William Lyon Mackenzie King

William Lyon Mackenzie King (December 17, 1874 – July 22, 1950), also commonly known as Mackenzie King, was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada in 1921–1926, 1926–1930, and 1935–1948. He is best known for his leadership of Canada throughout the Second World War (1939–1945) when he mobilized Canadian money, supplies and volunteers to support Britain while boosting the economy and maintaining home front morale. A Liberal with 22 years in office, he was the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. Trained in law and social work, he was keenly interested in the human condition (as a boy, his motto was „Help those that cannot help themselves”), and played a major role in laying the foundations of the Canadian welfare state. King acceded to the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1919. Taking the helm of a party bitterly torn apart during the First World War, he reconciled factions, unifying the Liberal Party and leading it to victory in 1921. His party was out of office during the harshest days of the Great Depression in Canada, 1930–35; he returned when the economy was on an upswing. He personally handled complex relations with the Prairie Provinces, while his top aides Ernest Lapointe and Louis St. Laurent skillfully met the demands of French Canadians. During the Second World War, he carefully avoided the battles over conscription, patriotism and ethnicity that had divided Canada so deeply in the First World War. Though few major policy innovations took place during his premiership, he was able to synthesize and pass a number of measures that had reached a level of broad national support. Scholars attribute King’s long tenure as party leader to his wide range of skills that were appropriate to Canada’s needs. He understood the workings of capital and labour. Keenly sensitive to the nuances of public policy; he was a workaholic with a shrewd and penetrating intelligence and a profound understanding of the complexities of Canadian society. A modernizing technocrat who regarded managerial mediation as essential to an industrial society, he wanted his Liberal Party to represent liberal corporatism to create social harmony. King worked to bring compromise and harmony to many competing and feuding elements, using politics and government action as his instrument. He led his party for 29 years, and established Canada’s international reputation as a middle power fully committed to world order. King’s biographers agree on the personal characteristics that made him distinctive. He lacked the charisma of such contemporaries as Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or Charles de Gaulle. He lacked a commanding presence or oratorical skill; his best writing was academic, and did not resonate with the electorate. Cold and tactless in human relations, he had allies but very few close personal friends. He never married and lacked a hostess whose charm could substitute for his chill. He kept secret his beliefs in spiritualism and use of mediums to stay in contact with departed associates and particularly with his mother, and allowed his intense spirituality to distort his understanding of Adolf Hitler throughout the late 1930s. A survey of scholars in 1997 by ”Maclean’s” magazine ranked King first among all Canada’s prime ministers, ahead of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. As historian J. L. Granatstein notes, „the scholars expressed little admiration for King the man but offered unbounded admiration for his political skills and attention to Canadian unity. ” On the other hand, Stewart in 2007 found that even Liberal activists have but a dim memory of him.

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