John Diefenbaker

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John George Diefenbaker, PC, CH, QC (September 18, 1895 – August 16, 1979) led Canada as its 13th Prime Minister, serving from June 21, 1957, to April 22, 1963. He was the only Progressive Conservative (PC, or Tory) party leader between 1930 and 1979 to lead the party to an election victory, doing so three times, although only once with a majority of the seats in the Canadian House of Commons.

Diefenbaker was born in southwestern Ontario in 1895. In 1903, his family migrated west to the portion of the Northwest Territories which would shortly thereafter become the province of Saskatchewan. He grew up in the province, and was interested in politics from a young age. After brief service in the First World War, he became a lawyer. Diefenbaker contested elections through the 1920s and 1930s with little success until he was finally elected to the House of Commons in 1940.

In the House of Commons, he was repeatedly a candidate for the Tory leadership. He was finally successful in 1956, and led the party for eleven years. In 1957, he led the party to its first electoral victory in 27 years and a year later called a snap election and led it to one of its greatest triumphs. Diefenbaker appointed the first female minister to his Cabinet and the first aboriginal member of the Senate. During his six years as Prime Minister, his government obtained the passage of the Canadian Bill of Rights and granted the vote to members of the First Nations and Inuit peoples. In foreign policy, his stance against apartheid helped secure the departure of South Africa from the Commonwealth of Nations, but his indecision on whether to accept Bomarc nuclear missiles from the United States led to his government's downfall. Diefenbaker is also remembered for his role in the cancellation of the Avro Arrow.

Even though factionalism within the party was muted by Diefenbaker's electoral success, it surged again as the Progressive Conservatives lost support, falling from office in 1963, and his opponents were able to force a leadership convention in 1967. Diefenbaker stood for re-election as party leader at the last moment, but only attracted minimal support and withdrew. He remained an MP until his death in 1979, two months after Joe Clark became the first Tory Prime Minister since Diefenbaker.


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