Article in the Telegraph Journal

25/06/2011 13:28


New Brunswick teen leads charge to erect R.B. Bennett statue - by Randy Boswell

Can a precociously political teenager from New Brunswick accomplish what a former Liberal prime minister, a prominent Conservative senator and a Tory MP have so far been unable to do?

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Photo: Canadaeast News Centre Archive
A sixteen-year-old history buff from Beaverbrook in Albert County wants a statue of R.B. Bennett, Canada's Conservative prime minister from 1930 to 1935, erected on Parliament Hill.

What 16-year-old history buff Jordan Grondin wants is a statue of R.B. Bennett, Canada's Conservative prime minister from 1930 to 1935, erected on Parliament Hill alongside the likes of John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier and Bennett's contemporary Liberal rival for the country's top political post, Mackenzie King.

Grondin, a home-schooled Grade 10 student from Beaverbrook, who lives just a few kilometres from Bennett's birthplace in that province, has launched a grassroots campaign for a Bennett statue with the support of Conservative MP Nina Grewal.

The British Columbia MP, who first called for a Bennett statue on Parliament Hill in 2005, is expected to renew the push this year by reintroducing her original private members motion.

The cause is further backed by Tory Senator Hugh Segal and former Liberal prime minister John Turner, both of whom have urged Parliament to recognize Bennett's place in history with a bronze likeness at Canada's political epicentre.

Turner, who met Bennett while growing up in Ottawa, wrote last year about the merits of a statue honouring the Depression-era prime minister: "As this year is the 80th anniversary of Bennett's election to the highest office in the land, I call on Mr. Harper who, by the way, is the first prime minister since Bennett to represent Calgary in the House of Commons, to make this a priority before 2010 is out."

Bennett biographer John Boyko and fellow prime ministerial historian Arthur Milnes have also pressed for a Bennett statue on Parliament Hill.

"Bennett boldly led an activist government that provided immediate relief to those in need, and then restructured the economy in ways that would mitigate the worst of future economic calamities," Boyko, author of Bennett: The Rebel who Challenged and Changed a Nation, wrote in an essay last year that argued Bennett's reputation was unfairly tarnished by Depression-era critics.

"Bennett was not a perfect prime minister. There is no such thing. He was not a perfect human being - none of us is. But time has allowed us to see that he was a great Canadian and a transformational leader. He deserves to be remembered."

A Bennett statue was, in fact, ordered in the early 1970s but the design was reportedly rejected as unsuitable for a national monument.

Then the idea was abandoned.

"He's never gotten his full due," Grondin told Postmedia News on Friday from his home, located about 15 minutes down the road from Bennett's birthplace at Hopewell Hill.

"I believe that because of what Bennett did as prime minister, that is why he deserves one," said Grondin.

The teenager, who says he also plans to run for a provincial Conservative nomination ahead of the 2014 New Brunswick election, has launched a website dedicated to the campaign and planned several events this summer to gather names for a petition.

"If it wasn't for the Bank of Canada that he created, we would not have pulled out of the recession as quick as we did. The CBC - we wouldn't have a national television station that is truly Canadian."

The future prime minister was born in 1870 in a rural area south of Moncton. After graduating from Dalhousie University, he moved west to work as a lawyer in Calgary in 1897.

In 1911, Bennett was elected as a Conservative to the House of Commons. He took over as leader of the Conservatives in 1927 and became prime minister just as Canada entered the Great Depression, possibly the most difficult set of circumstances ever faced by a Canadian politician.

"He served our nation for five years as prime minister, over 19 years as an MP," said Grondin, who has also written an appeal to Canadian parliamentarians to support the statue bid.

"Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, who led Canada during one of the darkest times in Canadian history, does not have a statue on Parliament Hill," he writes. "I believe it is most important that we get a statue to recognize such an important man in Canadian history. He did a lot for Canada and I strongly believe that we need to get proper recognition."