The new minority Progressive Conservative Cabinet consisted of an inexperienced group of Members of Parliament. Several of Diefenbaker's first appointments demonstrated his commitment to equality rights.

Senator James Gladstone


Possibly Diefenbaker’s most widely recognised appointment was Ellen Fairclough as Secretary of State. Fairclough was the first woman to sit in the Canadian Cabinet. She held several posts, including Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Postmaster General. Fairclough advocated women’s rights, equal opportunity in the workplace, and relaxed laws limiting immigration and refugee entry into Canada. Fairclough was the first female Acting Prime Minister, though she only held this position from 19-20 February 1958. Fairclough set a precedent that paved the way for women in politics, such as Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female Prime Minister.

Diefenbaker’s Cabinet also included Michael Starr, the Minister of Labour, the first Canadian of Ukrainian descent to serve in Cabinet. As well, the newly elected Member of Parliament representing Vancouver Central, Douglas Jung, was the first Chinese-Canadian to hold a post in Government. In May 1958, James Gladstone also made history, being the first status Indian appointed as a member of the Canadian Senate.

Diefenbaker and Ellen Fairclough in Prime Minister’s Office, 1966.
Diefenbaker with Michael Starr at Oshawa, Ontario, during 1957 election.
John Diefenbaker and Douglas Jung in House of Commons office, 1960.
“[...] I am the first prime minister of this country of neither altogether English or French origin. So I determined to bring about a Canadian citizenship that knew no hyphenated consideration.... I am very happy in be able to say that in the House of Commons today in my party we have members of Italian, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, Chinese and Ukrainian origin -- and they are all Canadians."