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Sir Charles Tupper

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Forum Owner
Aug 8, 2014

Sir Charles Tupper, politician and former prime minister

Sir Charles Tupper was a delegate to all the Confederation conferences. He served the shortest tenure as PM in Canadian history

Sir Charles Tupper, politician, diplomat, prime minister (b at Amherst, NS 2 July 1821; d at Bexleyheath, Eng 30 Oct 1915). He was the last survivor of the original Fathers of Confederation. Educated at Horton Academy (Acadia) and Edinburgh, Tupper returned to Amherst in 1843 to follow a successful medical career. (He was the first president of the Canadian Medical Assn, 1867-70.) In 1855 he sought a seat in the NS Assembly as a Conservative, dramatically winning Cumberland County from the popular Reform politician, Joseph Howe. He soon entered the administration, serving as provincial secretary, 1857-60 and 1863-67. In May 1864 he became premier, championing Maritime or British N American union, which he did not feel to be incompatible goals. He was a delegate at the Charlottetown, Qu?bec and London conferences but was unable to win approval for the Quebec Resolutions in the NS Assembly.

In 1867 he left provincial politics and won a federal seat as the only supporter of Confederation from NS. Although his claim for a Cabinet post was strong, he stood aside to allow others from NS to enter the ministry. He helped bring about the "better terms" settlement which led Howe into the Cabinet in 1869. In 1870 Tupper began his long ministerial career. He was successively president of the Privy Council (1870-72), minister of inland revenue (1872-73), and minister of customs (1873) in the first John A. Macdonald government.

When the Conservatives returned to office, Tupper served as minister of public works (1878-79) and minister of railways and canals (1879-84) during the critical period of Pacific Railway construction. He became high commissioner to the UK in 1884, but returned to Ottawa to serve as minister of finance (1887-88). Resuming his duties in London, he became known as an outspoken advocate of imperial federation and preferential tariffs. Macdonald was not pleased with Tupper's views, but his political standing allowed him immunity from censure.

In Jan 1896 Tupper was recalled to Ottawa to serve as secretary of state in the failing government of Sir Mackenzie Bowell. Having been passed over for the party leadership in favour of J.J.C. Abbott, J.S.D. Thompson and Bowell, Tupper finally became prime minister 1 May 1896. In a desperate attempt to stave off defeat in the House, Tupper and his colleagues had introduced remedial legislation to protect the educational rights of the French-speaking minority in Manitoba. Blocked in the Commons, Tupper and the Conservatives suffered a stunning general election defeat in June, as Qu?bec's returns were decisive. He resigned on July 8, having served only 10 weeks as prime minister, the shortest tenure in Canadian history. He continued in Parliament as leader of the Opposition but was defeated in the election of 1900. On retirement he lived in Vancouver before moving to England in 1913. Tupper was a decisive figure in Canadian political life. As one of Macdonald's principal lieutenants, he had a real capacity for administration as well as a reputation for parliamentary bluff and bullying.