CANADA HISTORY - Prime Ministers

Arthur Meighen


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One of Canada's most gifted yet most unsuccessful politicians was Rt Hon. Arthur Meighen. He was prime Minister on two occasions for an aggregate of less than nine months, but was in and out of politics over a period of 34 years. He was born in Perth county, Ontario, June 16, 1874 and became a Toronto barrister. In 1908 he was elected to the House of Commons for Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. He was Borden's right hand man during and after the war years and at various times held the portfolios of Solicitor General, secretary of State, Mines and Interior. While Prime Minister, he also served as Secretary of State for External Affairs.

When Borden resigned in 1920, Meighen held office from July 10th, 1920 to December 29, 1921. His party was defeated in the election of December 6th, 1921 and he suffered personal defeats in Portage la Prairie which he had held since 1908. He won a seat in a by-election in Grenville in 1922 and was back in the House. In 1925, the Conservatives made a strong come-back but Mackenzie King was able to carry on with the Progressive Party support till 1926 when faced by a censure vote, he asked for dissolution of Parliament. The Governor General, Lord Byng refused and called on Meighen who had no majority, but had courage and ingenuity. In those days, when a member entered the ministry he had to be re-elected. If he formed a ministry, Meighen and his cabinet colleagues would be unable to sit until by-elections could be held, and defeat in the House would be certain without their numbers present. So he had himself sworn in and appointed a cabinet of acting ministers who came to be known as "The Shadow Government", which he directed from a seat in the gallery, pending his own confirmation at the polls. But the Government was beaten in a House vote after less than three months and in the general election that followed, Meighen was defeated in Portage la Prairie, and the Liberals again formed the government.

Meighen retired to private life in Toronto. When R.B. Bennett (later Viscount Bennett) became leader, he appointed Meighen to the Senate in 1932 and he was government leader in that chamber. In 1941, he was lured from the Senate to again lead the Conservatives and in 1942 sought a seat in a York South by-election. He was defeated by a CCF candidate, and left politics for his Toronto law practice. He died on August 5th, 1960 and is buried at St Mary's, Ontario.


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