The first meeting between King and Churchill occurred in 1900 in Ottawa during Churchill's lecture tour of North America. King was less than impressed with Churchill's drinking champagne in mid-morning. Later when they met in London in 1908, Churchill said "I think I did make a frightful ass of myself on that trip, didn't I?" King gave him a hard look and said "well Mr Churchill there were many Canadians who thought so. I was one of them."
King's opinion of Churchill certainly improved over the eight-year period, as shown in an extract from his diary:
"One cannot talk with him without being impressed at the nimbleness of his mind, his quickness of perception and his undoubted ability. He seems to have lost a good deal of the egotism, at least as far as his manner is concerned, though one feels that even yet it is Churchill rather than the movement with which he is identified that is the mainspring of his conduct."
The same year, 1908, when Churchill, in the first of many terms as MP for Dundee, became President of the Board of Trade, King stood for Canada's Parliament as a Liberal, won North Waterloo, and was appointed to the position of Minister of Labour. But in 1911 the Liberals were defeated and King lost his seat.
In 1919 Sir Wilfred Laurier died; King was elected leader of the Liberal Party and returned to Parliament in a by-election. This made him Leader of the Opposition; in December 1921, the Liberals returned to power and Mackenzie King became Prime Minister-nineteen years ahead of Churchill, who was undoubtedly thinking about that high office at the very same time.
Just ten months after King became Prime Minister came the crisis over Chanak, the port of entry to the Dardanelles, which so deleteriously had affected Churchill's career a few years before. Turkey had fought with the Central Powers in the Great War and had signed a peace treaty in 1920. But a new Turkish government led by Mustapha Kemal ("Ataturk") repudiated it and in September 1922 massed troops at Chanak, where an Allied garrison of just a few thousand watched over the Dardanelles.
British Prime Minister Lloyd George asked the Dominions to send troops, but unfortunately delayed his communiqué until after the newspapers had reported the crisis. New Zealand and Newfoundland agreed to help; as did Australia after a protest. But King complained to Lloyd George for asking for help after the crisis had been reported.
Churchill, now Colonial Secretary in the Lloyd George government, remonstrated with King, who held a Cabinet meeting to decide Canada's role. The Cabinet deferred to Parliament for approval, and Churchill asked King for at least a "contingent" of Canadian troops as a "quiet but decisive demonstration that the British Empire is not to be threatened or bluffed." The Turks eventually backed away from Chanak and King did not need to summon Parliament but the incident reinforced King's view that Canada must be in charge of her own foreign affairs.
At the Imperial Conference of 1923, British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon suggested that Britain's foreign minister when he speaks, may speak "for the whole Empire." King took issue: on any important issues he replied, Canadian decisions would be made by Canadians. Curzon wrote later that King was "obstinate, tiresome and stupid and is afraid of being turned out of his own Parliament when he gets back." South Africa's Premier Jan Smuts told King, "You ought to be satisfied. Canada has had her way in everything."