Robert Stanfield
Premier Robert Stanfield.jpg
Leader of the Opposition
In office
November 9, 1967 – February 21, 1976
Preceded byMichael Starr
Succeeded byJoe Clark
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
In office
September 9, 1967 – February 21, 1976
Preceded byJohn Diefenbaker
Succeeded byJoe Clark
17th Premier of Nova Scotia
In office
November 20, 1956 – September 13, 1967
MonarchElizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorAlistair Fraser
Edward Chester Plow
Henry Poole MacKeen
Preceded byHenry Hicks
Succeeded byG.I. Smith
MLA for Colchester
In office
June 9, 1949 – September 13, 1967
Serving with G. I. Smith
Preceded byGordon Purdy
Robert F. McLellan
Succeeded byGerald Ritcey
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Halifax
In office
June 25, 1968 – May 22, 1979
Preceded byDistrict created
Succeeded byGeorge Cooper
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Colchester—Hants
In office
November 6, 1967 – June 25, 1968
Preceded byCyril Kennedy
Succeeded byDistrict abolished
Personal details
Robert Lorne Stanfield

(1914-04-11)April 11, 1914
Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada
DiedDecember 16, 2003(2003-12-16) (aged 89)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeCamp Hill Cemetery
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Political partyProgressive Conservative
  • Joyce Frazee
    (m. 1940; died 1954)
  • Mary Hall
    (m. 1957; died 1977)
  • Anne Austin
    (m. 1978)
RelativesFrank Stanfield (father)
John Stanfield (uncle)
Frank Thomas Stanfield (brother)
Alma mater

Robert Lorne Stanfield PC QC FRCGS (April 11, 1914 – December 16, 2003) was a Canadian politician who served as the 17th premier of Nova Scotia from 1956 to 1967 and the leader of the Official Opposition and leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1967 to 1976.

Born into an affluent Nova Scotia clothing manufacturing and political family in Truro, Stanfield graduated from Dalhousie University and Harvard Law School in the 1930s. He was a lawyer before becoming the leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party in 1948, with the goal of reviving the party that did not have a single seat in the legislature. After a rebuilding period, Stanfield led the party to a majority government in 1956; their first victory since 1928. Carrying the party to four majorities in total, Stanfield's government is credited with modernizing the way the province delivered education and medical services.

In 1967, he resigned as premier and became the leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party. He was the leader of the Official Opposition and fought three federal elections in 1968, 1972, and 1974, losing each time to the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau. Stanfield was a strong supporter of bilingualism, putting him at odds with some members of the PC Party. Despite his stance on the issue, his inability to speak French harmed his chances of becoming prime minister. He resigned as leader in 1976 and from politics in 1979. In retirement, he lived mostly in Ottawa, and died there in 2003 from complications due to pneumonia. He is sometimes referred to as "the best prime minister Canada never had".[1] As one of Canada's most distinguished and respected statesmen, he was one of only several people granted the style "The Right Honourable" who were not so entitled by virtue of an office held.

Early life and education

Stanfield was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, the son of Sarah Emma (née Thomas) and entrepreneur Frank Stanfield and was named after Robert H. Kennedy, his father's co-representative for Colchester County in the Nova Scotia General Assembly.[2] His family owned Stanfield's Limited, a large textile company.[3] He studied economics and political science at Dalhousie University and was awarded the Governor General's Silver Medal for achieving the highest standing when he graduated in 1936 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree.[4]

Stanfield then studied at Harvard Law School, where he was an honours student near the top of his class and the first Canadian editor of the Harvard Law Review.[1] During his student days in the 1930s, he witnessed the poverty that the Great Depression produced, causing him to become interested in John Maynard Keynes's economic theories. Stanfield then considered himself a socialist.[5] Over time, he was less attached to socialism, but its influence on him remained, as he was considered a Red Tory for his appreciation of the common good.[5]

Provincial politics

Stanfield (second to the left) and three other Maritime Premiers in Confederation Chamber, Charlottetown, P.E.I., 1964
Stanfield (second to the left) and three other Maritime Premiers in Confederation Chamber, Charlottetown, P.E.I., 1964

Stanfield decided to enter Nova Scotia politics. The Progressive 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 began the process of reviving the party as he fought the 1949 and 1953 general elections. In the 1956 Nova Scotia general election, the Nova Scotia PCs won a majority government, their first victory since 1928.

Premier of Nova Scotia

Known as "Honest Bob" for his straightforward manner,[6] Stanfield served as premier of Nova Scotia, governing as a moderate and pragmatist. Stanfield led reforms on education, human rights, and health care. He won re-election thrice: in 1960, 1963, and 1967.[7]

Economic policy

In 1957, Stanfield's government established the crown corporation Industrial Estates Limited (IEL) to attract new industry in Nova Scotia. By the time Stanfield left office in 1967, the IEL had invested $74 million into 25 new firms and created nearly 2,300 jobs in the province.[8]

In 1963, Stanfield's government established the Nova Scotia Voluntary Planning Board to assist the minister of finance in creating measures to increase the rate of economic growth through voluntary economic planning.[9]

Human rights

Stanfield prioritized human rights, particularly for Black Nova Scotians. In 1959, Stanfield's government passed the Fair Accommodation Practices Act to protect against discrimination in public spaces.[10] In 1962, Stanfield created and led the Interdepartmental Committee on Human Rights[11] to support the work of Dr. William Oliver and other Black Nova Scotians. The year later, Stanfield's government codified and extended earlier legislation in the first Human Rights Act of 1963.[12] In 1965, the Stanfield government established the Education fund for Negros and in 1967, created the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission with Oliver.[13]


Stanfield's government increased funding for schools and training colleges, established the first form of Medicare, and created a provincial parks system.[7]

Federal opposition leader

1967 Progressive Conservative leadership convention

In 1967, the federal Progressive Conservative Party was racked by disunity between supporters and opponents of the leadership of John Diefenbaker. Stanfield entered the campaign for the party leadership. With the help of his Nova Scotian advisors and PC Party President Dalton Camp, he was the favourite and won on the fifth ballot of the 1967 leadership convention.

Pearson, Trudeau, and the 1968 federal election

Stanfield brought the Progressive Conservatives high in the polls, prompting many to expect him to defeat the Liberal government of the aging Lester B. Pearson. In February 1968, Stanfield almost forced an election after defeating Pearson's government on a tax bill, leading to several days of confusion over whether or not this counted as a de facto motion of no confidence in the government. Ultimately, it was ruled by the Governor General, Roland Michener that it did not, and while Stanfield immediately called an explicit motion of no confidence in Pearson's government, it failed to pass after the New Democratic Party and Ralliement créditiste declined to support it.[14]

Pearson would soon retire, prompting the Liberals to choose a new leader, Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau was a charismatic public speaker, a strong performer on television, and provided the party with major credibility in Quebec. Stanfield's unilingualism and laconic speaking style contrasted poorly with the new Liberal leader. The Liberals were re-elected and increased their support to form a majority government in the 1968 election.

Disputes within the PC Party

While able to carry on as leader after his initial defeat, Stanfield faced a variety of problems within the federal PC caucus, most controversially his support of the Liberal Official Languages Act and official bilingualism, which threatened a caucus revolt led by the further right-wing faction of the party. Stanfield's support of bilingualism did not endear him to the conservative base during his political career, though he earned much respect for his stand after he retired.

1972 federal election

Robert Stanfield and Terry O'Connor at a community breakfast in Acton, Ontario in August 1972[15]
Robert Stanfield and Terry O'Connor at a community breakfast in Acton, Ontario in August 1972[15]

In the election of 1972, Stanfield's Tories campaigned on the public's perception that the Liberals were mismanaging the economy. Though the Liberals started high in the polls, Trudeau's popularity had worn off and they slumped due to a poor campaign. The Tories came within two seats of defeating the Liberal government. The Liberals dropped to a minority government and stayed in power for two years with support from David Lewis and the New Democratic Party.

The general election was expected to be close but Stanfield refused to sign the nomination papers of former Moncton mayor Leonard Jones; Jones had won the party nomination but he refused to support official bilingualism which was part of PC policy.[16]

1974 federal election

In the federal election of 1974, Stanfield ran on a policy of wage and price controls to help inhibit the rapid inflation of the era. Trudeau mocked the idea, saying that one couldn't say, "Zap! You're frozen!" to the economy. Trudeau later wrote in his memoirs that Stanfield's platform allowed him to be sniped at from all directions. The Progressive Conservatives did well in the Atlantic provinces, and in the West, but Liberal support in Ontario and Quebec ensured a majority Liberal government, mostly at the expense of Lewis's NDP rather than Stanfield's Tories. Trudeau would implement the controls in 1975, drawing widespread criticism for the abrupt reversal.

During the campaign, on May 30, 1974, a photo by photojournalist Doug Ball showing Stanfield fumbling a football thrown by Geoffrey Stevens at a stopover in North Bay, Ontario, became one of the defining images of his career. To this day, Canadian political commentators still point to this incident as one of Canada's foremost examples of "image politics", because the photo was chosen for the front pages of newspapers across Canada even though many other photos of Stanfield catching the same football were also available.[17]


Stanfield served as leader of the PCs and leader of the Loyal Opposition until 1976. He became renowned as a gentlemanly and civil man, but after three election defeats, he faced much criticism from inside the party, from members that felt he had continually failed to provide strong leadership against the Liberals. He resigned in 1976 and was succeeded by Joe Clark, who had a much more aggressive approach in his attacks on the Liberals. Stanfield retired from Parliament in the 1979 election which finally brought the Progressive Conservatives to power.

Later years

After his retirement, Stanfield stayed out of politics until the constitutional debates, when he endorsed and campaigned for the Meech Lake Accord, the Charlottetown Accord, and free trade. He said that the Meech Lake Accord was a second chance to save Canada from disaster. "I'm not at all sure that I would want to live in a country that rejected Meech Lake," he said at the time. "It wouldn't be the Canada I grew up in. It wouldn't be the country with the values that I've loved during my life." Prime Minister Brian Mulroney wanted to appoint Stanfield as U.N. ambassador saying, "I tried to engage him further but he was leading a vigorous life and a very active life and he didn't want to change after a while."[18]

Illness and death

In 1996, Stanfield suffered a debilitating stroke that left him severely disabled. He died on December 16, 2003, in Ottawa, from pneumonia, only nine 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 Party Leader — Peter MacKay suggested in an interview on CBC Newsworld's December 17, 2003 Morning Show that he had not personally spoken to Stanfield in regard to his opinions on the merger.[19] It is unknown what Stanfield thought of the creation of the new Conservatives. His funeral service was held in Ottawa, and then he was buried in Camp Hill Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, next to his first wife Joyce Frazee, mother of his four children: Sarah, Max, Judith and Miriam, and with his second wife Mary Hall.[20]

Personal life

Stanfield married Joyce Frazee in 1940, but she died in a car accident in 1954. During his term as premier, Stanfield remarried, exchanging vows with Mary Hall in 1957. Mary Stanfield died of cancer in 1977, and the following year, Stanfield married his third wife, Anne Austin.[1] Anne Austin Stanfield died, age 89, April 22, 2021.


In July 1967, Stanfield and other provincial premiers were sworn into the Queen's Privy Council for Canada[21] on the occasion of Canada’s centennial.

On July 1, 1992, as part of Canada's 125th anniversary celebrations, the Queen on advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney granted Stanfield and six former cabinet ministers (Alvin Hamilton, Ellen Fairclough, Jack Pickersgill, Paul Martin Sr., Jean-Luc Pepin and Martial Asselin) the right to use the title "The Right Honourable".[22] He is one of nine Canadians entitled to the title without having held an office which such title is automatically conferred (the other two being former Deputy Prime Ministers Donald Mazankowski and Herb Gray).

Bronze plaque of Stanfield at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport
Bronze plaque of Stanfield at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport

In 2007, Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport was named after him by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS).

Honorary degrees

Robert Stanfield was awarded several honorary Degrees in recognition of His service to Canada, These Include

Honorary Degrees
Location Date School Degree
 Nova Scotia 1967 Dalhousie University Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng)[23]
 Quebec 11 October 1967 McGill University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[24]
 Nova Scotia 12 May 1969 Saint Mary's University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[25]
 Ontario May 1985 McMaster University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[26]
 Ontario June 1988 University of Toronto Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[27]
 New Brunswick 1990 Mount Allison University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[28]
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (July 2018)


There is a Robert Stanfield fonds at Library and Archives Canada.[29][30] Archival reference number is R4088.

Electoral record

1974 Canadian federal election: Halifax
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Robert Stanfield 14,865 49.26 -6.78
Liberal Brian Flemming 12,282 40.70 +9.39
New Democratic Alasdair M. Sinclair 2,817 9.33 -2.95
Social Credit Brian Pitcairn 140 0.46
Marxist–Leninist Tony Seed 75 0.25 -0.13
Total valid votes 30,179 100.00

Changes for Marxist–Leninist candidate Tony Seed are based on his results in 1972, when he ran unaffiliated.

1972 Canadian federal election: Halifax
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Robert Stanfield 17,966 56.04 -4.29
Liberal Terry McGrath 10,039 31.31 -4.31
New Democratic Marty Dolin 3,936 12.28 +8.23
Independent Tony Seed 121 0.38
Total valid votes 32,062 100.00
1968 Canadian federal election: Halifax
Party Candidate Votes %
Progressive Conservative Robert Stanfield 19,569 60.33
Liberal M. Gregory Tompkins 11,555 35.62
New Democratic Gus Wedderburn 1,314 4.05
Total valid votes 32,438 100.00


  1. ^ a b c Fraser (2003), p. A10.
  2. ^ Stevens (1973), p. 19.
  3. ^ Stevens (1973), p. 17.
  4. ^ Stevens (1973), pp. 30–33.
  5. ^ a b Laghi & Cox (2003), p. R7.
  6. ^ "'Honest Bob' promises more progress in Nova Scotia". CBC. Archived from the original on 21 November 2021. Retrieved 23 July 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Robert Stanfield". Dalhousie University. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  8. ^ "Robert Lorne Stanfield". Maclean's. 1 March 1968. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  9. ^ "Government Administrative Histories". Nova Scotia Archives. 20 April 2020. Retrieved 23 July 2022.
  10. ^ Robert Stanfield. 25th Anniversary Launching Speech. In Bridglal Pachai (ed). Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission: 25th Anniversary. 1992. p. 32
  11. ^ Fred MacKinnon, Commissioner. In Bridglal Pachai (ed). Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission: 25th Anniversary. 1992. p. 36
  12. ^ Fred MacKinnon, Commissioner. In Bridglal Pachai (ed). Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission: 25th Anniversary. 1992. p. 40
  13. ^ Fred MacKinnon, Commissioner. In Bridglal Pachai (ed). Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission: 25th Anniversary. 1992. p. 45
  14. ^ Robertson, Gordon; Memoirs of a Very Civil Servant; pp299-301
  15. ^ "Stanfield visits Acton, election-free summer". The Acton Free Press. August 2, 1972. pp. 1, 3.
  16. ^ Folster, David (25 July 1983). "The trials of Leonard Jones". Maclean's. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  17. ^ CBC Staff (2004).
  18. ^ "Former Tory leader Robert Stanfield remembered as man of 'great warmth, humility'". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Dec 17, 2003. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  19. ^ Hiscox (2003).
  20. ^ Lunman (2003).
  21. ^ "Queen's Privy Council for Canada". 11 December 2017.
  22. ^ Canadian Press (1992).
  23. ^ "1892 ‑ 1999 Honorary Degree Recipients - Convocation - Dalhousie University". Archived from the original on 2018-05-21. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  24. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-26. Retrieved 2018-07-26.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ "1952-1970 | Saint Mary's University".
  26. ^ "University Secretariat" (PDF).
  27. ^[bare URL PDF]
  28. ^ "Mount Allison University | Honorary degree recipients 20th century". Archived from the original on 2018-06-12. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  29. ^ "Finding aid to Robert Stanfield fonds, part 1, Library and Archives Canada" (PDF).
  30. ^ "Finding aid to Robert Stanfield fonds, part 2, Library and Archives Canada" (PDF).