John G. Diefenbaker, prime minister 1957–63, lawyer, politician (born 18 September 1895 at Neustadt, ON; died 16 August 1979 at Ottawa, ON). Well known as a defense attorney before his election to Parliament, Canada’s 13th prime minister was an eloquent spokesman for”non-establishment” Canada both as a lawyer and as a politician. A supporter of civil rights for all, Diefenbaker championed the Canadian Bill of along with the expansion of the vote to First Nations; he also played an essential part in the anti-apartheid statement that led to South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961. A popular and charismatic speaker, Diefenbaker could also be a divisive force in the Progressive Conservative Party. Moreover, he’s been criticized because of his indecision about nuclear missiles on Canadian soil (in addition to strained relations with American President John F. Kennedy) and because of his cancellation of the Avro Arrow undertaking.
Education and Early Career
Back in 1903, Diefenbaker and his family transferred to the Fort Carlton region of what’s currently Saskatchewan and attended colleges in several Prairie communities before moving to Saskatoon in 1910. He attended the University of Saskatchewan and, after working in the army throughout the First World War, finished his law diploma and posts and was called to the Saskatchewan Bar in 1919. His first law office was in Wakaw, Saskatchewan, but he transferred to the larger northern centre of Prince Albert in 1924.
A Growing Reputation
Diefenbaker‘s path to the prime minister’s office has been long. He ran federally for Prince Albert in 1925 and 1926; provincially in 1929 and 1938; and for mayor of Prince Albert in 1933. He dropped every time. Despite a growing reputation as a capable defense lawyer (Diefenbaker was appointed King’s Counsel in 1929), he held firmly to the belief that his future lay in politics. Back in 1936, he became chief of the Saskatchewan Conservative Party, only to preside over the party’s defeat at the 1938 election when they won no seats. He continued to preach his own brand of Conservative politics, seeing many Saskatchewan communities with his wife, Edna Mae Brower, constructing celebration organization and exhorting his colleagues to”keep the faith”
In June 1939, Diefenbaker was nominated for the federal riding of Lake Centre and in March 1940 he was chosen Conservative Member of Parliament. The skills he had refined during his legal career served him well on the Opposition backbenches. He acquired a reputation as an astute questioner of government activities, a reputation that went far beyond the boundaries of his constituency. He was re-elected for Lake Centre in 1945 and 1949 but endured a great personal loss in 1951 when his wife died of acute leukemia.
Not long before his wife’s death, Diefenbaker was approached by the father of Alfred John”Jack” Atherton, a railroad telegrapher accused of causing a wreck at Canoe River, British Columbia. In 1950, two trains had collided head-on, murdering four locomotive team members and 17 soldiers jumped for Korea. Upon his ailing wife’s urging, Diefenbaker consented to represent the defendant (who had grown up in his riding). In R. v. Atherton, known as the Canoe River case, he successfully defended Atherton, who was found not guilty of manslaughter. The situation was followed nationally and the acquittal celebrated in the media; at Rogue Tory: that he lives and Legend of John G. Diefenbaker, biographer Denis Smith called the case because”one of his important political assets.”
Liberal government redistributed parliamentary seats, effectively adding potential Liberal and Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) supporters to Diefenbaker’s riding. This resulted in his nomination as the Progressive Conservative candidate for Prince Albert in the 1953 election. The effort and its motto, “Not a cry, but a national demand,” caught the imagination of Prince Albert Republicans and Diefenbaker had been elected. Olive Diefenbaker was closely associated with her husband’s political career for the remainder of her life.
John G. Diefenbaker Prime Minister
In 1956, Diefenbaker has been selected to succeed George Drew, who had resigned as chief of the Progressive Conservative Party. The following year, Diefenbaker directed his party to an upset victory over the Liberals headed by Louis Saint-Laurent, also formed a minority government, the very first Conservative government since that of R.B. Bennett. Backed by a Cabinet that included Davie Fulton, Donald Fleming, George Hees, G.R. Pearkes, Douglas Harkness, Ellen Fairclough, Léon Balcer, and Gordon Churchill, Diefenbaker merged his position in March 1958 when the electorate returned his government with a huge majority of 208 seats — the maximum number held by one party in Canada to this moment.
The Diefenbaker Vision
The Diefenbaker era showcased the personality and the style of the”guy from Prince Albert”; several things taken for granted were pioneered during his administration. Wheat sales to China and agricultural reform revitalized western agriculture.
His determination to guarantee civil rights for all directed in 1960 to the Canadian Bill of Rights and to expanding the national vote to First Nations individuals in Canada (prior to there, the Indian Act generally demanded First Nations to give their treaty rights in order to be”enfranchised”). Diefenbaker also nominated James Gladstone, a part of the Blood Nation in Alberta, who became the first Aboriginal member of the Senate.
Beneath the philosophical umbrella of”social justice,” the Diefenbaker government restructured plans to give aid to people in need. In addition to the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act (1961), his government also established a Royal Commission on Health Services (1961) as well as the National Productivity Council (1963) — later named the Economic Council of Canada. The”northern vision” that figured so prominently in the rhetoric of the 1957 and 1958 elections increased public awareness of the Far North and led to financial growth in that area.
A tour of this Commonwealth in 1958 reinforced Diefenbaker’s belief in the worth of the organization and other international bodies. In addition, it helped to set his role as a supporter of the non-white Commonwealth; Diefenbaker played an important part in the 1961 anti-apartheid statement that led to South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth.
Leader of the Opposition
Throughout the 1962 election, the Liberals exploited the economic crisis (the Canadian dollar had dropped to 92.5 cents US), the controversial 1959 cancellation of the Avro Arrow, and the debate over nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, including prices against Diefenbaker of anti-Americanism (see Bomarc Missile Crisis); the Conservative authorities was reduced to a minority. In a second election the following year, the Liberals returned to power, although Diefenbaker, traveling the country by train, nearly won the election for his party in what was potentially the most spectacular one-man political campaign in Canadian history. Since the pioneering the Opposition, Diefenbaker reveled in questioning Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s authorities to such an extent that the House’s business slowed substantially. In addition, he argued vigorously (if unsuccessfully) from Pearson’s proposal for a new Canadian flag in 1964 (see Flag Debate) and led the attack on the Liberals during the scandals of 1965. In turn, the Liberals criticized Diefenbaker for his role in the Munsinger Affair.