John Abbott, (1821–1893)

John Abbott, the third prime minister of Canada, famously said “I hate politics” but in fact, he meant that he hated the sideshow that surrounded politics. In the same sentence he affirmed that he did care very deeply about “doing public work to the best of my ability.”

Abbott, who was Canada’s first native-born prime minister, came to power when John A. Macdonald died in 1891 a mere three months after the Conservatives had won the general election. He had earlier been the dean of Law at McGill, and taught at the University from 1855 to 1876. From 1887 to 1888, he was the mayor of Montreal. He had also been an important player in Canada’s emerging rail system: as company president and engineer respectively, Abbott and his brother, Henry, built the Canada Central Railway, a key link in the transcontinental line.

Though his term as prime minister was cut short by illness in November 1892, Abbott is seen as having been a capable leader. Reform of the civil service and revisions of the criminal code were among the initiatives of his government.