The Penny Pincher

Lieutenant Colonel John Thompson
124th (Governor General’s Body Guard) Battalion

All who know him must regard Colonel Thompson as a man of the highest probity and integrity. His honesty and ability cannot be question. I for one am prepared to believe that the qualities of character which have made him somewhat rigid in the work of administration of the particular commission over which he presides are characteristics of a strict impartiality…

 (W.L.M. King, Debates, 30 June 1934, 4556)

John Thomas Connolly Thompson was the eldest son of Canada’s fourth Prime Minister, John Sparrow David Thompson (1845-1894). He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 21 October 1872. A barrister in Toronto, Thompson enlisted with Lieutenant Colonel W. C. V. Chadwick’s 124th Battalion in March 1916 at the rank of major.

The 124th was re-designated a pioneer battalion when deployed to France in August 1917. He succeeded Chadwick in command on 18 October 1917. In May 1918, the 124th was reorganized into the 12th Battalion,  Canadian Engineers also under Thompson’s command.

In December 1918, Thompson was appointed chairman of the Board of Pension Commissioners. As one newspaper noted, “his hobby of saving became his job of work.” His stringent, conservative attitude and reluctance to grant soldier pension applications provoked outrage from the Great War Veterans Association, who denounced Thompson’s “autocratic and drastic policy.”

By 1933, press and opposition party critics argued that Thompson refused to implement the Pension Act as the House of Commons had intended. As war veteran and Liberal MP Chubby Power complained, “he would not pay the pension, no matter you did.” The Canadian Legion and MPs called for Thompson’s dismissal. From Thompson’s perspective, the role of the Pension Board was to guard taxpayer dollars and resist the “pension evil” of uncontrolled spending.

He resigned in 1934 only to be appointed Dominion Franchise commissioner in charge of the administration of federal elections. During the 1940 Canadian election, Thompson acted as chief returning officer in England to supervise the overseas soldier vote. Prime Minister King justified the choice, stating, it was “impossible to find any one in whom all political parties would have more confidence.”

During the Second World War, he served as a director of Government Offices Economy Control. Feeling his position was undermined by government “waste and crazy extravagance,” Thompson resigned in March 1943.

He died in Ottawa on 12 February 1952. In an obituary, the Ottawa Journal summarized Thompson as “the Vimy Ridge veteran who put meaning into the word economy.”


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