Prime Minister Richard Bedford BennettPrime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett

He was faced with the most hopeless task of any Canadian Prime Minister. He came to office in 1930 when Canada, with the rest of the world, was in the depths of the Great Depression. Factories were closed, business was stagnant, men tramped from city to city looking vainly for work.

Bennett had been described by his old school-teacher in New Brunswick as “persistent and industrious and full of confidence and fearless”. He set out to fight the Great Depression, almost single-handed. He was a tall, large man — an imposing figure. He dominated the House of Commons, speaking readily, on almost any topic. Conscious of immense personal power, he tended to gather all work to himself, to attend to every detail, to run the whole government, sharing few responsibilities.

He was once seen walking down a street in Ottawa, muttering to himself. “Who is that?” a stranger asked. He was told, “That’s Prime Minister Bennett holding a meeting with his cabinet”.

He came to the office at the age of 60, and carried through five years of enormous strain. There were some remarkable achievements. He won tariff preferences for Canadian goods in the British market. He paid all Canada’s debts and kept the currency sound. He established the Bank of Canada to regulate Canadian banking and the CBC to regulate Canadian broadcasting.

But the odds against him were too heavy. In the election of 1935 he went down to defeat. His last years were spent in England, where he was created Viscount Bennett and entered the House of Lords.

Photo and material courtesy “Prime Ministers of Canada”
by Edgar Andrew Collard