by Ruth Griffiths
On this day in 1957, the “man from Prince Albert”, John George Diefenbaker, became Canada’s 13th prime minister. He was one of Canada’s longest serving Members of Parliament and held the highest percentage of seats won in the House of Commons.
Diefenbaker was born in Neustadt, Ont., on Sept. 18, 1895; he died Aug.16, 1979 in Ottawa. Throughout his long, hard-working career as a lawyer and a politician his slogan was “One Canada.” While in office, he championed the Canadian Bill of Rights, appointed the first female cabinet minister and Indigenous senator, welcomed the first Chinese-Canadian and Ukrainian-Canadian members of parliament, and extended the vote to First Nations people in Canada.
After serving in the army during the First World War, he completed his law degree at University of Saskatchewan. He was called to the Saskatchewan Bar in 1919. His first law office was in Wakaw. He moved to Prince Albert in 1924.
According to the Diefenbaker Canada Centre, Diefenbaker was “a champion of the average Canadian. An articulate speaker and supporter of civil rights, Diefenbaker was a passionate defense lawyer before he turned to his attention to politics.” He ran federally for Prince Albert in 1925 and 1926; provincially in 1929 and 1938; and for mayor of Prince Albert in 1933. He lost each time. In June 1939, Diefenbaker was nominated for the federal riding of Lake Centre. In March 1940, he was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament. He was re-elected for Lake Centre in 1945 and 1949.
Diefenbaker was elected MP for P.A. in 1953 and soon became leader of Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. In January 1957, Diefenbaker took his place as Leader of the Official Opposition.
By June his party formed a minority government with 40.9% of popular vote, winning 112 seats to 105 for St. Laurent’s Liberals; 25 CCF; 19 Social Credit; four others. It was the first Conservative victory in 27 years. Diefenbaker consolidated his position in March 1958 with a huge majority of 208 seats; the highest number held by a single party in Canada to that time.
Diefenbaker was succeeded as Prime Minister by Liberal Lester B. Pearson in 1963. Diefenbaker continued to serve as “the man from Prince Albert” until his death in 1979.