The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Mar 1968, p. 386-395
Diefenbaker, The Rt. Hon. John G., Speaker
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Some personal views and beliefs, indicative of the speaker's general philosophy. Some conclusions of the recent Federal-Provincial Conference. Some of the principles being advocated. Some of the speaker's views on other questions of constitutional amendment. A summation of the feelings, trends, aspirations, and sentiments of the Canadian people as the speaker knows them. The kind of leadership needed.
Date of Original
28 Mar 1968
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Full Text
MARCH 28, 1968
The Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
The President, Graham M. Gore


It is difficult not to feel redundant when confronted, as I am today, with the formidable task of introducing a man who has become a legend in his own lifetime - a man who has served this country as Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, as Prime Minister, and as Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, and who is still busy in public life as the Member of Parliament for his home constituency of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

I refer, of course, to that great Canadian, The Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, whose remarkable career already occupies a special place in the annals of Canada and who honours us with his presence on this occasion.

In the world of the drama, they speak about a mysterious element called "presence" - a magnetic aura that surrounds certain personalities and causes them to be the centre of attention whenever and wherever they appear on the scene. Mr. Diefenbaker has "presence" - he has it in abundance, as he has demonstrated time and time again. He also has the gift of oratory, the passion of conviction, and a comprehensive knowledge of this country's history. In the time at my disposal I cannot begin to give an extensive biography of our speaker or to list all the honours conferred upon him. Suffice to say that he was born on September 8th, 1895, in Grey County in Ontario, and raised in Saskatchewan. After obtaining arts and law degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, and serving his country as a soldier overseas in World War I, he was called to the Bar of Saskatchewan in 1919. Later he became a Member of the Bar in Alberta, in British Columbia, and in Ontario, and was made a King's Counsel in 1929.

After a brilliant career in the courtrooms of this country Mr. Diefenbaker turned to politics. In 1940 he was elected to the House of Commons and there his energy, his courage, and his ability to search out the truth, combined with his skills as a speaker and debater, make him one of our great parliamentarians.

In December 1956 Mr. Diefenbaker was chosen to head the Progressive Conservative Party and was Leader of the Opposition until April 1957. Under his dynamic leadership, the Progressive Conservatives scored a great victory in the federal election of June 10, 1957 and Mr. Diefenbaker was called upon to be Prime Minister. His government was re-elected in 1958 and again in 1962. In the election of 1963, the Progressive Conservative Party failed to gain a majority and Mr. Diefenbaker assumed the office of Leader of the Opposition, from which position he resigned on September 25, 1967.

His years as Prime Minister were years of solid achievement-to name only two great pieces of legislation: the first Canadian Bill of Rights and the setting up of the Federal-Provincial Technical and Vocational Training Agreement. This Agreement has been a great benefit to the young people in the city. We can point to many new secondary schools which cost millions of dollars but were built at no direct cost to the Toronto taxpayer: and most important, those schools provide services and programmes for people who in previous times would have been failures and dropouts from schools. It is not possible to estimate the benefit to society of the future which these educational developments will provide in the field of personal worth and social and economic value.

To list all of Mr. Diefenbaker's honours and degrees would be to make a catalogue of the honours a man can aspire to in this country. Among many things he is a Privy Counsellor, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, an Honorary Life Member of the Canadian Bar Association, and an Honorary Freeman of the City of London, England. He holds honorary degrees from numerous universities in Canada and abroad and is an Honorary Chief of the Cree and Sioux Indians.

In this era of incrasing change we hear much about the breaking down of old traditions and institutions. We hear about the damage the Puritan tradition has done to our society and our citizens. We hear perhaps less about certain elements of that tradition-those virtues of courage, honesty, and determination that lend permanence and vitality to a society-those virtues which are part and parcel of the person of John G. Diefenbaker. Mr. Diefenbaker has chosen to speak to us today about the future of Canada, and it is my privilege to bring him before you at this time.

Gentlemen - may I present a dominant political figure of our time, a man of Parliament, a brilliant lawyer, a man who represents the best in the Puritan tradition, and most of all, a dedicated Canadian - The Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker.


I intend to speak of the institutions which we inherited or received from Great Britain, and which are being challenged: the Crown, the Constitution and the Courts.

We live in an age of political, intellectual and religious doubt, with our institutions being exposed to challenge. We live in a world of insecurity, fear and doubt. People are asking for novelty and newness based on experiment and not experience. There are those who would sweep away everything that is traditional and that has made this country great. Some believe in change for the sake of change. I believe that we should lop away the withered branch of the national tree, but not destroy the trunk. I believe "it is not necessary to change, unless it is necessary to change". Honesty and frankness and moral courage demand that one speak out words of warning before it is too late. I have always taken the stand from earliest days that:

Recognition of the two cultures of the parent races was, and must remain at the very basis of Confederation.

I have tried to be fair in my approach to the problem, and at the same time to be frank. I speak as one who has always contended that the rights of minorities should be preserved and protected from injustice. I have given a lifetime, as my abilities have permitted, to strengthening the unity of this nation, and to bring an end to the discrimination too often obvious against those whose name or ancestry is other than that of the two basic races.

I hope you will excuse some personal references which I mention as indicative of my general philosophy. I stood for the public school rights of the French language in Saskatchewan when it was unpopular. The Law Reports show that in 1922 I took an appeal against a conviction of French Trustees who were unlawfully charged with permitting French to be used in a public school beyond what was deemed to be existent under the law. It was unpopular to take that stand, but I took it because it was right.

When I occupied the Prime Ministership in this nation, I did my part to bring about fairness and justice to French Canada, although at all times of the opinion that one of the major sources of discontent in French Canada is and has been economic.

I became a Member in 1940, and until 1957 when members spoke in French many members took a walk. After I took office the House of Commons was made bilingual by the installation of simultaneous translation.

It was my recommendation that made the first French Canadian Governor General.

I supported strongly that a large share of the positions in the higher echelons of the Civil Service and in External Affairs should be made available to French Canada, and they were. Bilingual cheques, which had been asked for over the years, were provided for.

Three years ago the Fulton-Favreau formula came before a Dominion-Provincial Conference and was accepted. Every Provincial Premier accepted it. I stood against it. The provinces rushed pelf-melt into resolutions and addresses accepting the principles it contained to amend the Constitution. The Legislature of Ontario passed a resolution approving an Address of the Senate and the House of Commons that had never been before Parliament. The Legislative Assembly of the Province of Quebec was in favour of the formula; the Legislative Council was known to be against it. An endeavour was made by the Lesage Government to bypass Parliament by requesting an amendment to abolish the Legislative Council, or at least to curtail its powers. It was a backdoor method of amendment of the Constitution; it did not succeed, and finally there came a realization that if the formula had been accepted the Constitution would be embalmed for all generations, and there would be no possibility of any amendment. It would have been so easy for me to take the other stand and to support it and to be free thereby from attacks.

I have travelled widely in Quebec. I like its people, their spirit and hospitality. I do not believe that the spirit of separatism is general, and in my view only a very small percentage of the population of Quebec have any serious addiction to separatism. Canadians know where the separatists stand. I regard as almost equally perilous to national unity, those who while condemning separatism, use separatism as a smoke screen behind which they endeavour to advance their desire to secure more and more demands. I feel that with the passing days more and more French Canadians realize that separation will mean economic disaster to the people of Quebec.

The recent Conferences at Toronto and Ottawa were forward steps, although not very much tangibly was achieved. The Ontario Conference made the provinces aware that the time was ripe for the representatives of the provinces to deal with national affairs and national interest, and having made changes in Ontario increased the hopes of French-speaking Canadians to achieve the language and culture in other parts of the country.

What did the Federal-Provincial Conference in February attain? It finalized little and did not confront the question of an overhaul of the Constitution, but it did arrive at certain conclusions.

1. A consensus was arrived at as to the rights of the French language in schools across the country.
2. Continuing constitutional conferences with its membership consisting of the Prime Minister and the premiers of the provinces were set up.
3. Special committees to study a Charter of Human Rights, redistribution of powers, procedures to amend the Constitution, and measures to reform the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada.

What are some of the diversive principles that are being advocated?

1. The first is the principle of "Two Nations". I do not criticize the right of those to hold the view that Canada is two nations. Such a concept was never in the mind of Cartier, Langevin, Doherty, Laurier, Lapointe, or St. Laurent. Canada was two nations before the Act of Union in 1841. It was because this concept had failed that the Fathers of Confederation determined Canada should be one Nation. The "Two Nations" concept, if accepted, would mean that six million Canadians of racial origins other than the parent races would be secondclass citizens.
2. There are those who want to abolish the Monarchy. A recent example of the attitude of some people was revealed when one of Canada's leaders, when asked why he had not voted on a motion to abolish the Queen in a recent political meeting in Montreal, stated: "I did not think, while it was important enough, I was not going to do anything to oppose the trend. I place it (the monarchy) below skiing and snow-shoeing." It has been said that I am sitting in my last Parliament. Be that as it may, I shall stand against the abolition of the Crown and against the establishment of a republic so long as I live.

I have contended for twenty years that the Canadian Constitution should be made in Canada. As Prime Minister I tried to bring it about that the Constitution be patriated, and almost succeeded. Changes require to be made in that portion of the Constitution which is embodied in the British North America Act, but such changes should not diminish or emasculate the authority of the Federal Parliament or Government.

I do not believe the provinces should have the right to enter into treaty arrangements with foreign nations.

Some of my views on other questions of constitutional amendment may be summed up thus:

(a) I do not accept the conception that the provinces should have full control over social security. The Government of Quebec wishes to regain control of all social security programmes. The present Government of Canada avers that it must continue to be responsible for old age pensions and unemployment insurance, so as to ensure equality among all Canadians - a stand which I believe deserves support.
(b) I believe in a constitutional Bill of Rights, but not one which will make the rights of citizenship dependent on whether the province one lives in has opted in or opted out.
(c) I am opposed to the alteration, on a racial basis, in the composition of the Supreme Court of Canada. I see no justification to tinker with the juris diction or method of appointment of the Supreme Court of Canada, or to limit its jurisdiction to other than constitutional matters. Nor do I accept the idea that a Constitutional Court should be set up to determine matters of disagreement. The Supreme Court of Canada has never been subject to any suggestion that its judgments have been decided on other than strictly judicial grounds. In my opinion the Supreme Court has earned and deserves the high prestige in which it is held. If changed in its composition as advocated in some quarters, the Supreme Court of Canada would be adopting the authority of the Supreme Court of the United States and become a law maker and "an arbitrator of social doctrine by judicial interpretation".
(d) I believe in reform of the Senate, but not to bring about a new basis of numerical membership on a racial basis or by partial nomination by the provinces.
(e) I do not accept the view that the provinces should have any authority in determining radio and television stations, or that members of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or any members of the Board of Broadcast Governors, should be appointed by any province.
(f) I believe that for any province to have or exercise authority over international affairs woud result in Canada speaking in two voices. To do so would destroy the concept that the Federal Government speaks for all Canada. Nor should provincial governments be invited to participate in Canadian delegations, or international organizations. To do so would be to confer an international personality on the provinces -something never contemplated by the Fathers of Confederation.

Only legally binding agrements internationally can be made by the Federal Government, but I do not deny that the province deserves the courtesy of being consulted when its rights may be an issue. As an example, when the terms of the Columbia River Treaty were being discussed, British Columbia had representatives on the Federal-Provincial negotiating team.

To summarize:

If I know the feelings, trends, aspirations, and sentiments of the Canadian people,

1. They will not permit the Monarchy to be swept aside and a republic substituted.
2. They will not give their support to constitutional changes that will split Canada into two separate states.
3. They will not permit the weakening of the national government or the erosion of its powers over defence, trade, communications and banking to be turned over to the provinces.
4. They will not bestow a special status to any one province that is denied to others. Canadian leaders must face the great issues of Confederation with compassion, with understanding, wisdom, and with firmness and courage. They must be neither hawks nor doves nor chickens. Each of us in his day and generation must endeavour to leave footsteps on the sands of history, but such footsteps are only left by men of courage. There is no record of pussy-foot steps ever leaving any significant mark on history. Only if we in our generation act in a spirit of conciliation without appeasement, will Canadians of the future be able to look back with gratitude on what we have done to make Canada ever greater in its mandate for freedom.

We must try to bring about constitutional agreement by each one speaking with frankness, candor, and forthrightness which will merit the definition of truth that was given by Sir William Osler:

"The truth is the best that you can get with your best endeavour - the best that best men accept."

The Canadian people need to have the facts so that with knowledge and wisdom the decisions regarding Canada's future will be made for the benefit not of the few, but for all Canadians. Canada's high destiny can only be achieved when these problems are met in a spirit of sacrifice for the national good, rather than by fruitless compromise.

History records that the road to international disunity is strewn with skeletons of appeasement.

Canada will never achieve its destiny if the determination of its constitutional policies is made as a result of political vacillation masquerading as statesmanship.

Mr. Diefenbaker received a standing ovation.

by R. H. Hilborn.

Thanks of the meeting were expressed

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Some personal views and beliefs, indicative of the speaker's general philosophy. Some conclusions of the recent Federal-Provincial Conference. Some of the principles being advocated. Some of the speaker's views on other questions of constitutional amendment. A summation of the feelings, trends, aspirations, and sentiments of the Canadian people as the speaker knows them. The kind of leadership needed.