I expect most of you reading this have already heard of my most successful blog post ever, “In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why?”
One afternoon’s puttering around Wikipedia almost five years ago has now gone viral twice and taken on a life of its own, evolving into a Vice Media animated short that recently aired on HBO, as well as a mention in the New York Times. This Monday I am looking forward to being interviewed for Wisconsin Public Radio’s/Public Radio International’s Peabody Award-winning program, TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE. The show will air on more than 200 public radio stations across the United States. In anticipation of that interview, I thought I would write something new.
While discussing that fun hypothetical knife fight with people, I have been asked several times how I thought Canada’s prime ministers might do in the same situation.
I confess, I just cannot image any of Canada’s PMs in a knife fight. Where America’s pantheon of presidents is stocked with many soldiers, sailors, airmen, farmers, captains of industry, actors, and other exciting figures to add spice to the more typical lawyers and career politicians, that is not really Canada’s strong suit. We tend to enjoy our lawyers and our career politicians. Sometimes we find a doctor or a publisher and persuade them to become a career politician, but that is about as far as we go.
While researching this piece, I cannot say categorically that any of Canada’s prime ministers have ever fired a shot in anger, despite several of them serving during the world wars. They just don’t seem to be a violent bunch. Even assuming you could gather all of Canada’s prime ministers together and give them knives, I doubt even one of them would do anything with it. No, if I was ever going to write a Canadian equivalent to my most popular piece, I would need to find a Canadian way to do it.
Last week as I was explaining my line of reasoning to the New York Times reporter, she said, “You mean like a hockey fight?”
Yes. Like a hockey fight. That will do nicely! In a fit of enthusiasm I started firing off brainstorming ideas. She stopped me, asking, “Sorry, what’s ‘jerseying?’ ” As an American, she was unfamiliar with the term, but she promised to run everything I was saying by her Canadian editor later. That is when I knew I could have a lot of fun with this.
I began the American knife fight with an explanation of the ground rules. I suppose I should do the same here:
- Every Canadian prime minister will be assigned to either the Liberal team –The Grits– or the Conservative team –The Tories– based on their politics. Players will not be allowed to fight with their own teammates, even if they really, really want to. (I’m thinking of Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien as I say that.)
- For the purposes of this mental exercise we shall imagine the two teams clearing their benches and fighting on the ice in an otherwise empty regulation-sized rink. The stands will be empty. The fight is happening whether the participants want it to happen or not, but how they act in the brawl is still very much up to them.
- For the sake of including the NDP even though they have never formed a government, the two most famous NDP leaders, Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent, will act as referees.
- As the vast majority of readers are going to be more familiar with the most recent prime ministers, I shall walk through the characters in reverse chronological order.
- On that note, I do not expect readers to know much at all about many of these figures, so I expect each prime minister will end up getting a lengthier write up than was the case with the American presidents. When I wrote about JFK, people did not need to be brought up to speed. Lester B. Pearson might need some context, even thought they were contemporaries.
With all that said, let’s go!
Canada’s current Prime Minister is the perfect person to start off a conversation about fisticuffs. We literally have video footage of him winning a boxing match against a larger Tory opponent narrated by an arch-conservative pundit who grows less and less enthralled as the match goes on. The younger Trudeau is a trained pugilist, a natural athlete, one of the youngest men on this hypothetical sheet of ice, and his father will be there to have his back. I expect he will cut a path through the Tories until Stephen Harper explains to some of his Tory teammates just what the Trudeau boys are all about. Hockey fights tend to be one-on-one, but in bench-clearing brawls, four or five guys might join forces to mess up our PM’s pretty face. It would be quite a sight to see, though!
Canada’s most recent conservative prime minister is an unapologetic hockey nerd. While governing Canada with a firm hand for almost a decade, he still managed to carve out enough time to write a deep and dense academic tome on the history of hockey in Toronto from 1906 to 1911. Stephen Harper is going to love playing some old-timey hockey with some old-timey Conservatives. He’s going to be pissed that the game is being interrupted for a bench-clearing brawl, and he’s going to be super-pissed that Young Justin is doing better than people thought he would. Stephen hates when that happens.
Now some say Stephen Harper isn’t a scrapper, but that man ruled his party with an iron fist for so long they are still trying to pick up the pieces now that he’s gone. The man is used to getting what he wants, and he wants to win! On the ice, he’s going to drop his gloves, square off with at least one of the Trudeaus, and I have no doubt he will do The West proud. The question is, will the rest of the Tories be able to help him?
# 21 Liberal
The fact that I cannot easily find a picture of former prime minister Paul Martin wearing a hockey jersey for a Canadian team does not bode well for him in this blog post. Another thing that isn’t going to go well for him? I distinctly remember when he was prime minister, the yard signs during the federal election read, “Team Martin” in huge letters with “Liberal Party of Canada” in itty-bitty print down in the bottom right-hand corner. When Paul Martin was in charge, he purged his party of all of his predecessor’s people and tried to remake the Big Red Machine in his own image. The Big Red Machine then proceeded to break down spectacularly.
I somehow expect playing on a team made up of the pistons and cogs of the Big Red Machine is not going to work out well for Martin.
Now I have already said in the rules of this hypothetical exercise that Paul Martin is not allowed to sucker punch Jean Chrétien when he is not looking, but that is not to say he isn’t going to skate up behind him with his fist cocked until he is intercepted by Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent. On the whole sheet of ice, that will be the only fight they break up before even a blow is swung.
Martin will demand, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
Jack will politely point out he very nearly became prime minister because the Liberals spent ten years in the wilderness recovering from Martin’s tenure as party leader. Shaken, Martin will spend the rest of the brawl on the bench trying to scribble out legacy-saving memoirs on the coach’s white board while staring daggers at his former boss and muttering, “It’s all his fault!” Who am I talking about? A man named…
The man. The legend. The inventor of the “Shawinigan Handshake” where you grab your opponent by the throat and shake him like a rag doll until he blacks out or apologizes for invading your personal space.
I really like Chrétien’s chances in a hockey brawl. I really do.
A quick pass through his Wikipedia page offers still more promises of on-ice mayhem: As a young man, Chrétien was renowned for his love of violence. He was the neighbourhood bully, known to be quick with a punch and possessing a, quote, “Atrocious temper.”
When asked by a journalist what he was best at when he was in school, he replied, “Street fighting.”
Well, Jean grew up to be a big boy indeed. Six feet tall may not seem that exceptional, but he is also strong as an ox: When I was a student, I had a picture taped up on my dorm room wall of him carrying three two-fours of beer by himself up a flight of stairs in the West Block of Parliament in Ottawa. It was a very Canadian picture. On the ice, I expect him to be a natural two-fisted fighter without a lot of patience for sizing up his opponents or thinking about his footwork. When he does go down, he will go down swinging. Hopefully he will have his deaf ear turned towards Martin cheering from the Grits’ bench.
Canada’s first and to-date only female prime minister is not of a generation where women really played ice hockey. That said, field hockey is a notoriously brutal sport. In a bench-clearing brawl, I expect The Right Honourable Kim Campbell would abandon convention and keep her stick in her hands, swinging wildly and hacking at every shin she can reach while the Liberals skate away backwards from her as quickly as they can.
Another potential advantage? Canadian male politicians tend to be an old-fashioned bunch –especially the ones on this list still to come who have been dead for many, many decades now. Which one of them is going to be man enough to hit a woman?
I can see it now: Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent trying to talk her into putting the stick down while the Grits flee her fury and the Tories point and laugh. It might be the happiest day in Campbell’s political career.
Brian Mulroney is Canada’s equivalent to and contemporary of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. He gets some credit for standing shoulder to shoulder with them as the Soviet Union came undone, and to a Canadian, that has as much to do with the end of Russian dominance at hockey as it does with the end of the Cold War. Before I write too much more, let me just say, “Thanks, Brian. I have really enjoyed all those Canadian gold medal hockey games.”
Now with that said, Brian is going to have a tough time out there on the ice. Look at that jaw. Without being personal, the man’s chin gives Jay Leno’s a run for its money. Do you know what people swing at in hockey brawls? Yeah. Basically anything mandible-related. Poor Brian is walking around with three times the target of your ordinary man.Now I know he’s a good Irish Catholic boy raised in an English boarding school surrounded by French speakers, so I am confident he can take a punch. There’s just so much to swing at!
Meanwhile, what happens if the Trudeaus start telling their Grit teammates exactly what Mulroney did at Meech Lake? Nobody came out of that happy. I can see a couple of the old-school Liberal PMs holding Brian’s arms back while another uses that chin as a speedbag. Meanwhile, which of the old Tory ‘Anglo-or-Bust’ PMs is going to rush to poor Brian’s defense? He’s a Catholic French-Speaker who Quebec voted for! Even the terror that is a stick-wielding Kim Campbell may have her reservations about leaping to his defense: She was prime minister for just 132 days because Mulroney made a mess of things and left her to carry his water going into the next election.
Even Ed Broadbent might look the other way while poor Brian gets worked over…
I am going to be honest. I had this half-written as the first of many “Who?”larious entries in this blog post. I thought this guy was going to be one of those Jeopardy question Alex Trebek might get wrong, and Alex Trebek -A Canadian- was alive when John Turner was prime minister.
“Oh, it can’t be that bad.” You scoff. “What’s the big deal?”
The big deal is he was prime minister for a whopping two months and seventeen days. He was not a Member of Parliament or of the Senate during that time, and he spent all but ten days of it campaigning in an election he lost.
Then I read he once wooed Princess Margaret seriously enough to scare the hell out of Buckingham Palace because he was Catholic, so she would have had to leave the line of succession to wed him.
Then I read that John Turner was a Rhodes Scholar who was on the track and field team at Oxford. He also once swam out into the Atlantic Ocean to rescue a drowning former prime minister Diefenbaker while they were both in Barbados on separate vacations.
All told, it sounds like you could make a “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial out of this fellow’s life. Having a guy like that coming off the Grit bench is only going to make the big show even bigger. Who cares if the guy squaring off with him doesn’t know who he is? When a natural athlete who knowingly pursued his potential future queen hits you between the eyes, why do you need to know his name?
I will start off by saying I am sorry I dragged Joe into this. Joe doesn’t belong in a hockey brawl. Joe is a lovely, kind, fiercely intelligent man. I cannot imagine him raising his fists in anger, and I would spurn the man who raised his fists to Joe.
Joe is one of those guys who even his enemies kind of feel shame-faced that they don’t get on with him. At Pierre Trudeau’s funeral, Justin Trudeau told a story about a time where he insulted one of his father’s rivals, and the elder Trudeau reprimanded him, defended the rival, and then introduced his son to his erstwhile foe as a teachable moment. That rival was almost certainly Joe Clark. He wept while the story was told.
I do not want to envision Joe Clark in a hockey brawl. I just cannot see it. I think he would keep his helmet and gloves on, and his butt firmly planted on his bench. If he did take to the ice, it would be to help Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent carry away the bloodied and battered or hold down the fallen so they don’t rise to their feet to fight on.
That’s who Joe is. He is a peacemaker, not a warrior. I know this is a comedic blog post, but I am not going to indulge in imagining someone hitting that little guy in the face. He is better than that.
Besides, the Trudeaus would beat the tar out of anyone who tried.
Do you hear that? Do you hear that, readers? That is the sound of everyone who has made it this far taking a deep breath and getting ready for something to happen.
That’s the thing about Pierre Trudeau. Love him or hate him –and almost no one occupies the middle ground between those two extremes– he made things happen.
Now I could write a little essay about his politics, his personal philosophy, his family life. I could walk you through all he did to make Canada what it is today –the good and the bad– but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.
Right now we are talking about a bench-clearing brawl, and in a bench-clearing brawl where every Canadian prime minister is a hockey goon fighting for either the Liberals or the Conservatives, Pierre Trudeau is going to be the eye of the hurricane of Grit fury: Where he moves, chaos will spin around him.
Let us first take as a given that Mulroney and Campbell and Harper are going to view the elder Trudeau as the ultimate prize of this Battle Royale, and it probably will take little explanation to get Diefenbaker on board as well. Diefenbaker never had a problem being told who his implacable enemy was. Now let us have Harper use his historical knowledge to quickly and quietly explain to the ‘Anglo-or-Bust’ conservative PMs of days gone by just what the man who for some reason is wearing a red rose boutonniere pinned to his jersey is going to one day do to their country.
Oh, there will be murder!
Now let us remember who the elder Trudeau is to every Liberal who came after him: A mentor, a guide, a leader, and in one case even a father. What can those men tell the Old Guard Grits? Pierre is a francophone who fought against Quebec nationalism! He was pro-immigration and pro-socialism! He stood up against the Conservatives, and when they beat him he came back for more and won bigger than he lost the first time around. Canada has a Constitution and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms because he made it so!
Now there is a wall of men on skates standing between the dapper dandy and those who would do him harm.
While Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent look on wistfully from the distance, the brawl swirls around a calm Trudeau. If he ever raises his hand in anger, he will do it stylishly. If he ends up with a blood nose or a black eye, he will grin around a mouth guard in flaming Liberal Red. He will probably have something pithy to say after the fight while the doctors take a look at the cut over his eye. That’s the sort of man he is.
Lester B. Pearson
Here for the only time we have a prime minister who I know for a fact played hockey at a very high level! Pearson won a Spengler Cup while at Oxford, and he went on to help coach the University of Toronto’s hockey team.
Pearson is also the first prime minister on this list to actively serve as a fighting man during wartime. Beginning as a private in the Medical Corps during the First World War, Pearson went on to become an officer, transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, was injured twice in plane crashes, and then in 1918 was hit by a bus in London during a blackout.
I really like his chances in a hockey brawl!
Don’t let the Nobel Peace Prize fool you. Pearson was no pacifist. He got that for having the stones to invent UN Peacekeepers and insert them into the hair-trigger situation that was the Suez Crisis. Pearson had guts and nerve and the constitution to survive multiple crashes from heavy machinery that would have killed lesser men –And he could play hockey with some serious skill? The Swiss had a nickname based on his skating ability? Forget about it. The Liberals have another star player!
Oh, Diefenbaker. John Diefenbaker. This is going to be fun.
Readers of this blog may know I know quite a bit about Diefenbaker.
Diefenbaker lost many more elections than he ever won, but the ones he won, he won big.That is how he got to be prime minister in the first place.
Diefenbaker was famous for his fiery rhetoric. One time while giving a speech in support of a local conservative candidate, the listening crowd ended up nominating him to represent them instead.
Diefenbaker was famous for his work ethic and blunt manners. He met Prime Minister Laurier once as a 14-year-old paperboy while Laurier was travelling through The West. After selling him a newspaper Diefenbaker said, “I can’t waste any more time on you, Prime Minister. I must get about my work!”
Diefenbaker was so stubborn and so proud that he refused to back up Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. France’s De Gaulle –a man famous for his stubborn individualism and insistence on France’s independence as a Great Power– said, “If the President of the United States says it is so, I do not need to see the proof.” Diefenbaker saw the proof and was not satisfied. The Canadian military went to the appropriate Defense Condition to satisfy NORAD and NATO treaty obligations behind his back and much to his later fury.
All of this is to basically say Diefenbaker was fearless. The man was a wolverine with no regard for situational awareness or the consequences of his actions. I do not know for a fact he knew how to stand on a pair of ice skates, but even if he didn’t, he would hobble out onto the ice and beat holy hell out of anyone from the Grits’ bench until either the fighting was over or he was rendered unconscious. The man was basically a bulldozer of partisan fury. Hopefully someone savvy like Harper or Mulroney or Macdonald will know enough to harness that force of nature and point it where it will do the most damage to the Liberals.
Louis St. Laurent
Okay, I am going to put it out there: Even a Canadian History nerd like me had to double-check exactly who this guy is, and this guy was prime minister for eight and a half years.
Louis St. Laurent did not become active in politics until he was 60 years old. He was a good lawyer from Quebec who took over from William Lyon Mackenzie King in a time of post-war peace and plenty. He did pretty well by Canada in that quiet and unexciting way we expect from our nation’s politicians, and then he retired shortly after Diefenbaker pulled a surprise victory out in 1957, driving the Liberals from power for the first time in 22 years.
Just about the only exciting thing I can find about him is he was anti-Communist, which was the style at the time. As such, he is not going to get along with our referees, Ed Broadbent and Jack Layton. If and when John Diefenbaker jerseys him, gets him up against the boards, and starts giving him the old one-two combo, I can imagine old Louis trying to wave off the refs, muttering, “I don’t need help from the likes of you!” until he falls to the ground, convinced he is hallucinating as they tell him about the wonders of socialized medicine while they carry him away to safety.
Without being mean about it, he is a rare dud in what has been an exciting line up of Liberal hockey goons.
The R stands for Richard, and he was a bit of a Dick. That is just about as much humour as can be wrung from the fellow saddled with the burden of leading Canada through the Great Depression. He did not drink. He never married. He lived in hotels and worked 14-hour workdays doing the jobs of several officials at once. He despised communists before it was the Cold War cool thing to do. He may or may not have donated money to fascists before that was known to be a bad thing. There are stories suggesting he would mail $5 bills to starving people who wrote to him. After losing the prime ministership he retired to England, was made a viscount, and died of a heart attack in the bathtub a week shy of his 77th birthday.
None of this suggest he would be any good in a hockey brawl.
I fear as we get closer and closer to the beginnings of Canada, the Tories will find themselves drawing dead wood several times. Bennett is the first. In a hockey brawl he will likely be neither hot-headed enough for true passion, nor cold-blooded enough for true calculation. I expect he would shuffle around –I do not figure him for much of a skater– and wait to be forced to do something by someone more colourful than him. For his sake, I hope that is a Tory who guides him into a group scrum. There must be a few Liberals who would want to settle scores with the fellow who made such a muddle of the Great Depression that horse-drawn cars were called Bennett Buggies.
William Lyon Mackenzie King
Now for Canadians, this term needs no explanation. For anyone else, let me Google that for you.
A goalie fight in hockey is like seeing a triple rainbow. It’s not quite as unlikely as people believe, but it is rare, and it’s always special. If we are talking about a bench-clearing brawl, of course the goalies are going to get into it too.
So why is William Lyon Mackenzie King the Grits’ goalie?
Well, stereotypically goalies are all crazy, and Mackenzie King was a loon. That said, he was also Canada’s prime minister from 1921–1926, 1926–1930 and 1935–1948. With 21 years and 154 days in office, he is the longest serving PM in our history. We just couldn’t get enough of him!
So how crazy was he? Well, he believed in mysticism and spiritualism. He held seances so he could ask Leonardo da Vinci, Wilfred Laurier, his dead mother and grandfather, and several of his dead dogs, as well as the spirit of the recently deceased FDR for advice. Like Bennett, he never married. His biographers are confident he probably employed prostitutes and may have been sexually infatuated with the man he appointed Governor General in 1935. Before the Second World War while he didn’t care for the Nazis, but he thought Hitler was a swell fella who would one day be compared favourably to Joan of Arc.
Crazy enough to qualify as a goalie? Now let’s talk about the goalie fight. Goalies most often fight other goalies. If Mackenzie King is the madman in the Grits’ net, this next fellow is who he is going to charge across the length of the rink to hit in the face.
Meighen and Mackenzie King may have had the most bitter, unrelenting, and nastiest rivalry in the history of Canadian politics, and there are strong contenders for second place! If we are imagining a hockey brawl, of course Meighen and Mackenzie King are the goalies embroiled in a life-or-death goalie fight.
The met in university, and they hated each other from the start. Meighen called Mackenzie King “Rex” as an insult throughout their personal and professional lives. I suppose it was a more cutting insult in an era where everyone learned Latin in school. Anyway, they were each a Prime Minister who won and lost the majority because of the other. When King did finally win the upper hand in the end, Meighen complained King held onto power, quote, “Like a lobster with lockjaw.”
So how does the fight go down?
Well, Meighen was a sharp-tongued lawyer who wasn’t afraid to get in a powerful man’s face, and Mackenzie King did what he thought dead people were telling him to do, and it worked for him. I suspect the two collide at full speed at center ice, grapple each other to the ground, tear off each other’s jerseys, and then pretend they are not trying to resolve on ice before the eyes of God and Man their deep-seated ‘will-they-won’t-they-we-know-they-won’t-because-it-was-the-first-third-of-the-20th-century’ sexual tension. I expect King will come out on top, just as he did in politics. That was a man who gets stuff done, and only after it’s all over does anyone get a chance to realize just how coo-coo bananas were the thoughts going through his head.
Now most goalie fights get broken up by the refs once the goalies fall to the ground, but Referee Jack Layton will put a restraining arm on Ed Broadbent’s shoulder. “No one is going to break those two up until they sort out whatever is going on between them.” Jack says.
Jack just wants them to be happy with who they are. Happy together would be even better. He will do his best not to get into his, “Can anyone really tell the difference between a Socialist Democrat and a Democratic Socialist?” schtick while Mackenize King and Meighen are wrestling. It would spoil the mood, and Jack Layton endeavours in all things to be a good wingman.
Before Meighen brought his brand of petulant mediocrity to the Conservative cause for the better part of two decades, there was more than a decade of Robert Borden at the helm. Borden was the man who guided Canada through the First World War and then demanded we be given our own seat at the table during the Treaty of Versailles. He then skipped the opening ceremonies because Newfoundland (not yet a part of Canada) was given a more prominent spot in the activities than Canada. To win elections, he was happy to throw red meat to English-speaking Canada, campaigning for “A White Canada” on the West Coast to win the support of people worried about the yellow peril, and thumbing his nose at any voter who spoke French because they were probably going to vote for the Liberals anyway after all that Laurier had done for them.
All this is to say Borden does what Borden wants to do, and he does not much care what others think of him as he does it.
You know who I just described? Every hockey enforcer to tie on a pair of skates from 1970 to 1995.
On the ice, Borden is going to want to know who is on his team. No, not just Tories, but on Borden’s particular team: Anglo, pro-Britain, anti-American, anti-French. He will definitely go hunting for Laurier, and if Stephen Harper can explain who the Trudeaus are, Borden will be a formidable addition to the Harper Coalition.
When he does finally go down, Jack Layton will help him up and skate him off, trying to bond with him over their mutual love of magnificent moustaches. Based on Borden’s handling of the Winnipeg General Strike, he will probably mutter something about getting, “Your damned Bolshie hands off me!” Ed Broadbent will spend some time with Borden in the penalty box explaining at length the difference between the Bolsheviks and the New Democratic Party.
Borden will likely hate that.
Canada’s first francophone prime minister and a sixth generation Canadian in a time when most adult Canadians remembered their childhoods in Europe, Laurier is one of the true giants of Canadian history: When he first started off in politics, Catholic priests used to warn their parishioners not to vote for Liberals, saying, “Le ciel est bleu, l’enfer est rouge!” Heaven is blue (the colour of the Conservatives), hell is red (the colour of the Liberals). Laurier changed all that, and by the time he was done, Quebec voted Liberal so reliably, Conservatives basically gave up on winning seats in that province until Brian Mulroney in 1984.
Laurier was the Liberal Party’s heart, soul, and brain throughout his life. He led the Liberals for almost 32 years, and his four consecutive federal elections wins that made him prime minister for 15 years in one stretch is still the longest unbroken term of office among prime ministers. In addition, his nearly 45 years (1874–1919) of service in the House of Commons is still the longest in Canada’s history. He died in his office on Parliament Hill as Leader of the Opposition.
All of that is to say, the man is going to have some Conservatives gunning for him when he is out on the ice. What Pierre Trudeau was to my parents’ generation, Laurier was to the French and the Liberals who grew up under a string of Anglo-Conservative prime ministers and then saw a new day dawn, a day that did not set for most of their adult lives. Do you know how much those same Anglo-Conservative prime ministers would enjoy dropping the gloves and trying to knock a few chiclets out of Laurier’s famous smile? I already mentioned Borden would give it a go. Let’s discuss who will likely shove Borden out of the way to be first in line:
Charles Tupper is celebrated as one of the Fathers of Confederation because Canadian history does its best to be boring and polite. The reasoning goes, “Much better to talk about his wheeling and dealing in boardrooms and ballrooms to make Canada a thing than to talk about what a trainwreck he made out of his time as prime minster.”
Well this is a bench-clearing hockey brawl between prime ministers, not Fathers of Confederation. Conventions be damned, I’m going to talk about the trainwreck!
Now Tupper was a very accomplished man. He was a wealthy doctor who became the premier of Nova Scotia and was a major force in making Confederation happen. He served in a number of cabinet positions throughout the early days of Canada, and then he went over the the United Kingdom to act as what today would be considered an ambassador to our mother country.
While he was gone, the Anglo-Conservatives he left behind somehow managed to piss off the entirety of Francophone Canada as well as a good chunk of Anglophone Canada. John Thompson –who you will soon meet– died suddenly in office, and the Conservative Party wanted Tupper to come back to Canada and save them. Still, with Tupper in the UK, the Governor-General in Ottawa (who hated Tupper) appointed Mackenzie Bowell to be prime minister instead.
Bowell made a mess of things, and Tupper returned to Canada, ran for a seat in Parliament, won, and at that point was de facto prime minister while waiting for the next election to make it official. Bowell admitted he was not the man for the job and stepped aside so Tupper could show himself to the voters as the future of the party and the nation.
The voters took one look at him and told him to get stuffed.
Tupper was prime minister for a grand total of 69 days. It is still the shortest term in Canadian history. It was the length of the election. He never actually sat in parliament as prime minister, and when he was told he was not going to be prime minister? Oh, he did not take it gracefully. He said there was no way the Liberals under Laurier could form a government. For God’s sake, Laurier was French! No, no. There’s been a mistake!
Tupper continued to try and act like a prime minister and make government appointments until the Governor General (again, who hated Tupper) pointed out this was all highly illegal. Tupper then proceeded to say it was the Governor General who was acting illegally!
Well, Tupper eventually acknowledged he was not going to be allowed to be prime minister just because he said so, and he resigned in a huff. In the next election he lost his seat in Parliament, and then he retired to the United Kingdom, never to see Canada again.
So… If Tupper was a hockey goon in bench-clearing brawl, how would he behave? Well, for a start, he would seek out Laurier and bash that stupid smile off his face! And if the referees try to pull him off? Well, Jack and Ed can go to hell! If Charles Tupper does not recognize the governor general’s authority, what chance do two Dippers have? And Jack is francophone on top of that? Yeah, Tupper is taking none of Jack’s mustachioed lip.
Meanwhile, again, Stephen Harper is going to have Charles Tupper high on his “This Guy Will Help Me Smack Around the Trudeaus” list. Laurier comes first, but after that, Tupper is still going to have a lot of pent up aggression to work out through his fists. His fighting technique would basically be interpretive dance therapy for his foiled political ambitions.
Let’s be real here. You never heard of this guy until I just mentioned him in the Charles Tupper entry, right? Well, that goes for me too. I have read the Wikipedia article, and I have looked at some photos of him. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. From that wealth of information I can say categorically that he will be doing no favours for the Tories in this brawl.
“Why would you say that?” You ask. Well, the most noteworthy thing in my opinion on his rather short wikipedia article is that no politician or former politician attended his funeral. Not one. The fifth ever prime minister of a young country dies, and not one former friend or foe shows up to comfort the widow and enjoy some free whisky at the wake? No. There is something very wrong with that picture. Bowell doesn’t sound like much of a team player, and hockey is a team sport.
I will say another thing: The further back we go, the less likely it is that these guys even know how to skate. Bowell was born in England. Now he may have lived in Canada for much of his life, but between expelling Louis Reil from Parliament, visiting Australia, fumbling the Manitoba Schools issue, and hanging out with the Orange Order, how much time do you think he made to lace up some skates and seek out some pond hockey to work on the fundamentals?
No. No. All signs point to Santa Claus –I mean Mackenzie Bowell– being dead wood out there. I think Stephen Harper is enough of a history nerd to know Bowell isn’t even worth recruiting. Let’s move on.
So this is a bit of a sad one. John Thompson was a rising star in Canadian politics, and he made it all the way to the top at just 47. He worked himself very hard, and people worried about his health. Two years into his time as Prime Minister he sails over to England, is honoured by Queen Victoria herself, and then keels over dead of a heart attack in Windsor Castle. He left so little behind, Parliament set up a fund to provide for his widow and children.
I told you it was sad.
So… With that moment of respectful contemplation behind us, can we take a look at this guy’s picture? Wikipedia says he was 5-foot-7 and 225 lbs. The picture says he does not have the face of a killer. This is the guy on your beer league hockey team who is there for the beer, not the hockey.
It seems the Tories have drawn another dud for their roster in this brawl.
When John A. Macdonald was dying, everyone was asking John Thompson to be prime minister next, but the the rising young star with the ticking time bomb in his chest deferred to his elder colleague John Abbott first.
Abbott was the richest and most successful lawyer in Canada at the time, and after spending a couple of days reading about Canadian prime ministers, I’m not entirely sure there were anything but lawyers in Canada during this time period. Anyway, he was an accomplished man, and he went on to lead the country in small ways for about seventeen months. His most lasting contribution to Canada’s political landscape? He once said, “I hate politics.”
John Abbott strikes me as the Garfield Comics of Canadian prime ministers. Oh, you hate politics? This cat hates Mondays. I can put pictures of both of you up on the fridge at work without offending anyone, although people will think less of me for doing so.
How would Abbott do in a hockey fight? I imagine he would do whatever John A. Macdonald told him to do. That’s sort of what John A. Macdonald was all about.
This was an interesting read for me. Canada’s second prime minister entered the workforce at 13 to support his family after the death of his father. He became a stone mason and a contractor. Many of his buildings are still standing today. He also ran a newspaper that supported the Liberal Party of Canada, which had never held power at that point. He worked and he politicked, and somehow he found himself the leader of the federal Liberals, not that it mattered. Sir John A. Macdonald was never going to lose an election!
Then a couple months later it comes out all the backroom wheeling and dealing John A. Macdonald was doing to get his railway built. The electors put him out on his ear, and the uneducated, little-known Alexander Mackenzie was approached by a hesitant governor-general to ask if he knew how to form a government. The conversation went better than the GG hoped, and he said, “However narrow and inexperienced Mackenzie may be, I imagine he is a thoroughly upright, well-principled, and well-meaning man.”
How very Canadian.
Mackenzie was always proud of his working class background. There’s a story of him touring Fort Henry as prime minister. He asked a soldier if he knew the thickness of the wall beside them. The embarrassed soldier confessed that he didn’t and Mackenzie replied, “I do. It is five feet, ten inches. I know, because I built it myself!”
Yeah, I like the sound of Alexander Mackenzie.
So how is a tall, Scottish-Canadian stone mason going to do in a hockey brawl? Just fine, I’m sure. He might stop from time to time to double-check with Jack and Ed if he is following the rules, and I am sure he would extend a hand to help up anyone he knocks down, but all in all, he will be a credit to the Grits’ team.
John A. Macdonald
So here he is. Canada’s first prime minister from 1867-1873 and again from 1878-1891. He is Canada’s George Washington, except replace all that military stuff with the kind of backroom political shenanigans that… Well, get you thrown our of the Prime Minister’s Office for five years before you come roaring back for twelve more years.
Does that sound a little too dull for you? Would it cheer you up to know how many times “noted drinker” and “famous drunk” comes up in his biographies? The man was well-known for disappearing for days at a time into a blackout bender that would make Keith Richards blush, only to emerge when needed with new legislation in hand and a decent speech prepared to support his motion.
The man worked tirelessly, night and day, sober and drunk, to make Canada what it is today. I haven’t the foggiest notion if he knows how to skate, but if he can walk down an unsalted Toronto or Ottawa Street in January drunk out of his gourd, I’m sure he can make his way across a rink sober to lead his Tories to victory over the Grits.
Who will John A. look for in the brawl? Well, once he whistles up Abbott and Bowell and Thompson and Tupper and Borden –all of whom worked for him at one point– I imagine he will go looking for Mackenzie and Laurier. With those two Grits ground down, who cannot imagine Stephen Harper convincing Macdonald to join the 20th Century Tories in some good old-fashioned hockey mayhem? It will be a real barn burner!
So, who will come out on top in the end? That’s tough to say, of course. The Tories have 12 men and one woman on the ice, but Abbott, Thompson, Bowell, Bennett, and Clark are not likely to contribute that much. The Liberals only have eleven men on the ice, but athletes like Justin Trudeau and John Turner and Lester B. Pearson and bruisers like Jean Chrétien and stone mason Alexander Mackenzie may make up for Martin and St. Laurent’s shortcomings.
As for William Lyon Mackenzie King and Arthur Meighen? Hopefully those two crazy kids figure out their differences out there on the ice. If it is a love that dared not speak its name back then, well, maybe this whole exercise was just so they could find happiness in the end.
And there you have it. Thank you all for going on this journey with me. It was fun imagining five Johns, a Jean, a Joe, a Jack, a Justin, an Ed, a Steve, a Paul, a Brian, a Dick, an Arthur, a Rob, a Will, a Wilf, a Charles, a Pierre, a Louis, a Lester, a Mack, an Alex, and a Kim, all having a good time pummeling each other on a sheet of frozen water.
If you have made it this far, enjoy this song as a palate cleanser. Cheers!