“I hate politics, and what are considered their appropriate methods. I hate notoriety, public meetings, public speeches, caucuses and everything that I know of that is apparently the necessary incident of politics – except doing public work to the best of my ability.” This was the lament of Sir John Abbott, Leader of the Government in the Senate on June 4, 1891. Irony of ironies, only twelve days later Sir John A. MacDonald died and the man who claimed to hate politics was the third Prime Minister of Canada.
Despite professing to hate politics, Abbott spent two and a half decades as an MP, Senator and Mayor of Montreal. At the center of major issues (including the Pacific Scandal,) he was a mainstay of MacDonald’s cabinet and boosted the Conservatives’ majority by twelve seats in by-elections as PM. Perhaps luckily for him, Abbott never had to engage again in the dreaded “necessary incident(s) of politics” in a general election. Before he could face the voters, ill health forced him to resign as PM in November, 1892 (after only 18 months.) His greatest legacy might be his great grandson, none other than the legendary Christopher Plummer!
Abbott’s frankness about the drudgeries of politics is no doubt shared by many who’ve been worn down by political life. While some politicians love campaigning, many others have bemoaned how “doing the public work” can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day reality of politics. Over a century later, Abbott’s quip stands as perhaps his most valuable contribution to public life!
Image: Library and Archives Canada