Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tireless R.B. Bennett a 'blazing intelligence'

  • Print

RICHARD Bedford (R.B.) Bennett had the thankless task of being prime minister of Canada during the depths of the Great Depression, 1930-1935.

How he led Canada through these difficult years is the main focus of this outstanding biography by P.B. Waite, a veteran historian at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Waite convincingly argues that Bennett's efforts during the Depression were herculean; Waite's study shines much-needed light on a figure who has received little credit for his exertions.

Born in 1870 in New Brunswick, Bennett first became a teacher, and then studied law. He moved to Calgary in 1897, where he made a fortune as a lawyer and businessman.

By 1911, when he was elected Conservative MP for Calgary, he was independently wealthy.

His independent means and independent mind made him a maverick MP -- not really a "team player." He became leader of the Conservative party in 1927, and was elected prime minister in 1930.

In addition to being prime minister, he also held the offices, simultaneously, of minister of external affairs, acting minister of finance and, in 1931, acting minister of labour.

This burden reflects one of his chief characteristics: a prodigious capacity for work, which he displayed throughout his life.

Long days

As prime minister, he routinely worked 12- to 14-hour days.

This penchant for hard work, combined with what Waite calls his "blazing intelligence," made him a formidable figure -- a "phenomenon."

What was Bennett's political philosophy? He was an exemplar of the Red Tory, a conservative with progressive ideas about the role of government in the economy.

As Bennett declared in a radio address in 1935, "I am for reform. And, in my mind, reform means government intervention. It means government control and regulation. It means the end of laissez-faire."

The concrete policies that issued from this philosophy included the beginning of unemployment insurance and legislation for Prairie farmers in 1934 and 1935.

However, when Bennett assumed power, he had to take immediate steps to avert a total financial collapse. Only when fiscal stability was restored could he turn to enacting his agenda of progressive reform.

But by then it was too late for the Canadian public. Widespread discontent swept the Liberals and Mackenzie King back into office in 1935.

Bennett continued to be a public figure after leaving office, speaking often about Canada's role in the British Empire, a role that promoted Canadian independence by providing a counterweight to the influence of Canada's powerful southern neighbour.

Bennett left Canada in 1939 to reside in Britain. He was awarded a peerage. He died in 1947.

Waite's account of Bennett depicts a politician and statesman who served Canada tirelessly under adverse circumstances, and who therefore deserves an honoured place among great Canadian political leaders.


Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2012 J7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets This Week: Quarter Season Analysis

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Gardening Column- Assiniboine Park English Garden. July 19, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Should the federal government force band chiefs and councillors to disclose their salary information?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google