Richard Bedford Bennett

Photo added by Delia Butler

Richard Bedford Bennett

Hopewell Hill, Albert County, New Brunswick, Canada
Death 26 Jun 1947 (aged 76)
Mickleham, Mole Valley District, Surrey, England
Burial Mickleham, Mole Valley District, Surrey, England
Memorial ID 3799 · View Source
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11th Canada Prime Minister. He served in this capacity from 1930 to 1935 as a Conservative from the Canadian Province of Alberta. He served in the House of Commons from 1911 to 1937 and during this period he was Minister of Justice (1920 to 1921), Minister of Mines (1926), and Leader of the Conservative Party (1927 to 1937). He was born at Hopewell Hill, New Brunswick, Canada and grew up at nearby Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick. His parents were poor farmers and his father operated a general store for a while and also attempted to develop some gypsum mineral deposits but failed. He received his primary education at local schools. An interest in law, he studied with Lemuel J. Tweedie, a lawyer in Chatham, New Brunswick, on weekends and during the summer holidays. In 1890 he enrolled at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and graduating in 1893 with a law degree, working his way through college with a job as assistant in the library. He became a partner in the Chatham law firm of Tweedie and Bennett. An ambitious person, in 1897 he moved to the Calgary (in the present-day Canadian province of Alberta) and became a law partner of Sir James Lougheed, who was Calgary's richest and most successful lawyer, and gradually built up his legal practice. In 1898 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, representing the district of West Calgary. In 1902 he was re-elected to a second term in office as an Independent in the Northwest Territories legislature. In 1905, when the province of Alberta was carved out of the territories and made a province, he became the first leader of the Alberta Conservative Party. In 1909, he won a seat in the provincial legislature, before switching to federal politics. In 1910 he became a director of Calgary Power Limited (now formally TransAlta Corporation) and just a year later he became its President, and also served as director of Rocky Mountains Cement Company and Security Trust. First elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1911, he returned to the provincial scene to again lead the Alberta Tories in the 1913 provincial election. In 1916 he was appointed director general of the National Service Board, which was in charge of identifying the number of potential recruits in the country. While he supported the Conservatives, he opposed Prime Minister Robert Borden's proposal for a Union Government that would include both Conservatives and Liberals, fearing that this would ultimately hurt the Conservative Party. In 1927 he became the Conservative Party leader at the first Conservative leadership convention. As Leader of the Opposition, he faced off against the more experienced Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in the House of Commons debates, and took some time to acquire enough experience to hold his own with King. In 1930 King blundered badly when he made overly partisan statements in response to criticism over his handling of the economic downturn, which was hitting Canada very hard. King's worst error was in stating that he "would not give Tory provincial governments a five-cent piece!" This serious mistake, which drew wide press coverage, gave Bennett his needed opening to attack King, which he did successfully in the election campaign which followed. By defeating King in the 1930 federal election, he had the misfortune of taking office during the Great Depression. He tried to combat the depression by increasing trade within the British Empire and imposing tariffs for imports from outside the Empire, promising that his measures would greatly increase Canadian exports into world markets. His success was limited, and his own wealth (often openly displayed) and impersonal style alienated many struggling Canadians. When his Imperial Preference policy failed to generate the desired result, his government had no real contingency plan. The party's pro-business and pro-banking inclinations provided little relief to the millions of increasingly desperate and agitated unemployed. Despite the economic crisis, Laissez-faire persisted as the guiding economic principle of Conservative Party ideology. Government relief to the unemployed was considered a disincentive to individual initiative, and was therefore only granted in the most minimal amounts and attached to work programs. An additional concern of the federal government was that large numbers of disaffected unemployed men concentrating in urban centers created a volatile situation. As an "alternative to bloodshed on the streets," the stop-gap solution for unemployment chosen by his government was to establish military-run and -styled relief camps in remote areas throughout the country, where single unemployed men worked hard for a mere twenty cents a day. Any relief beyond this was left to provincial and municipal governments, many of which were either insolvent or on the brink of bankruptcy, and which railed against the inaction of other levels of government. Partisan differences began to sharpen on the question of government intervention in the economy, since lower levels of government were largely in Liberal hands, and protest movements were beginning to send their own parties into the political mainstream, notably the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and William Aberhart's Social Credit Party in Alberta. In 1932 he hosted the Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa, the first time Canada had hosted the meetings, which were ultimately unproductive, due to the inability of leaders to agree on policies, mainly to combat the economic woes dominating the world at the time. Reacting to fears of Communist subversion, he invoked the controversial Section 98 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Enacted in the aftermath of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, it dispensed with the presumption of innocence in outlawing potential threats to the state, specifically, anyone belonging to an organization that officially advocated the violent overthrow of the government. Despite the broad power authorized under Section 98, it targeted specifically the Communist Party of Canada. Eight of the top party leaders, including Tim Buck, were arrested and convicted under Section 98 in 1931. This plan to stamp out communism backfired and proved to be a damaging embarrassment for the government, especially after Buck was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. While confined to his cell during a prison riot, despite not participating in the riot, shots were fired into his cell. In January 1935, he introduced a Canadian version of the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Program, involving unprecedented public spending and federal intervention in the economy. Progressive income taxation, a minimum wage, a maximum number of working hours per week, unemployment insurance, health insurance, an expanded pension program, and grants to farmers were all included in the plan. However, it was seen as too little too late, and he faced criticism that his reforms either went too far, or did not go far enough. Although there was no unity among the various political groups that constituted his opposition, the consensus was that his handling of the economic crisis was insufficient and inappropriate, even from Conservative quarters. His personally became a symbol of the political failings underscoring the depression and his party was soundly defeated in the October 1935 general election and the Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King was returned as Canada's Prime Minister. Disillusioned with Canadian politics, he left Canada for England in 1938 and on June 12, 1941, he became the first and only former Canadian Prime Minister to be elevated to the peerage as Viscount Bennett, of Mickleham in the County of Surrey and of Calgary and Hopewell in the Dominion of Canada, with a seat in the House of Lords (1941 to 1947). He died of a heart attack in Mickleham, England at the age of 76, one week shy of his 77th birthday. He is the only former Canadian Prime Minister who is not buried in Canada.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 2 Nov 1998
  • Find a Grave Memorial 3799
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Richard Bedford Bennett (3 Jul 1870–26 Jun 1947), Find a Grave Memorial no. 3799, citing St Michael Churchyard, Mickleham, Mole Valley District, Surrey, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .