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Mackenzie King’s legacy

The Story

William Lyon Mackenzie King had "one of the most intriguing careers of any Canadian prime minister," declares CBC announcer Knowlton Nash. King was prime minister for 22 years. He left a legacy of vitally important legislation. His wartime leadership kept the country together. And he also had a penchant for talking to the spirits of dead family members. In this 1991 episode of Saturday Report, King's career and legacy are summed up and evaluated in a short segment called "Whatever Happened to..."

Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: Nov. 16, 1991
Guests: Jack Granatstein, Laurier LaPierre, Joseph Wearing
Host: Knowlton Nash
Duration: 4:20

Did You know?

• William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada's longest-serving prime minister, holding office for almost 22 years - from 1921 to 1930, and from 1935 to 1948. The second-longest-serving prime minister was John A. Macdonald (Canada's first prime minister), who spent almost 19 years as leader. Pierre Trudeau is third with 15 and a half years.

• King was born on Dec. 17, 1874 in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ont.

• His maternal grandfather was William Lyon Mackenzie - the first mayor of Toronto and the leader of 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.

• King graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor's degree in 1895, a law degree in 1896, and then a Master's degree in 1897. After spending several months tutoring and writing articles for Toronto's Mail and Empire newspaper, he received a scholarship from Harvard to pursue another Master's degree (focusing on industrial/labour relations). He completed that degree in 1898. He was then awarded a fellowship to continue his studies at Harvard and the London School of Economics for the next couple of years.

• In 1900, King became editor of the Labour Gazette, a federal government publication that explored complex labour issues. Later that year he was appointed federal deputy minister of Labour.

• In 1908, he resigned from his Department of Labour job to run for Parliament and won in his North Waterloo (Ontario) riding.

• In 1909, he was sworn in as Canada's Minister of Labour. That same year, he received his PhD from Harvard for his dissertation titled "Oriental Immigration to Canada."

• When Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal government was defeated in 1911 and King lost his seat in Parliament, he took a break from politics to work as editor of the Canadian Liberal Monthly.

• During those years away from politics, King also lived in the United States while working for the Rockefeller Foundation. Wealthy American industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. had been impressed with King's labour record and ideas on industrial relations. In 1914, Rockefeller made King head of a newly formed department of industrial relations within the Rockefeller Foundation.

• In 1918, King's book Industry and Humanity was published. It summed up King's conciliatory ideas about labour relations. He believed there were four parties to industry - capital, management, labour and society - and that the government should act on behalf of society to bring about the peaceful resolution of industrial disputes.

• On Aug. 7, 1919, King was chosen as the new leader of the Liberal party.

• In December 1921 the Liberals won the election and King became prime minister.

• In 1926, King was briefly out of power during the very complicated "King-Byng affair." King's minority government was caught up in a customs scandal and he was losing parliamentary support, so King craftily asked Governor General Byng for a dissolution of Parliament so he could call another election. Byng refused to grant it, King quit in anger, and Conservative Arthur Meighen became prime minister for three days before being defeated in a non-confidence vote. After this, Parliament was dissolved and King won in the ensuing election.

• In the 1930 federal election, King lost to the Conservatives led by R.B. Bennett. Bennett had the bad fortune of being prime minister from 1930 to 1935 - the worst years of the Great Depression.

• King was re-elected in 1935. He remained prime minister throughout the rest of the '30s and most of the '40s, leading Canada through the Second World War. He resigned in 1948.

• King's legacy of important social policies include the introduction of the old-age pension in 1926, unemployment insurance in 1940 and the Family Allowances Act in 1944.


Mackenzie King: Public Life, Private Man more