1948 Liberal Convention

1948 Liberal Convention

August 7, 1948

Ottawa Coliseum

Chairmen: Gordon Fogo (president, National Liberal Federation) and Joseph-Adéodat Blanchette (MP, Compton QC)

Candidate ballot 1
Louis St. Laurent 848 (69.11%)
James Garfield Gardiner 323 (26.32%)
Charles Gavan Power 56 (4.56%)
TOTAL 1227

Twenty-nine years to the day of King’s 1919 victory, Liberals returned to Ottawa to vote on his successor.

King’s departure had been planned for several years. Plans were formalized in November 1947 for a convention the following summer. It was a busy year in Canadian politics, with five provincial elections between June and August, plus a Progressive Conservative leadership convention.


There was no surprise when Louis St. Laurent, the 66-year-old external affairs minister, took the prize at the three-day convention.

St. Laurent was expected to win as King’s personal choice, though most delegates were uncommitted upon arriving in the capital earlier in the week.

Long-time agriculture minister James Gardiner was his chief rival. Gardiner called for more immigration and closer ties with the U.K. His support was strongest in Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan. But St. Laurent was seen to be stronger everywhere else, especially in Quebec and Ontario.



Also nominated were Douglas Abbott, Brooke Claxton, Lionel Chevrier, C.D. Howe, Paul Martin, and Stuart Garson. All withdrew on the floor, a move orchestrated by King himself to strengthen St. Laurent and thwart the “ruthless, selfish” Gardiner:

I felt so disturbed over what I have learned of Gardiner’s tactics in seeking to win the Convention by all kinds of machine methods that I decided I would phone one or two of my colleagues and make suggestions to them which I have felt to be necessary and in the interests of the party and the country. I got Howe first; suggested to him that he should allow himself to be nominated, and then before the voting, announce that he was withdrawing. That everyone knew he was supporting St. Laurent and would not wish to take a vote away from him.” (King diary, Aug. 4, 1948)

King also lobbied for St. Laurent behind the scenes and reversed an earlier decision to not vote on the first ballot.1948

Each candidate had 20 minutes to speak. Gardiner’s speech asking for a chance to be the party’s “spark plug” went through the time limit.

Former minister Charles Gavan Power placed a distant third. His speech called for electoral reform (including campaign spending limits) and the party’s return to protecting individual rights.

St. Laurent told the convention that his government would work to prevent the spread of communism abroad and that Liberals were the only party to bridge Canada’s two solitudes of English and French and commit to provincial rights.


After one hour of counting, the announcement came at 6 p.m. Saturday in front of 4,000 people plus a nationwide radio audience. Massive cheering and flash bulbs filled the room before the full result was even entered into the record.







  • “Unity-Security-Freedom” was the theme, with huge portraits of Laurier and King inside the Ottawa Coliseum.
  • About 60 “draft Martin” supporters from western Ontario set up a committee room at the Château Laurier hotel and paraded through downtown Ottawa with a piper and into the convention hall, interrupting King’s goodbye speech. Martin left the stage to ask the group to stop.
  • The Ottawa Citizen reported that St. Laurent family was “picturesque, well groomed and intensely interesting” in providing moral support.
  • More than 4,000 visited a garden party at the Dominion Experimental Farm the first night for “sandwiches, cakes, coffee, tea, punch, and ice cream.” More than 2,000 attended a dance at the Château Laurier, according to the official convention record.
  • W. Ross Macdonald, a Liberal MP and deputy Commons speaker, acted as returning officer.
  • Reporters wanted to know when St. Laurent would take over the prime minister’s office as well. The changeover occurred on Nov. 15.

-Andrew Thomson

Photo credits: National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada C-023259/C-023259/C-023281