By Bob McCarthy
In the first part of this story, we had just reached the year 1861. Alexander Mackenzie’s older brother, Hope, decided not to run again for the Lambton seat. Since time was short and someone had to be found, Alexander Mackenzie was asked to run under the Reform banner.
He did not want or need the job. He had prospered and was happy with his situation in Sarnia. But his sense of duty led him to accept the nomination on June 13, 1861. A tough campaign ensued, with strong opposition in the election from Alexander Vidal. After a hard fought campaign and three days of polling, Alexander Mackenzie was victorious with a majority of 142 votes.
Soon after, his older brother Hope had second thoughts about being a politician and ran successfully in 1863 in the vacant riding of North Oxford.
Once again, a great political career was being predicted for Hope Mackenzie, but he died in 1866. Had Hope Mackenzie lived, the future premiership might well have been his rather than Alexander’s.
When Alexander Mackenzie was first elected, the union of the two Canadas had been in existence 20 years. Confederation was still several years in the future. The Family Compact had been shattered. Early attempts to bring into place a Reform Movement had failed, but a new movement was emerging, one which would centre on John A. MacDonald and would become the Liberal-Conservative Party.
Alexander Mackenzie for a time served as both a Provincial and a Federal member. As Provincial premier in 1872, he did himself out of one of his jobs by bringing into place an Act to abolish dual representation. As a Federal Representative, Alexander Mackenzie was first elected in the year of Confederation, 1867, and would serve continuously until his death in 1892.
He became leader of the Liberal (formerly Reform) Party in 1873. During that year, evidence of bribery involving the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald led to the Government resigning. Alexander Mackenzie and the Liberals took over governing Canada to the consternation of Lord Dufferin, Governor-General at the time, about the wisdom of a mere stonemason taking over governing of the country.
During Mackenzie’s five year term as Prime Minister, the Liberal government established the Supreme Court of Canada and the Royal Military College, reformed the electoral system, introduced the secret ballot, brought into place the Northwest Mounted Police, completed the Inter-colonial Railway and started the Pacific line.
Unfortunately, the country suffered an economic recession in the mid?1870s for which Mackenzie's government was blamed and they lost the election in 1878. Mackenzie gave up the leadership of the Liberals in 1880, but remained in Parliament until his death in 1892.
Now, let me tell you a few stories about our own Alexander Mackenzie and his political opponent, John A. Mac Donald.
In the 1860's, we see two Scots beginning to dominate politics provincially and as a lead-in to Confederation in 1867, federally. While they were both born in the same country, they were very different.
MacDonald believed that business was a tool to be used to develop the country; Mackenzie thought that government should operate honestly along the same lines as a business. MacDonald was known to imbibe; Mackenzie was a teetotaler.]
MacDonald favoured tariffs; Mackenzie believed in free trade. MacDonald was a pragmatic dreamer; Mackenzie would always act according to his strong principles and business logic. MacDonald, late in life, would strut around wearing his gaudy decorations; Mackenzie’s belief in equal social and political rights led him to refuse knighthood three times. MacDonald was very fluid in his beliefs depending on the circumstances; Mackenzie’s principles were as unyielding as the stones in many of the buildings he built.
This then was the setting in the 1860's and 1870's as the two provinces of the Canadas moved to union with other provinces to create the Dominion of Canada. For a period of time, politicians could hold dual seats, one at the provincial level and one at the federal level.
Even though August 21, 1872 was a hot, steamy day in Sarnia, everyone who was able was at the town hall to hear a debate between Sir John A. MacDonald, then Prime Minister, and Alexander Mackenzie, the local Member of Parliament and Leader of the Opposition. Mackenzie was up for re-election and was running against Capt. Emeric Vidal. Sir John A. MacDonald would soon be here to here to help Vidal unseat Mackenzie.
Sir John had arrived earlier in the day by gunboat, had a nap, and then according to his normal routine, partaken of some liquid refreshment. He was troubled by Mackenzie’s Liberals and their accusations of scandals in connection with the Pacific Railroad. He had to beat Mackenzie.
Sir John would be five hours late. By the time he turned up to debate Mackenzie, he was not the soberest man in Sarnia. His performance was certainly affected by his condition. As a contrast, Mackenzie was proper and precise. Probably this debate assured Alexander Mackenzie of election locally and within a year, the Prime Ministership of Canada.
In an earlier election, in 1867, Mackenzie was running federally. The Honourable William MacDougall came to Lambton to speak in support of Alexander Vidal, who was opposing Mackenzie in a bitter campaign. Two weeks of verbal battles raged across the county, coming to a climax in Arkona when McDougall charged that Mackenzie was disloyal to Queen Victoria.
Mackenzie, who had served as an officer in the 27th Lambton Borderers, replied “Me disloyal. Do I not wear the Queen’s uniform? Have I not camped with my fellow citizens on the border to repel the Fenian invaders who would trample underfoot the British flag? Can Mr. MacDougall quote a word of mine either in Parliament or out reflecting upon the Queen or the British monarchy? Let me tell him to his face that he is mistaken. Loyalty to the Queen is a noble sentiment in which all true Liberals share, but loyalty to the Queen does not require a man to bow down to her manservant, her maidservant, her ox or her ass.” At the last word, Alexander Mackenzie turned toward Mr. MacDougall. In the ensuing election, Mackenzie won with a majority of 600 votes.
Lord Dufferin, the Governor General of the day, had at first thought that a mere stonemason, or a "poor creature", as he called Mackenzie, was unsuited to be the Prime Minister of Canada. Lord Dufferin would later say of Mackenzie “The better I have become acquainted with you, the more I have learned to respect and honour the straightforward integrity of your character, and the unmistakable desire to do your duty faithfully by the Queen, the Empire and your Dominion …In my opinion, neither in England or Canada has any public servant of the Crown administered the affairs of a nation with a purer patriotism, with a more indefatigable industry, or nobler aspirations than yourself.”
The following, from a poem called “Young Canada” written by Alexander McLaughlin while Mackenzie was in office, might best sum up Alexander Mackenzie’s views on equality for all men
“Our aristocracy of toil
Have made us what we see,
The nobles of the forge and soil,
With ne’er a pedigree.
It makes one feel himself a man,
His very blood leaps faster,
Where wit or worth’s preferr’d to birth,
And Jack’s as good as his master.”