Prime Ministers 101

Edmonton - Wednesday, August 28, 2002 - by: Ron Thornton
As for Sir John Thompson, he may have either prevented Sir Wilfred Laurier from becoming PM for a while, or even shortened his stay, except for his unexpected demise. Thompson was at Windsor Castle with a number of other Empire politicians when he fainted shortly after meeting Queen Victoria. After recovering, he went on to dinner with the gathered throng and proceded to die from a heart attack before them. He was just 49 and the short-term future of the Conservative Party died with him.


Wilfred Laurier and John Thompson

Abbott replaced Sir John A. MacDonald with his passing, only because Thompson didn't think the country was ready for a Roman Catholic Prime Minister. A year later, Thompson finally took the reins. When he died, Thompson was succeeded by Bowell, who saw his cabinet mutiny, who was in turn was replaced by aged Father of Confederation Sir Charles Tupper. Tupper served just a few months before the Liberals creamed his team in 1896.


MacKenzie Bowell, John A. MacDonald and John Abbott

In fact, 1891-1896 saw our country ruled by four of the oldest six PM's in our history. Macdonald was 76 when he died in 1891, Abbott retired in 1892 at the age of 71, Bowell was 72 when he was basically turfed in 1896, and Tupper was 75 when he was defeated later the same year. The other two of the top six, by the way, are William Lyon MacKenzie King (73 when he retired in 1948), and his successor Louis St. Laurent (75 when defeated in 1957). Lester Pearson is #7 on the list, being just days shy of his 71st birthday when he retired in 1968.


William Lyon MacKenzie-King, Charles Tupper, Lester Pearson, Louis St. Laurent

And now that my juices are flowing, let me continue. Some of our elderly Prime Ministers actually lived to even riper old age. Sir Mackenzie Bowell couldn't breath any life back into the Conservatives, but he kept breathing 21-years before dying in 1917 just 17-days shy of his 94th birthday. Sir Charles Tupper remained Conservative leader until 1901, and lived until 1915 when he passed away at 94. Louis St. Laurent was defeated in 1957, but lived until 1973 when he was 91.
Final pieces of trivia I'll leave with you include the fact that nine times a leader over the age of 65 led his party to victory in a federal election. John A. Macdonald did it three times (76 in 1891, 72 in 1887, and 67 in 1882). Louis St. Laurent (71 in 1953 and 67 in 1949) and Mackenzie King (70 in 1945 and 65 in 1940) each did it twice. Those who did it once include Sir Wilfred Laurier (66 in 1908) and Jean Chretien, who was 66 when he won his third mandate in 2000.
The lecture is over, school is out for today.


Ron Thornton



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