Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada at the unveiling of the portrait of Arthur Meighen

Ottawa, Ontario
16 February 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following remarks on the unveiling of the portrait of Arthur Meighen:

“The portraits all around us form a mosaic of Canadian history.

"Each day, as we pass through the corridors of the Centre Block, these portraits of former prime ministers inspire our respect and remind us of the rich parliamentary traditions passed down to all members of Parliament on behalf of the Canadian people.

"The history of this marvellous gallery dates back more than 120 years.

“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 arms reach.

“And the “hanging” ceremonies have also become an important democratic ritual.

“They 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, 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.”

“When he arrived here in 1908, representing Portage la Prairie, his potential was immediately obvious.  Sir Wilfrid Laurier knew what was to come when he said, ‘Borden has found a man at last.’

“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 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.

"But while his time in office was brief, his legacy is still very much alive.

"At a time when Canada was striving to find its place in the world, Meighen won a series of diplomatic successes.

"His government successfully negotiated two major trade treaties with France and the Antilles.

“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, bringing Great Britain and the Empire around to his Canadian position, leading to a new era of transatlantic cooperation.

“On that trip he also went to France and unveiled the Cross of Sacrifice at Vimy Ridge.

“At Vimy Ridge, 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. Now, 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.“