15 October 2015




In honour of the impending federal elections, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the scandals that rocked past Canadian governments. Happy Throwback Thursday!

1. The Pacific Scandal

Canada only made it to its second election campaign before scandal hit the Conservative party. The prime minister at the time, John A. Macdonald, was implicated when it was revealed that Sir Hugh Allan had contributed over $350,000 to Macdonald’s election campaign. Sir Hugh Allan was the owner of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and he was desperate to win the contract to build Canada’s transcontinental railway. When the so-called Pacific Scandal hit in 1873, Macdonald’s government was forced to resign, and the first Liberal government came to power. Surprisingly, just five years later, Macdonald was re-elected and served as prime minister until his death in 1891. 

Political cartoon mocking Macdonald's involvement in the Pacific Scandal. Source. 
2. Lillooet Cattle Trail

In 1877, just six years after joining Confederation, British Columbia began a massive public works project that would cost them $35,000 (a small fortune at the time). To connect cattle ranchers from BC’s interior to the larger North American market, the provincial government built a 250 km trail from Lillooet to Vancouver. The route, which was meant to be used by cattle, included sections crossing marshes and heavy forests, as well as a set of stairs over a mountain pass that was, at its widest, just over 5 metres. This badly thought out trail meant that only one cattle rancher was ever brave enough to drive his cattle all the way from Lillooet to Vancouver, and by the end of the trail he had to put his cattle out to pasture because they were too skinny to sell!

Cattle drive on the Okanagan Trail in BC. Source. 
3. Conscription Crisis of 1917

Canada entered World War One with Great Britain on August 4, 1914. For the first years of the war, participation was on a purely voluntary basis. However, by 1917, rumours of what was happening at the front lines meant that volunteer numbers were declining. With more men being killed and less volunteers, the British and Canadian governments were desperate for men. The government had to turn to conscription, which was wildly unpopular throughout Canada, and especially in Quebec. Conscription began to be enforced on January 1, 1918 and almost immediately 93% of men called up sought exemption. Many, especially French Canadians, were unhappy with conscription and riots erupted in March 1918. In the end, and at the expense of the Conservatives’ popularity, only 125 000 men were conscripted, of which only 25 000 ever saw the front lines. 

Poster advertising a talk that will reveal how to avoid conscription - and many did! Source. 
4. The Beauharnois Scandal

In 1929, the Beauharnois Light, Heat and Power Company bribed two Liberal Senators and donated approximately $700,000 to the Liberal campaign fund to ensure they would be allowed to divert the St Lawrence to power their hydroelectric plant. It was essential that they be allowed to divert the river, because construction on the plant had already started! In addition to the bribes, prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King received an all-expenses paid vacation to Bermuda. Unfortunately for Beauharnois, the bribes were a colossal waste of money because the Liberals lost the 1930 election! When the bribe was discovered in 1931, the Liberal Party was immersed in scandal and both Senators were forced to resign. King, while tainted by this scandal, was re-elected in 1935 and served as Prime Minister until 1948. 

The Beauharnois power station under construction c. 1931. Source. 
5. Avro Arrow Program 

The cancellation of the Avro Arrow program in February 1959 has been identified by some as Canada’s most controversial foreign policy and defence decision. John Diefenbaker, the prime minister at the time, was blamed for the project’s failure. More recent scholarship suggests that the problems actually began while Louis St. Laurent was Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the cancellation of the program forced A.V. Roe to fold, and almost 30,000 employees lost their jobs as a result. 

The infamous Avro Arrow. Source. 
And don't forget to tell me your favourite political scandals (Canadian or otherwise) in the comments!

Sources consulted: 


  1. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. I also found it interesting how many numbers listed seemed to have common denominators eg. $350,000 bribe in 1873 (not thats alot of money for the times) $35,000 BC Public Works project in 1877, $700,000 bribe n 1929, and then not quite 35,000 employees losing their job in 1959 ..... strange how these related numbers are linked to controversy.

    1. Yes, what a strange coincidence! I hadn't even noticed.