Richard Bedford Bennett, 1st Viscount Bennett, was a Canadian lawyer, businessperson, politician, and philanthropist. He served as the 11th Prime Minister of Canada from 7 August 1930 to 23 October 1935, during the worst of the Great Depression years.
While Bennett was, and is still, often criticized for lack of compassion for the impoverished masses, he stayed up through many nights reading and responding to personal letters from ordinary citizens asking for his help, and often dipped into his personal fortune to send a five-dollar bill to a starving family.
The total amount he gave personally is uncertain, although he personally estimated that in 1927–37 he spent well over 2.3 million dollars. Bennett was a controlling owner of the E. B. Eddy match company, which was the largest safety match manufacturer in Canada, and he was one of the richest Canadians at that time. Bennett helped put many poor, struggling young men through university.
Relative to the times he lived in, he was likely the wealthiest Canadian to become prime minister.
Bennett worked an exhausting schedule throughout his years as prime minister, often more than 14 hours per day, and dominated his government, usually holding several cabinet posts. He lived in a suite in the Chateau Laurier hotel, a short walk from Parliament Hill.
The respected author Bruce Hutchison wrote that had the economic times been more normal, Bennett would likely have been regarded as a good, perhaps great, Canadian prime minister.
Bennett was also a noted talent spotter. He took note of and encouraged the young Lester Pearson in the early 1930s, and appointed Pearson to significant roles on two major government inquiries: the 1931 Royal Commission on Grain Futures, and the 1934 Royal Commission on Price Spreads.
Bennett saw that Pearson was recognized with an OBE after he shone in that work, arranged a bonus of $1,800, and invited him to a London conference.Former Prime Minister John Turner, who as a child, knew Bennett while he was prime minister, praised Bennett’s promotion of Turner’s economist mother to the highest civil service post held by a Canadian woman to that time.