prime ministers of Canada

There are about ten million sites on the net that could give you a list of all the prime ministers of Canada. However, the unique nature of the office merits a more comprehensive chart.

Non-Canadians hear about how we had a female prime minister, and think how lovely and progressive Canada must be to allow for such a thing. Unfortunately, Kim Campbell, along with many other prime ministers, were never popularly elected, and simply assumed the office of prime minister following the resignation of a sitting PM. They were appointed by the governing party, and not elected by the people.

In this chart, I use the term "interim" to designate prime ministers who were never elected to office by the Canadian people, and simply held their position by virtue of party appointment. Once they win an election, they cease to be interim, although sometimes that never happened.

Blue signifies the "Conservative Party" (in whatever form the party was taking at the time) and red signifies the Liberal Party, obviously. The dark colors are used to signify prime ministers who were elected to their office.

#
Name: Term: Time in office: Elections won: Left office:
1
John A. MacDonald July 1, 1867 - November 7, 1873 6 years, 4 months, 6 d.
2
Resigned
2
Alexander MacKenzie (interim)¹ November 7, 1873 - January 22, 1874 2 months , 15 d.
1
Elected
Alexander MacKenzie January 22, 1874 - October 17, 1878 4 years, 8 months, 26 d.
0
Lost election
3
John A. MacDonald (2nd time) October 17, 1878 - June 6, 1891 12 years, 7 months, 19 d.
4
Died
Nobody June 6, 1891 - June 16, 1891 10 d.
 
4
John Abbott (interim) June 16, 1891 - December 5, 1892 1 year, 5 months, 20 d.
0
Resigned
5
John Thompson (interim) December 5, 1892 - December 12, 1894 2 years, 7 d.
0
Died
Nobody December 12, 1894 - December 21, 1894 9 d.
 
6
Mackenzie Bowell (interim) December 21, 1894 - May 1, 1896 1 year, 4 months, 11 d.
0
Resigned
7
Charles Tupper (interim) May 1, 1896 - July 11, 1896 2 months, 10 d.
0
Lost election
8
Wilfrid Laurier July 11, 1896 - October 10, 1911 15 years, 2 months, 30 d.
4
Lost election
9
Robert Borden Oct 10, 1911 - July 10, 1920 8 years, 9 months
2
Resigned
10
Arthur Meighen (interim) July 10, 1920 - December 29, 1921* 1 year, 5 months
0
Lost election
11
Mackenzie King December 29, 1921 - June 28,1926 4 years, 5 months, 29 d.
2
Fired by GG²
12
Arthur Meighen (2nd time) (interim)² June 28, 1926 - September 25, 1926 2 months, 27 d.
0
Lost election
13
Mackenzie King (2nd time) September 25, 1926 - August 7, 1930 3 years, 10 months, 13 days
1
Lost election
14
Richard Bennett August 7, 1930 - October 23, 1935 5 years, 2 months, 16 d.
1
Lost election
15
Mackenzie King (3rd time) October 23, 1935 - November 15, 1948 13 years, 22 d.
3
Resigned
16
Louis St. Laurent (interim) November 15, 1948 - June 27, 1949 7 months, 12 d.
1
Elected
Louis St. Laurent June 27, 1949 - June 21, 1957 7 years, 11 months, 24 d.
2
Lost election
17
John Diefenbaker June 21, 1957 - April 22, 1963 5 years, 10 months, 1 d.
3
Lost election
18
Lester Pearson April 22, 1963 - April 20, 1968 4 years, 11 months, 28 d.
1
Resigned
19
Pierre Trudeau (interim) April 20, 1968 - June 25, 1968 2 months, 5 d.
1
Elected
Pierre Trudeau June 25, 1968 - June 4, 1979 10 years, 11 months, 19 d.
2
Lost election
20
Joe Clark June 4, 1979 - March 3, 1980 8 months, 30 days
1
Lost election
21
Pierre Trudeau (2nd time) March 3, 1980 - June 30, 1984 4 years, 3 months, 27 d.
1
Resigned
22
John Turner (interim) June 30, 1984 - September 17, 1984 2 months, 17 d.
0
Lost election
23
Brian Mulroney September 17, 1984 - June 25, 1993 8 years, 9 months, 8 d.
2
Resigned
24
Kim Campbell (interim) June 25, 1993 - November 4, 1993 4 months, 9 d.
0
Lost election
25
Jean Chretien November 4, 1993 - December 12, 2003 10 years, 1 month, 8 d.
3
Resigned
26
Paul Martin (interim) December 12, 2003 - June 28, 2004 6 months, 16 d.
1
Elected
Paul Martin June 28, 2004 - February 6, 2006 1 year, 7 months, 6 d.
0
Lost election
27
Stephen Harper February 6, 2006 - 7 years +
2
 

Minority Governments

There have been a few cases in which a prime minister has not founnd himself in control of the majority of MPs in the House of Commons. Such a situation is known as a "minority government" and rarely lasts long before the opposition MPs decide to turn against the PM and force a no-confidence vote. Here is a timeline of Canada's minority governments:

#
Name: Term:³ Minority lasted: ended: Result
2
Alexander MacKenzie (interim)¹ November 7, 1873 - January 22, 1874 2 months , 15 d.
Election Call
Elected to Majority
11
Mackenzie King October 29, 1925- June 28,1926 7 months, 29 d. Fired by GG² Meighen appointed PM
12
Arthur Meighen (interim)² June 28, 1926 - September 25, 1926 2 months, 27 d.
No Confidence Vote
Lost election
17
John Diefenbaker (1st minority) June 21, 1957 - March 31, 1958 9 months, 10 d.
No Confidence Vote
Elected to Majority
John Diefenbaker (2nd minority) June 18, 1962 - February 5, 1963 7 months, 15 d.
No Confidence Vote
Lost election
18
Lester Pearson (1st minority) April 22, 1963 - November 8, 1965 2 years, 6 months, 16 d. Election Call Elected to 2nd Minority
Lester Pearson (2nd minority) November 8, 1965 - April 20, 1968 2 years, 5 months, 12 d. Resigned Trudeau becomes PM
19
Pierre Trudeau (interim) April 20, 1968 - June 25, 1968 2 months, 5 d. Election Call Elected to Majority
Pierre Trudeau (2nd minority) October 30, 1972 - May 8, 1974 1 year, 6 months, 9 d.
No Confidence Vote
Elected to Majority
20
Joe Clark June 4, 1979 - December 13, 1979 6 months, 9 d.
No Confidence Vote
Lost election
26
Paul Martin June 28, 2004 - November 28, 2005 1 year, 5 months
No Confidence Vote
Lost election
27
Stephen Harper February 6, 2006 - October 14, 2008 2 years, 8 months, 8 d. Election Call Elected to 2nd Minority
Stephen Harper (2nd minority) October 14, 2008 - March 25, 2011 2 years, 5 months, 11 d.
No Confidence Vote
 

¹ John A. resigned in 1873, and the Governor General appointed opposition leader Alexander Mackenzie as prime minister to replace him. Mackenzie called elections shortly thereafter, which he won.

² The second term of Arthur Meighen was a bit weird. Mackenzie King's Liberal Party lost the 1925 election, earning fewer seats than the Conservatives. However, King refused to resign as prime minister, and allied his party with the Progressive Party caucus in Parliament, which gave him a narrow legislative majority. After seven months of governing, King wanted to call another election, with the intent of winning back a proper majority. The Governor General of the day refused to consent, and fired King, appointing Conservative Party Leader Arthur Meighen the new prime minister. However, despite having more seats than King, Meighen still lacked a majority and was quickly defeated in a confidence vote by the Liberals and their allies. A new election was called, and MacKenzie King was once again elected PM with a majority in Parliament. Arthur Meighen is probably Canada's least legitimate prime minister.

³ In determining the start and end of a minority governement I use the dates of election calls / no confidence votes as the end and the days of elections themselves as the start (if the PM is already the incumbent.)

NOTES:

Technically, there are no such things as "terms" for Canada's prime ministers. Brian Mulroney was not a "two-term" prime minister, he was just a prime minister who was elected twice. He only took the oath of office once. For the few "interim" prime ministers who were elected in their own right, I have used the date they won election as the date they ceased to be "interim." There may be a more formal date to use, such as the day the governor general officially asks them to "form government" but for the purposes of this chart, the date of an election seems sufficient.

CONCLUSIONS:

For starters, the prime minister's Office has absolutely no immediate mechanisms in place for what to do in the event of the sudden death of the prime minister. When the current occupant drops dead, his party's caucus has to make a mad scramble to appoint a new leader ASAP. This usually takes about a week.

The charming John Thompson remains the prime minister who ruled the longest without a public mandate (over two years). Conversely, Pierre Trudeau is the PM who remained illegitimate for the shortest period of time, calling an election almost immediately upon assuming office, and thus serving in an interim capacity for a scant two months and five days.

Of Canada's 21 prime ministers, 11 gained the position without being popularly-elected. They were either appointed by the ruling party to replace a resigning predecessor, or in Alexander Mackenzie and Arthur Meighen's case, appointed at the independent prerogative of the Governor General. Only four of those eleven (Mackenzie, St. Laurent, Trudeau, and Martin) would go on to win a federal election. Paul Martin was the only appointed PM to go on to win a minority government.

Overall, Mackenzie King was prime minister for the longest, with over 22 years in power if you add up all his dates. Wilfrid Laurier was the longest serving continual PM, with over 15 unbroken years of rule.

Charles Tupper was the shortest-serving prime minister, only two months and 10 days. He beat John Turner by a week.

Joe Clark was the shortest serving elected prime minister. But you already knew that, right?

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