This Week in History


“Dief the Chief” Takes Control and Wields an Arrow

For the week of Monday December 12, 2005

On December 14, 1956, with the ballots counted, a decisive victory was confirmed. John George Diefenbaker won the leadership race for the Conservative Party of Canada by a first-vote victory in which he received 774 votes.

Diefenbaker answers questions at the flag debate
© Library and Archives Canada / Duncan Cameron / PA-136148
Diefenbaker, the thirteenth Prime Minister of Canada (1957- 1963), was born in Neustadt, Ontario in 1895 and attended the University of Saskatchewan where he obtained a Master of Arts degree in economics and political science and studied law. In late 1916 “Dief”, as he was often called, volunteered for overseas military duty in France, but was wounded in an English training camp, deemed unfit for military service and returned home. Three years later, he was called to the Saskatchewan bar and set up a successful law practice.

First elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament for Lake-Centre Saskatchewan, Diefenbaker went on to become the leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of Canada. The year 1957 saw “Dief” oust the Liberal Party after two decades of leadership in Parliament and “Dief the Chief” became the first Conservative Prime Minister since Richard Bennett in 1935.

The Avro Arrow
© Parks Canada / Joshua Blank / 2005
Heralded by many to be a charismatic orator who rejuvenated the Conservative Party, “Dief” extended national social programs, promoted Northern development and advanced domestic and international human rights initiatives including the Bill of Rights in 1960. However, many affirm that he was skeptical of many civil servants and the military because they had close ties to the long-time Liberal regime. As unfortunate as it is, many contemporaries remember “Dief” for the cancellation of the AVRO Arrow jet. After not seeing eye to eye with A.V. Roe boss Crawford Gordon, the vastly over-budget Arrow CF-105 project was subsequently cancelled in 1959 and all plans and models destroyed. Many of Canada’s finest scientific personnel left for the United States as a result of this cancellation and decimation of A.V. Roe Canada.

After being reduced to a minority government in 1962, Diefenbaker continued to lead the country until the Conservatives fell in a Commons vote of non-confidence a year later. He remained an important person in politics and still maintained his seat in parliament until his death in 1979.

Thousands of people waved to the train as the body of John George Diefenbaker departed from Ottawa and was transported to the University of Saskatchewan where he rests. He was designated as a National Historic Person of Canada in 1981.

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