1956 Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention
December 14, 1956 – Ottawa Coliseum
Chair: Dick Bell
|John Diefenbaker||774 (60.3%)|
|Donald Fleming||393 (30.6%)|
|E. Davie Fulton||117 (9.1%)|
Battling illness, George Drew resigned in the fall. The stage was set for two of his former opponents to seek the leadership.
John Diefenbaker ran for the third time as the best hope for breaking two decades of Liberal rule. From his campaign literature:
“BORN IN ONTARIO, BROUGHT UP IN THE WEST DIEFENBAKER IS FOURTH GENERATION CANADIAN WHO HAS MADE HIS MARK IN LAW AND POLITICS … THE MAN OF THE HOUR AT THE TURNING POINT IN THE FORTUNES OF OUR PARTY”
Donald Fleming also allowed his name to go forward again. Davie Fulton, a 40-year-old MP for Kamloops, B.C., rounded out the ballot.
Ontario MP John Hamilton and supporters considered but rejected a last-minute bid.
Quebec delegates weren’t seen as friendly to Diefenbaker. New Brunswick Premier Hugh John Flemming and British Columbia MP George Pearkes officially nominated Diefenbaker on the floor. The failure to include a French speaker cost him some supporters from the province, according to reports. But other Quebec delegates paraded the floor with “We’re For Diefenbaker” signs on voting day.
Fleming’s team hoped for 90 per cent of the Quebec vote. The major development was when the province’s 300-plus delegates met and considered a unanimous anti-Diefenbaker push.
Fleming was preceded by a majorette and fife-and-drum band, while Fulton had bagpipers in advance of the candidate speeches.
Fulton said national unity was a pressing task for the party. Diefenbaker’s speech promised “fairness to all and favour to none.” Fleming discussed federal relations with the provinces and cities.
Successful policy resolutions included:
- Extra funding for allowances for veterans without pensions and Old Age Security
- A health insurance plan
- A new Canadian flag
- Using budget surpluses to reduce taxes
- All liquor tax revenue assigned to the provinces
- Subsidies for exporting wheat to famine-affected areas
- A general foreign policy statement supporting NATO and the United Nations
- Independent regulator for radio and television instead of the CBC
Voting began at 2:15p.m. Diefenbaker won a first-ballot victory.
“I believe that with your help the Conservative party can do its part for good government in Canada,” he said.
“I want this party to speak for the underprivileged. I want each of us to be dedicated to the welfare of all the people.”
- Attempts to remove the word “Progressive” from the party name were rejected.
- Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield, elected just six weeks earlier, delivered a keynote address.
- As the convention opened, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was playing golf at the famed Augusta National course with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
- Ottawa Mayor Charlotte Drew awarded Drew a key to the city.
- Diefenbaker backers played the accordion and rewrote the words to “Coming Through the Rye” in support of their candidate.
- Total cost was estimated at $76,000, including renovations to the Coliseum, TV installations, and the platform.
- A party memo recommended Ottawa as the location: “At this particular convention, it is believed that the greatest hay will be made through the media of television … the best mass market for television is in Eastern Canada.”
This party declaration also passed:
“We believe in freedom of worship, speech and assembly; loyalty to the Queen of Canada; and the rule of law. Believing these things, we hold, with history, that vigilance over our parliamentary institutions is the best guarantee of such traditional freedoms.
“We believe the state should be the servant of the people and that our natural progress depends on a competitive economy which, accepting its social responsibilities, allows to every individual freedom of opportunity and initiative, and the peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of his labor.
“We believe that progress and stability can best be achieved by building on the firm foundations of those things proved good by experience.
“We believe in a Canada founded on these principles, a nation of many creeds and many cultures, united in its aims and accepting its obligations among the nations of the world.”