John Diefenbaker was truly the wind from the west. He was a man who found it hard to trust in the establishment, tried to fight for the little guy, had deep roots in Canada but ultimately didn't understand the urban mosaic that made up the majority of the country. He was bigger then life and modeled
himself after his hero Sir John A. MacDonald. He managed to alienate not only the British and the Americans equally and in the end lost control of his own party because of his own leadership style.
Diefenbaker was born in Ontario but moved to Saskatchewan early in life where his vision of Canada grew to mythic proportions. His early career was that of a lawyer who was not afraid to take on defendants charged with murder in an era when capital punishment was often handed out as a sentence. He lost only two murder cases out of twenty, but the two effected him deeply and left him with a lifelong aversion to capital punishment.
He first ran for office in 1925 and lost. He ran for office five more time before he finally won a seat in 1940. He then spent 16 years as a backbencher for the Conservatives but never failed to run for the leadership of the party when the race was on. He lost in 1942 and 1948, but in 1956 the Conservatives looking for something new, fell in behind this voice of principle and elected him leader of the party on the first ballot.
He climbed up onto the stage to accept the leadership and thrilled the crowd with his words. " I know I will make mistakes but I hope it will be said of me when I give up the highest honour that you can confer on any man - 'He wasn't always right; sometimes he was on the wrong side, but never on the side of wrong.'".
The Liberals had been in power for 20 years and Louis St Laurent had decided to step down. Diefenbaker was able to project an image of a leader who was ready and willing to take on the role of nation builder. The 1957 election results gave the Liberals more of the popular vote then the Conservatives, but with 112 seats to the Liberals 105 Diefenbaker was able to form a minority government.
Almost immediately after the election Diefenbaker left as the new Canadian Prime Minister for a Commonwealth Conference where issues of free trade with Britain were discussed. Although he appeared as a positive commanding figure at the conference, in reality he stumbled badly in dealing with Harold Macmillan and offering more the he or Canada were willing to do in opening up trade between the countries. Diefenbaker would later find his footing within the Commonwealth be demanding a position against Apartheid be taken in South Africa.
By January of 1958 the Liberals had picked Lester Pearson as their new leader and his transformation from Canada's UN representative to Canadian politics was a rough one. In an attempt to win press points by challenging Diefenbaker to hand over the reins of Government to him and the Liberals, he belatedly realized that he had given Diefenbaker the perfect reason to go the country for a majority mandate. (This mistake was repeated by Stockwell Day nearly 32 years later when he challenged Prime Minister Chrétien to go to the electorate and he did - winning a third straight majority government in the process) Diefenbaker grabbed onto the mistake and did not let go picking up 208 seats to the Liberals 48 in the 1958 general election.