In 1898 he won election as a Conservative to the Assembly of the North-West Territories, but failed in bids to enter federal politics in 1900 and the new Alberta legislature in 1905. Through his associations with Lougheed and Max AITKEN, Bennett prospered, and by 1909, when he was elected in Alberta, he was financially independent.
In 1911 he went to Ottawa as the Conservative member for Calgary East. He became discouraged when Prime Minister Borden did not appoint him to the Cabinet and, expecting to be appointed to the Senate, he did not stand for re-election in 1917. In 1921 Arthur MEIGHEN, who disliked Bennett but respected his influence, named him minister of justice. Bennett was defeated in the 1921 general election, but won in 1925 in Calgary West. In Meighen's brief 1926 government he was minister of finance. In 1927 Bennett gained the Conservative leadership at the party's first convention.
An excellent parliamentary debater, he strengthened the party, but it was the GREAT DEPRESSION which assured victory in the 1930 election. He promised aggressive action to combat the Depression, but once in office found it difficult to develop a coherent program. His business instincts did not serve his political interests. His major initiative, to persuade the British Empire to adopt preferential tariffs, brought some economic relief to Canada but not enough. His establishment of relief camps for single men lost him much popularity.
By 1933, the nadir of the Depression, he seemed indecisive and ineffective. He became the butt of endless jokes. Cars towed by horses because owners could not afford gasoline were dubbed "Bennett buggies." In 1934 he was increasingly isolated and faced major dissent both in the party and the country. Early in 1935 he dramatically announced that he supported "government control and regulation." He called for progressive taxation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, and other major social reforms. Unfortunately for Bennett, Canadians did not find his New Deal as convincing as Americans found Roosevelt's. In October 1935 Mackenzie KING's Liberals swept the Conservatives out of office.
Bennett continued ineffectively as opposition leader until 1938, when he bitterly abandoned Canada and bought an estate in Surrey, England. His British friends, notably Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), secured a viscountcy for him in 1941. He never forgave Canada for failing him, and, in ignoring his career, Canadians, it seems, have not forgiven Bennett.
See also BENNETT'S NEW DEAL.
Author JOHN ENGLISH
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