Elections of 1957 and 1958

On 10 June 1957, confident that his Liberal government would be re-elected, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent called a federal election.  St. Laurent possessed strong personal popularity and an experienced Cabinet, and many Canadians viewed the Liberals as successful stewards of Canada’s post-war economic boom. Convinced that the Liberals, having been in power since 1935, had become arrogant, complacent, and stingy in a time of national prosperity, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, with newly-elected leader John G. Diefenbaker, was confident that they could make electoral inroads.

Recognizing that electoral success depended upon expanding party appeal beyond traditional supporters, Tory strategists crafted the campaign around John Diefenbaker, running under the slogan “It’s Time for a Diefenbaker Government.”  This proved highly effective.  With his erect carriage, piercing blue eyes, tremendous energy, and a spellbinding, evangelical speaking style, John Diefenbaker made an immediate impact on the campaign trail. Diefenbaker energized Canadians with promises that his Government would respect Parliamentary practice, initiate a national development program, expand social justice programs, and strengthen Canadians’ human rights.  Critically important was the Progressive Conservatives’ ground campaign, which won the backing of Canada’s Progressive Conservative Premiers and their political machines.  Most importantly, the Diefenbaker government was able to secure the support of Ontario Premier Leslie Frost – important due to the many available seats in the House of Commons in Ontario. 

On Election Day, the Conservatives scored a historic upset, winning 112 seats to 105 for the Liberals, 25 for the CCF Party, 19 for the Social Credit Party and 4 Independents. 

The Diefenbaker Government shepherded a flurry of progressive legislation through Parliament which increased funding to social assistance, pensions, and hospital insurance. Other legislation introduced by the Diefenbaker Government provided cash advances to farmers for stored grain and tax cuts for low-income Canadians. 

Diefenbaker waited for an opportunity to call an election in order to achieve a majority Government.  It came on 20 January 1958, when newly-elected Liberal Leader Lester B. Pearson rose in the House of Commons to make an amendment to a supply motion.  Declaring the Progressive Conservative Government had lost the confidence of Canadians, Pearson called on them to resign and hand power back to the Liberals.  Diefenbaker responded with a blistering attack on this Liberal attempt to regain power and, on 1 February 1958, the Governor General acceded to Mr. Diefenbaker’s request for the dissolution of Parliament. 

Diefenbaker’s campaign theme was national development.  Northern development, or, “The Vision” as Diefenbaker described it, involved significant federal investment in infrastructure to permit the development of northern resources while the ideals of “One Canada” would ensure that Canadians from all regions of Canada would share in the national prosperity. 

The 1958 election campaign was unique in Canadian history.  Captivated by Diefenbaker’s vision and enraptured by his oratory, thousands of Canadians flocked to his rallies.  His speeches were constantly interrupted by cheers and, at many stops along the way, Canadians would reach out simply to touch Mr. Diefenbaker.  The excitement generated by the campaign manifested itself on Election Day on 31 March 1958, when Canadian voters gave the Diefenbaker Conservatives 208 of 265 seats in the House of Commons, with 53.7% of the popular vote, including 50 of 75 seats in Quebec.  Although Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won more seats in an expanded House of Commons in the 1984 federal election, as a percentage of the total seats in the House of Commons, Diefenbaker’s 1958 victory remains the largest in Canadian history.



John Diefenbaker smiles as he is carried on the shoulders of members of a large crowd bearing election posters with slogans such as “Victoire assure pour Diefenbaker Dufresne”, Quebec City, Quebec.
John Diefenbaker campaigning in Quebec City
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Images

John Diefenbaker voting at Prince Albert
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Election Campaign | Prince Albert – Personalities

Description: John G. Diefenbaker voting at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan as reporters watch in background

Date Created: 31 March 1958

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD6844

John and Olive Diefenbaker beside a campaign train
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Railways | Canada – Election Campaigning

Description: Night shot of John and Olive Diefenbaker beside election train, standing with crowd of supporters bearing placards reading “Youth Backs Diefenbaker,” “John Diefenbaker Great Canadian,” and “Canada Needs Diefenbaker”

Date Created: 18 February 1958

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD4671

John Diefenbaker speaking during election campaign
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Parliamentarians | Canada – Personalities

Description: John Diefenbaker speaking from the front porch of a private home during the campaign to a large crowd gathered on the street and the front lawns nearby

Date Created: [v./ca. 1957]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD4355

John Diefenbaker chatting with a farmer
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Parliamentarians | Saskatchewan – Personalities | Farm Machinery

Description: John Diefenbaker leans against tractor, chatting with a farmer who is seated on his tractor during the campaign, [Saskatchewan], circa 1957

Date Created: [v./ca. 1957]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD4347

John Diefenbaker speaking from an election train
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Parliamentarians | Canada – Personalities | Trains

Description: A large crowd is gathered to hear John Diefenbaker speaking, from back platform of election train

Date Created: 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3676

John Diefenbaker with Leslie Frost
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Ontario – Premier | Canada – Election Campaigning

Description: John Diefenbaker shaking hands with Leslie Frost during the 1958 election Date Created: 1958

Date Created: 1958

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD562



John Diefenbaker campaigning in Quebec City
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Quebec – Personalities

Description: John Diefenbaker smiles as he is carried on the shoulders of members of a large crowd bearing election posters with slogans such as “Victoire assure pour Diefenbaker Dufresne”, Quebec City, Quebec.

Date Created: 1958

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD459


Audio

Part of a speech by John George Diefenbaker at Dauphin Armouries during 1958 election

Creator:Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject:Canada – Parliamentarians | Canada – Personalities | Canada – Election Campaigning

Description:John Diefenbaker discusses the unprecedented wave of support for the Progressive Conservatives which is sweeping Canada

Date Created:17March1958

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T150-PAC17b

Speech by John Diefenbaker at an election rally in Winnipeg during the 1957 election campaign

Creator:Unknown

Subject:Canada – Parliamentarians | Canada – Personalities | Canada – Election Campaigning

Description:John Diefenbaker urges the voters to send Progressive Conservatives to Parliament so that all Canadians will have equality in rights and opportunities in Canada

Date Created:23May1957

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T144-PAC14

Speech by John Diefenbaker to open 1957 federal election campaign at Massey Hall, Toronto

Creator:Unknown

Subject:Canada – Parliamentarians | Canada – Personalities | Canada – Election Campaigning

Description:John Diefenbaker launches the Progressive Conservative Party’s 1957 election campaign, unveiling the party platform

Date Created:25April1957

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T134-PAC6a


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