Progressive Conservative leadership convention, 1967

Progressive Conservative leadership convention, 1967

The 1967 Progressive Conservative leadership convention was held to choose a leader for the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The convention was held at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada between September 4th and 9th, 1967. Robert Stanfield was elected the new leader.


The leader was elected by the approximately 2,200 delegates to the convention who voted. Most of the delegates were elected from the party's associations in each riding (electoral district), as well as from the party's women's and youth associations. Many delegates were "ex officio" delegates, i.e., they received delegate status as a result of their positions on the national executive committee of the party, the executives of its affiliated provincial parties, and the party's national women's and youth organizations. Former and current Progressive Conservative (PC) Members of Parliament and Senators were also "ex officio" delegates.

Traditionally, once elected, leaders of the party remained in the position until they resigned or died. In this case, however, the convention was called after the party membership passed a resolution to force a leadership convention even though party leader John Diefenbaker was unwilling to resign. Many in the party believed that his mercurial leadership when the party was in government from 1957 to 1963, and his failure to win the support of Canadian voters the 1963 and 1965 federal elections meant that he would be unable to lead the party back to government. Party president Dalton Camp organized the successful campaign within the party to force a leadership convention.


The campaign for the leadership hinged on two main issues:
# where the candidates stood on the question of Diefenbaker's leadership, and
# where the candidates stood on the controversial "Deux Nations" policy.

Diefenbaker had engendered considerable loyalty amongst Conservatives during his time as leader because of his passionate speaking style, and his fierce commitment to Canada. Diefenbaker had led the party to the biggest victory in a Canadian federal election (to that time) in the 1958 election, winning 208 of the 265 seats available in the House of Commons. On the other hand, divisions and infighting in his Cabinet had led to the party's defeat in the 1963 election.

The controversial "Deux Nations" policy had been proposed by the party’s "Thinkers’ Conference", held in August 1967 at Montmorency Falls, Quebec, as a way of reconciling the role of the Province of Quebec within Canadian confederation. The Thinkers’ Conference described the policy as a statement that "English Canadians and French Canadians form two distinct societies with differing backgrounds, personalities and aspirations." The phrase "distinct society" returned in the 1980s to be a key component of proposals to amend the Canadian constitution in during the debate over the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord.

The policy proposal was endorsed at the convention by the party’s Policy Committee by a vote of approximately 150 to 12.

Opponents of the policy were concerned that the French "deux nations" would be interpreted in English as "two nations", i.e., the end of a united Canada. The proponents argued that "deux nations" meant "two founding peoples".

In their final speeches to the convention, all of the candidates addressed the issue, but the issue did not "ignite" the delegates:

* Stanfield tried to distance himself from the issue by arguing that the Policy Committee resolution was not clear enough, and the French Canadians wanted more than just the right to enjoy linguistic distinctiveness.
* Roblin supported "deux nations", explaining that two European cultures had decided to live as one nation.
* Fulton also tried to avoid the argument saying that it was about semantics, and that the real point was that Canada was founded by "two races, two cultures, two peoples".
* Fleming tried to straddle the fence, saying that the meaning was unclear, and would oppose it if Diefenbaker’s "two nations" interpretation were correct, but accepted that it meant "two founding peoples".
* Hees supported the resolution as meaning "two founding peoples".
* McCutcheon said that he was "not afraid to say" "deux nations" because it meant "two cultures", not "two sovereign entities".
* Starr argued that the policies would be unfair to other cultures in Canada, that all provinces should be equal, and that the party should not adopt a policy on the issue because Quebecers themselves were not clear on what they wanted.
* MacLean supported the policy.


Robert Stanfield, the 53-year-old PC Premier of Nova Scotia, was a late entrant to the campaign, and was the eventual victor. He had disclaimed any interest in running for the federal leadership having won a healthy mandate in the spring 1967 Nova Scotia election. He finally bowed to pressure from Dalton Camp and other Ontario opponents of Diefenbaker, and joined the race. According to reportage in the "Toronto Star", it was his "honesty, forthrightness, and quiet demeanour" that set him apart from other candidates. Stanfield was supported by many party members from the Maritime provinces, but had little support from Quebec or the Western provinces. Running as a "right-of-centre" candidate, his successful convention presence, and especially his very well-received speech at the Tuesday night policy session, attracted many of the anti-Diefenbaker delegates, and made him "the man to beat".

Dufferin Roblin, the 50-year-old PC Premier of Manitoba, was another late entrant to the campaign. He was the youngest serious contender, and was reported to have the behind-the-scenes support of the conservative Union Nationale party in Quebec. He portrayed himself as having been outside of the fighting over Diefenbaker's leadership, and independent of the Diefenbaker and Camp bloc. He would therefore be able to bring the party together. Roblin was seen to be on the left of the party, i.e., supported by Red Tories. He delivered an emotional appeal at the policy session for harmony between English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking Canadians. His call for party unity struck a chord with delegates, and it appeared as though he might lead on the first ballot. His Quebec delegates, however, were very critical of Diefenbaker at the convention, and undermined Roblin's image as a compromise candidate.

E. Davie Fulton, a 51-year-old lawyer from British Columbia had been defeated in the 1956 leadership convention by Diefenbaker. He had served as Minister of Justice and then Minister of Public Works in the Diefenbaker government, and left federal politics in 1963 to take over the leadership of the British Columbia PC Party. His attempt to revive that party’s fortunes failed, and he returned to federal politics in the 1965 election. His campaign was run by Lowell Murray, later to be an important figure in the next PC government under Joe Clark. To support from his home province, he added considerable support from Quebec because of his ability to speak French. He was plagued with the reputation of being a bad politician, but he dispelled that notion during the campaign. He campaigned under the slogan, "It's Fulton - All across Canada!"

George Hees, the 57-year-old former Minister of Transport and then Minister of International Trade and Commerce in the Diefenbaker government, was described as a "millionaire "bon vivant". Hees had been successful as trade minister, aggressively promoting Canadian trade in other countries, but left politics before the 1963 election. As head of the Montreal Stock Exchange, however, he had done nothing innovative, and returned to politics in the 1965 election. Hees did not come across as an intellectual, but injected glamour into the campaign, spending the most of any of the candidates, an estimated $200,000. The Globe and Mail newspaper noted that, surrounded by chanting young supporters, the "arrival of Hees was like something from Hollywood". Hees descended from one of two red London double-decker buses that he had hired to transport his campaign workers between his headquarters at the Royal York Hotel and the convention centre at Maple Leaf Gardens. Hees's speech, delivered in carnival-barker style, at the Tuesday night policy session, however, was not well-received by delegates, and his support began to drift off to other candidates.

John George Diefenbaker, the 72-year-old party leader and former prime minister, kept the other candidates, the delegates, observers and pundits waiting for his decision on whether or not he would run to succeed himself until the very last minute. He filed his nomination papers for the convention very close to the closing of nominations. Although he could not reasonably have expected to win, putting his name into the race allowed him one more opportunity to address the convention, and to appeal to the party to reject the ‘’Deux Nations’’ policy. By letting his name stand, however, he was pledging his support for the winner under the rules of the convention.

Wallace McCutcheon, a 61-year-old Senator joined the campaign to be the voice of the party's right-wing. He had served as Minister without Portfolio in Diefenbaker's government, and then as Minister of Trade and Commerce. He campaigned aggressively against "big government" and "creeping socialism". McCutcheon was seen as the candidate of Bay Street (Toronto's financial district). He used dozens of attractive young women in his demonstration at the convention (dubbed "blonde goddesses" by the "Toronto Star"). He advocated a guaranteed annual income of $10,000 per adult as an alternative to the various social programs offered by different levels of government. He proposed a "made-in-Canada" constitution to replace the British North America Acts and to guarantee the rights of Canadians, including language and cultural rights.

Alvin Hamilton, the 55-year-old former Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources and Minister of Agriculture in the Diefenbaker government, had stayed out of the leadership campaign while Diefenbaker dithered about running. He appealed to Diefenbaker loyalists, but remained in the race even when Diefenbaker decided at the last moment to seek the leadership again, and continued to call himself a Diefenbaker loyalist. Hamilton warned the party that the delegates to the convention were out of touch with the grassroots of the party, and presented himself as the main alternative to the "reactionary conservative" candidates, and was opposed to the "continentalism" of the Liberal Party. His campaign used signed that portrayed a red-yellow-green traffic light with the slogan "Stop - Think - Go Hamilton".

Donald Fleming had run for and lost the PC leadership twice already. Having served as Minister of Finance and then Minister of Justice in Diefenbaker’s government, he had left Parliament in 1963, and had only reluctantly agreed to run for the leadership this time. His campaign had a promising start, attracting many Diefenbaker loyalists, but had fizzled when Roblin and then Stanfield joined the campaign. Over the two months leading up to the campaign, Fleming's supporters steadily left his campaign to join those of the two provincial premiers, and then to Diefenbaker when he finally joined the campaign. Fleming was seen as an old man who had little to offer but sound fiscal policy. He had been promised a large bloc of Quebec votes by Jean-Paul Cardinal, an organizer for Quebec premier Daniel Johnson, Sr, but these votes failed to materialize. Fleming's campaign slogan was "Unite with Fleming". He had the support of many Diefenbaker loyalists, and was rumoured before the convention to have the support of Diefenbaker himself. Future Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was a key aide to Fleming.

Michael Starr, former Minister of Labour in Diefenbaker’s government, MP for Oshawa, Ontario, and PC House Leader in the House of Commons, was considered to be the most loyal of the Diefenbaker supporters, and declared that he was running only because Diefenbaker was not. Many believed that he was just a “stalking horse” for Diefenbaker, i.e., trying to hold delegates’ support until Diefenbaker himself joined the campaign. Starr did not, however, withdraw when Diefenbaker joined the campaign, and even stayed for the second ballot even though he had won only a few votes. Starr did little campaigning prior to the convention because he said that he did not have the resources of the other candidates. He focused on meeting delegates at the convention, but by then, most of his campaign team, headed by future Deputy Prime Minister Erik Nielsen, had quit in frustration over the lack of organization, and joined other campaigns. Starr proposed a “wage and price freeze” to fight inflation – a policy that ended up as the centrepiece of the 1974 PC campaign, and replacing personal income taxation by a “trading tax” on goods and services – a policy that was implemented by the PC government of Brian Mulroney in 1990. He also proposed that the "British North America Acts" be brought back to Canada without amendments. During the campaign he suggested that Canada withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a comment that he later regretted and withdrew.

John MacLean was an unsuccessful PC candidate in the 1965 election who was the first to declare his candidacy for the leadership. The 40-year-old car rental agency owner from Brockville, Ontario set himself up as the spokesperson for youth in the party, and ran largely in order to create a larger role for himself in the party. He was not successful in doing this: he failed to win a delegateship from his home riding of Leeds, and was also defeated for the PC nomination in the riding during the campaign. He said that the party should declare a moratorium on tax increases, and aim to “squeeze” government spending in order to reduce taxes, and train a corps of military specialists for civilian emergencies in Canada and abroad. His speech at the convention also did not increase the party’s respect for him: he spoke without a prepared text for only 12 of the 19 minutes allotted to him.

Mary Walker-Sawka, a 51-year-old movie producer and freelance writer, was a surprise last-minute candidate. She was the first woman ever to seek the leadership of a major political party in Canada. She said that she was a Diefenbaker supporter, but was running because she felt she could “add a few things” to Diefenbaker’s program. She gave a short speech setting out her ideas for PC party policy:
* Canada should withdraw from NATO and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD);
* Canada should closely supervise its foreign aid programs to ensure that aid does not end up on the black market;
* all houses more than 20 or 30 years old should be torn down and re-built;
* Old Age Security payments should be increased to $100 per month;
* the education system should be modernized, and at least six languages should be taught in schools;
* the 11% federal sales tax should be eliminated.When she was nominated at the convention, she had no seconder. Some time passed before a female Hees supporter seconded Walker-Sawka’s nomination in order to save her the embarrassment. Walker-Sawka called upon the women of the party to stand with her. She won only two votes on the first ballot, and was dropped from the ballot.

The campaign

John MacLean was the first candidate to enter the race in January 1967. As an unknown, he was not taken seriously, and the campaign did not begin in earnest until George Hees and Davie Fulton joined the campaign. For most of the campaign, Hees and Fulton appeared to be the most likely winners. Stanfield’s entry on July 19th changed the situation dramatically. Duff Roblin’s entry on August 3rd – a little more than a month before the vote -- changed the campaign again as the campaign began to focus more on the two popular premiers. Support for Donald Fleming’s campaign, in particular, began to decline as his supporters left to join the Stanfield and Roblin campaigns.

There was considerable pressure on Ontario premier John Robarts to join the race until he announced on September 5th that the province would be holding an election on October 17th.

Going into the convention, it appeared that any one of four candidates could win: Roblin, Fulton, Stanfield and Hees. There were many uncommitted delegates, especially from Quebec.

The convention

Stanfield arrived at the convention with considerable momentum, but it was his speech to the Policy Session of the convention on the Tuesday night that made him the candidate to beat. Hees, on the other hand, delivered his speech to the Policy Session like a carnival barker, and made Hees victory unlikely.

Among the many rumours circulating during the convention was one of a deal between Stanfield and Fulton that whichever candidate won fewer votes would withdraw and support the other. Speculation mounted further about whether or not John Diefenbaker would let his name stand. There were rumours that he would step aside if the party agreed to drop its ‘’Deux Nations’’ policy. He also told Roblin that he would lead a walkout from the convention if it were adopted. In the end, this policy was confirmed by the party’s Policy Committee, and Diefenbaker stayed at the convention. Several of the candidates went to Diefenbaker’s hotel suite to try to secure his support, but in the end he joined the race at the last minute.

Diefenbaker spoke to the convention as out-going leader, and only decided to make a speech as a candidate -- a few minutes before he scheduled to on stage -- at the urging of Erik Nielsen (Michael Starr’s campaign manager) and Joel Aldred. He spoke for only 8 of the 19 minutes he was allocated because he said that he did not want to gain an unfair advantage over other candidates by speaking to the convention twice in two days. He appealed to the party once more to reject "deux nations". Half of the crowd rose to applaud his speech vigorously. This was the warmest reception received by any candidate.

Stanfield’s speech was well-crafted, but lacked the spark that had made his Tuesday evening speech so effective. Hees and Hamilton provided the best speeches of the evening, but by this point, the die was cast.

The voting

Fleming was eliminated. His campaign manager joined the Stanfield camp. Hees withdrew because his vote had fallen from the second ballot, and encouraged his delegates to vote for Stanfield. Stanfield and Roblin continued to increase their votes, while the other candidates were unable to stop their momentum. Diefenbaker, having lost another third of his delegates, dramatically walked out of the convention. He later sent MP Gordon Churchill as an emissary to accept a Roblin badge.

Hamilton was eliminated. Hees’ delegates ignored his appeal to support Stanfield and largely moved to the Roblin camp, narrowing the gap between the two leading candidates significantly, and putting Roblin back in the race. Fulton withdrew, however, and encouraged his supporters to vote for Stanfield, dashing Roblin’s chances.


After the fifth ballot, although he had been abandoned by his party, and his preferred candidate, Roblin, had been defeated, Diefenbaker returned to the convention, introduced by the convention chairperson as “the greatest Canadian of our century”. Diefenbaker welcomed his successor, Stanfield, and appealed to the party to give Stanfield their “undivided and unconditional loyalty”. Diefenbaker continued to sit as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament until his death in 1979.

Because Stanfield was not a Member of Parliament, Michael Starr, who was House Leader for the PC Party in the house of Commons, served as Leader of the Opposition until the 1968 election.

Stanfield became a well-respected figure in Canadian politics, but never became prime minister. He led the PC Party through three unsuccessful election campaigns against the Liberal Party of Pierre Trudeau in 1968, 1972, and 1974.

"Sources: Toronto Star" and "Globe and Mail" newspapers, August-September 1967.

ee also

*Progressive Conservative leadership conventions

External links

* [ "Hail and Farewell"]

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