The Prime Minister Who Heard Voices – William Lyon Mackenzie King


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William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister, and voted by a panel of eminent historians recruited by Macleans Magazine as Canada’s Most Important Prime Minister.

King was a skilled politician and alliance  builder but was regarded by those who appoint themselves to comment upon these things as lacking the charisma, charm and extroversion that might be what we expect of  stereotypical leader  even though it is not nearly necessary in a real leader. He never married so lacked a partner who might have  hosted elegant soirées at which to wow, seduce and schmooze the privileged and self-entitled classes in the manner to which they had become accustomed.

Still today Canadians don’t quite know what to make of one of their most important leaders – he does appear on the $50CAD note but  even the most admiring and most robust, scholarly biographies, it seems, must include their quota of  snide,  snarky and passive-aggressive remarks undermining the man as a human being.

King’s  bronze  statue on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill,  though adjacent to those of  John A Macdonald, Canada’s First Prime minister, The Famous Five [Canada’s Suffragettes] and the Queen, is tucked somewhat embarrassedly and, it seems, just about to slide down the embankment into the shadows at the arse-end of The East Block.

Maybe, just maybe, if he’d played hockey and made a show of throwing down the gloves, or,  like his grandfather and Sir John A Macdonald,  engaged in frequent, shall we say,  “robust physical debate” in bars,  then Canadians  might have warmed to him more.

Yet King certainly played a very great role in helping shape Canada to become the modern  country it is, establishing Canada’s independent political stance, independent voice and paving the way for  much-admired welfare systems, strong  human rights stance and enlarging the role of the provinces in running the country. Through interesting times in which the country seemed intent on going its separate ways he helped forge some unity and common purpose. In 1917 King sided, midst deep controversy at the time, with Sir Wilfred Laurier in opposing Canadian conscription,  and later also insisted that Canada’s troops sent to Europe in WWII would remain under Canadian, not British command .

As was not uncommon at the time amongst well-to-do folks, King was a spiritualist and regularly attended seances seeking to connect with spirits, including his deceased mother.

Not only did King hear voices he was comfortable with them and took great comfort in knowing they were there and hearing what they had to say but  “made it a rue to ignore advice” given by spirits, trusting always in his own  judgment.

King was  called upon to make many  difficult decisions in the running of a country  finding its feet and emerging from the shadows of imperialism onto the world stage and all during the  decades of financial turmoil, global upheaval and great human conflict.

Amongst those he would seek counsel of were former Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier  and another of Canada’s pioneering leaders: his grandfather – William Mackenzie King, Leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion and first Mayor of Toronto, and whose spirit is reputed today  to still stalk the halls of Mackenzie House in Toronto, now a museum.

In 1943 William Lyon Mackenzie King hosted the Quebec Conference at which three “leaders of the free world” – as they might  bombastically be termed if it were today – finalized plans for the Allied troop landings into southern Italy and thus beginning of the retaking of Europe from fascism. In this famous photograph taken at he time, only one of the three eminent gentlemen here did not hear voices [at least so  far as we know Roosevelt did not].

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Roosevelt plays Piggy In the Middle

How strange it is that, in the few decades since, we’ve gone from having two-out-of-three national, nay, global  leaders hearing voices, and being comfortable enough to talk and write about it – to having most of our leaders being scared of their own shadow and enacting laws that treat people who do as aliens – erode their rights,  lock up them up and force “treatment” them.

King did not get everything right – he earned a doctorate from Harvard for a dissertation arguing that  Canada ought to “resist immigration from the orient”  and like many at the time he was bamboozled and duped into thinking Hitler was somebody with whom he could work but was certainly not alone  amongst his contemporaries in either view. None of us – mere human nor world leader and not even the most convincing sounding voice or spirit, knows everything.

Hearing voices is not a sickness or a brain-fault but it is a human experience – and way more common than you have been led to believe. In 1943 it was, evidence shows, practically  a job qualification to lead a country – and the world – out of terrible times.

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