Layton’s only second special state funeral

This may be trivial detail on this day, but for the record….

I’ve been trying all week to get Canadian Heritage to give me a list of people given full state funerals who did not otherwise qualify for one. They delivered one this morning.

Tradition holds that only current and former prime ministers, current and former governors general, and current cabinet ministers are afforded the honour of a state funeral.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a state funeral to Jack Layton‘s family, it  marked a substantial (although arguably warranted) break from a tradition that spanned 143 years.

Before Layton, only Thomas D’Arcy McGee was given a state funeral. Though he had been a cabinet minister in the legislature before Confederation, he was not at the time of his assassination.

Contrary to assertions this week, Second World War veteran Ernest “Smokey” Smith, the last Victoria Cross recipient, was not given a state funeral, according to Canadian Heritage. (I thought I was losing my mind when people kept telling me there was lots of precedent for this, but I couldn’t find one.)

Apparently, Heritage officials were a bit fuzzy on this. At a technical briefing on Tuesday in advance of Layton laying in state, one official cited Smith as a precedent. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Smith received the honour of lying in state in 2005, Heritage says. The same honour was extended to the Unknown Soldier in 2000 and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Bora Laskin, in 1984.

One question, if the unique honour of a state funeral is extended to Layton, who else might receive one in future? Certainly Preston Manning had an influence on Canadian conservatives that was comparable to Layton’s impact on progressives.

The list of state funerals, in full, as provided by Heritage. Click to enlarge:


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