C. D. Howe

The long-serving “minister of everything” (actually, Minister of Transport, then Munitions and then Trade & Commerce) in the Liberal governments of William Lyon Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent, who is credited both with Canada’s impressive World War II industrial mobilization and the country’s remarkable postwar economic boom.

An American-born, MIT-trained engineer, Clarence Decatur Howe was known for his down-to-business determination and impatience with political niceties. These characteristics made Howe controversial in his lifetime with critics dubbing him Clarence “Dictator” Howe. But he is now seen as the archetype of the super-minister, the one cabinet powerhouse (second only to the prime minister) seen as indispensable to the success of a government, particularly in economic areas. On Howe’s watch, the Trans Canada Highway and St. Lawrence Seaway were built, the CBC and Trans Canada Airlines (Air Canada) founded and the Trans Canada Pipeline and Canada’s nuclear energy program initiated.

Nowadays, when a government is said to need a “C.D. Howe” it can be assumed to be lacking in economic direction or management expertise. In modern Canadian politics, a number of ministers, such as Don Mazenkowski, Paul Martin and Jim Prentice, have aspired to C.D. Howe status within their respective governments. Within Liberal precincts, the term “C.D. Howe” connotes pro-business, particularly big-business leanings.

A non-profit, non-partisan think-tank, the C.D. Howe Institute, was founded in 1975. Like its namesake, it is focused on economic prosperity, highly influential, and considered to reside in the centre-right of the spectrum.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives

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