Today in Canada's Political History - May 1, 1896: Sir Charles Tupper becomes Prime Minister

Father of Confederation Sir Charles Tupper took office as Canada’s Prime Minister on this date in 1896. In doing so he replaced Sir Mackenzie Bowell who had been tossed aside after a cabinet revolt. Tupper had returned from England, where he was serving as Canada’s High Commissioner, to take over the tired and crumbling Tory government that had been in power since 1878 and led by three PMs after the death of Sir John A. Macdonald.

Prime Minister Tupper immediately called a federal election and the battle was joined. The Liberals, led by Wilfrid Laurier, were as prepared and ready as they had ever been.

J.L. Payne, who served as Tupper’s private secretary throughout the sixth PM’s brief premiership, later in life described his boss as the campaign began. “If he felt that he had a hard task ahead of him to save the Conservative party he did not reveal a trace of it in his bearing toward those who flocked about him,” Payne wrote. “Instead, he radiated confidence. Indeed, if one were to sum up in a single word his attitude toward the contest into which he had been summarily plunged it would be that word ‘confidence.’ Some might have thought ‘defiance,’ a more fitting word for there was something of that too in the gladiator who unsheathed his sword for the battle of 1896. His bitterest enemy never doubted his courage.”

Despite his 74-years, Tupper ran a vigorous campaign, but it wasn’t enough. The Liberals would earn a majority mandate on June 23. When Tupper turned over the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office to Laurier after the election, he had served only 66 days as PM, the shortest reign of any of Canada’s 23 leaders.

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.