In the late spring of 1923, while in England to argue an appeal before the Privy Council, R.B. received a telegram from his long time legal partner, Senator James Lougheed, advising him that dissolution of their partnership was imminent. The proceedings that followed are still studied and debated by Alberta law students today. Lougheed and R.B. each set up new partnerships of their own and the Lougheed and Bennett struggle continued for years until November of 1925 when Lougheed died. The matter was finally closed after Clarence Lougheed, James Lougheed's son, approached R.B. and made the final arrangements.
In June of 1925 R.B. received another telegram from Arthur Meighen again promising a seat at the cabinet table if he would run for office. Again, his answer was no. Again, Meighen made further appeals and again R.B. changed his mind and ran in the election. This time he won, but that is not the interesting part.
Meighen's Conservatives won 115 seats, King's Liberals won 100, the Progressives 22 and 8 went to others. In the Canadian democratic system voters do not choose a government, they assemble a parliament. It is the members of that parliament who decide which party or coalition of parties commands the confidence of the House and therefore which can form the government. Although the Liberals held fewer seats than the Conservatives, Mackenzie King refused to step down as prime minister, as was his right to do so, and proceeded to tell Governor General Baron Lord Byng of Vimy that he could form the government and hold the confidence of the House. To make matters even more complicated Mackenzie King did not win in his own riding so he would have to pull this all off while lurking behind the curtains of Parliament. Byng agreed to Mackenzie King's scheme and the aftermath was nothing short of a constitutional crisis.
R.B. was shocked, along with the rest of the country, that the Conservatives were not forming the government. He was expecting a seat at the governing cabinet table and all he got was a desk as an opposition backbencher. This undesirable situation would not last long, however, as the whole political landscape was about to change.
In March of 1926 Mackenzie King won a by-election and gained a seat in the House. In the meantime the political waters were about to boil over. The Customs Department scandal blew up in the House of Commons and threatened to bring down Mackenzie King's tenuous government. In an effort to avoid dealing with the situation and wanting to maintain control, Mackenzie King went to Governor General Byng, resigned, and asked for Parliament to be dissolved. Byng refused. Mackenzie King was dismissed and Meighen was summoned and asked to from the government. Meighen was sworn in as prime minister and decided to renew the session of parliament to continue with the attack on the Liberals. At that time, any sitting member that was appointed to cabinet was required to resign his seat and run in a by-election to allow their riding to decide if they agreed to let the member split their time between representing them and working for the country. To avoid so many resignations at once, Meighen told Byng that he would resign his seat but asked the Governor General to appoint five of the caucus to be acting ministers in order to carry on the business of governing. It was understood that as acting ministers the members would not be required to go through the by-election process.
Meighen found himself behind the curtains like Mackenzie King did before so he needed a strong House Leader. R.B. was the obvious choice; however, he was in Calgary and could not get back to Ottawa in time. Another member was appointed so that they would be ready to govern come Monday evening. R.B. was appointed as acting minister of justice.
Mackenzie King proceeded to manipulate the situation to his advantage. On the Wednesday evening he started asking questions and got the answers he needed. None of the acting ministers had been sworn in. Mackenzie King painted the government as illegitimate and unconstitutional. For the first time in history a Canadian government fell on a confidence motion. Meighen's government lasted just three months.
Canadians headed to the polls again on September 14, 1926, and Mackenzie King won the election. R.B. won his seat but found himself on the side of opposition again. The King-Byng Affair certainly changed the way the people of Canada viewed the structure of the government.
Although Meighen was the leader of the official opposition, R.B. took the lead in the ensuing debates in the House of Commons. The House took a long parliamentary recess over the summer of 1927 that allowed the Conservative party to reflect on what had happened and try to figure out where to go next. An interim leader of the party was chosen at a caucus meeting. The decision was then made to hold a national party convention on October 11, 1927, to choose a new leader and set a new party platform. This would be the first time the Conservatives would hold such a convention.
The Conservative convention was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and there were six candidates at the start. R.B. was one of them. It took two ballots to declare a winner, who needed to receive a majority of the votes. R.B. was that winner. After the results of the second ballot were read, each of the other candidates made their way to the microphone to officially withdraw from the race in the old tradition of making the vote unanimous. Besides selecting a leader, the party also reshaped the planks of its platform and adopted twenty-two resolutions marking the change perceived in the political landscape.
As the leader of the federal Conservative party, R.B. was also now the leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons. He had a huge job ahead of him. He set out to rebuild the party into an efficient political machine that could lead the country.