Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Deathmatch

Calgary Grit is holding a rather interesting race: the greatest 20th century prime minister (plus Macdonald). While I think it's unfortunate that the likes of Tupper (one of the Fathers of Confederation), Thompson (one of the brighter minds in the Conservative Party) and Mackenzie (the first Liberal prime minister) were left out, I understand that it was for reasons of logistics.

(A similar poll for "Worst Prime Minister" would be amusing, to say the least, especially if it left out all the obvious choices like Mackenzie Bowell or John Abbott.)

The righties from Small Dead Animals and the Shotgun have organized a campaign against Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson (who ironically are facing each other in the next round). Given that they hate Trudeau more than Pearson, though, I don't like Trudeau's chances of going on to the semi-finals. Well, I'm voting for him anyway. But given what a hard time he had against Joe Clark, I think he's toast.

Here are my thoughts on the match-ups:

King vs. Diefenbaker: Two heavyweights - and our two crazy PMs - go up against each other here, King as one of the most well-known prime ministers in Canada, and Diefenbaker as one of the only conservatives to win an election, unseating King's protege St. Laurent. Diefenbaker knocked off St. Laurent in the first round, and now goes on to face the master. Personally, I've never held much sympathy for King, and I wish St. Laurent had won so that I could vote against him. But I hold even less regard for John Diefenbaker. I am fully aware that King was, among other things, clinically insane. He did, after all, receive political advice from Wilfrid Laurier throughout his career... even though Laurier died in 1919. He also got advice from the dog he owned as a teenager and frequently spoke to his dead mother. But while King was a total lunatic, and one of the people who thought Hitler was a decent fellow, he never let his insanity dictate public policy. Diefenbaker, on the other hand, once wanted to base the date of a British Commonwealth Conference on the advice of a water diviner in the Praeries. Keep in mind that this is also the man who destroyed the Canadian aerospace industry - the Avro Arrow would still be modern today - approved the construction of nuclear warheads without the nukes, making them essentially useless, and so hated John F. Kennedy that the Defence Minister actually had to go behind his back to declare a state of emergency during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dief didn't want to declare an emergency because he didn't trust Kennedy. And the reason he voted against Trudeau's omnibus bill decriminalizing homosexuality was because he - I couldn't make this up - thought that gays were Soviet spies. To me, this is not a hard choice. Unfortunately, I suspect that many people may vote with partisan blinders on and push Dief over the top, which is saddening.

Macdonald vs. Mulroney: In the first round, Sir John A. crushed Kim Campbell. Not content with just exacting his posthumous revenge upon one of the two people who destroyed his party, he is now going up against Brian Mulroney. I'm not sure how this one will go, and to be honest, I'm still debating how to vote. I'm a fan of Mulroney's, though I'm not sure I'm enough of a fan to vote against the man who created Canada. They were both involved in a great deal of political scandal, Macdonald probably more than Mulroney in terms of how much it benefitted him. I'm thinking I'll have to go for Mulroney; the Free Trade Agreement is one of the best things to happen to the Canadian economy, and he was daring enough to go for it, even though he knew there was a great deal of opposition to it at the time. I'm no fan of the GST, but something had to be done to get finances under control. (Though on a side note, isn't it interesting that the two most hated taxes in Canada - the GST and income tax - were introduced by conservatives?)

Trudeau vs. Pearson: The choice is obvious to me, since I'm a great fan of P.E.T., both for his personality and his policies. I greatly admire him for his bravery during the St. Jean Baptiste parade where he stood up to violent separatists, literally, and during the F.L.Q. crisis when he refused to let terrorism have free reign. His consistent stand against Quebec separatism shows a commitment to Canada that some could possibly learn from. Plus, I think his omnibus bill is one of the most important, progressive and wonderful pieces of legislation to ever pass the House of Commons. That's not even to mention the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the recognition of Canadians as a rights-bearing people, even though the provinces demanded the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause. The Charter, to me, represents the crowning achievement of his prime ministership, and as someone who was born after it was implemented, feel great pride that I was born in a Canada where my rights as a citizen are respected. I like Pearson, too, but to Trudeau, I just don't think he compares.

Laurier vs. Chretien: This one is a no-brainer to me. I think Laurier is one of the greatest prime ministers in Canadian history - second perhaps to Pierre - and his commitment to free trade was just as admirable as Mulroney's (especially considering that he lost two elections over it). He led a battered coalition of Frenchmen after the 1917 election, and stood up against one of the most undemocratic and illiberal ideas ever conceived - namely, conscription - even though he knew it was a losing battle. He established the Liberal Party in Quebec, did his best to keep the country unified and keep French--English tensions to a minimum after the Manitoba Schools Question, and will always of course be remembered for his "20th Century shall belong to Canada" speech. Even if it didn't come to pass, political leaders these days are sadly lacking in rhetorical flourish that powerful and sincere. Speaking of today's leaders, he's up against Chretien, who while he wasn't terrible, wasn't good either. Pretty much the pinnacle of mediocrity - just like most leaders today.

Well, I've got one vote (two actually, due to CG's voting system) to give, and that's who they're going to. I'm rootin' for my men from the spectator's booth!


At 8/31/2005 3:27 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see someone supporting both Mulroney and Trudeau.

Personally, I'd say King, Trudeau, Macdonald, and Laurier should be locks for the final four.


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