Mandarin


The name often used to describe senior public servants in Ottawa. Mandarins in wartime Canada (1939-1945) helped Prime Minister Mackenzie King formulate and execute Canada’s rapidly growing war effort. Mandarin membership – never formally defined – included top officials from a range of government departments and the Bank of Canada.

Mandarins worked tirelessly for their political bosses, including the likes of C.D. Howe, known as the so-called Minister of Everything. The long hours were punishing, but mandarins relished being at the centre of the action. In his book The Ottawa Men, eminent historian Jack Granatstein said the mandarins “changed the way government operated and whose overall influence and impact were positive in the extreme.”

Several Dollar a Year men supported the mandarins as the machinery of government expanded. However, the mandarins themselves remained a cohesive – and, as some people felt, elite – group of men (and they were all men at the time) who worked and socialized together. Their exclusivity gave the term a somewhat derogatory connotation.

The term was adapted from European descriptions of civil servants in Imperial China who were prized by succeeding Emperors for their efficiency, loyalty, discretion and wisdom. Many mandarins in Imperial China were put to death, a fate thus far spared for their Canadian counterparts.

Image Source: The Ottawa Men: The Civil Service Mandarins, 1935-1957


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