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Robert Stanfield

From Academic Kids

The Right Honourable Robert Lorne Stanfield (April 11, 1914-December 16, 2003) was Premier of Nova Scotia and leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He is sometimes referred to as "the greatest prime minister Canada never had", and as one of Canada's most distinguished and respected statesmen he was one of only a handful of people ever granted the style "Right Honourable" who were not so entitled by virtue of an office held.

Stanfield was born to wealthy parents in Truro, Nova Scotia, of Stanfields underwear fame. Throughout his life he had enough money not to have to work for a living. He studied law at Dalhousie University and at Harvard Law School, where he was an honors student near the top of his class. During his student days he became a strong socialist. Although this affiliation faded, he remained very much a Red Tory.

After playing a role managing victory bonds during the Second World War, Stanfield entered Nova Scotia politics. The Conservative Party of Nova Scotia was in poor shape. The Liberals dominated the province, and the Tories did not have a single seat in the legislature. In 1948 Stanfield was elected leader of the party, and quickly began to revive it.

Stanfield had married Joyce Frazee in 1940, but she was killed in a car accident in 1954. In 1956, he led his party to its first electoral victory in decades.

Stanfield served as Premier of Nova Scotia, ruling as a moderate with a demonstrable social conscience. He won re-election numerous times with the help of the so-called "Nova Scotia Mafia", a group of political advisors led by Dalton Camp and Flora MacDonald.

During his term as premier, Stanfield remarried, exchanging vows with Mary Hall in 1957.

In 1967, the federal Progressive Conservative Party was racked by disunity between pro- and anti-Diefenbaker factions. Stanfield entered the 1967 leadership convention. With the help of his Nova Scotian advisors and PC Party President Dalton Camp, he won a hard-fought battle on the fifth ballot. Stanfield was expect to defeat easily the Liberal government of the aging Lester B. Pearson. Instead, following Pearson's retirement, Stanfield lost the 1968 election to the Liberals' charismatic new leader, Pierre Trudeau. In the election of 1972, Stanfield's Tories came within two seats of defeating the Liberal government, which went on to survive two more years in a minority situation, supported by David Lewis and the New Democratic Party.

In the federal election of 1974, a controversial photo of Stanfield fumbling a football catch at a political event became one of the defining images of his later career, contrasting badly against the more vibrant and youthful image presented by Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau. To this day, Canadian political commentators still point to this incident as one of Canada's foremost examples of "image politics", because this one photo was chosen for the front pages of newspapers across Canada even though many other photos of Stanfield (in fact, a fairly athletic man for his age) catching the same football were also available.

Stanfield served as leader of the PCs and of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition until 1976. He became renowned as a gentlemanly and civil man, but after three election defeats, this turned into a reputation for being unable to go for the jugular. He resigned and was succeeded by Joe Clark in 1976. He retired from Parliament in 1979.

Mary Stanfield passed away of cancer in 1977, and the following year, Stanfield married his third wife, Anne Austin.

After his retirement, Stanfield stayed out of politics until the constitutional debates during Brian Mulroney's term as prime minister. Stanfield endorsed and campaigned for the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord, and both of these were supported in Nova Scotia, but they failed elsewhere.

In 1997, Stanfield suffered a debilitating stroke that left him severely disabled. He died on December 16, 2003, only eight days after the Progressive Conservative Party merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the new Conservative Party of Canada. Fellow Nova Scotian and final PC Leader Peter MacKay suggested in an interview on CBC Newsworld on December 16 2003, that he had not spoken to Stanfield in regards to his opinions on the merger. It is suspected that Stanfield was largely comatose in his final years of life. He was buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario, near the grave of former Prime Minister and fellow Nova Scotian Robert Borden.


Preceded by:
Henry D. Hicks
Premier of Nova Scotia
1956-1967
Succeeded by:
George I. Smith
Preceded by:
John George Diefenbaker
Federal Progressive Conservative Leader
1967-1976
Succeeded by:
Joe Clark

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