Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XXII
The advent of Arthur Meighen-The expensive luxury of lecturing Mackenzie King

WHEN he left Rideau Hall on July 10, 1920, Arthur Meighen had just been sworn in as the youngest Prime Minister since Confederation. Besides his comparative youth -- he was forty-six -- he had great energy, a first-rate mind, a gift for oratory at least as impressive as Laurier's or Bourassa's, and a dozen years' experience in Parliament, the last seven as a cabinet minister.

He had everything he needed to succeed -- except a chance to succeed. His prospects as Prime Minister were already hopeless before he became Prime Minister.

Among those who have studied Meighen's troubled career, the orthodox view is that on the day he succeeded Borden the world was his oyster; his failure to pry it open arose from defects of judgment and personality which became apparent only later on. It is, of course, incontestable that he made disastrous mistakes both as Prime Minister and as leader of the Opposition, and it is equally incontestable that the damage his mistakes caused him was usually aggravated by his cold, unyielding way with people. But long before Borden chose him as his heir, Meighen had more enemies than any politician can easily afford. Some he earned by his virtues, some he suffered for his faults. Some simply gravitated to him through circumstances he was too proud and independent to try to control.

Borden and Meighen first met on the platform of a railway station at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, during the last year of the Boer War. Borden, still relatively new to his unwanted job as leader of the Opposition, was making his first trip through the West in the forlorn hope of shaking Laurier's grip on the farm vote. Though there was time for only a few words and a brief handshake, he

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