If you are looking forward How many prime ministers has Canada had?
Well, you are at the right place to get your answers.
Being a prime minister is a duty of responsibility and the work is really difficult. One of the first tasks of a prime minister is to choose a cabinet. These are the people who will be part of the prime minister’s inner circle. Cabinet ministers are in charge of the various government departments making decisions on the policies and services that will affect you.
But deciding who sits around the table can be a challenge for any prime minister.
1. How Many Prime Ministers has Canada had?
In Canada’s history, there are a total of about 23 Prime Ministers since 1867. Let’s dive deep into the list of prime ministers of Canada……………
1.1. John Alexander McDonald
Served:- 1867-1873 and 1878-1891
Let’s start the list in the year 1867. That was the year that the current constitution of Canada was adopted. This was the year that most people think Canada became a country in the modern sense and the first prime minister of that new country was a guy called John Alexander McDonald. In Canada, he is always referred to as John A MacDonald or sometimes Sir John A McDonald because he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
McDonald is an incredibly famous guy in Canada probably the one historical prime minister you would expect everyone to know. A lot of people think of him as the founder of Canada and a kind of Canadian George Washington, an analogy that McDonald encouraged in his own time and even got paintings of himself done to look like him.
So, what did he do? Well, McDonald was a big-shot politician from the conservative party in the previous Canadian government and he was one of the architects of the new Constitution that went into effect in 1867.
This new constitution expanded Canada’s borders to create an American-style Federation with other British colonies in North America and McDonald’s is seen as being at the center of all of the wheeling and dealing it took to set that up.
McDonald was then elected to lead that new government he helped create and he ruled Canada for nearly 20 unbroken years. His long Administration is most notable for annexing all of this additional territory as well as spearheading the creation of a tremendous Transcontinental Railroad to tie the country together with a ribbon of Steel as the Romantic phrasing of the time put it.
McDonald’s was briefly out of power from 1873 to 1878 when his government was voted out following various scandalous revelations about corruption between his political party and the big railroad companies.
1.2. Alexander Mackenzie
In the place of Alexander McDonald, Canadians elected their first-ever Liberal Party government headed by a similarly named guy called Alexander McKenzie.
McKenzie is not very well remembered today and most of the things he did during his only term were things that McDonald was in the process of doing anyway like creating a Canadian Supreme Court or passing the infamous Indian Act that established Canadian Indians as a separate class of citizens.
The callous way in which the early Canadian Prime Ministers treated the native peoples of this country is something that is becoming an increasing source of controversy as of late and has led many people to argue that we should probably stop venerating our early leaders quite so much.
But that said just in terms of how important Johnny McDonald was as a historic figure in helping form the Canadian Constitution and laying the groundwork for the continent-sized country that Canada is today.
1.3. Sir John Abbott, Sir John Thompson, Bowell & Tupper
McDonald died in office in 1891 and four different men each briefly served as prime minister in the four years that followed John Abbott, John Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell, and Charles Tupper.
McDonald was such a domineering personality that it was considered quite difficult to find a good replacement for him within the conservative party after his death. These four guys are thus just mostly known for symbolizing this politically chaotic time and accomplished virtually nothing of note. In 1896, the last of these guys Charles Tupper, a man who was only in office for two months was defeated in an election by the Liberal Party led by Wilfred Laurier.
1.4. Wilfrid Laurier
Laurier is considered another one of the very major figures in Canadian history. He was the first french Canadian prime minister. He was also a Catholic prime minister.
He ruled for 15 years and his government is associated with settling all of this empty land that McDonald’s had annexed, as well as presiding over Canada’s growth into one of the major industrialized countries of the world, full of gold mines, wheat farms, lumber Mills, and so on. Laurier was in turn defeated in the 1911 election by conservative leader Robert Borden.
1.5. Sir Robert Borden
Today we associate Borden mostly with Canada’s participation in the first world war.
Because it is still something that is quite heavily sentimentalized as a time in which Canada sort of really made itself known as a powerful serious country on the world stage and not simply a wimpy British colony. After two terms Borden retired while still in office and was replaced as prime minister in 1920 by interior Minister Arthur Meighen.
1.6. Arthur Meighen
Arthur Meighen had been Borden’s, right-hand man.
And was this very strident right-wing character, who was very down on immigrants and labor unions and stuff. But we never really got to see how he would have handled the top job because, after just a few months in office, he was voted out in favor of the Liberals under William Lyon Mackenzie King. Arthur Meighen was thus a very transient and irrelevant prime minister.
1.7. William Lyon Mackenzie King
Served:- 1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948
Prime Minister Mackenzie King by contrast was the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history almost 22 years if you mush all of his dates together.
And accordingly, he is associated with a great many important things as you might expect for someone who hung room for so long. King negotiated Canada’s final independence from Great Britain in 1931 and he laid the foundation for what we would now think of as the modern welfare state, introducing innovative social programs like old age pensions for seniors.
However, at the height of the Great Depression in 1930 he was briefly voted out in favor of R.B. Bennett Mackenzie King was elected back to Power in 1935 while Bennett lived the rest of his life in Exile in Great Britain. King’s final terms are associated with Canada’s entry and participation in World War II on the side of the allies. This is another very sentimental period of Canadian history that’s considered quite a heroic time for the country.
King finally retired in 1948 and was replaced by the man who had been his attorney, general Louis Saint Laurent.
1.8. R.B. Bennett
Bennett was a wealthy conservative lawyer.
Many historians believe he was a man woefully miscast to run Canada during an unprecedented period of poverty and unemployment. The standard argument is that he did not grasp the full magnitude of the depression and it took him way too long to realize the sort of dramatic government action that would be needed to resolve it.
Though he does have his defenders, he is quite widely regarded as having been a failed prime minister.
1.9. Louis St. Laurent
Prime minister Louis Saint Laurent is mostly forgotten about today. But he was quite important for presiding over Canada’s big post-war economic transformation.
Throughout the nine years, he was in charge of the country, continued to industrialize at quite a rapid clip. Developed large multinational corporations powerful Banks and a mighty oil industry all of which helped further establish Canada as one of the world’s major capitalist Powers. He didn’t achieve anything particularly epic but was a most popular and competent leader. He did lose his bid for a third term to conservative John Diefenbaker.
1.10. John Diefenbaker
John Diefenbaker remains a pretty famous prime minister today in part because he had such a memorably quirky name and a rather flamboyant and eccentric personality. Diefenbaker would also be considered a man who presided over Canadian good times in the late 50s and early 60s. For a while, he was quite popular because he was seen as this very good upright Christian sort of guy.
But he also came to be seen as someone who just made a lot of bad decisions in Canadian foreign and military policy during the early years of the Cold War and someone who just led a fairly disorganized administration more broadly. He was the leader of the progressive conservative party and was voted out in 1963 in favor of Lester B Pearson who served a similarly shaky five years in office.
1.11. Lester B. Pearson
Pearson was a career diplomat who won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for his work bringing peace to the Middle East. But as prime minister, he had a lot of difficulty running a competent government in some of the same ways that Diefenbaker did. The decade between 1957 and 1968 is sometimes seen as Canada’s time of trouble in which the country suffered from chronically bad government.
But that said Pearson is generally considered better than Fieffenbaker just in that he achieved a few more tangible things during his tenure. He presided over the beginnings of what would become Canada’s much beloved Public Health Care System.
He created the maple leaf flag and he entered into an arrangement with the United States that brought nuclear missiles into Canada as part of a cold war defense strategy. This technically made Canada a nuclear-armed state depending on how you classify that. Pearson retired in 1968 and was replaced by attorney general Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
1.12. Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Served:- 1968-1979 and 1980-1984
Trudeau was the person whom many would argue was the most important Canadian Prime Minister of modern times. He remains very controversial to this day but he’d have to be put in the tier just in terms of the magnitude of what he accomplished. Trudeau served for nearly 15 straight years and introduced a lot of the policies that we think of as defining Canada today.
This included making English and French Canada’s official languages, Embracing protectionist measures to protect certain Canadian industries from Market competition, high spending on social programs, self-governance rights for the Aboriginal Canadians increased non-European immigration, and a foreign policy that emphasized independence from U.S leadership.
But most significantly his government also substantially amended the Canadian constitution to entrench fundamental human rights and forbid future governments from infringing them.
This was probably the single greatest change to Canadian law and democracy since the Constitution was first adopted in 1867 and in the same way that people say John a McDonald was the architect of the old Canada is popular to say that Pierre Elliot Trudeau was the architect of the new Canada. He lost in 1979 and won again in 1980. He was the prime minister of Canada till 1984.
1.13. Joe Clark
Like most of Canada’s long-serving Prime Ministers, Trudeau was briefly kicked out of office at one point in 1979. He narrowly lost his bid for a fourth term to Joseph Clark, the young new head of the conservative party. The conventional wisdom on Clark is that he could have served a couple of decent years as prime minister if he’d been a little bit better at parliamentary maneuvering. But instead, the parliament voted no confidence in him after only eight months in office due to breakdowns in negotiations over his budget plans.
History nerds might find it interesting to know that he was the guy in charge when the famous Canadian scheme to rescue American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Iran went down.
1.14. John Turner
Served:- June- September 1984
When Pierre Elliot Trudeau finally left for good in 1984 John Turner took over. Turner had been Finance Minister under Trudeau and was considered to come from the more conservative business-friendly faction of the liberal party. But once again it all wound up being irrelevant because there was an election held on his 65th day in office and he lost it quite resoundingly to the new conservative Boss Brian Mulroney.
1.15. Brian Mulroney
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was in charge from 1984 to 1993.
He is usually thought of as being part of the neo-conservative wave that swept the English-speaking world during the 1980s. Historians usually lump him in with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as three peas in a pod. In fairness, Moroney was never quite as strident or ideological as those two. But his government did represent an attempt at course correction after the Trudeau years.
He had an agenda of cutting taxes, deregulating industry, privatizing government assets, and the name of reorienting the country towards pure free market principles. his biggest accomplishment was negotiating free trade with the United States which helped usher in a new era of economic integration across North America.
Like Trudeau, he also tried to dramatically change the Canadian Constitution near the end, and his failure to do so prevented him from leaving a more dramatic Legacy.
1.16. Kim Campbell
Served:- June-October 1993
Mulroney resigned in 1993 and to replace him the conservatives turn to Kim Campbell, a junior Minister only serving her first term in Parliament. But in a now familiar story, an election was held just a few weeks after she was sworn in and she was defeated in a massive Landslide.
some have argued that Campbell might be the single worst or at least most irrelevant prime minister in Canadian history. So, in 1993 the liberals were elected back to power under Jean Chretien.
1.17. Jean Chretien
Chretien was a longtime politician who had been one of pure Elliott Trudeau’s most trusted cabinet ministers. He served three back-to-back terms as prime minister and was always relatively popular. If Mulroney represented the Triumph of neoconservatism Chretien represented the Triumph of neo-liberalism or the flavor of progressive politics that learned to make peace with things like deregulation and free trade because they were seen as being broadly effective.
The 1990s were a time of relative peace and prosperity for Canada and Chretien is often given credit for presiding over those good times. After September 11, 2001, he pledged to be an ally in the U.S led war on terror and committed Canadian troops to fight Islamist radicals in Afghanistan for what would wind up being the country’s longest-ever War. Nearly the end of his third term foreign policy controversies consumed more of his time and attention.
1.18. Paul Martin
When Chretien retired in 2003 he was replaced by Paul Martin who is kind of in his category as far as types of prime ministers go. He served for two years which is not that long. Martin did the standard routine of taking over right before an election except in this case he won narrowly.
But then in 2005, the parliament voted no confidence in him and there was a second election in two years which he lost. Martin had been the highly influential Finance Minister under correction and was considered the sort of brains behind the liberal party’s shift towards neoliberalism during the 1990s. Martin’s years as prime minister wound up being a bit of an anti-climax and not much of note got accomplished beyond a two-year continuation of what were Chretien’s economic and foreign policies.
1.19. Stephen Harper
The conservative leader who beat Martin Stephen Harper served from 2006 to 2015 so he hasn’t been out of power for very long which makes it a little bit difficult to objectively gauge his legacy. Harper often focuses on his management of the Canadian economy during the 2008-2009 Great Recession and credits him for the fact that Canada whether that particular storm much better than many other countries.
He was also quite hawkish on foreign policy matters and worked hard to position Canada as a country that took very strong principled positions on things like Russian aggression or the regime in Iran or Israel’s right to defend itself and that sort of thing. But on the other hand, his famously incremental approach to pushing Canada to the right meant that he never pursued any overly ambitious ideas.
1.20. Justin Trudeau
The fact that Stephen Harper was ultimately voted out in favor of a man as dramatically different from him as Justin Trudeau. He is the son of Ex prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He is the current prime minister of Canada since 2013. He is a former high school teacher, and snowboarding instructor and even acted in a movie about Canada’s role in World War I before following his father’s political footsteps.
These were the 23 of Canada’s prime ministers. If you want to read more about Canada then check this out.As an Amazon Associate, Icy Canada earns from qualifying purchases.