Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Dull But Brilliant

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 Chr├ętien. The party took sides, dividing into long-lasting Trudeau/Chr├ętien 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.


thwap said...

King was lucky to have been out of power in 1929 and to have let the Conservatives take the blame for the Great Depression and to have later managed the country through a successful war.

But even still, I agree with you that he had a sense for the country. People didn't like him because in trying to placate all parts of the country he pleased no one.

But he kept it together and he stayed on top. I don't think harper is trying to govern a united Canada. He'll split it up for his own selfish purposes.

Owen Gray said...

You're right, thwap. Harper is much more willing to split the country up -- or perhaps he's just too dull to understand how his actions will split the country up.

Whatever his faults, King was the "Official Harmonizer." The only offical harmonizing on Mr. Harper's agenda is a harmonized sales tax.