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Electoral history of John Diefenbaker

John Diefenbaker in 1957, the year he became Prime Minister.

This article is the Electoral history of John Diefenbaker, the thirteenth Prime Minister of Canada.

A Progressive Conservative, he served one term as prime minister (1957–1963), defeating Louis St. Laurent. He won three general elections (1957, 1958 and 1962), with one majority government and two minority governments. He lost the 1963 election to Lester Pearson, who succeeded him as prime minister. Diefenbaker led the party one last time in the 1965 election, but was again defeated by Pearson.

He stood for election to the House of Commons of Canada fifteen times. He was defeated in his first two attempts (1925, 1926), but he was elected on his third try, in 1940. Thereafter, he was elected an additional twelve times, until he died in office in 1979.

Diefenbaker sought the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party three times, unsuccessfully in 1942 and 1948, before winning it in 1957. Following the loss in the election in 1965, the party held a leadership convention in 1967 which he lost, ending his leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. Robert Stanfield succeeded him as party leader.

Prior to election to the House of Commons, Diefenbaker was also involved in Saskatchewan provincial politics and municipal politics, but with little success.

Summary

Canada had ten provinces and two territories throughout Diefenbaker's time as Prime Minister.

Diefenbaker ranks tenth out of twenty-three prime ministers for time in office, serving one term of five years and 305 days.[1]

Diefenbaker is the only prime minister from Saskatchewan.

In 1920, Diefenbaker began his political career, starting with municipal politics. At age 25, he was elected to the village council of Wakaw, Saskatchewan, where he operated his first law practice.

Diefenbaker would not win another election for twenty years. In the intervening two decades, he lost five elections: two at the federal level, two at the provincial level, and one at the municipal level. It was not until 1940 that he finally won his second election, to the House of Commons. From that point on, he never lost an election at the constituency level, winning thirteen straight elections to the Commons. Diefenbaker eventually died in office as a Member of Parliament.

At the federal level, Diefenbaker stood for election in the general elections of 1925 and 1926, but was defeated both times. In the 1926 election, his Liberal opponent was the former prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. This is the only time two future prime ministers have directly opposed each other in the same riding. After his election loss, Diefenbaker was a delegate to the 1927 Conservative convention which chose R.B. Bennett as leader of the party. He also campaigned for the party in the 1935 election.[2]

Diefenbaker was also very active, but unsuccessful, in provincial politics. He stood for election in the provincial election of 1929, but was defeated. In 1933 he was elected vice-president of the Saskatchewan Conservative Party. After the Conservatives were wiped out in the provincial election of 1934, he became the acting president of the party. In 1936, at the leadership convention, he was acclaimed as the leader of the party. He led the party in the provincial election of 1938, running in the constituency of Arm River, but he and the party were both defeated. No Conservatives were elected to the Legislative Assembly and the party earned only 12% of the provincial popular vote. At the subsequent party convention four months after the election, Diefenbaker offered his resignation but it was refused. The Conservatives were so decimated by the previous two elections that they had few members or supporters. He remained leader of the party for the next two years.[2]

In 1933, he ran for the mayor of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, but was defeated by 48 votes.[2]

In 1940, Diefenbaker was elected to the House of Commons, for the riding of Lake Centre. Entering the Commons, he soon showed his leadership aspirations beginning with the Progressive Conservative leadership convention of 1942. Although unsuccessful, he tried again in 1948 and 1956. In 1942 he came in third; in 1948 he came in second; and in 1956 he won the leadership. He would hold the leadership for eleven years, eventually being forced out at the 1967 convention, after the two losses in the general elections of 1963 and 1965.[2]

Diefenbaker was elected to the Commons thirteen times (1940, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, and 1979), from 1940 until his death shortly after the election of 1979. For eight straight elections (1957, 1958, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1972, and 1974), he won majorities even in multi-candidate races. In four of those contests, he won majorities of over 65% (72.1% in 1958, 70.8% in 1962, 71.4% in 1963, and 65.5% in 1965).

He served in the House of Commons for a total of 39 years, 4 months, and 21 days.[3]

Federal general elections: 1957 to 1965

Diefenbaker led the Progressive Conservatives in five general elections. He was successful in the general elections of 1957, 1958, and 1962, but was defeated in the elections of 1963 and 1965.

Federal election, 1957

Diefenbaker led the Progressive Conservatives in the general election of 1957. The election resulted in a minority government, with no party having a majority. Although the Liberals came in first in the popular vote, they came in second in seats in the House of Commons, behind Diefenbaker and the Progressive Conservatives. St. Laurent resigned and Diefenbaker formed a minority government, ending twenty-three years of Liberal rule.

Canadian Federal Election, 1957 - Parties, Leaders, Seats Won and Popular Vote
Party Leaders Seats Won Popular Vote
Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker1 112 38.5%
Liberal Louis St. Laurent2 105 40.5%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Major James Coldwell 25 10.6%
Social Credit Solon Earl Low 19 6.5%
  Others 4 1.0%
  Spoiled ballots 1.1%
Total 265 96.8%3
Sources: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867

1 Leader of the Opposition when election was called; Prime Minister after election.
2 Prime Minister when election was called; Leader of the Opposition after the election.
3 Table does not include parties which received votes but did not elect any members.

Federal election, 1958

A year after winning the 1957 election, Diefenbaker led the Progressive Conservatives in the general election of 1958. He won the biggest seat majority in Canadian history up to that time, 208 seats in a House of Commons with 265 seats. Diefenbaker formed a majority government, with a 151-seat majority over the other three parties combined.

Canadian Federal Election, 1958 - Parties, Leaders, Seats Won and Popular Vote
Party Leaders Seats Won Popular Vote
Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker1 208 53.7%
Liberal Lester B. Pearson2 48 33.4%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Major James Coldwell 8 9.5%
Liberal–Labour 1 0.2%
Total 265 98.2%3
Sources: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867

1 Prime Minister when election was called; Prime Minister after election.
2 Leader of the Opposition when election was called; Leader of the Opposition after the election.
3 Table does not include parties which received votes but did not elect any members.

Federal election, 1962

After four years of majority government, Diefenbaker again led the Progressive Conservatives to the polls, but lost almost one hundred seats and was reduced to a minority government.

Canadian Federal Election, 1962 - Parties, Leaders, Seats Won and Popular Vote
Party Leaders Seats Won Popular Vote
Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker1 116 37.2%
Liberal Lester B. Pearson2 99 37.0%
Social Credit Robert N. Thompson 30 11.6%
  New Democratic Party Tommy Douglas 19 13.6%
Liberal–Labour 1 0.2%
Total 265 99.6%3
Sources: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867

1 Prime Minister when election was called; Prime Minister after election.
2 Leader of the Opposition when election was called; Leader of the Opposition after the election.
3 Table does not include parties which received votes but did not elect any members.

Federal election, 1963

Diefenbaker's minority government following the 1962 election lasted less than a year. His government was defeated on a motion of non-confidence in February, 1963, which resulted in the dissolution of Parliament and a general election. Lester Pearson and the Liberals won the election, but fell five seats short of a majority. Pearson become prime minister of a minority government, and Diefenbaker became Leader of the Opposition.

Canadian Federal Election, 1963 - Parties, Leaders, Seats Won and Popular Vote
Party Leaders Seats Won Popular Vote
Liberal Lester B. Pearson1 128 41.5%
Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker2 95 32.8%
Social Credit Robert N. Thompson 24 11.9%
  New Democratic Party Tommy Douglas 17 13.2%
Liberal–Labour 1 0.2%
Total 265 99.6%3
Sources: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867

1 Leader of the Opposition when election was called; Prime Minister after election.
2 Prime Minister when election was called; Leader of the Opposition after the election.
3 Table does not include parties which received votes but did not elect any members.

Federal election, 1965

After two years of minority government, Pearson and the Liberals called an election. The result was another hung parliament. The Liberals increased their seat total, but again fell short of an outright majority, this time by two seats. Pearson governed as a minority government. Diefenbaker initially continued as leader of the Opposition, but in 1966 he was ousted by a party revolt. Robert Stanfield succeeded him as party leader.

Canadian Federal Election, 1965 - Parties, Leaders, Seats Won and Popular Vote
Party Leaders Seats Won Popular Vote
Liberal Lester B. Pearson1 131 40.2%
Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker2 97 32.4%
  New Democratic Party Tommy Douglas 21 17.9%
  Ralliement créditiste Réal Caouette 9 4.7%
Social Credit Robert N. Thompson 5 3.7%
  Independent 1 0.7%
  Independent PC 1 0.2%
Total 265 99.8%3
Sources: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867

1 Prime Minister when election was called; Prime Minister after election.
2 Leader of the Opposition when election was called; Leader of the Opposition after the election.
3 Table does not include parties which received votes but did not elect any members.

Federal constituency elections: 1925, 1926, 1940 to 1979

Diefenbaker stood for election to the House of Commons fifteen times. He was defeated in his first two attempts, but elected in 1940 onwards.

1925 Federal Election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1925: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Liberal Yes Charles M. McDonald 5,301 51.2%
Progressive X Andrew Knox 2,638 25.5%
  Conservative John Diefenbaker 2,412 23.3%
Total 10,351 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1926 Federal election: Prince Albert

Diefenbaker campaign poster in the 1926 election.

In the 1926 general election, Diefenbaker's opponent in Prince Albert riding was Mackenzie King. This is the only occasion where two future prime ministers have run directly against each other in the same riding.

Federal Election, 1926: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Liberal Yes X William Lyon Mackenzie King 8,933 64.9%
  Conservative John Diefenbaker 4,838 35.1%
Total 13,771 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1940 Federal election: Lake Centre

Diefenbaker campaign poster in the 1940 election.
Federal Election, 1940: Lake Centre, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
  National Government Yes John Diefenbaker 5,974 36.3%
Liberal X John Frederick Johnston 5,694 34.6%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation William Russell Fansher 4,793 29.1%
Total 16,461 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Lake Centre

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1945 Federal election: Lake Centre

Federal Election, 1945: Lake Centre, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 6,884 41.5%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Leslie John Bright 5,413 35.5%
Liberal Frank Campbell Latta 3,812 23.0%
Total 16,571 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Lake Centre

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1949 Federal election: Lake Centre

Federal Election, 1949: Lake Centre, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 8,845 48.7%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Delmar Storey Valleau 5,413 29.8%
Liberal Donald Arthur MacRae 3,061 16.8%
Social Credit Joshua Norman Haldeman 856 4.7%
Total 18,175 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Lake Centre

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1953 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1953: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes John Diefenbaker 10,038 44.1%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation David Frederick Corney 7,037 30.9%
Liberal Floyd Robert Glass 5,409 23.7%
Labor–Progressive Phyllis Clarke 295 1.3%
Total 22,779 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.

1957 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1957: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 12,349 53.1%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Robert Nathaniel Gooding 5,795 24.9%
Liberal Russell Ernest Partridge 5,119 22.0%
Total 23,263 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1958 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1958: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 16,583 72.1%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Thora Elizabeth Wiggens 3,870 16.8%
Liberal Ernie Unruh 2,538 11.0%
Total 22,991 99.9%1
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.
1 Rounding error.

1962 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1962: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 18,276 70.8%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Roger Carter 4,173 16.2%
Liberal George William Newell 2,745 10.6%
Social Credit Ken Solheim 627 2.4%
Total 25,821 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1963 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1963: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 17,824 71.4%
  New Democratic Party Henry Merrifield Apps 3,373 13.5%
Liberal Harold John Fraser 3,206 12.8%
Social Credit Ken Solheim 565 2.3%
Total 24,968 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1965 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1965: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 15,635 65.5%
  New Democratic Party Peter Kachur 4,227 17.7%
Liberal Lenore Ramsland Andrews 3,453 14.5%
Social Credit John Dashchuk 565 2.4%
Total 23,880 100.1%1
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.
1 Rounding error.

1968 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1968: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 17,850 56.0%
  New Democratic Party Al Hartley 8,979 28.2%
Liberal Philip Edward West 5,025 15.8%
Total 31,854 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1972 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1972: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 19,410 59.5%
  New Democratic Party William John Berezowsky 9,115 27.9%
Liberal Leo F. Pinel 3,613 11.1%
Social Credit Claude Campagna 421 1.3%
  Independent Bill Fair 61 0.2%
Total 32,620 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1974 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1974: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 17,787 59.1%
  New Democratic Party Thora Elizabeth Wiggens 6,496 21.6%
Liberal Philip Edward West 5,426 18.0%
Social Credit Joseph Gerrard Cools 366 1.2%
Total 30,075 100.0%
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1979 Federal election: Prince Albert

Federal Election, 1979: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Progressive Conservative Yes X John Diefenbaker 16,438 49.0%
  New Democratic Party Stanley J. Hovdebo 11,979 35.7%
Liberal Peter Abrametz 5,158 15.4%
Total 33,575 100.1%1
Source: Library of Parliament – History of Federal Ridings since 1867: Prince Albert

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.
1 Rounding error.

Saskatchewan general election: 1938

Diefenbaker led the Saskatchewan Conservative Party in the general election of 1938. The Conservatives did not win a single seat and only won 12% of the popular vote. Diefenbaker was defeated in his own attempt to win the constituency of Arm River.

Saskatchewan General Election 1938 - Parties, Leaders, Seats Won and Popular Vote
Party Leaders Seats Won Popular Vote Popular Vote
Percentage
Liberal William John Patterson1 38 200,334 45.5%
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation George Hara Williams1 10 82,529 18.7%
Social Credit Joseph Needham 2 70,084 15.9%
Unity 2 9,848 2.2%
Conservative John Diefenbaker 0 52,315 11.9%
Independent Labour 0 12,039 2.7%
Labour Progressive 0 8,514 1.9%
Independent 0 4,023 0.9%
  Independent Conservative 0 828 0.2%
  Independent Social Credit 0 228 0.1%
Total 52 440,742 100.0%
Source: Elections Saskatchewan - Election results - 1938

1 Premier when election was called; Premier after election.
2 Leader of the Opposition when election was called; Leader of the Opposition after election.

Saskatchewan constituency elections: 1929, 1938

Diefenbaker twice stood for election to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. He was defeated in both elections.

1929 Saskatchewan Election: Prince Albert

Saskatchewan Election, 1929: Prince Albert
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Liberal Yes X Thomas Clayton Davis 3,578 53.1%
Conservative John Diefenbaker 3,163 46.9%
Total 6,741 100.0%
Source: Saskatchewan Archives - Executive and Legislative Directory - Election Results by Electoral Division

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

1938 Saskatchewan Election: Arm River

Saskatchewan Election, 1938: Arm River
Party Candidate Popular Vote %
Liberal Yes X Gustaf Herman Danielson 3,295 51.5%
Conservative John Diefenbaker 3,105 48.5%
Total 6,400 100.0%
Source: Saskatchewan Archives - Executive and Legislative Directory - Election Results by Electoral Division

Yes Elected.
X Incumbent.

Municipal politics

Village of Wakaw

In 1920, Diefenbaker was elected to a three-year term on the village council of Wakaw, where he had established his first law practice. He was 24 years old.[2]

City of Prince Albert

In 1933, Diefenbaker was a late entrant in the election for mayor of Prince Albert. He lost by 48 votes.[2] His successful opponent was Harold John Fraser, who thirty years later ran against Diefenbaker in the Prince Albert riding in the 1963 federal election.

Progressive Conservative Party Leadership Conventions: 1942 to 1967

Diefenbaker tried twice unsuccessfully to be elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, being defeated in 1942 and 1948, before winning the leadership in 1956. He was challenged for the leadership eleven years later, in 1967 and was defeated. Robert Stanfield was elected the party leader.

1942 Leadership Convention

Just two years after being elected to the House of Commons, Diefenbaker ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, coming in third in a field of five candidates. John Bracken was elected leader.

Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, December 11, 1942
Voting results by ballot
Candidate First Ballot Second Ballot
Votes cast % Votes cast %
John Bracken 420 48.3% 538 61.7%
Murdoch Alexander MacPherson 222 25.5% 255 29.2%
John Diefenbaker 120 13.8% 79 9.1%
Howard Charles Green
88
Withdrew after first ballot.
10.1%
Henry Herbert Stevens
20
Withdrew after first ballot.
2.3%
Total 870 100.0% 872 100.0%
Source: CPAC – 1942 Conservative Leadership Convention

1948 Leadership Convention

Bracken resigned as party leader in 1948, leading to a second leadership convention in only six years. Diefenbaker again contested the leadership, this time coming in second, after the winner, George Drew.

Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, October 2, 1948
Voting results by ballot
Candidate First Ballot
Votes cast %
George A. Drew 827 66.6%
John Diefenbaker 311 25.0%
Donald Fleming 104 8.4%
Total 1,284 100.0%
Source: CPAC – 1948 Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention

1956 Leadership Convention

Drew resigned due to ill health. In his third leadership contest, Diefenbaker won.

Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, December 14, 1956
Voting results by ballot
Candidate First Ballot
Votes cast %
John Diefenbaker 774 60.3%
Donald Fleming 393 30.6%
Davie Fulton 117 9.1%
Total 1,284 100.0%
Source: CPAC – 1948 Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention

1967 Leadership Convention

After losing the general elections in 1963 and 1965, Diefenbker was forced out of the leadership by a vote of the party organization and a leadership convention was called. Diefenbaker decided to contest the leadership and was a late entrant to the convention. He withdrew after coming in fifth on the third ballot.

Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, September 9, 1967
Voting results by ballot
Table 1: Results of First, Second and Third Ballots
(For results of Fourth and Fifth Ballots, see Table 2 below)
Candidate First Ballot Second Ballot Third Ballot
Votes cast % Votes cast % Votes cast %
Robert Lorne Stanfield 519 23.3% 613 27.7% 717 32.7%
Dufferin Roblin 347 15.6% 430 19.4% 541 24.7%
Davie Fulton 343 15.4% 346 15.6% 361 16.5%
George Hees 295 13.2% 299 13.5%


277
Withdrew after third ballot.
12.6%
John Diefenbaker 271 12.1% 172 7.8%


114
Withdrew after third ballot.
5.2%
Alvin Hamilton 136 6.1% 127 5.7% 106 4.8%
Donald Fleming 126 5.6% 115 5.2%


76
Eliminated after third ballot.
3.5%
Malcolm Wallace McCutcheon 137 6.1%

76
Withdrew after second ballot.
3.4%
Michael Starr 45 2.0%

34
Eliminated after second ballot.
1.5%
John MacLean

10
Withdrew after first ballot.
0.4%
Mary Walker-Sawka

2
Eliminated after first ballot.
0.1%
Total 2,231 99.9%1 2,212 99.8%1 2,192 100.0%
Source: CPAC – 1967 Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention

1 Rounding error.

Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, September 9, 1967
Voting results by ballot
Table 2: Results of Fourth and Fifth Ballots
(For results of First, Second and Third Ballots, see Table 1 above)
Candidate Fourth Ballot Fifth Ballot
Votes cast % Votes cast %
Robert Lorne Stanfield 865 40.2% 1,150 54.3%
Dufferin Roblin 771 35.7% 969 45.7%
Davie Fulton
357
Withdrew after fourth ballot.
16.5%
Alvin Hamilton
167
Eliminated after fourth ballot.
7.7%
Total 2,160 100.11 2,119 100.0%
Source: CPAC – 1967 Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention

See also

References

Bibliography

  • Provincial Elections in Saskatchewan 1905-1986 (Chief Electoral Officer, Province of Saskatchewan).
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Electoral history of John Diefenbaker
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