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John George Diefenbaker
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John George Diefenbaker

John George Diefenbaker
Rank:13th
Date of Birth:September 18, 1895
Place of Birth:Neustadt, Ontario
Spouses:Edna Brower, Olive Palmer
Profession:lawyer
Political Party:Progressive Conservative

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 his 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, and served as King's Counsel in 1929. He worked in provincial politics as the leader of the Saskatchewan Conservative party from 1936-1938.

Diefenbaker was first elected to Parliament in 1940, led the national Progressive Conservative party from 1956-1967 and was Prime Minister of Canada from June 21, 1957, to April 22, 1963. Diefenbaker was a contestant in four Progressive Conservative leadership conventions held in 1943, 1948, 1956 and 1967. He served as delegate to the United Nations in 1952.

He was well known for not getting along with United States President John F. Kennedy, who thought Diefenbaker "boring". Diefenbaker's opinions on JFK were less refined, having been quoted as calling Kennedy "a boastful sonofabitch".

Diefenbaker made one of the most controversial decisions of the last century in Canada in 1959 when his government cancelled the development and manufacture of the Avro Arrow, 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 which theoretically would help defend Canada in the event of a Soviet nuclear bomber attack from the north. The Bomarc missile program became obsolete prior to its installation in Canada.

Diefenbaker was also instrumental in bringing in the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. This was the first attempt to legally codify the basic rights of Canadian citizens, but because the Bill of Rights was not a constitutional amendment, it had little legal power and was largely ignored by the courts.

The Progressive Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament in the 1962 election. Immediately afterward, Diefenbaker began a program to reduce government spending, raising tariffs and bank interest rates accordingly. He then reorganised 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.

Diefenbaker lost the 1963 federal election to Lester Pearson and the Liberal Party. At the time, Diefenbaker believed it was due to a conspiracy by the Kennedy administration, but such fears were never substantiated. Diefenbaker continued on as party leader after the 1963 election, and to the surprise of many ran an aggressive campaign which held Pearson's Liberals to a minority government in the 1965 election, which Pearson called in the expectation of gaining a majority. Growing dissatisfaction with his leadership, however, led to 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.

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. Pictures are available here.

Trivia

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.


Preceded by:
Louis St. Laurent
1948-1957
Prime Minister of Canada
1957-1963
Followed by:
Lester B. Pearson
1963-1968

Preceded by:
George Drew
Progressive Conservative Leaders Followed by:
Robert Stanfield

Preceded by:
Francis Helme, Liberal
Member of Parliament for Prince Albert
(1953-1979)
Succeeded by:
Stan Hovdebo, NDP
Preceded by:
John Frederick Johnson, Liberal
Member of Parliament for Lake Centre
(1940-1953)
Succeeded by:
federal riding abolished in 1952