Originally published on Torontoist on April 19, 2011.
Don Mills Mirror, June 6, 1957.
If you think we’ve headed to the polls one too many times to elect a federal government over the past decade, then you’ll feel a twinge of sympathy for the average Canadian voter who had the opportunity to exercise his or her democratic privilege five times between 1957 and 1965.
The unifying figure through all of those elections was Progressive Conservative leader John Diefenbaker and his roller-coaster ride of popularity. Running alongside him: a Metro Toronto candidate whose fortunes mirrored those of Dief the Chief.
And so, a chronicle of five elections in five election ads…
1957: Frank McGee had politics in his blood. One grandfather served as an MP for eight years, while another was the longest serving Clerk of the Privy Council in Canadian history. His great uncle was assassinated Father of Confederation D’Arcy McGee. His father-in-law was Senator Grattan O’Leary. Shortly before his 32nd birthday, department store merchandise buyer McGee was chosen to carry the Progressive Conservative banner in York-Scarborough. During the February 25 nomination meeting, McGee promised to hold Liberal incumbent Frank Enfield accountable on the government’s role in the pipeline debate and the Suez crisis. The vigour of the national Tory campaign, as opposed to the stay-the-course mode the Liberals adopted, must have left an impression on York-Scarborough voters, as McGee received the largest personal majority in the country on June 10 (just under 20,000 votes more than Enfield).
Don Mills Mirror, June 13, 1957.
Of the 18 seats in Metro Toronto, the Tories captured all but one (rookie Liberal Stanley Haidasz won Trinity). Twenty-two years of Liberal rule was replaced with a Diefenbaker-headed minority government.
Don Mills Mirror, March 13, 1958.
1958: McGee and Diefenbaker experienced a record-breaking election night. When the ballots were counted on March 31, the Tories captured a record number of seats—with 208 seats out of 265, they still hold the federal record for the highest seat percentage in an election. Every seat in Metro Toronto went blue. York-Scarborough voters did their part by giving McGee the largest majority ever received up to that time in a single riding as he defeated Enfield by 35,377 votes (the current record holder is Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, who crushed his closest opponent in York North by 51,389 votes in 1993). During the 24th Parliament, McGee introduced a private member’s bill to abolish capital punishment. Though McGee’s proposal met the fate usually meted out to such bills, it helped pave the way for the eventual abolition of the death penalty.
Toronto Star, June 13, 1962.
1962: It didn’t take long for internal squabbling and Diefenbaker`s penchant for nursing grudges to cause rancor within the Tories. As John Duffy summed up in his book Fights of Our Lives, by 1962 “John Diefenbaker was already the doomed Tory hero, wrapped in a Union Jack and battling alone against the dragons of Americanization, big business, and technology itself.” Diefenbaker’s government was reduced to a minority, thanks to a resurgent Liberal party and the success of Social Credit in Quebec. Of the 20 candidates shown in this ad, only McGee and six others headed to Ottawa to take their place in Diefenbaker’s minority government. Our man’s margin of victory dropped to just over 5,000 votes over the resurgent Liberals. In the short-lived session that followed, McGee served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration.
Don Mills Mirror, April 3, 1963.
1963: Shortly before Diefenbaker’s minority government fell amid disarray over nuclear defence policy, McGee was made a minister without portfolio. By this point, he was campaigning on his own merits without comparisons to Diefenbaker. Voters decided that McGee wasn’t a good enough MP as he lost to Liberal Maurice Moreau by 21,500 votes. He wasn’t the only Tory out of a job; Diefenbaker lost the reins of power to Lester Pearson. Following his defeat, McGee became a political columnist covering the Conservative point of view for the Toronto Star and hosted a public affairs program on CBC Television.
Don Mills Mirror, October 27, 1965.
1965: When another election loomed, McGee left his media gigs in an attempt to regain his old seat. There’s no mention of Diefenbaker in McGee’s ad, which may reflect the ever-increasing animosity within the party toward the former PM. Local officials blamed Diefenbaker for turning local voters away from McGee, who was tied with Liberal Robert Stanbury for a time before losing by just under 4,000 votes. Still, it was a slight improvement on McGee’s performance in ’63, just as the Tories modestly upped their standing in the House of Commons by a couple of seats.
McGee came oh-so-close to returning to office during his final political run in the suburban riding of Ontario (which included parts of present-day Durham Region stretching from Pickering to Uxbridge) in 1972, but lost to the Liberals by four votes in a recount. Before his death in 1999, McGee also served as an executive at a public relations firm, a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and a citizenship judge in Toronto.
Additional material from Fights of Our Lives by John Duffy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002), the November 10, 1965, edition of the Don Mills Mirror, and the February 26, 1957, edition of the Toronto Star.