John Diefenbaker (1895-1979)

John Diefenbaker (1895-1979), 13th prime minister of Canada (1957-1963). Diefenbaker was the first Conservative prime minister in 22 years. He became interested in politics in early life, but for 15 years he was beaten at the polls every time he tried to win a local or national office. However, Diefenbaker developed into a forceful speaker, and when he was finally elected to the House of Commons, he became nationally known as a defender of individual and minority rights. Although his strong stand on these issues offended orthodox Conservatives, in the 1958 election his vigorous campaigning brought the party the largest parliamentary majority in Canadian history.

As prime minister

As prime minister, Diefenbaker was surprisingly indecisive, unable to provide the firm leadership to the nation that his election campaigns had demanded. In his narrow anti-Americanism and in his uncertain handling of the question of nuclear arms for Canada, he misinterpreted the wishes of a majority of Canadians. His government fell in 1963, the first time since 1926 that a Canadian prime minister received a vote of no confidence from Parliament.

Early Life

John George Diefenbaker was born in Grey

John George Diefenbaker was born in Grey County, Ontario, in 1895, but in 1903 his family moved to Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan. In 1906 the family moved to a homestead near Borden, and in 1910, they settled in Saskatoon to give him and his younger brother a better education. Diefenbaker was enrolled in Saskatoon Collegiate Institute. In 1912 he entered the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, where he gained a reputation as a debater. He enrolled in the Canadian Officers Training Corps shortly after World War I (1914-1918) began, and was made a lieutenant in the Saskatoon Fusiliers in 1916. He went overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but he was injured and he returned to Canada in 1917.

Diefenbaker received his law degree from

Diefenbaker received his law degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 1919. For a time he practiced in the small Saskatchewan farming village of Wakaw, which had only 400 inhabitants. He did not confine his practice to Wakaw but soon gained a reputation throughout the province. In 1923 he moved to the larger town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and there he set up a new law practice together with two partners.

Early Political Career

Print this section

Political Failures

About this time

About this time, Diefenbaker became interested in politics. At first he was a Liberal, as his father had been, and he was nominated as a Liberal candidate in the provincial elections. However, when he became serious about a political career, he turned to the Conservative Party. He ran for Parliament as a Conservative in 1925, but because Prince Albert was a Liberal stronghold, he lost. In 1926 Diefenbaker was again the Conservative candidate. He campaigned on the grounds that corruption was rampant in the administration of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and lost decisively.

Diefenbaker then confined himself to his

Diefenbaker then confined himself to his law practice and to provincial politics. In law he was successful, but his political failures continued. In 1929 he was a Conservative candidate for the provincial parliament and lost by a narrow margin. The Conservative Party in Saskatchewan at that time was led by James T. M. Anderson and was aggressively right-wing. Although Diefenbaker`s views were different from Anderson`s and although he was defeated in the election and did not join Anderson`s government, his association with Anderson harmed his subsequent political career.

Diefenbaker`s fourth failure to win public

Diefenbaker`s fourth failure to win public office came in 1933, when he ran for mayor of Prince Albert. However, he maintained an interest in politics, even after the Conservative Party was overwhelmed at the polls in 1935 because of their failure to help ease the effects of the Great Depression, the hard times of the 1930s. In 1935 he was chosen president of the Saskatchewan Conservative Association, and in the next year he was made leader of the provincial party. This was partly by default, because the other candidates who were nominated refused to run. Although the Conservative cause seemed hopeless, Diefenbaker ran in the 1938 provincial election as a candidate from Arm River and was defeated.

Member of Parliament

The turning point in Diefenbaker`s career

The turning point in Diefenbaker`s career came in 1940, when he was chosen to run in Lake Centre, Saskatchewan, as the Conservative candidate for the federal Parliament. This time, Diefenbaker won, and his victory was surprising because his opponent, J. Fred Johnston, had gained a substantial margin five years before. All over Canada, Conservatives went down to defeat, but by hard work and ideas that appealed to people of different views, Diefenbaker emerged victorious.

In the new Parliament there were only 39

In the new Parliament there were only 39 Conservatives, and Diefenbaker soon made his mark among them. He went along with the policy of his Conservative colleagues in refusing to join King`s government, but, in general, he backed King`s policies. However, when he did attack the government, he did so severely, using extreme language that angered but sometimes earned the respect of his opponents. His main concern during his first years in Parliament was with individuals and minority groups who had suffered injustice. Diefenbaker was genuinely concerned with the causes he took up. Many of the causes he supported were unpopular, such as his protest against the hardships inflicted on Japanese Canadians, who were forced to relocate away from the Pacific coast during World War II (1939-1945).

John Diefenbaker 1 | John Diefenbaker 2 | John Diefenbaker 3 |

Recommended for you

Read more about the full history of the world

Barbour Henry Gray

Henry Gray Barbour (1886-1943), American pharmacologist and toxicologist ( "see "Pharmacology; Toxicology). Barbour ranked among the most eminent A...


Thomas Barbour

Thomas Barbour (1884-1946), American naturalist and zoologist ( "see "Zoology), who was particularly interested in the geographical distribution of...


University of Barcelona

University of Barcelona, state institution of higher learning in Barcelona, Spain. It developed from the merger in 1377 of two academies, one in Ba...