Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie felt besieged by “friends” wanting appointments they were not fit for, contracts they were not entitled to, and advances not earned. Wikimedia Commons.
The early years of Confederation both appalled and titillated Canadians with perhaps the country’s most sensational—or sensationalized—political corruption and scandals. John A. Macdonald urgently called on industrialized Hugh Allen for “another ten thousand” dollars in secret election campaign funds (the total came to $350,000) before awarding Allen’s syndicate the contract to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Promoter Owen E. Murphy revealed the secret in winning government railway contracts: “We bribed them all, and generally acquired nearly everything in sight.”
The new broom elected to clean out the stable was Alexander Mackenzie, whose Liberal administration of 1874 to 1878 did in fact provide a period of clean government. It wasn’t easy. In a letter to Liberal member of Parliament Thomas Hodgins, Mackenzie bemoaned the endless pleas for favours from suspect friends. The letter wasn’t published until nearly a decade later, after Mackenzie’s death.
“Every guardian of a public treasure-box, whether municipal, provincial or Federal, finds itself surrounded by those who would fain get their hands on it,” the Toronto Globe noted May 27, 1896 in publishing a portion of Mackenzie’s letter. Mackenzie wrote:
“Friends (?) expect to be benefitted by offices they are unfit for, by contracts they are not entitled to, by advances not earned. Enemies ally themselves with friends and push the friends to the front. Some attempt to storm the office. I feel like the besieged lying on my arms night and day. I have offended at least twenty parliamentary friends by defence of the citadel. A weak minister here would ruin the party in a month and the country very soon.”
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