Prime Ministers of Canada

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Canada is a world leader and major North American nation, but its political structure is a bit different from the rest of the continent. In this lesson we'll talk about the Canadian prime ministers, and see how they impacted the nation.

The Canadian Prime Minister

Oh, Canada. As much as Americans love our northern neighbor, we don't tend to know much about it. We know they like maple leaves and hockey, but try asking the person next to you for the name of the Canadian president. It's actually a trick question. Canada doesn't have a president. They have a Prime Minister, a political figure who acts as the head of the Canadian government. This is an interesting title, since the prime minister is not the head of state. That title belongs to the Monarch of Canada, who since 1952 has been Queen Elizabeth II of England. The queen is represented in Canada by the governor general of Canada, who as of 2010 is David Johnston, who in turn selects the prime minister, generally based on the results of a general election. Therefore the prime minister is officially an advisor to the monarch, although in reality Canada's prime minister directs daily administration of the nation. But, they do get the formal title of 'The Right Honourable', which is pretty cool. So, who is the current Prime Minister of Canada? In 2015, The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, was appointed as Canada's 23rd prime minister. Trudeau is still relatively new in office, so it's a bit early to judge his success, but how about the other prime ministers? Who was best? Well, let's ask the Canadians themselves. Canadian weekly magazine Maclean's conducts periodic polls of Canadian opinions. Let's see what they have to say about their own prime ministers.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

The Best Prime Ministers of Canada

When Maclean's came out with its most recent poll in 2011, in which Canadians rated their prime ministers, few were surprised by who came out on top. Across various demographics and political affiliations, three Canadian leaders consistently hold national favor. The 'big three' of Canada's prime ministers are William Lyon Mackenzie King, Sir Wilfred Laurier, and Sir John A. Macdonald. Let's talk about them in historical order.

Sir John A. Macdonald, a conservative politician, was Canada's first prime minister in 1867. Many credit Macdonald for unifying the Canadian provinces into a single political state, and for doing largely the same for Canadian identity. As a strong advocate for the rights of Canada as a dominion of the British crown, Macdonald worked to strengthen the national economy and industry. This was especially hard to do since American industry was quickly taking off at the same time. Macdonald set high tariffs and import/export measures to strengthen Canadian industry, and managed to oversee construction of Canada's transcontinental railroad called the Canadian Pacific Railway. He served two terms, from 1867-1873 and 1878-1891, and despite some issues of corruption, involving the acceptance of bribes, he is remembered very fondly by Canadians today. Macdonald is seen as Canada's founding figure, and his popularity persists.

Sir John Macdonald
John Macdonald

Next on the historic list, but occasionally first on the popularity polls, is Sir Henri Charles Wilfrid Laurier, most often just called Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Laurier served as prime minister from 1896 to 1911, and is remembered as one of the greatest statesmen of Canada, who never managed to get entangled in a political scandal and achieved a great deal in furthering Canadian national unity. This was especially emphasized in his tolerance for both French and English-speaking parts of Canada, regions which historically had viewed each other with occasional competition or even animosity. He is remembered as the embodiment of political compromise and the proof of what it can achieve. Rather than engaging in regional squabbles, Canada under Laurier completed its westward expansion, became a major destination for immigrants, and found the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Sir Wilfred Laurier

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