Born in Grey County, Ontario, John George Diefenbaker (1895–1979) was a lawyer and politician who led the Conservative Party from 1956 to 1967 and was Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963. Although Diefenbaker’s impressive public-speaking skills and vision for Canada won him much support in the 1957 and 1958 elections, his government failed to deliver the effective policies Canadians had expected. Diefenbaker’s federal–provincial conference on November 25, 1957 advanced the cause of national health insurance by setting a date to begin federal support of provincial hospital insurance, rather than waiting for six provinces to join the federal plan, as Paul Martin had proposed in 1957.
However, Diefenbaker also stated at the same conference that federal contributions to hospital insurance would be drawn from federal–provincial tax-sharing arrangements. Despite his reluctance to provide the funding needed to institute a national hospital insurance program, Diefenbaker nevertheless contributed to the formation of medicare by establishing a Royal Commission on Health Services in 1961, and appointing Emmett Hall, Chief Justice of Saskatchewan, as its chairman. The commission’s June 1964 report recommended a national policy that would allow Canadians unhindered access to health care but, since Diefenbaker had been defeated in 1963, the creation of medicare was left to the government of Lester Pearson.