Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King speaks at the UNO Conference in Paris in . His speech includes references to Canadian contributions, rebuilding Europe, and the future of the atomic bomb. From You Tube.
At the 1919 Liberal convention King was appointed Laurier's successor. Two years later the Liberals won a bare majority in the federal election and King became prime minister. He set out to regain the confidence of the farmers in Ontario and western Canada who had supported the new PROGRESSIVE PARTY, but his reductions in tariffs and freight rates were not enough, and after the 1925 election the Liberals could stay in office only with Progressive support.
During the first session of the new Parliament, when it was clear this support would be withdrawn because of a scandal in the Department of Customs, King asked Governor General Viscount BYNG for a dissolution. Byng refused and called on Arthur MEIGHEN to form a Conservative government, which was defeated in the House a few days later. In the 1926 election King stressed the alleged unconstitutionality of Meighen's government, but the Liberal victory stemmed from the support of Progressives who preferred the Liberals to the high-tariff Conservatives (see KING-BYNG AFFAIR).
In the prosperous years after 1926 the Liberal government provided a cautious administration which reduced the federal debt. Its only initiative was an OLD-AGE PENSION scheme. King insisted on Canadian autonomy in relations with the UK and contributed to the definition of Dominion status at the 1926 Imperial Conference. In 1930 he was reluctant to acknowledge that there was an economic crisis and the Liberals were defeated by the Conservatives under R.B. BENNETT.
King was an effective Opposition leader, keeping his party united as he attacked Bennett for unfulfilled promises and rising unemployment and deficits. His only alternative policy, however, was to reduce trade barriers. In 1935 the Liberal Party campaigned on the slogan "King or Chaos," and was returned to office with a comfortable majority. King negotiated trade agreements with the US in 1935 and with the US and Great Britain in 1938. The economic downturn in 1937 left the government with high relief costs but no coherent economic response.
King was forced to pay more attention to international affairs, from the Ethiopian crisis to the Munich crisis, and he hoped war could be averted through appeasement. He insisted that the Canadian Parliament would decide on Canada's participation if war came, and to make such a decision more palatable, particularly to French Canadians, he promised there would be no conscription for overseas service. Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939; the Canadian Parliament was recalled in an emergency session, and, with only token opposition, declared that Canada was at war.
King called a snap election early in 1940 and his government was returned with an increased majority. Co-operation between the government and business and labour leaders shifted Canadian industrial production to a wartime footing. The remarkable industrial expansion involved special financial arrangements with the US and economic planning on a continental scale. Early German victories led some Canadians to advocate conscription but, fearing a political crisis, King tried to compromise.
He introduced conscription for the defence of Canada in 1940. In a 1942 plebiscite a majority of Canadians favoured relieving the government of its promise not to introduce conscription for overseas service, but Québec voters were opposed. High casualties in 1944 and a declining rate of voluntary enlistment led to prolonged debates within the government and the resignation of the minister of defence, James Layton RALSTON. In November, King abruptly agreed to send some of the home-defence forces to Europe, a decision grudgingly accepted, even by French Canadians.
To placate Canadians who feared the return of the Depression after the war and who looked to the government for greater social security, King introduced unemployment insurance (see EMPLOYMENT INSURANCE) in 1940, and his reconstruction program, based on KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS, included family allowances and proposals for health insurance. The Liberals narrowly won the 1945 election. King did not play a decisive role in the postwar era, preferring a minimal role for the government at home and abroad. He was persuaded to resign as prime minister in 1948 and was succeeded by Louis ST. LAURENT. He died 2 years later.
Mackenzie King has continued to intrigue Canadians. Critics argue that his political longevity was achieved by evasions and indecision, that he failed to provide creative leadership; his defenders argue that King gradually altered Canada, a difficult country to govern, while keeping the nation united. Recent revelations show that this apparently proper and colourless man was a spiritualist, in frequent contact with his mother and other dead relatives and friends.
Author H. BLAIR NEATBY
R.M. Dawson wrote the first vol of the official biography W.L. Mackenzie King 1874-1923 (1958), followed by 2 vols by H. Blair Neatby for the years 1923-32 and 1932-39 (1963, 1976). J.W. Pickersgill and D.F. Forster edited King's diary as The Mackenzie King Record (4 vols, 1960-70); C.P. Stacey, A Very Double Life (1976), and J.E. Esberey, Knight of the Holy Spirit (1980), discuss King's personality.
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
First Among Equals
Learn about the private lives and political careers of Canada’s Prime Ministers. Includes biographies, speeches, and other historical documents. A Library and Archives Canada website.
THE MEMORY PROJECT
The website for The Memory Project, a major initiative dedicated to recording and preserving Canadian veterans' first-hand accounts of their military service during the Second World War and Korean War. Click on "The Memory Project Link" to access this remarkable online collection to hear interviews with individual veterans from all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. See also related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
View a brief video about James Shaver Woodsworth and his negotiations with Prime Minister Mackenzie King over the creation of the first elements of Canada's social-security system. A Heritage Minute from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related learning resources.
Grave Sites of Canadian Prime Ministers
Check this site for photos and information about specific grave sites of former Prime Ministers of Canada. From the website for the National Program for the Grave Sites of Canadian Prime Ministers.
William Lyon Mackenzie King Diary, 1893-1950
The entire text of William Lyon Mackenzie King's personal diary reveals his unique perspective on six decades of Canadian political and social history. Accompanied by teaching resources and informative essays about the diaries. From Library and Archives Canada.
Take a virtual tour of the historic Mackenzie King Estate and Gatineau Park in Ottawa. Check out the notes about King’s life and career in politics as well as the timeline depicting Park milestones.
Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site
This Parks Canada site commemorates the 1838 Battle of the Windmill. Includes historical notes about Hunters' Lodges, the Family Compact and William Lyon Mackenzie.
Laurier House National Historic Site
This Parks Canada website features a historical profile of two Canadian Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King, as well as an interactive virtual tour of Laurier House (National Archives of Canada) in Ottawa.
Woodside National Historic Site
This Parks Canada site commemorates the boyhood home of William Lyon Mackenzie King. Includes a brief profile of the former Prime Minister of Canada and his family.
The Archives of Ontario Remembers the Home Front
In honour of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the Archives of Ontario presents this stirring retrospective of Ontario’s extraordinary Home Front contribution to the war effort. Check out the personal stories, photographs, posters, video clips and other multimedia.
Check out the fine period furniture and other prime ministerial possessions as you wind your way through this virtual tour of Laurier House, former home of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King. This site also provides background information about various items in the residence. From Library and Archives Canada.
A brief history of Mackenzie King’s summer residence at Kingsmere, located in the Gatineau Hills of Québec. From “A Real Companion and Friend: The Diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1893-1950,” a Library and Archives Canada website.
Loneliness at Kingsmere
In this 1960 CBC video clip, a former neighbour describes her memories of King at his Kingsmere home. Also features photos of King in recreational pursuits.
Order of Merit
A description of the "Order of Merit," a special honour awarded to individuals of great achievement in the fields of the arts, learning, literature, and science. From the official website of the British Monarchy.