Today in Canada's Political History - February 16, 2011: The Right Honourable Arthur Meighen’s Parliament Hill portrait finally dedicated

A historical oversight was finally corrected on this date in 2011 with the official dedication of Arthur Meighen’s Parliament Hill portrait. While the painting was supposed to have been dedicated back in the 1950s, the traditional ceremony had to be canceled when Meighen fell ill. It was never re-scheduled.

Decades later, I discovered this fact while performing research about Meighen, Canada’s 9th Prime Minister. At the time, my MP here in Kingston was House Speaker Peter Milliken. I contacted Peter and he agreed with me that the late PM deserved his day on the Hill. So, the ceremony was organized and speeches were delivered on February 16th 2011 by yours truly, Milliken, Senator Michael Meighen and Senator Marjory LeBreton. Canada’s sitting Prime Minister, Stephen J. Harper, also participated in the event. You can read the PM’s speech below.

Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper: The first portrait, fittingly, of the Old Chieftain, Sir John A. Macdonald, was unveiled on his 75th birthday. As the collection grew, these beautiful works of art have put our history literally within arm’s reach.

And the hanging ceremonies have also become an important democratic ritual. These are celebrations that have brought together partisan friend and foe alike to honour public service and the continuity of one of the most important institutions of our national government.

Sadly, as has been noted and has been uncovered by Mr. (Arthur) Milnes’ diligent research, the Right Honourable Arthur Meighen never had his day. He would have enjoyed it more than most, because he had participated in so many different facets of public life.

As John Diefenbaker once pointed out, Meighen has been the only Canadian … to hold the four great offices of Parliament, for he was Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, and both Government Leader and Leader in Opposition in the Senate.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker was also first and foremost in a long list of distinguished Parliamentarians who have testified to the power of Arthur Meighen’s oratory, having called his speeches unforgettable.

Lester B. Pearson once said: “Few Canadians in all history have surpassed him in intellectual brilliance and scholarly attainment, in incisive skill in parliamentary work and, above all, in parliamentary debate.”

I tried to find quotes from the Right Honourable Mackenzie King honouring Arthur Meighen, but the only quotes I could find was how much he dreaded facing him in debate.

When he arrived here in 1908, representing Portage la Prairie, his potential was immediately obvious.

Meighen was appointed Solicitor General in 1913 and took responsibility for several senior Cabinet portfolios through the Great War. In peacetime, he successfully delivered on his government’s most important promise – a program offering assistance to veterans who were taking up farming.

On July 10, 1920, he became Canada’s ninth Prime Minister and the first from the Western Canada. His time in office was brief. He was defeated in the election the next year.

Ironically, his time in office was even briefer the second time, after he won the election in 1925 – the Parliament which famously led to a series of constitutional disputes.

As Prime Minister, Meighen gave our emerging nation a strong voice on the world stage. He represented Canada at the Imperial Conference of 1921.

There he showed how Canadian diplomacy could have an impact at global summits. His work behind the scenes brought Great Britain and the Empire around to his Canadian position, leading to a new era of transatlantic cooperation.

At Vimy Ride, he spoke eloquently of this memorial to those Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country, noting that: “Around and all over are being planted the Maples of Canada in the thought that they will rest better under the trees which they know so well.:

Meighen’s love of the language went beyond political speeches. He could quote Shakespeare and other poets at length. He also had success as a lawyer and a businessman, but it was public service which he loved the most.

Arthur Meighen’s portrait has hung in these hallways for decades. But today, he finally receives the belated tributes that have for too long been his due.

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.