Friday, December 28, 2007

What Makes a Great Prime Minister of Canada?

What makes a great prime minister of Canada? What makes a poor one? What are the key factors that determine success or failure? For that matter, what do we assess, or measure: - length of time in office? - deeds accomplished? - disasters avoided? - popularity with the public? - accolades from political peers? - respect from subsequent historians?

The premise of the book by J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, two eminent Canadian historians noted for their contributions in the fields of national political, military and diplomatic history, is that the collective judgment of academic scholars is a sound means of determining the success of our country's prime ministers. In 1997, they conducted a survey of 26 Canadian scholars - political historians mostly, with a couple of narrative political scientists thrown in - to determine a comparative ranking of the 20 individuals who have served as Canada's prime minister. The respondents were asked to rate the PMs on the familiar scale of 0 (for total failure) to 10 (for enduring greatness). The results of their survey were published as a leading article in the April 21, 1997 issue of Maclean's magazine. Granatstein and Hillmer then expanded that article into this 200-plus-page book, with individual chapters for each prime minister except the four immediate successors to John A. Macdonald, whose combined service from 1891-1896 is disposed of in one chapter.

Although actual point totals are not produced in either the original Maclean's piece or this followup book, the authors tell us that the consensus of their panel of experts (which included themselves) pointed to William Lyon Mackenzie King as the top-ranked Canadian prime minister. Apparently 14 respondents placed King either first, or tied for first. The other two leaders earning their "Great" rating (an A-plus surely) were John A. Macdonald (2nd) and Wilfrid Laurier (3rd). A fourth PM, Louis St. Laurent, was awarded a "near-Great" grade, perhaps the equivalent of an A-minus. The "High-Average" (B?) leaders were Pierre Trudeau (5th), Lester Pearson (6th) and Robert Borden (7th) respectively, followed by the "average" (C?) prime ministers: Brian Mulroney (8th), Jean Chretien (9th), John Thompson (10th), Alexander Mackenzie (11th), R.B. Bennett (12th) and John Diefenbaker (13th). Two prime ministers, Arthur Meighen (14th) and Joe Clark (15th) scraped through with a "Low-Average" (D?) Rating. Those PMs adjudged to be failures (F for sure) were Charles Tupper, John Abbott, John Turner, Mackenzie Bowell and Kim Campbell.


Canadian Social Studies

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