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As we are back looking at the Opposition leaders who never became prime minister, we have reached the 1960s.
John Diefenbaker had taken over as leader of the Progressive Conservatives on Dec. 14, 1956, and he would remain in charge until Sept. 8, 1967. By that point, the glory days for Diefenbaker were in the past and the party was ready to replace him. For Diefenbaker, by 1964 the Great Canadian Flag Debate had hurt his image in the country. Completely opposed to the new flag, Diefenbaker would continually fight the Liberals in Parliament over it until finally, one of his own MPs, invoked closure on the debate so the bill could be passed. Around this same time, the dissenters in the Progressive Conservatives were pushing for Diefenbaker to retire. The Progressive Conservatives from Toronto were especially opposed to Diefenbaker. With the election loss of 1965, Progressive Conservative Party President Dalton Camp began a campaign behind the scenes to remove Diefenbaker from his position.
There was no formal leadership review process at the time, but Camp would run for re-election as party president on the platform of holding a leadership convention by the end of 1967. During the Progressive Conservative 1966 Convention, Camp changed the seating arrangements so that the first ten rows were made up of those who did not support Diefenbaker. When the cameras were on Diefenbaker, the television viewers saw unmoved delegates in front of Diefenbaker. Several other delegates shouted Diefenbaker down.
When Camp was re-elected to his position, a party leadership convention was held in 1967. At the leadership convention, Diefenbaker would run to hold his position but never won more than 12.2 per cent of the vote and was forced to withdraw by the end of the third round, ending his time as leader.
While Robert Stanfield would become the new leader of the party, and I will be covering him next week, there was a two-month gap between when Stanfield won and when he could take a seat in Parliament through a by-election win.
As a result, from Sept. 9, 1967, to Nov. 5, 1967, Michael Starr served as the Leader of the Opposition.
Starr was born in Copper Cliff, Ontario on Nov. 14, 1910.
As a young man, Starr would drop out of high school after grade 10 and would begin to work for the Oshawa Times for $5 a week, working 54 hours a week.
Oshawa had a large Ukrainian population and Starr, a man of Ukrainian descent, started to become an important figure in the Ukrainian community of the city.
In 1933, Starr would marry Anne Zaritsky, and the couple would remain married for the rest of her life, having a son and daughter.
In 1944, he would be elected to Oshawa City Council and would serve as a councilor until 1949. That year, he would win his mayoral election bid, serving as the mayor of Oshawa until 1952.
In 1951, he would run unsuccessfully for a seat at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario but was not successful. In that election, he would finish second behind the Co-operative Commonwealth candidate Tommy Thomas by just over 2,000 votes. Thomas had held that riding since 1948 and would continue to hold it until 1963.
On May 25, 1952, Starr was elected as a Progressive Conservative to the House of Commons for the Ontario Electoral District in a by-election. For the next 16 years, he would serve in that position in Parliament as he rose to in the party. His election was impressive considering the Liberals had held the riding, except from 1948 to 1949, since 1930. He also defeated John Lay, the nephew of long-time prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
While he was now a Member of Parliament, Starr made the decision to serve out his term as mayor of Oshawa, which would run until the end of the year.
On Dec. 3, 1952, Starr would be giving his first speech in the House of Commons. He would call for the federal government to create a new tax deal for the federal, provincial and municipal governments. He cited that due to inflation, the municipalities were receiving now less money than they were 22 years ago from the government. He would state quote:
“What good is prosperity expressed in billions and millions if it is not reflected in the community and the home.”
As a Member of Parliament, Starr worked to further the cause of ethnic groups and minorities. He would also help build the policy of old age pensions policy in the Progressive Conservatives and to make the national employment service more humane for the unemployed. As the Minister of Labour from 1957 to 1963, he would extend unemployment benefits to women and seasonal workers, and he also extended federal financial assistance to the provinces. He would implement the Winter Works program, which pushed people to work in trades that provided employment all-year round, rather than just from the spring to autumn. Having seen what unemployment did during The Great Depression, Starr was keenly aware of what it could do to a country, and he did not want it to happen again.
Starr was well-known for always having time for the people of his constituency and there was often a line up of people to his door on Saturday morning. Some people even came to talk to him when they were having marital problems.
He was also very popular in the Ukrainian community. On March 9, 1958, he visited Saskatoon where he attended a special tribute in his honour at the Ukrainian Hall. While there, he stated that John Diefenbaker, in appointing him as a cabinet minister, recognized a man for his worth not his ancestry. He would state quote:
Of course, one man in the audience asked what Starr was going to do for the 99,999 men, including himself, who were out of work. Starr would smile and the meeting was closed.
As Minister of Labour, Starr often had to deal with strikes in Canada, including the 69-day strike in 1959 when 74 French Radio-Canada producers walked off the job. Rene Levesque would meet with Starr and would state, quote:
“Not only did he not understand one word of French, but he didn’t understand one damned word of what the French network was trying to say.”
One of the biggest accomplishments for Starr was the fact he became the first Canadian cabinet minister of Ukrainian descent in Canadian history.
In 1961, Diefenbaker asked him when he should call another election. Starr stated he should call it in October, before the winter and unemployment rises. Instead, Diefenbaker called his brother in Saskatchewan and listened to him, calling an election in the spring of 1962. In that election, Diefenbaker and the Progressive Conservatives lost 92 seats and fell from the largest majority in Canadian history to a minority government.”
In 1962, he was touted as a possible replacement for Diefenbaker. Macleans, would report, quote:
“Part of the radical element is quietly touting Labor Minister Michael Starr as a potential leader.”
During the 1967 leadership convention for the Progressive Conservatives, Starr would put his name on the ballot. Many accused him of being a stalking horse for Diefenbaker, in that he was holding delegates support until Diefenbaker joined the campaign, but when Diefenbaker joined the leadership race, Starr did not withdraw, ending those rumours. Without the resources of the other candidates, he was unable to campaign as much as they did. He focused on meeting with delegates, and he proposed a wage and price freeze program, which would later be adopted in the 1974 election campaign for the party. He would also suggest replacing personal income taxation with a trading tax on goods and services, something Brian Mulroney would implement in 1990 with the implementation of GST. His campaign manager at the time was Erik Nielsen, brother of Leslie Nielsen and future deputy prime minister of Canada. In the leadership race, Starr finished the first round with 45 votes, sitting in ninth place. In the second round, he placed ninth again and had 34 votes. He would withdraw and chose not to endorse another candidate.
As interim leader, Starr would return to the House of Commons on Sept. 25, 1967, to serve as the Leader of the Opposition. The seat of Diefenbaker was vacant, and Starr took his usual seat to the left of Diefenbaker. The decision to have Starr serve as interim leader in the House was unanimous among the Progressive Conservatives. Starr was not sure he would be chosen to be House leader and he would say on Sept. 11, that he would withdraw from the post if Stanfield wanted him to. He would state quote:
“He might like to have someone closer to him in that position.”
Despite the internal conflicts, Starr and his party came into the House of Commons strong. Starr would say quote:
“What did the government expect us to do, roll over and play dead?”
On Oct. 3, after the first vote in the House of Commons as Opposition Leader, Starr was given a round of applause as he stood to vote.
In 1968, one year after he served as the Leader of the Opposition, Starr would lose his re-election bid against Ed Broadbent, the future leader of the New Democratic Party. Broadbent would then hold that riding for the next 22 years until 1990.
In the end, Starr was beat by only 15 votes in the 1968 election.
With the result so close, there was a recount. At first, the initial result was a loss by eight votes, but with the recount, which put the recount to 15 votes for which Starr lost by.
Starr had thought about appealing the election result but in the end would state that he decided against it because he, quote:
“didn’t like the idea of it.”
According to Starr, the loss by such a small number of votes would stay with him for a long time. While he felt no ill will towards Broadbent, he did not like to talk about the election for much of his life.
On Aug. 8, 1968, the Vancouver Province would report that Starr could not find a job and had no job offers after his time in Parliament. Starr would state quote:
As it turned out, Starr became a citizenship court judge in Toronto until 1972.
In 1973, he was appointed the chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Ontario, a position he would hold until 1978.
He would say of retiring, quote:
“See, I did retire. I’ve got the gold watch to prove it.”
During that time, he would be at odds with the New Democratic Party in 1977 when they stated they would use the Workers Compensation Board in their campaign. Starr would state quote:
“We’ll fight them everywhere, all across the province, if need be.”
Over the course of his life, Starr was honoured extensively. In 1979, he was appointed as the Honorary Colonel of The Ontario Regiment, a reserve armored regiment in Oshawa.
He would also be invested into The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem as an Officer. He would also be awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, the Canadian Centennial medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.
In 1981, he was appointed as the vice chairman of the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario by Premier Bill Davis in Ontario.
In 1983, an Ontario government building in Oshawa was named in his honour. A recreation trail in the community is also named for him.
That same year, he would state that he was too old to return to the political arena, but he kept busy with government business 12 hours a day. He would state quote:
“I’ve got all sort of ideas. Just because you get older, doesn’t mean your brain gets inactive.”
In his downtime when not involved his various endeavors, Starr enjoyed sitting at home watching John Wayne movies and going to the Rotary Club in Oshawa.
On March 16, 2000, Starr passed away at the age of 89.
Perhaps the lasting legacy for Starr was that those around him said he was a nice man, who no one had a bad thing to say about. He was a modest man, who did not like to talk about himself a lot.
Information from Macleans, Oshawa Express, Wikipedia, The Windsor Star, The Ottawa Journal, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon Star Phoenix,