Toronto Star

Cars often reflect a PM’s personalit­y

Trudeau Mercedes symbol of Sixties Mulroney refused to ride in Cadillac

- DALE JOHNSON SPECIAL TO THE STAR

There’s a drive under way to be prime minister — and for 100 years prime ministers have been drivers.

Canada’s prime ministers have had complex and diverse personalit­ies, which has been reflected in the types of cars they drive. The first prime minister to have a car was Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who held the top political office from 1896 to 1911. However, Laurier often preferred taking the streetcar to his office.

Laurier’s successor, Sir Robert Borden, also had a car and chauffeur provided. But during his term as prime minister — 1911 to 1920 — he often used his bicycle to get to Parliament Hill. Former prime minister R. B. Bennett ( 1930 to 1935) was a wealthy lawyer and in 1903 he became one of the first car owners in Calgary. But one day, while driving downtown, he lost control of his Oldsmobile when he swerved to miss a pedestrian. His car slammed into the side of a bank, and Bennett never drove again. John Diefenbake­r, the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve prime minister from 1957 to 1963, enjoyed cars. His first auto was a Maxwell Touring car in the early 1920s. As a successful lawyer in Prince Albert, Sask., in the 1930s, Diefenbake­r owned a variety of cars — mainly Chryslers and Buicks. Once he made it to Parliament Hill, the first time as an MP in 1940, Diefenbake­r continued to enjoy luxury cars, including a 1958 Buick, a 1964 Buick Wildcat, a 1970 Oldsmobile and a 1977 Oldsmobile Regency 98.

Liberal prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau (1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984) was a car buff. When he attended the London School of Economics, Trudeau bought a Jaguar. He had the car shipped back to Montreal, and it was his main means of transporta­tion during most of the 1950s.

In 1959, Trudeau bought himself a Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster. This vehicle was part of Trudeauman­ia when he swept to his first election victory in 1968.

In the spring of 2005, when Justin Trudeau was married in Montreal, he and his bride drove off in his late father’s car. Joe Clark defeated Trudeau and served as prime minister in 1979.

Clark’s main means of transporta­tion during his university days in Edmonton was an early 1950s Austin. As a rookie MP in Ottawa in the early 1970s, Clark drove a brown Mercury Capri. As Warner Troyer writes in his book, 200 Days: Joe Clark in Power, Clark wasn’t used to limousines the night he won the election. “ Unused to such luxury, Clark is reported to have climbed into the car and, unfamiliar with the spaciousne­ss of such vehicles, promptly sat down on the floor, entirely missing the seat some inches behind his descending posterior.”

In 1984, the Progressiv­e Conservati­ves, under Brian Mulroney, swept into power.

John Sawatsky explains

in his book, Mulroney: The

Politics of Ambition, that

Mulroney was once quite

concerned about the type

of taxi he’d be seen in.

It happened in 1983, when Mulroney was trying for the leadership of the party a second time, after losing to Clark in 1976. Mulroney stepped out of the Chateau Laurier for a threeblock ride to the National Press Building.

“ The taxi waiting in line for him happened to be a Cadillac. ‘ Michael,’ he barked to aid Michael McSweeney, ‘ I’m not going in that car. Get him out of there and get the next one.’ Television cameras would film his arrival at the other end, and the last thing he wanted was to be seen stepping out of a Caddie. McSweeney tried to shoo the taxi away, but the driver refused to budge . . . ‘ Pay him off,’ Mulroney finally shouted. A few seconds later the Cadillac pulled out and another taxi pulled in — this one an acceptably modest Plymouth.” Kim Campbell replaced Brian Mulroney as Progressiv­e Conservati­ve leader and prime minister in 1993. Her first car, when she was a university student in the 1960s, was a 1954 Ford Consul. Later, she drove a Mercedes- Benz, and then a BMW Bavaria. “ My first husband and I brought it home from Europe in 1973 after we were married. It had a 4- speed stick shift and was great fun to drive.” Campbell says her favourite car was a 1980 Honda Civic, which she bought used in 1982. That’s the car she had when she became prime minister — and it’s also the one she had when she lost that job. “ When I said on election night 1993, ‘ I’m glad I didn’t sell my car,’ that was the car. It was a great car, and I loved it.’’ Her current vehicle is a 2001 Toyota RAV 4.

Jean Chrétien, who was prime minister from 1993 to 2003, was not much of a car buff, and has usually driven small, unassuming cars. But it was a different story for his honeymoon to Lake George in upstate New York: Chrétien borrowed his brother’s new 1957 white and blue Pontiac convertibl­e. When he became prime minister, Chrétien told the Mounties he didn’t need the armoured Cadillac that had been used by Mulroney and Campbell.

Chrétien said a Chevrolet was good enough for him, although he was often seen in a Buick Roadmaster. wheels@thestar.ca

 ?? BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR ?? Justin Trudeau and his bride, Sophie Grégoire, leave the church in Montreal after their wedding on May 28. They drove away in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster that Trudeau’s father, Pierre (above right), drove during the swinging days of Trudeauman­ia.
BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR Justin Trudeau and his bride, Sophie Grégoire, leave the church in Montreal after their wedding on May 28. They drove away in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster that Trudeau’s father, Pierre (above right), drove during the swinging days of Trudeauman­ia.
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