Prime Ministerial Series Blog Posting – Now With 87% More Facts!

Today’s installment of my prime ministerial series was generously written by guest blog writer and our resident Canadian historian here on Not To Be Trusted With Knives, Sarah. Which explains why, unlike the ones I write, this posting contains more than just a rip-off of the Wikipedia entry. Thanks, Sar!

John George DiefenbakerCommons.jpg

13th Prime Minister of Canada

Born: September 18, 1895 in Neustadt, ON

Died: August 16, 1979 in Ottawa, ON (buried in SK)

In office: June 21, 1957 to April 22, 1963

Nicknames: “The Chief”, “Dief”, “The Prairie Populist”

The Essential Dief

Previous Occupation: Criminal Defense Lawyer

Federal Ridings: Lake Centre, SK (riding abolished in 1953) and Prince Albert, SK

Best Known For: Bombastic speeches (which MP Eugene Forsey likened to “loud detonations in a dense fog”); enormous jowls

Famous Quotes:

“I’ll have my place in history.”

My baby cows will soon know how to shit.” – delivered in French, while attempting to say “I hope my wishes will be well-received.”

Most Famous Quote:

“Canadians have an appointment with Destiny!” – said with great fanfare to cheering throngs. “What did it mean? No one knew, but it didn’t matter. It was Destiny! And we had an appointment!” – Will Ferguson.

Early Political Record, by the Numbers

Local politics

  • 1 win – alderman, 1920

  • 2 losses – alderman re-election, 1923; mayor of Prince Albert, 1933

Provincial Politics

  • 0 wins (though became leader of SK Conservatives in 1936)

  • 3 losses -1929, 1933 and 1938 as leader, where the Conservatives lost every single seat

Federal Politics

  • 1 win (finally, in 1940)

  • 2 losses (1925, 1926)

Overall Record over 20 years: 2-6, .250

Attempts to assume leadership roles with federal Conservatives

  • 1942, party leader – Loss

  • 1943, house leader – Loss

  • 1948, party leader – Loss

  • 1953, house leader – Loss

  • 1956, party leader – WIN

  • 1957 federal election – SURPRISE WIN (due to general displeasure at long-standing Liberal rule)

  • 1958 federal election – Largest majority in history (only surpassed by Brian Mulroney in 1984)

After 47 years in the wilderness, Dief had arrived. However, as Peter C. Newman wrote: “[He] came to the toughest job in the country without having worked for anyone but himself, without ever having hired or fired anyone, and without ever having administered anything more complicated than a walk-up law office.”

Prime Ministerial Career Highlights

  • Extended right to vote to First Nations (then known as “Status Indians”)

  • Appointed first francophone Governor General: Georges Vanier

  • Repealed discriminatory immigration barriers put in place by Mackenzie-King and maintained by St. Laurent

Prime Ministerial Career Lowlights

  • “15 % Promise” to Great Britain

Basking in the rosy glow of his first Commonwealth leaders’ meeting, Diefenbaker decreed, without consulting his advisors or his Cabinet, that Canada would divert 15% of its total trade to the UK. This 15%, apparently chosen on a whim, represented $625 million a year, and stood in direct violation of the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Even his supporters were aghast, and insisted he back down. To salvage something, the UK proposed a Free Trade Agreement. Diefenbaker’s Cabinet strongly recommended against it as well, and the 15% figure never came up again. Relations between the UK and Canada were strained for years.

  • Canadian “Bill of Rights”

Viewed by Diefenbaker as his crowing achievement, this bill was introduced in 1960. Though a noble idea, the bill was an ordinary federal statute (and not part of the yet-to-be-patriated Canadian Constitution), and was unenforceable in provincial courts. As one provincial official quipped: “It’s great, unless you live in one of the provinces.”

  • Canceling the Avro Arrow Project

The Avro Arrow, a super-sonic, Canadian-made fighter plane, was designed by A.V. Roe Canada of Malton, ON. Magnificent and expensive, it was intended to protect Canada from Soviet Missile attacks via the Arctic. Cancelled on Friday, February 20th, 1959 (“Black Friday” in the Canadian aviation industry), it led to a mass exodus of Canadian engineering ingenuity and signaled the end of home-grown military development.

  • Bomarc Missile Debacle (as per Will Ferguson in Bastards and Boneheads)

“[Diefenbaker] accepted nuclear weapons onto Canadian soil by accident. Having cancelled the Avro Arrow, Diefenbaker purchased American Bomarc surface-to-air missiles in its stead, without realizing that (a) Bomarcs were designed to carry nuclear warheads, and (b) he had vowed to keep Canada a nuclear-free zone. Once these simple facts were pointed out to him, Diefenbaker frantically tried to come up with a solution. He ended up stuffing the Bomarcs with sandbags of ballast, making them the world’s most expensive blanks: $685 million worth of duds. His defense minister quit in disgust, and in the ensuing election, Diefenbaker was defeated.”

Links: (most unflattering photo ever)

Image credit: From from the Library and Archives Canada, copyright is expired.  I could only seem to find copyright free photos of young Dief, so be sure to check out the “most unflattering photo ever” in the link above).

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