamondon’s mastery over government statistics and economic facts, his skills accumulating and researching government policies and outcomes of the period, and his laser-like abilities to parse a truth from the many legendary tales of the man – all of this makes his study of the Trudeau years in power a must read.

Here are some of the highlights (lowlights?) of Pierre Trudeau’s tenure in office as recorded in The Truth about Trudeau.  

  • The accumulated deficit rose tenfold, from $19.4 billion to $194.4 billion, or from 25.5 percent of GDP to 43.2 percent. Total annual federal spending was $12.9 billion in 1968 and $109.2 billion in 1984, leaping from 17 percent of GDP to 24.2 percent. This fueled inflation in Canada, to an average of 15 percent while Trudeau was in office – the worst inflation rate among developed nations.
  • The Trudeau Government purposefully undermined our traditional alliances with Britain and the U.S.; pointlessly annoyed our major trading partners; and, of his own independent accord, Trudeau befriended communist dictators and regimes that were devoid of Canadian interests. His cavalier approach to foreign affairs resulted in multiple failed Canadian initiatives on the world stage: his North-South, Third Option, and world peace initiatives all failed.
  • Trudeau’s misleading Quebecers and repatriating the constitution without Quebec’s consent created a difficult and lasting rift between Quebec and TROC. It also sowed the seeds of mistrust that born PQs’ rise to power and the creation of Bloc Quebecois.  
  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was not the jewel in the crown of a repatriated constitution, but rather a tool that has been used to Americanize our constitutional structure by making our culture more litigious and enabling judicial activism.   
  • And much more is recounted: the gutting of the military, effectively leaving the country defenseless; the implementation of a National Energy Program that was disastrous for western Canada’s economy and a lasting source of resentment; and, the social-minded, state-intervention approach to Canadian business that challenged free enterprise and destroyed private sector confidence – leading to greater inflation and unemployment rates of 11.2 percent in 1984 (it was 4.5 percent in 1968).

Click through Bob Plamondon’s website to know more about the author and click to Amazon where you can order a copy of this must-read!

P.E.T.: We’re going to build socialism here.


“We’re going to build socialism here. For a country with such a small population there is no alternative.”


“The state has an active role to play in ensuring that there is equilibrium between the constituent parts of the economy, the consumers and the producers.”


“Since neither individuals themselves, nor the economic system itself, can remedy the fluctuations [in the business cycle], we’re forced – whether we like it or not – to turn to the State. How can it guarantee that distributed purchasing power will transform itself completely into effective demand for produced goods? The most obvious solution would be to redistribute income equally among social classes, so that the poor have more to spend, and the rich have less to save.”


When asked in 1969 by some students what kind of society he would like to make in Canada – socialist or capitalist, Trudeau replied: “Labour Party socialist – or Cuban socialism or Chinese socialism – socialism from each according to his means.” *


These quotes of Pierre Trudeau’s not only provide the lens to understand the former Prime Minister’s design for our country and his government’s modus operandi; but they also illuminate the core resentments that conservative-minded Canadians harbour for the misguided government actions Pierre Trudeau, solely, is responsible for.


(ed. – This quote is e sourced in a “Tribute to Trudeau” written by George Irbe – click here.)



Question: Was Pierre Trudeau a disaster?

A few years ago, an Ottawa public policy think tank – The Macdonald-Laurier Institute hosted a lively debate on the resolution: Pierre Trudeau was Canada’s most disastrous Prime Minister. The Institute brought David Frum to speak to the affirmative and Lawrence Martin to speak against the resolution. Decades after his departure from Parliament Hill, the question of Pierre Trudeau’s impact on our country still is a topic of heated discussion. Here are abbreviated highlights from the opening statements of both arguments regarding P.E.T.’s record in office.

David Frum: Yes, Trudeau was a disaster.

  • It has taken nearly 30 years to recover after Pierre Trudeau nearly bankrupted and split up the country.  Three subsequent important prime ministers — Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien  and Stephen Harper — invested their energies cleaning up the wreckage left by  Pierre Trudeau.
  • Between 1969 and 1979 — through two majority governments and one  minority — Trudeau tripled federal spending. In 1981-’82, Canada plunged into recession, the worst since the Second World  War. Trudeau’s already big deficits exploded to a point that Canada’s lenders  worried about default. Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool.
  • He believed in a state-led economy, and  the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign  Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was  succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by  the single worst economic decision of Canada’s 20th century: the National Energy  Program.
  • To win the 1980 referendum, Trudeau promised Quebec constitutional changes to  satisfy Quebec nationalism. Instead, he delivered a package of constitutional  changes that tilted in exactly the opposite direction. The government of Quebec  refused to ratify the new constitutional arrangement, opening a renewed  opportunity to separatists and bequeathing a nightmare political problem to  Trudeau’s successors.

Lawrence Martin: No, Trudeau was not a disaster.

  • Pierre Trudeau is beloved because he liberated Canada from old men, old thinking, narrow  traditions and colonial caution. To understand Trudeau’s impact we need first recall the type of Canadian  leaders who came before him. All these [past] leaders thought along conventional lines. Then came this phenom  with a roman cut, sandals and an air of Jesus Christ. Pierre Trudeau combined  intellectual electricity, star-power charisma, and a contrarian’s independent  mind.
  • Think of the ways in which he [transformed Canada], the ways in he became the country’s  liberator. With his repatriation of the Constitution, Trudeau liberated us at  long last from Great Britain. With his Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he  liberated us from the authority of the state. With his bilingualism and  multicultural polices, he liberated us from unilingual, unicultural trappings;  from anti-pluralist prejudice that had rarely seen a woman in top governing  posts, that saw no Jews in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court.
  • With ice in his veins Trudeau liberated us from the blackmail of FLQ  terrorism. With the same he took down the threat posed by René Lévesque in the  1980 referendum. With his never-back-down resilience, he provided a sense of  freedom from American encroachment, this at a time when the giant next door was  mired in war, racism, Watergate and economic nationalism.
  • Standards of living grew appreciably in the  Trudeau years, far more so than in the three decades following when they have  flatlined. Under Trudeau, the percentage of Canadians living in poverty dropped  from 23 per cent in 1968 to 13 per cent in 1984. Repeat, from 23 per cent to 13  per cent.

To read the full arguments, for and against, visit the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s website, where they have reprinted the Ottawa Citizen columns containing David Frum’s and Lawrence Martin’s opening statements. Click here.



10 Trudeauisms on government

Pierre Trudeau had a clear view of government’s role in society. Some of these musings have been well quoted, some have been found in his memoirs.

  • We’re going to build socialism here. For a country with such a small population there is no alternative.
  • As against the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith, there has to be a visible hand of politicians whose objective is to have the kind of society that is caring and humane.
  • I saw the Charter as an expression of my long-held view that the subject of law must be the individual human being; the law must permit the individual to fulfill himself or herself to the utmost.
  • The state has an active role to play in ensuring that there is equilibrium between the constituent parts of the economy, the consumers and the producers.
  • A country, after all, is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids, and then leave standing there to defy eternity. A country is something that is built every day out of certain basic shared values.
  • The federal government is the balance wheel of the federal system, and the federal system means using counterweights.
  • Democracy demands that elected members be able to realize fully the role for which they have been chosen.
  • When I had been appointed to the Cabinet in 1967, I had been struck by the amateurism that reigned in the upper echelons of the federal government.
  • When they (MPs) are 50 yards from Parliament Hill they are no longer honourable members, they’re just nobodies.
  • We must concern ourselves with politics, as Pascal said, to mitigate as far as possible the damage done by the madness of our rulers.


Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Trudeauisms (30 years later)

PM Pierre Trudeau - 1980

PM Pierre Trudeau – 1980

“I walked until midnight in the storm, then I went home and took a sauna for an hour and a half. It was all clear. I listened to my heart and saw if there were any signs of my destiny in the sky, and there were none — there were just snowflakes.”


It has been thirty years this week since Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau took that “long walk in the snow” and decided to retire from Parliament Hill (and what all Canadians thought was public life). He is a man who has cast a long shadow on our country. This week By George provides some perspective on our former Prime Minister.


Here are some of P.E.T.’s infamous musings while in office:

  • My life is one long curve, full of turning points.
  • Luck, that’s when preparation and opportunity meet.
  • The essential ingredient of politics is timing.
  • In academic life you seek to state absolute truths; in politics you seek to accommodate truth to the facts around you.
  • We wish nothing more, but we will accept nothing less. Masters in our own house we must be, but our house is the whole of Canada.
  • I am trying to put Quebec in its place — and the place of Quebec is in Canada.
  • Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts. Our main imports are baseball players and acid rain.
  • Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
  • I believe a constitution can permit the co-existence of several cultures and ethnic groups with a single state.
  • I believe that Canada cannot, indeed, that Canada must not survive by force. The country will only remain united – it should only remain united – if its citizens want to live together in one civil society.
  • The die is cast in Canada: there are two ethnic and linguistic groups; each is too strong and too deeply rooted in the past, too firmly bound to a mother culture, to be able to swamp the other. But if the two will collaborate inside of a truly pluralist state, Canada could become a privileged place where the federalist form of government, which is the government of tomorrow’s world, will be perfected.
  • Bilingualism is not an imposition on the citizens. The citizens can go on speaking one language or six languages, or no languages if they so choose. Bilingualism is an imposition on the state and not the citizens.
  • We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on the mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege.
  • Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them 
  • If there is anything that puzzles me in this game, it is that the longer that you are in the job of prime minister, the harder you have to work to do your job. With anything else ….you get to know the ropes pretty well and it becomes easy.  I feel the more you know, the more you have to know and  the more problems come at you.  It is certainly not because I do not delegate.
  • Power only tires those who don’t exercise it.
  • The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.
  • Let us overthrow the totems, break the taboos. Or better, let us consider them cancelled. Coldly, let us be intelligent.
  • The past is to be respected and acknowledged, but not to be worshipped. It is our future in which we will find our greatness.
  • Liberalism is the philosophy for our time, because it does not try to conserve every tradition of the past, because it does not apply to new problems the old doctrinaire solutions, because it is prepared to experiment and innovate and because it knows that the past is less important than the future.
  • Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die.
  • There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian. What could be more absurd than the concept of an “all Canadian” boy or girl? A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.
  • Some things I never learned to like. I didn’t like to kiss babies, though I didn’t mind kissing their mothers. I didn’t like to slap backs or other parts of the anatomy. I liked hecklers, because they brought my speeches alive. I liked supporters, because they looked happy. And I really enjoyed mingling with people, if there wasn’t too much of it.
  • What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.


(ed. – This compilation of quotes first appeared in the By George Journal post of June 2010. Source for the photo:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pierre_Elliot_Trudeau-2.jpg )

Interesting Facts about Canada’s and US’s Leaders

So, did you know that in the US, if the president and vice president both resign or die, the Speaker of the House becomes the president? It’s always good to know who will take over. For instance, there was someone in the wings when Jimmy Carter was “attacked” by a large swamp rabbit or when George W. Bush famously choked on a pretzel while watching a football game.


In Canada, there is no official line of succession if something were to happen to the prime minister. Who would have stepped in if Jean Chretien didn’t successful defend himself with a Inuit soapstone from the intruder at 24 Sussex Drive? Perhaps Sheila Copps and John Manley would have had to compete in an arm wrestling tournament?


Here are ten more interesting facts about U.S. Presidents that might surprise you.  

·         Ronald Reagan was the oldest president inaugurated (69 years old) and Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president inaugurated (42 years old).

·         Jimmy Carter is the first U.S. President to have been born in a hospital.  No president of the United States was an only child for his parents. 

·         Eight presidents have died in office. (Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, F. Roosevelt, and Kennedy)

·         John F. Kennedy was buried without his brain after it was lost during the autopsy.

·         Ulysses S. Grant was once arrested for speeding in a horse and buggy and President Franklin Pierce was arrested during his term for running over an old lady with his horse (but the charges were dropped).

·         Gerald Ford remains the only unelected vice president and president and Richard Nixon is the only U.S. president ever to resign.

·         Theodore Roosevelt was the first to ride in a car, while Franklin Roosevelt was the first to ride in a plane.

·         All of the people in Lyndon Johnson’s family had the initials LBJ, including his dogs – and did you know that the S. in Harry S. Truman’s name does not stand for anything?

·         The White House officially got its name in 1901 and prior to that it had been called the President’s Palace, President’s House, and the Executive Mansion (BTW – John Adams was the first to live in the White House).

·         Then there are the traditions surrounding the Office: George Washington preferred the less formal address of “Mr. President”, which is still used today. Sarah Polk, wife of James Polk, selected “Hail to the Chief” to be played whenever a president enters a room. Every president has recited the same words when taking the Oath of Office.


Here are 10 interesting facts about our Canadian Prime Ministers.

·         Charles Tupper was the oldest prime minister (74 years old) and Joe Clark was the youngest prime minister (39 years old).

·         William Lyon Mackenzie King is the longest serving prime minister in Canadian history and in the history of the Commonwealth.

·         Most of Canada’s prime ministers have been lawyers, Stephen Harper being the most recent exception.

·         Quebec is the province where the largest number of Canada’s prime ministers have come from (7 of 22). Yet, only eight prime ministers have been bilingual (Diefenbaker is not counted as being bilingual).

·         Louis St. Laurent was the first prime minister to be heavily covered on television.

·         Brian Mulroney won the largest electoral majority of any Canadian prime minister in the landslide of 1984.

·         Sir John Abbott was the first Canadian-born prime minister.

·         R.B Bennett is the only prime minister not to be buried in Canada.

·         The mansion at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa would stand for 80 years before becoming the official residence of the Prime Minister (yet, when it was built in 1868, one of its first visitors was Sir John A. Macdonald). Louis St. Laurent became the first PM to occupy the house, in 1951. Since then, every PM, except Kim Campbell, has lived in the house (Campbell lived at Harrington Lake for the summer of 1993 while the Mulroney packed – and by the time the keys were ready to be handed over, PM Campbell had lost her job).

·         Lester B Pearson gave Canada its maple leaf flag (in time for the Country’s Centennial) and Pierre Trudeau gave the country its current national anthem.

A few observations in the election aftermath

A strong national Conservative majority government….

C’est ca.  Now, consider the remarks made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper once the reality of these election results sunk in for him and his Conservative team. In post-election interviews, the PM has given us a glimpse of how he views his responsibility through the next four – five years:

“We are intensely aware that we are and must be the government of all Canadians, including those that did not vote for us.”

“We got that mandate because of the way we have governed, because of our record…. Canadians expect us to continue to move forward in the same way, to be true to the platform we’ve run on and be true to the kind of values and policies we’ve laid out before them.”

Mr. Harper also intimated that he feels the burden of Canadians’ trust and their vote for a majority government:  “It feels great but at the same time I am very much aware of the immense challenges that lie before us in the government and the responsibility that this office carries with it.”

This is all refreshing that we have a Prime Minister with these reflections after having been handed the keys to absolute power in the Nation’s Capital.  Furthermore, the fact that he immediately jetted back to Ottawa and is back in his office today to attend to the country’s matters speaks volumes for the type of man he is. (Most elected representatives and candidates are cacooning themselves with their families and friends and putting their feet up from their grueling campaign schedules – but not Stephen Harper.)

Let us take this point one step further in saying that PM Harper’s immediate response to the Canadian public is both refreshing and reassuring. Can you remember hearing this type of comment from previous PMs in the wake of their majority mandates? We did not hear it from PMs Chretien or Mulroney – and, in fact, we heard the exact opposite – an arrogant bravado about the dawn of a new Liberal era – from former PM Trudeau. So, given this comparison, we are ever-hopeful our current PM’s observations are a sign of many good things to come…

So, By George Journal will complete our 2011 federal election commentary with a final fractured poem (and note we’ve moved to sailing analogies from flogging that horserace analogy): 

crashing blue wave

a striking Orange undertow

drowned Grits and separatist

forward now, wind in sails

calming waters, edging to the right


The Economist and its review of the Canadian Prime Minister


A recent issue of The Economist marked Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s five-year anniversary in power by asking some very provoking questions for Canadian conservatives as well as the general public. In the article entitled, “The circumspect and circumscribed Conservative,” the question is put: “Stephen Harper has proved remarkably durable by curbing his instincts. Can he now remake his country?”


Here’s the crux of the analysis:


     STARTING a conservative revolution in Canada was never going to be easy. It is a socially liberal place, proud of its welfare state and ruled for 79 of the past 115 years by the centre-left Liberal party. The first time Stephen Harper led the Conservative Party in a general election, in 2004, it finished a distant second to the Liberals, who saw themselves as Canada’s “natural governing party”. Two years later, with the Liberals crippled by a kickback scandal, the Conservatives did well enough for Mr Harper to form a minority government. An evangelical Christian and economic libertarian, he vowed to turn a would-be “second-tier socialistic country” into one that “the Liberals wouldn’t even recognise”.


     Five years on, Mr Harper has pulled off two surprises. The biggest is that he is still prime minister, despite failing to win a majority in a subsequent election in 2008, making his the longest-serving minority government in Canada’s history. The second follows in part from the first: Canada remains a country that the Liberals can recognise perfectly well, with big government and social liberalism largely intact. “He emerged from the movement. He was going to be our Ronald Reagan,” says Gerry Nicholls, a former colleague of Mr Harper’s. “But he’s become what he’s always opposed. If he destroys the Liberal party by becoming it, what’s the point?”


Read the full article here:




Putting an end to per-vote federal political subsidies


Just imagine in Canada, we are taxed to pay for the activities of our national political parties. Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for all politicos – paying for both MPs who represent our point of view and those who don’t – and even for Bloc MPs who are only interested in getting a bigger hunk of flesh from “Body Canada” for Quebecois. This practice amounts to state-sanctioned pick-pocketing. Since 2004, when former PM Jean Chretien and his Liberal band of “Nottingham sheriffs” decreed it law, we’ve all been paying for the shenanigans on Parliament Hill.


FACT:  In 2010, the total cost to taxpayers was $27.4 million.


Here are some more facts on the party subsidy as reported in the Hill Times:

     In 2010  five  parties received $27.4-million from the per vote subsidies. The Conservatives received $10.4-million; the Liberals received $7.3-million; the NDP received $5.0-million ; the Bloc Québécois received $2.8-million; and the Green Party received $1.9-million.

     Compare the per vote subsidies to the amounts raised by direct donations from individuals to the parties. The  Elections Canada’s website indicates that in 2009 (the latest full year available), the Bloc Québécois raised $834,762; the Conservatives raised $17,770,477, the Greens raised $1,166,874 ; the Liberals raised $10,120,312 and the NDP raised $4,039,104 (The Hill Times, March 29, 2010).The total equals $33.94-million.

     With the most recent adjustment for inflation, the per vote subsidy was raised $2.04 per year for 4Q 2010.


These facts are important to tuck away in our memory for this whole issue is soon to be a central point of argument and, possibly, a federal election issue.  (ed. – Given our disdain for this subsidy, full marks go to PM Stephen Harper and his persistence in wishing to cut the taxpayer per vote subsidies to political parties!)


The By George Journal will follow this argument as it is presented to the public in the months to come. To review the facts of the matter, we recommend W.T. Stanbury’s column in the Hill Times – “Comparing the per-vote subsidies to all federal political subsidies”


Full article:



More quotes from PM John G. Diefenbaker


In completing the task of quoting from all our country’s Prime Ministers – from Sir John A. to our current PM Stephen Harper – I now return to my favourite PM: John George Diefenbaker. Here’re 10 more musings from one of Canada’s most colourful and quotable leaders.

  • My abiding interest is your interest; my guiding principle is the welfare of the Average Canadian.
  • It is so strange that such a great honour should come to a small man like me.
  • He who would be chief among you must first be servant of them all.
  • The prime minister has all the responsibilities and does all the joe-jobs.
  • I cut down on social functions. No prime minister can carry out his responsibilities when he’s going to dinner every night. Dinners are not a substitute for statesmanship.
  • Too much and too many of the moneys extorted and squeezed from the Canadian people are being wasted by the parasites of extravagance.
  • The heresy of yesterday is the Liberal orthodoxy of today.
  • The Liberal Party has become a hodgepodge of discordance, a cacophony of political nonsense.
  • No Canadian can but be proud that through the warp and woof of our constitution are the golden threads of our British heritage.
  • Freedom grows in the practice of good citizenship. It withers or decays in the apathy or neglect of the citizens of the country.