1938 Conservative Leadership Convention

1938 Conservative Leadership Convention

July 7, 1938 – Ottawa Coliseum

Chairs: Maurice Dupré (former Quebec West MP) and John MacNicol (MP for Davenport, Ont. and Conservative party president)

1 2
Robert Manion 726 (46.4%) 830 (53.0%)
Murdoch MacPherson 475 (30.4%) 648 (41.4%)
Joseph Harris 131 (8.4%) 49 (3.1%)
Denton Massey 128 (8.2%) 39 (2.5%)
Earl Lawson 105 (6.7%)
Spoiled 0 0
TOTAL 1565 1566


R.B. Bennett retired as Conservative leader in March, citing a serious heart condition. He moved to England and eventually sat in the House of Lords.



Robert Manion, a surgeon by profession who served at Vimy Ridge and was railways and canals minister under Bennett, was considered the candidate to beat. He was seen as strong in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

Murdoch MacPherson, Saskatchewan’s former attorney general, was viewed as strong across the prairies and in B.C. Toronto MP Denton Massey was popular with youth delegates.



Bennett received a long ovation as the convention opened on July 5. His speech defended his time as leader and prime minister.

Arthur Meighen, now a senator, followed with a call for full defence cooperation with the United Kingdom to protect the British Empire. Meighen said he was not prepared to sacrifice any of Canada’s newfound independence but: “There is no such thing as the separate and independent defence of Canada.” Tories were critical of Mackenzie King’s decision against training British air force pilots in Canada, reversed the same day as Meighen’s speech. The Montreal Gazette, however, reported “murmurs … of deep displeasure” amongst francophone delegates from Quebec.

There were three hours of candidate speeches before a crowd of 5,000. The chairman’s bell would “interrupt the most eloquent speech” if time ran out. Manion spoke first and expounded on the pilot training controversy and railways. MacPherson called for unemployment insurance, pension reform, electoral reform, and pro-labour legislation – even constitutional amendments if necessary to achieve “social reform.”



Twenty ballot boxes were used. Second-ballot results were announced at about 5 p.m., with Manion the winner.

Manion told the party “Such as I am, you have elected me as your leader, and I shall with all my strength endeavor to lead this great Conservative party in a manner worthy of great leaders who have gone before.”

Manion did not have a seat in the House of Commons after losing his Fort William, Ont. seat in 1935. He won a November by-election in London.

Robert Manion (Library and Archives Canada)


  • The party’s official name changed from Liberal-Conservative to National Conservative.
  • A resolution passed on defence “consulation and cooperation” within the empire. The party also opposed amalgamating the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways, after heated debate. Other resolutions called for completion of the Trans-Canada Highway, immigration focused on UK, Ireland and France with restrictions for “Orientals,” maintaining tariffs for industry and agriculture, plan for national unemployment and retirement insurance.
  • Many delegates brought trailers and tents to the exhibition grounds surrounding the Coliseum.
  • Joseph Harris’ appearance was compared to actor Edward G. Robinson, according to The Canadian Press.
  • Each delegate received a photographic print of the Fathers of Confederation. Bennett received keys to the City of Ottawa.
  • W.D. Herridge, Canada’s top diplomat in Washington during the Bennett years, called the economic resolutions “a lot of useless junk,” according to CP.