R.B. Bennett: Triumph in Canada's 'great dark days'
• Bennett was eventually elected as a Conservative member of the Alberta legislature in 1909, and won a federal seat two years later. He served briefly as the justice minister and finance minister for Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, and in 1927 he was elected leader of the Conservatives.
• In 1930, Bennett was elected prime minister, defeating Mackenzie King on a platform of aggressive economic measures and assistance for the unemployed. But as the Great Depression wore on, Bennett's government brought in increasingly drastic and unpopular programs, including the 1932 Relief Act. That act established remote work camps for single unemployed men with nowhere else to turn. Their hard work was rewarded with a subsistence wage of 20 cents a day.
• To protest the camp conditions and Bennett's policies, thousands of unemployed men rode the rails from west to east, intending to bring their complaints to Bennett himself in Ottawa. But the On to Ottawa Trek was halted in Regina. On July 1, 1935, Bennett ordered the RCMP to attack the crowd and throw its leaders in jail. A plainclothes policeman was killed, 120 people were arrested and hundreds were injured.
• Bennett was notorious for not delegating authority or consulting his cabinet. (As prime minister he kept the finance portfolio from 1930-1932, and external affairs from 1930-1935.) The result was rebellion inside his government.
• In 1935, Bennett dropped his hardline economic policies of high tariffs as well as trade within the British Empire in favour of social reforms modelled on Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal." But he was crushed in that year's election. Mackenzie King's Liberals were back in office as they took 173 seats to just 39 for the Conservatives.
• Bennett stayed in opposition until 1938, and emigrated from Canada to England in 1938, where he was made a viscount in 1941 and sat in the House of Lords. He died of a heart attack on June 26, 1947, and was buried at Mickleham, Surrey -- the only Canadian prime minister not buried in Canada.
• This clip, recorded in 1934, actually predates the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was R.B. Bennett who introduced the Canadian Broadcasting Act in 1932. That act established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), which became the CBC in 1936.
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: June 8, 1934
Guest(s): R.B. Bennett
Last updated: July 5, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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