Canada's electoral history from 1867 to today

Prime ministers and premiers who died while in office

by Maurice Y. Michaud (he/him)

© Photo — Public domain

Whether it was expected or not, the passing of a premier or prime minister while in office is a marking event in any jurisdiction's history. In addition to the federal level, this event has occurred in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Québec. The second and last Canadian prime minister to die in office was John S.D. Thompson 129 years ago, and the last provincial premier to do so was Daniel Johnson Sr. 55 years ago.

It is especially striking when it happens to three premiers in a row, as was the case in British Columbia between 1887 and 1892 (Smithe, Davie, and Robson). However, given that only 18 of the 316 persons who reached the top legislative position in their government have died in office, it is surprising to notice that successive passings have occurred several times in Canadian history.

  • There were five Canadian prime ministers in the 7th Parliament (1891–1896).
    1. First, the Conservative John A. Macdonald died in office at the age of 76 on June 6, 1891, only three months after he had been re-elected.
    2. The Governor General, The Lord Stanley of Preston,Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby at Wikipedia designated as his replacement the Leader of the Government in the Senate, anglo-Quebecker John Abbott, aged 70 at the time.
    3. In poor health, Abbott resigned in late 1892 to cede the position to a former Nova Scotia premier and current MP for Antigonish, the younger John S.D. Thompson. But a fatal heart attack struck him down at the age of 49, while he was on a trip to England on December 12, 1894.
    4. Mackenzie Bowell from Ontario then replaced Thompson for a year-and-a-half.
    5. Finally, on May 1, 1896, one of the Fathers of Confederation, Sir Charles Tupper from Nova Scotia, became the parliament's fifth prime minister, only to lose the position the following month when the Liberals won their first general election in 18 years.
  • In British Columbia, Premier John Oliver, who replaced Premier Harlan Brewster who had died in office on March 1, 1918, also died in office on August 17, 1927.
  • And in Québec, Premier Paul Sauvé, the successor of Premier Maurice Duplessis who had died suddenly on September 7, 1959, also died suddenly on January 2, 1960. Oddly, Sauvé's successor, Premier Daniel Johnson, died in office as well on September 26, 1968, but given that Jean Lesage served as premier between Johnson's first and second term, he was arguably the third in a row Union Nationale premier to have died in office. And as if things were not going badly enough for the UN, Johnson's successor, Jean-Jacques Bertrand, died in office as leader of the opposition on February 22, 1973, at the age of 56.
All the premiers and prime ministers who died in office were men. Here they are.

© 2019, 2024 :: (Maurice Y. Michaud)
Pub.: 14 Jun 2022 10:50
Rev.: 13 Nov 2023 00:22 (but data presented dynamically)