________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 18 . . . .May 12, 2006


John Diefenbaker: The Outsider Who Refused to Quit. (Canadian Prime Ministers Warts & All, #13).

Lanny Boutin. Illustrated by Gabriel Morrissette.
Toronto, ON: Jackfruit Press, 2006.
57 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 0-9736406-4-2.

Subject Headings:
Diefenbaker, John G., 1895-1979-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Politics and government-1957-1963-Juvenile literature.
Prime ministers-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

**** /4

Reviewed from galleys.



In early 1940, John started his parliamentary career in Ottawa. He loved the House of Commons, but he didn’t fit in. He was different—a westerner who spoke with passion and fire when other politicians spoke coolly and with far less emotion. He was a man of the people who pushed for a new vision of Canada—“One Canada”—where everyone, no matter their race, heritage, or economic standing, had the same rights. This was a brand new idea to many in Ottawa who saw no need to give rights to First Nations peoples or recent immigrants.


Canada’s thirteenth prime minister was born in Neustadt Ontario in 1895. His family moved to rural Saskatchewan in 1903 and then to Saskatoon in 1910. Diefenbaker completed a Master of Arts degree in economics and political science in 1916 before sailing for Europe as a lieutenant during the First World War. An injury brought a discharge, and he was back in Saskatoon completing his law training.

     Diefenbaker’s interest in politics was cultivated at an early age by his father William. As a boy of eight or nine, he declared his intent to become prime minister. His first electoral victory came in 1921 as an alderman in Wakow, SK, where he was practicing law. Many electoral defeats at all three levels of government followed before he finally won a seat in the House of Commons in 1940. In 1957, he became Prime Minister, a position he held only until 1963. Although he lost the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party a few years later, he remained an MP until his death in 1979.

     As a child, Diefenbaker endured prejudice because of his German ancestry. This experience helped to fuel his interest in the disadvantaged. Thus, he represented Aboriginal and Métis clients free of charge, spoke out against discrimination against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the treatment of the Japanese Canadians during the second World War, and denounced apartheid in South Africa. As PM, he brought in the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. While it only applied to federal law and has largely been superseded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982, it was a path-breaking attempt to protect the civil rights of all Canadians.

     This book is an excellent addition to the “Canadian Prime Ministers, Warts & All” series. Boutin’s text is balanced, and nicely complemented by Morrissette’s numerous illustrations. Some of the anecdotes included are gems, especially the account of John as a young newspaper boy telling a client, prime minister Laurier, “I can’t waste any more time on you. I’ve got work to do.” The timelines, glossary and index are all first-rate. Five pages of “hot topics” expand upon issues raised in the text: war, human rights, the Great Depression, the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis, and the fate of the Avro Arrow.

Highly Recommended.

Val Ken Lem is a catalogue librarian and collection liaison for English, history and Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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