1948 Liberal Party of Canada leadership election

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1948 Liberal Party of Canada leadership election

← 1919 August 7, 1948 1958 →
  Louisstlaurent.jpg James Garfield Gardiner.jpg Charles Gavan Chubby Power.jpg
Candidate Louis St. Laurent James G. Gardiner Charles G. Power
Delegate count 848 323 56
Percentage 69.1% 26.3% 4.6%

Leader before election

William Lyon Mackenzie King

Elected Leader

Louis St. Laurent

1948 Liberal leadership election
DateAugust 7, 1948
ConventionOttawa Coliseum,
Lansdowne Park,
Ottawa, Ontario
Resigning leaderWilliam Lyon Mackenzie King
Won byLouis St. Laurent
Liberal leadership elections
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The 1948 Liberal Party of Canada leadership election was called to replace retiring Liberal leader and sitting Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. The convention was held exactly 29 years after the 1919 leadership convention that saw King elected Liberal leader. The National Film Board of Canada made a short film about the event for its Eye Witness series.[1]

Secretary of State for External Affairs Louis St. Laurent defeated Minister of Agriculture (and former Premier of Saskatchewan) James Garfield Gardiner and former cabinet minister Charles Gavan Power on the first ballot, and would be sworn in as Prime Minister later that year.


James Garfield Gardiner[edit]

James Garfield Gardiner

Premier of Saskatchewan (1926–1929, 1934–1935)
MP for Melville, Saskatchewan (1940–1958)
MP for Assiniboia, Saskatchewan (1936–1940)
Minister of Agriculture (1935–1957)

James Garfield Gardiner, 64, called for increased immigration and closer ties to the United Kingdom. His support was strongest in Alberta, British Columbia, and his home province of Saskatchewan, and he was seen as St. Laurent's primary competition. His convention speech, which went over the allotted 20 minutes, asked for a chance to be the party's "spark plug." King campaigned hard against Gardiner, calling his campaign "ruthless and selfish," and criticized his tactics.[2]

Charles Gavan Power[edit]

Charles Gavan Power

MP for Quebec South, Quebec (1917–1955)
Senator for Gulf, Quebec (1955–1968)
Minister of Pensions and National Health (1935–1939)
Postmaster General (1939–1940)
Minister of National Defence for Air (1940–1944)
Associate Minister of National Defence (1940–1944)

Charles Gavan Power, 60, had resigned from cabinet during World War II amidst the Conscription Crisis of 1944 due to his opposition to conscription. Power left the Liberals to sit as an "Independent Liberal," and was elected as such during the 1945 election. Following the war, Power rejoined the Liberals. His convention speech called for electoral reform (including placing limits on campaign spending), and called on the party to return to its policy of protecting individual rights.[2]

Louis St. Laurent[edit]

Louis St. Laurent

MP for Quebec East, Quebec (1942–1958)
Minister of Justice and Attorney General (1941–1946, 1948)
Secretary of State for External Affairs (1946–1948)

Louis St. Laurent, 66, was King's personal choice, and King campaigned hard for St. Laurent to win. King lobbied hard behind the scenes, reversing his earlier pledge not to vote on the first ballot and convincing various other cabinet ministers (as seen below) to enter the race and withdraw in favour of St. Laurent. St. Laurent's support was seen as strong throughout the country, especially Ontario and Quebec. St. Laurent's convention speech told delegates that his government would fight to prevent the spread of communism abroad, and that the Liberals were the only party capable of bridging the gap between English Canada and French Canada, and respect provincial rights.[2]

Withdrawn candidates[edit]

From left to right: Abbott, Chevrier, Claxton, Garson, Howe, and Martin.

King, in his behind the scenes attempt to swing the convention in favour of St. Laurent, convinced the following candidates to run for the leadership but withdraw at the convention to support St. Laurent:[2]

There was an attempt to draft Premier of Nova Scotia Angus Lewis Macdonald after he gave a rousing speech to the convention but he announced that he would not stand.[3]


First Ballot
Candidate Delegate Support Percentage
Louisstlaurent.jpg ST. LAURENT, Louis Stephen 848 69.1%
James Garfield Gardiner.jpg GARDINER, James Garfield 323 26.3%
Charles Gavan Chubby Power.jpg POWER, Charles Gavan 56 4.6%
Total 1,227 100%
First ballot
St. Laurent


  1. ^ "Eye Witness No. 6". onf-nfb.gc.ca. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d "1948 Liberal Convention". CPAC. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  3. ^ "Five Possible Candidates For Liberal Leadership As Voting Hour Nears". The Globe and Mail. 7 August 1948.