Canadians tend to think that their country's history is dull. But like William Lyon Mackenzie King -- one of Canada's longest serving prime ministers -- there is much that is brilliant below the surface. Lawrence Martin writes that King was unquestionably a weirdo:
Few knew that seances, table-rapping sessions and communing with the likes of William Gladstone, Wilfrid Laurier and other stiffs occupied big stretches of King’s time. In contemplating affairs of state, he ascribed great significance to the formations of his shaving cream. At breakfast, it was the configuration of tea leaves that arrested him. Before heading off to work, he would shoot the breeze with his dog, Pat.
But King spent his youth as a labour negotiator; and he was, in his mother's apt phrase, "the Official Harmonizer." King's style of governance defined the Liberal Party for eighty years:
His exemplary displays of centrist brokerage politics, his placing of national unity at the forefront and his securing of Quebec were pillars that endured for decades. But the fracturing began under Mr. Trudeau and was accelerated by Mr. Turner, who clashed with both Mr. Trudeau and Jean Chrétien. The party took sides, dividing into long-lasting Trudeau/Chrétien and Turner/Paul Martin blocs.
Today we live among the ruins of King's legacy. Stephen Harper -- who is as wily as King -- is trying to get the country to do a one hundred and eighty degree turn. The difference is that King, for all his weirdness, had a gut feel for the country. Stephen Harper -- who, in some ways, is equally dull -- suffers from a Louis XIV complex.
King knew that his grandfather would have been appalled to hear his grandson proclaim, "l'etat c'est moi!" So he worked hard at being dull -- but brilliant.