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Prime Minister of Canada

The prime minister (PM) is the head of the federal government. It is the most powerful position in Canadian politics. Prime ministers are not specifically elected to the position; instead, the PM is typically the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons. The prime minister controls the governing party and speaks for it; names senators and senior judges for appointment; and appoints and dismisses all members of Cabinet. As chair of Cabinet, the PM controls its agenda and greatly influences the activities and priorities of Parliament. In recent years, a debate has emerged about the growing power of prime ministers, and whether this threatens other democratic institutions.

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James Murray

His willingness to allow French law and custom in the courts further alienated the merchants and led to his recall in April 1766 and he left Canada in June. Though charges were dismissed, he did not return to Canada though he retained nominal governorship until April 1768.

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Balarama Holness

Balarama Holness, professional football player, jurist, political activist, social entrepreneur (born 20 July 1983 in Montreal, QC). Balarama Holness put a wayward youth behind him to become a Grey Cup-winning professional football player with his hometown Montreal Alouettes. He then pursued a career as a jurist and political organizer and ran for mayor of the borough of Montréal-Nord in 2017. His community organizing efforts led to two separate reports (in 2019 and 2020) that acknowledged the existence and extent of systemic racism in the province, while also recommending solutions. In 2021, Holness ran to become mayor of Montreal but was defeated.

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Jagmeet Singh

Jagmeet Singh “Jimmy” Dhaliwal, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada 2017–present, MP, MPP, lawyer (born 2 January 1979 in Scarborough, ON). Jagmeet Singh served as an Ontario MPP from 2011 until 2017, when he won the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP). This made him the first racialized leader of a major national political party in Canada. He was also the first turban-wearing Sikh elected to the Ontario legislature. Singh has consistently rated higher than other federal party leaders in public opinion polls but has yet to translate that into national electoral success. He has been the Member of Parliament for Burnaby South since 2019.

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Helen Mamayaok Maksagak

Helen Mamayaok Maksagak, CM, politician, public servant, community leader (born 15 April 1931 in Bernard Harbour, NT [NU]; died 23 January 2009 in Cambridge Bay, NU). Maksagak was the first woman and Inuk to serve as the commissioner of the Northwest Territories. A vocal and engaged advocate for Inuit affairs, she contributed to efforts to establish Nunavut as Canada’s third territory in the 1990s. In March of 1999, she was chosen as the first commissioner of the newly created Nunavut territory; her term lasted until March 2000. Maksagak returned to a formal political role in November 2005, when she was appointed deputy commissioner of Nunavut. In addition to her political career, Maksagak performed advocacy work, focusing on Inuit and, more broadly, Indigenous initiatives, such as improving access to social services.

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Henry Arthur Smitheram

Henry Arthur Smitheram, "Butch," politician, public servant (b at Penticton, BC 8 Jan 1918; d at Keremeos, BC 14 Mar 1982). Smitheram was a nonstatus Indian, his Okanagan mother having lost her status upon marrying his English father.

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Henry Wise Wood

Henry Wise Wood, farmer, farm leader (born 31 May 1860 on a farm near Monroe City, Missouri; died 10 June 1941 in Calgary, AB). Henry Wise Wood was one of the most powerful agrarian and political figures in Alberta from 1915 until his death in 1941. A member of a Christian sect that emphasized the need for Christian ethics in economic activities, he served as president of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) from 1916 to 1931. Wood declined to become premier of Alberta in 1921 but played a powerful role in determining the government's policies and programs. He was a leader in the wheat pool movement that swept rural Alberta in 1923–24. He also helped develop the federal Progressive Party platform.

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Herbert Greenfield

Herbert Greenfield, farmer, politician, businessman, premier of Alberta 1921–25 (born 25 November 1867 in Winchester, England; died 23 August 1949 in Calgary, AB). Herbert Greenfield immigrated to Canada in 1892. He established a homestead north of Edmonton in 1906. By 1921, he was president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and an interim vice-president of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA).

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30 Political Leaders

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, The Canadian Encyclopedia created 30 lists of 30 things that have helped define our identity, from famous people and historic events, to iconic foods and influential artists.

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Ezekiel Hart

Ezekiel (Ezechiel) Hart, politician, entrepreneur, militia officer (born 15 May 1770 in Trois-Rivières, Province of Quebec, died 16 September 1843 in Trois-Rivières, Province of Canada). He holds the distinction of being the second Jew to be elected to a political office in the British Empire (see Imperialism). He was also the first in Canada. Despite his business acumen and good standing in the community, Hart was not permitted to take his seat in Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly, owing to his Jewish faith. This spurred a public debate on Jewish participation in politics. Ultimately, this concluded with an act granting political rights to Jews in Lower Canada in 1832. (See also Anti-Semitism in Canada.)

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Peter Lougheed

Edgar Peter Lougheed, businessman, lawyer, premier of Alberta (born at Calgary 26 July 1928, died there 13 Sept. 2012). In 1965, at the age of 36, Lougheed was elected leader of the small Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. A successful political career at the helm of such a marginal party seemed unlikely at the start. By the time Lougheed took charge, the party didn't hold a single seat.

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Jean Charest

Jean Charest, lawyer, politician, premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012 (born on 24 June 1958 in Sherbrooke, Qc). As a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, he became the youngest person to be appointed a Cabinet member. Between 1993 and 1998, he led the party after Kim Campbell resigned. Charest then became the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party and acted as premier of Quebec from 2003 until 2012. In 2022, he joined Historica Canada’s board of directors.