Canadian statesman; leader of the Progressive Conservative Party (1956–67) and prime minister of Canada (1957–63).
Diefenbaker was born in Grey County, Ontario, and studied at the University of Saskatchewan. After a period of overseas service during World War I he practised law in Saskatchewan for some years and in 1936 became leader of the Saskatchewan Conservative Party. He left this post in 1940 on his election to the Canadian House of Commons. In 1956, after an unsuccessful attempt eight years earlier, he won the party leadership. The long reign of the Liberal Party came to an end in 1957 and Diefenbaker became the first Conservative prime minister for twenty-two years. In a general election the following year his party gained a significant majority – 208 of the 265 seats. As prime minister, however, Diefenbaker's indecisiveness on major national issues and his excessive concern for individuals and minority groups led to a loss of confidence in his party, and in the 1962 election his government was reduced to a minority. After a major crisis erupted over the building of missiles armed with nuclear warheads, a number of Conservative ministers resigned in 1963 and Diefenbaker was forced to call a general election, in which his party was defeated. He managed to retain the party leadership until 1967 and was re-elected to the House of Commons in 1968.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).