Friday, July 17, 2009

Michael Ignatieff - About Time?

Michael Ignatieff represents the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore in Toronto. That got me thinking. Who was the last Prime Minister to represent a riding in Toronto, the largest city in the country?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is William Lyon Mackenzie King, but only during his first term from 1921 to 1926. No Prime Minister since then has been elected in a Toronto riding. Toronto has had very little representation in the PMO. That is a little surprising, isn't it? Looking at the United States, the last President from their largest city, New York, is Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s. Are North American leaders from the country's metropolis unelectable?

I thought it would be interesting to look at how long some of the major cities in Canada have been represented by a Prime Minister (roughly estimated):

Quebec City, Quebec - 24 years (Laurier, St-Laurent)
Kingston, Ontario - 19 years (MacDonald)
Montreal, Quebec - 19 years (Trudeau, Martin)
Halifax, Nova Scotia - 9 years (Borden)
Calgary, Alberta - 8 years (Bennett, Harper)
Toronto, Ontario - 5 years (King)
Vancouver, British Columbia - 1 year (Turner)

So, during roughly 60% of Canada's existence, a major city (and Kingston was a major city during MacDonald's era) has provided the country with a Prime Minister. I suppose that roughly matches our proportion of urbanisation. But one would have expected Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Winnipeg to have had their feet in the door more often.

Food for thought over the weekend.


  1. My comment #1:

    For Vancouver, one might have also included Kim Campbell -- although it was only for a little more than four months (as PM).

  2. Good point, and with Turner, it doesn't change the calculation.

  3. Harper was born in Toronto and spent his first twenty years there. Martin went to university and spent his early career in Toronto. John Turner worked on Bay Street for a decade. Maybe they didn't have their ridings there, but all three are very much at home in Toronto.
    And maybe Mulroney's riding was Baie Comeau, but considering his life story, it's pretty hard not to consider him a Montrealer.
    Using only riding location as an indicator of where a Prime Minister is from can be a bit misleading.

  4. MPs are elected by a riding to represent that riding - not to represent where they grew up.

  5. Eric wrote:

    "MPs are elected by a riding to represent that riding - not to represent where they grew up."


    But if we use your statement in a strict sense, then your initial posting becomes questionable.

    How many "major cities in Canada have been represented by a Prime Minister "?


    Mr. Trudeau represented only the Mount Royal riding and not Montreal, Mr. Harper does not represent the city of Calgary but merely the Calgary Southwest riding. And if Mr. Ignatieff should become Prime Minister he will not represent the city of Toronto but only Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

    Perhaps I am splitting hairs ... but perhaps not.

    I would suggest that your wording of a PM representing a city lends itself to an interpretation where one is considering "ties" -- ties to _nearby_ ridings as well as one's own. But then if one speaks of ties, surely the caveats mentioned by Anonymous become quite relevant.

    Just a thought ...

  6. It is hard to quantify these kinds of ties - few Torontonians would consider Stephen Harper to be one of them. And then you have half of Montreal hating Trudeau and considering Martin to be from Windsor.

    So, keeping it at where the person was elected should be fine. Otherwise, we can start talking about how Ontario has one MP in Alberta (Harper) and Alberta has one MP in Ontario (Poilievre), etc.

  7. You ask in your post: "Are North American leaders from the country's unelectable?"

    This appears to be the case. In the U.S. conservative republicans employed a strategy using terms like: "real Americans", "community planner", "silent majority" that divides the nation. Since the mid '60's the urban-suburban wedge issue has put the democrats on defence.

    The extreme polarization created by chronic negative politics is harmful. Red state-blue state and minority voting blocs and higher turn outs in huge cities gave Al Gore 500,000 more votes than Bush in 2000. A dubious 5 to 4 supreme court decision elected Bush and the red-blue deadlock in '04 allowed him only a tiny electoral college win with just 50% pop. votes.

    President Obama's 53-45% victory in '08 may be the turning point. Sarah Palin's "real American" remarks failed miserably and this time the republicans were on defence. Only 3 republican senators remain in the norteast as the party base recedes to a rigid white southern base.

    Harper in 3 elections hasn't cracked Canada's deadlocked electorate. Recent polls reflect tory strength more or less where the base is. Years of micro-targeting of demographic blocs to win 154 of 308 mps (Karl Rove's method for Bush) will backfire as it has in the U.S.

  8. Sir John A moved around a lot, representing between 1867 and 1891: Kingston, ON; Carleton, ON; Lennox, ON; and Victoria, BC--he was also elected in Marquette, MB in 1878 but chose to take the seat he won in Victoria. Certainly Kingston was his home base (10 of his 18 years as PM, and 15 of his 24 years in post-1867 Parliament), but as PM he represented Victoria from 1878-1882, Lennox briefly in 1882, and Carleton 1882-1887. He was even defeated in Kingston in 1878, though he ran simultaneously in 2 other ridings, which kept him in the House. Victoria too was a more important city back then than it is now.

  9. I think the above post best explains why ridings are unhelpful indicators of where a PM is from. Was Chretien "from" Beausejour, New Brunswick when he won a by-election there? Was Mulroney "from" Nova Scotia during the short time he represented Central Nova? Did John A. MacDonald even visit Victoria BC while representing them in Parliament?

    I guess my point is that if we are just going by riding, it's pretty hard to draw conclusions. We can't exactly conclude from the fact that a PM hasn't represented a Toronto-area riding in a long time that Canadians are averse to Toronto influence on the PMO, especially when two of the last six Prime Ministers worked on Bay Street and the current Prime Minister was BORN there.

    Prime Ministers will often be mobile people, not just upwardly mobile but also willing to move around to where they will be more successful at any given point in their life. Ignoring this and just using ridings to analyze geographical patterns of Prime Ministers may yield statistical anomalies but really doesn't tell us much about actual politics.


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