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John Diefenbaker: Chief no more

The Story

The air is thick with drama. As votes are tallied at the Conservative leadership convention in Toronto, embattled party boss John Diefenbaker sits in the stands reading telegrams from supporters. First-ballot results echo over the loudspeaker. It's devastation for Diefenbaker; he comes fifth out of nine candidates. But still, as we see in this television clip, the old Chief hangs on.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Sept. 9, 1967
Guests: John Diefenbaker, Davie Fulton, Robert Stanfield
Duration: 16:01

Did You know?

• The leadership vote in Toronto on Sept. 9, 1967, shown in this clip was the climax of a long and messy war within the Progressive Conservative party. The previous year, a group of Tories led by party president Dalton Camp had convinced delegates to the annual convention to throw the leadership open to a vote. It marked the first time a Tory leader was forced to fight in public to keep his own job.

• The 1966 convention is sometimes called "the Night of the Long Knives." After losing his battle to prevent a leadership review, Diefenbaker paraphrased the old Scottish ballad Andrew Barton: "I am wounded but I am not slain; I'll lay me down and rest awhile; And then I'll rise again."

• Diefenbaker kept delegates at the 1967 leadership convention guessing until the last minute if he would put his name on the ballot and fight to keep his job. For much of the convention before the vote, he and his wife Olive were holed up in a hotel suite receiving a parade of visitors, including other candidates seeking his support should he throw in the towel.

• Diefenbaker used his speech the night before the vote to attack the so-called "two nation" theory of Confederation. The Conservative party had adopted as policy the view of Canada as French and English nations co-existing side-by-side. A long time proponent of "One Canada" full of "unhyphenated Canadians," Diefenbaker warned the delegates that the two-nation theory would lead to a breakup of the country.

• Diefenbaker's inability to understand the aspirations of French Canada is often cited as one reason for his downfall. Quebec voters deserted him after the 1958 election. Diefenbaker poked fun at his own terribly stilted French, which he spoke only with notes. U.S. President John F. Kennedy, after hearing Diefenbaker's French in 1961, told a welcoming crowd in Ottawa: "I am somewhat encouraged in saying a few words in French, having had a chance to listen to the prime minister."

• As Opposition leader, Diefenbaker had waged a fierce, losing battle against Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's plan to give Canada a new flag. Diefenbaker favoured keeping the Red Ensign that included the Union Jack.
• Two years before losing the leadership vote, Diefenbaker had led the Conservatives to electoral defeat for a second time to Lester B. Pearson. However, by recruiting back into the fold two former cabinet ministers - George Hees and Douglas Harkness - and crossing Canada twice in search of votes, Diefenbaker gained one seat and held Pearson's Liberals to a minority government in 1965.

• Diefenbaker did not quit politics after losing the leadership. He remained an ordinary MP in the caucuses of Robert Stanfield, who beat him for the leadership, and Joe Clark, Stanfield's successor.


John Diefenbaker: Dief the Chief more