Arthur Meighen

Arthur Meighen was an important Canadian politician, but not an important Canadian prime minister. Both of his terms were short and inconsequential, and remain among the least noteworthy portions of his long political career.

An intelligent and well-educated man who is still considered one of the finest speakers in Canadian history, Meighen worked as a teacher and lawyer before winning election to Parliament in 1908. When Robert Borden (1854-1937) was elected prime minister in 1911 he tapped Meighen for a series of key cabinet jobs, including solicitor general, interior minister, and foreign minister. One of the most conservative members of Borden’s Tory administration, Meighen was a cold and ruthless administrator of any task he was given. A strong anti-Communist and general xenophobe, during the labour unrest of Canada’s early 20th Century and particularly during World War I (1915-1918) he favoured rounding up and deporting immigrants whose loyalty to Canada he considered suspect. When Borden resigned in 1920, Meighen was chosen to replace him, but only served a year as PM before losing the 1921 federal election to Liberal Mackenzie King (1874-1950).

Meighen’s second term is a bit weird, and came as the result of a complicated series of parliamentary events known as the King-Byng Affair that political scientists still debate to this day. To broadly summarize a complex situation, Meighen’s Conservatives won more seats in parliament than King’s Liberals in the 1925 election, but King was able to stay in power by forming an alliance with a third party, the Progressives. When King asked the Governor General, Lord Byng (1862 -1935), to call a new election a few months later, Byng refused, and installed Meighen prime minister in his place. Three days later, King and the Progressives voted no-confidence in the Meighen administration, and an election was finally held, which King won.

Unlike most Canadian former prime ministers, Meighen stayed politically active for quite a while after losing office. In 1932 Prime Minister R.B. Bennett appointed him Conservative leader in the Senate, where he served until 1942, when he was reappointed head of the party. A few months later he failed to win re-election back to the House of Commons and promptly abandoned his campaign to recapture the prime ministership a third time.