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John Diefenbaker: The Chief again - in song

The Story


The CBC Radio show As It Happens has received a flood of calls since last night when it premiered the new Stringband song, Dief will Be the Chief Again. Tonight, the show has no less a reviewer than John Diefenbaker himself, now just an ordinary Member of Parliament. "I must say that as a connoisseur of good music I was simply delighted ...," the Chief says. "It gave me quite a lift to listen to it." 

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: April 11, 1975
Guest(s): John Diefenbaker
Host: Barbara Frum, Alan Maitland
Duration: 5:58
Song Dief will Be the Chief Again was written by Bob Bossin and performed by Stringband

Did You know?


Dief will Be the Chief Again was written by folk singer Bob Bossin and performed by his group Stringband. When it premiered, John Diefenbaker was a 79-year-old MP, hadn't been leader for eight years and had no real chance of regaining the job. Although the song got some radio play, especially in Diefenbaker's adopted hometown of Prince Albert, Sask., it never became the hit that As It Happens co-host Alan Maitland predicted.

• According to Bossin's website, the idea for the song was born in 1974 when Muhammad Ali became the first boxer to regain the world heavyweight title. Bossin's friend Bob Rae commented that Floyd Patterson could now return to beat Ali, Marilyn Bell could re-swim Lake Ontario and Dief could be the chief again. Rae, then a University of Toronto student, later went on to become premier of Ontario.

• Stringband never played the song for Diefenbaker in person. It did play Dief will Be the Chief Again in a CTV studio in Toronto while the former prime minister watched and listened from Saskatoon via a live satellite hook-up. Bossin said they could see Diefenbaker on a monitor chuckling throughout their performance. Bossin heard through the grapevine that "Dief says the song is right, you must never write off a good man too soon."

• Later, however, Diefenbaker seemed unsure. "Over the years there have been a lot of things written about me," he said in an interview, according to Bossin. "Some have been unkind, some have been flattering. I don't know about that particular song." The last time Diefenbaker was asked about the song on CBC Radio he replied tersely: "I have no comment."

• On his website, Bossin wrote of Diefenbaker's apparent change of heart: "There are things that weigh on one, however slightly. Since then, I have always wondered what Diefenbaker heard, or was told or decided. Though, of course, I never found out."

• In an interview with CBC in 2005, Bossin said Dief will Be the Chief Again is told from the viewpoint of a complex character who expresses hope and nostalgia. The song is more about that character, whom Bossin called charming and "very Canadian," than about Diefenbaker himself. The songwriter said he doesn't personally share all the character's views.

• One year after Dief will Be the Chief Again was released, Diefenbaker got a huge ovation and rock-star treatment at the 1976 Conservative leadership convention. He made a rousing speech that attacked Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and gave Diefenbaker's successor Robert Stanfield a backhanded compliment. He noted that Stanfield had failed to win a federal election but he lauded his principles. Joe Clark was chosen Tory leader.


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