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Dief to become the Chief?

The Story

It's June 10, 1957 -- election night. Conservative leader John Diefenbaker has crisscrossed Canada twice in a bid to unseat the Liberals. Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent is counting on polls that predict another Liberal majority. But the numbers coming in catch everyone off guard: they point toward a possible slim Tory minority. As the two leaders anxiously await the results, St-Laurent urges caution in the face of "indefinite or conflicting reports," while Diefenbaker describes it as "a moment of deep dedication rather than elation."

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: June 10, 1957
Guest(s): John Diefenbaker, Louis St-Laurent
Duration: 7:18

Did You know?

• A full week passed before the final tally confirmed a minority win for the Progressive Conservatives, and Prime Minister St. Laurent tendered his resignation. On June 17, 1957, Governor-General Vincent Massey invited John Diefenbaker to become prime minister and form the first Tory government in 22 years. When asked by reporters how he felt, Diefenbaker echoed his speech on election night saying, "For a humble person such as myself, this is a tremendous responsibility."

• The Progressive Conservatives claimed 112 seats with 39 per cent of the popular vote, outpacing the sitting Liberals who took only 105 seats but captured 42 per cent of the popular vote. The Liberal advantage in the popular vote was primarily due to hefty majorities in Quebec ridings, which did not translate into more seats. The PCs, however, broke out of their traditional stronghold in Ontario and won seats across the country, prompting the Globe and Mail to comment that John Diefenbaker led the only truly national party in the country.

• Diefenbaker's 1957 win led to the shortest minority government in Canadian history. It lasted 177 days, or five months and 24 days. The 23rd parliament was dissolved Feb. 1, 1958. In the ensuing election, Diefenbaker's PCs captured the largest majority government in Canadian history, with 206 of 265 seats in the House of Commons.

• Diefenbaker was the third prime minister elected from the riding of Prince Albert, Sask. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King held the seat between 1926 and 1945, and Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier won a by-election there in 1896 before running in Quebec.


John Diefenbaker: Dief the Chief more