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Banner: First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics
Sir Mackenzie Bowell


"A nest of traitors"

This is what Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell called his Cabinet ministers when they tried to force him to resign. The relationship between prime minister and Cabinet can be stressful at the best of times, but at the worst of times, it can lead to serious confrontation. Mackenzie Bowell has the dubious honour of being the only Canadian prime minister forced from office by his Cabinet.

Bowell was appointed prime minister by the Governor General in December 1894, after the sudden death of Prime Minister Sir John Thompson. By this time, the nation and the government were seriously divided over the Manitoba Schools Question concerning Catholic education rights. Bowell's attempts to remedy the situation were hampered by his own indecisiveness and conflicting loyalties within Cabinet. Because he was a Senator, Bowell could not argue for his policies in House of Commons debates.

By January 1896, he had lost the confidence of his Cabinet and a plot was hatched to replace him with Charles Tupper, who was High Commissioner to Britain at the time. Seven ministers resigned and picketed any possible successors upon their arrival in Ottawa. All government activity was arrested. The Governor General intervened on Bowell's behalf and gained him a three-month reprieve. In April 1896, he submitted to the "nest of traitors" and resigned in favour of Tupper.

Source: Canada's Prime Ministers, 1867 - 1994: Biographies and Anecdotes. [Ottawa]: National Archives of Canada, [1994]. 40 p.

Bowell: main page

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