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The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation

by John Boyko

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presidents & heads of state
list price: $34.95
also available: Paperback Paperback eBook
published: 2010
publisher: Key Porter Books

In the late 1920s, Canada’s economy was showing all the signs of a full-fledged depression. Life savings were evaporating, unemployment was up, and exports were dramatically down. Riding on the popularity of his promise to “blast” Canada’s way into world markets?and thus stop the economy’s downward spiral?Richard Bedford Bennett defeated William Lyon Mackenzie King at the polls on July 28, 1930, and assumed the leadership of the country. Over the next five years, however, Bennett’s name became synonymous with the worst of the depression?from Bennett buggies, to Bennett tea, to Bennett-burghs. Eighty years later, he is widely viewed as a difficult man, an ineffectual leader, and a politician who “flip-flopped” on his conservative beliefs in exchange for popularity.

In Bennett:?The Rebel Who Challenged a Nation?John Boyko offers not only the first major biography of the man, but a fresh perspective on the old scholarship. Boyko looks at the prime minister’s sometimes controversial and often misunderstood policies through a longer lens, one that shows not a politician angling for votes, but rather a man following through on a life-long dedication to a greater role for government in society and the economy. It is easy to understand why Bennett has been so misunderstood. It is not often, after all, that a conservative prime minister finds himself to the left of his liberal opposition, but that it exactly where Bennett landed. Bennett’s New Deal?a series of proposals that included unemployment insurance; the establishment of a minimum wage and limits on work hours; an extension of federally backed farm credit; fair-trade and anti-monopoly legislation; and a revamped Wheat Board to oversee and control grain prices?was certainly a departure from the conservative politics of the day. The same could be said for his creation of the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Citing primary and secondary source research, Boyko effectively argues that Bennett’s achievements were not a departure at all, but rather consistent with the beliefs he held for most of his life. Boyko explores the origins and hardening of those beliefs as he details Bennett’s birth (into relative poverty) in Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick, his stunning success as a corporate lawyer and financial entrepreneur in Calgary, his years in politics, and his eventual retirement in England. As he ranges through the ups and downs of his subject’s career, Boyko also invites his reader to compare the challenges faced by Bennett to those faced in Canada’s more recent history: the threat of coalitions, parliaments being prorogued, and governors general being asked to decide the fate of the nation. Nearly every other Canadian prime minister finds his or her way into the analysis, with Bennett’s beliefs and actions measured against theirs. The result is a political biography as current as today’s headline. Meticulously researched and well told,?Bennett:?The Rebel Who Challenged a Nation?stands among other first-class biographies of this country’s political greats. As Canada faces its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Bennett’s is a life and a career that deserves contemplation.

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About the Author

John Boyko

John Boyko has written seven books including the bestselling Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation and the critically acclaimed Cold Fire: Kennedy’s Northern Front. The Globe and Mail has deemed him “a distinguished scholar of Canadian political history.” John lives in Lakefield, Ontario.

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