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Queen's University
 

Queen's Encyclopedia

Borden, Sir Robert Laird (1854-1937)

[photo of Robert Borden]

Former Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Robert Borden served as Queen’s fifth Chancellor.

When Sir Robert Laird Borden succeeded Sir Edward Wentworth Beatty as Chancellor of Queen's in 1924, he was one of the most well known men in Canada. He had served as Prime Minister from 1911-1920, leading Canada through WWI and helping the young nation take important steps to independence from Britain.

Born on June 26, 1854 in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, Borden was raised on a farm and taught at private academies in Canada and the US before articling with a law firm in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1874. He was admitted to the bar in 1878 and by 1890 headed a prestigious Halifax law firm.

Borden was by this time one of Halifax's leading citizens and Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper convinced him to run in the 1896 election as a Conservative. He was elected to Parliament in 1896 and in 1901 became leader of the Liberal-Conservative Party.

As Leader of the Opposition, he advocated putting an end to patronage in government and demanded that appointments be made on merit alone. He also believed that the government should be responsible for running such essential services as railways, telephone systems, and electricity.

In the 1911 election, the main issue was free trade with the United States, which Borden opposed, and with this stance, his government defeated that of Sir Wilfred Laurier.

As Canada's eighth Prime Minister, his main task was the management of WWI which broke out in 1914. His government passed the Emergency War Measures Act in 1914 and also began the collection of direct income tax, which Canadians were assured was a temporary measure.

In 1917 he fought a hard election against Wilfred Laurier's government on the issue of conscription. Borden's government was in favour of it, and he managed to win the election by forming the Union government with many of Laurier's former supporters.

When the war ended, Borden persuaded Britain to let Canada sign the Treaty of Versailles for itself, and also to have its own seat in the League of Nations; he took important steps towards a completely independent Canadian government.

Borden retired from politics in 1920, concentrating on his various business affairs, writing his memoirs, and holding the Chancellorship of Queen's University. Borden took a close interest in the University and his connections proved useful in its dealings with various government departments. He retired from the post in 1930.

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