John George Diefenbaker
John George Diefenbaker (September 18, 1895 - August 16, 1979) was the thirteenth Prime Minister of Canada. Born in Neustadt, Ontario, Canada, he received a B.A. in 1915, an M.A. in Political Science and Economics in 1916, and an LL.B. in 1919 from the University of Saskatchewan. Diefenbaker married Edna Brower (1901-1951) in 1929. In 1953, he married his second wife, Olive Palmer (1902-1976), who had a daughter from a previous marriage.
Diefenbaker served a brief stint in the army, acquiring the rank of Lieutenant in the 105th Saskatoon Fusiliers. He was called to the Saskatchewan Bar in 1919, and became a criminal lawyer. He served as King's Counsel in 1929. He worked was the leader of the Saskatchewan Conservative Party from 1936-1938.
Diefenbaker was first elected to Parliament in the 1940 federal election. Diefenbaker was a contestant in four Progressive Conservative leadership conventions, losing in 1943 to John Bracken, and in 1948 to George Drew, before winning in 1956. He lost an attempt to retain the leadership in 1967 when he was defeated by Robert Stanfield. Prior to becoming leader, he served as Canada's delegate to the United Nations in 1952.
He led the national Progressive Conservative party from 1956-1967, and was Prime Minister of Canada from June 21, 1957. He became Prime Minister as a result of an upset victory in the 1957 election, after which, he was able to form a minority government. Diefenbaker returned to the polls in the 1958 election to win the largest majority government in Canadian history.
He was well known for not getting along with United States President John F. Kennedy, who thought Diefenbaker "boring" and described him in a memo as "a prick". Diefenbaker once called Kennedy "a boastful sonofabitch." (However, he never did this with Kennedy's predecessor, General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower. The two had a very strong friendship. When Eisenhower died in 1969, Diefenbaker said that he lost a friend and was a Canadian representative at the state funeral of the former president.)
Diefenbaker made what some believe to have been one of the most controversial policy decisions of the last century in Canada in 1959 when his government cancelled the development and manufacture of the Avro Arrow. The Arrow was a Mach 2 supersonic jet fighter built by A.V. Roe Canada (Avro), in Malton, Ontario, just west of Toronto. After cancelling the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, the Canadian government purchased the American-made Bomarc missile system to defend Canada in the event of a Soviet nuclear bomber attack from the north. However, while his government initially approved the Bomarc, it balked when it realised that the missile would be equipped with nuclear warheads. Diefenbaker's refusal to allow nuclear weapons into Canada led to several resignations from his Cabinet and the collapse of his government in 1963.
His hostility to the United States administration and annoyance at the failure of President Kennedy to consult with him on the matter ahead of time also led Diefenbaker to be skeptical of the seriousness of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It also caused him to fail to act quickly on an American request to put Canadian forces on Defcon 3 status. The Minister of National Defence, Douglas Harkness, defied Diefenbaker by putting the military on high alert two days prior to Cabinet's decision to authorize the move.
Diefenbaker was also instrumental in bringing in the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. This was the first attempt to codify the basic rights of Canadian citizens in law. Because the Bill of Rights was an ordinary statute and not a part of the Canadian Constitution, it could not be used by courts to nullify laws that contradicted it and thus had little actual impact, unlike the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982.
The Progressive Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament in the 1962 election. Immediately afterward, Diefenbaker's minority government began a program to reduce government spending, and raise tariffs and bank interest rates. He then reorganized his Cabinet, moving Donald Fleming into the Minister of Justice/Solicitor General position, replacing him with George C. Nowlan.
In September 1962, Diefenbaker attended the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London, where he attacked Britain's prospective entry into the European Economic Community, stating it would be at the expense of Canada's increased economic dependence on the United States. He also criticized South Africa's policy of apartheid, and successfully opposed its readmission into the Commonwealth after it declared itself a republic.
Diefenbaker lost the 1963 federal election to Lester Pearson and the Liberals. At the time, Diefenbaker believed it was due to a conspiracy by the Kennedy administration, but this was never substantiated.
Diefenbaker continued as PC party leader after the 1963 election. To the surprise of many, he ran an aggressive campaign in the 1965 election, and held Pearson's Liberals to a minority government. Pearson had called the election expecting to win a majority. His most passionate intervention as Leader of the Opposition was his opposition to the proposed maple leaf flag which he castigated as the "Pearson Pennant".
Growing dissatisfaction with his leadership, however, led to open dissension within the party. Party president Dalton Camp called for a leadership review, a measure for which there was no provision in the party's constitution. Camp's efforts resulted in the Progressive Conservative Party calling a leadership convention in 1967. Although Diefenbaker stood as a candidate for the leadership, he was defeated by Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield. Diefenbaker retained his parliamentary seat for the next twelve years until his death.
Diefenbaker died on August 16, 1979 in Ottawa, Ontario, and is buried beside the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker Centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He had a special ceremony in place, so that the Maple Leaf flag was draped on his casket first, and then the Red Ensign that he defended so intensely in parliament was laid over it.
In 1967, the boyhood home of Diefenbaker was moved from Borden, Saskatchewan to Wascana Park in Regina, Saskatchewan. In 2001, the Wascana Centre Authority shut the site to visitors, and in 2004 it was moved to the Sukanen Ship and Pioneer Village Museum, 13 km south of Moose Jaw.
Lake Diefenbaker is named for the late prime minister. It is a reservoir on the South Saskatchewan River created following the construction of the Gardiner Dam. The television show Due South had a wolf character who was named "Diefenbaker," also after the Canadian Prime Minister.
In 2004, Diefenbaker was ranked 47th on the CBC program The Greatest Canadian.
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