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Archive for December, 2010

Until 1930, any MP appointed to cabinet was required by law to seek re-election in a by-election. Only one Prime Minister failed to win such a by-election. Wilfrid Laurier was appointed Inland Revenue minister in 1877 by Alexander Mackenzie and lost his attempt to retain his seat for Drummond-Arthabaska. The riding of Quebec East was made available to him and he won that by-election — holding the seat until his death in 1919.

The cabinet by-election necessity proved to a be a major headache for Arthur Meighen in 1926. Asked by Governor-General Lord Byng to form a government, he avoided the risk of losing any by-elections by appointing ‘acting’ ministers. A few days later, the Liberals under William Lyon Mackenzie King passed a motion in the House, by one vote, censuring the gambit. So, Meighen decided to call an election — which he lost.

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Twenty Prime Ministers in all have had their official portraits hung in the Centre Block. Only the two most recent — Paul Martin and Stephen Harper — await their turns.

There is no set schedule for determining when a Prime Minister will have his or her portrait painted and added to the collection. Two PMs — Sir John A. Macdonald and William Lyon Mackenzie King — had their portraits done while still in office. Two others — Sir John Abbott and Sir Mackenzie Bowell — waited more than 100 years for their canvases to be done. Both were unveiled in 2002.

Only two artists have more than one portrait in the collection. John Wycliffe Lowes Forster painted Alexander Mackenzie and Sir John Thompson, while Kenneth Keith Forbes painted Sir Robert Borden and R.B. Bennett.

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There have been eight.

Since the creation of the Order of Canada on July 1, 1967, only two former Prime Ministers have not received it. John Diefenbaker was still an MP at the time of his death in 1979; sitting politicians are ineligible for the honour. Paul Martin stepped down as an MP in 2008; presumably he’ll receive the recognition in the next few years. His father was made a Companion of the Order in 1976.

For the record, PM Companions have been Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien.

Interesting side note: Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party and a sitting politician, belongs to the Order. She received the honour before entering politics.

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