Those Things We Treasure
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Mar 1972, p. 296-311
Diefenbaker, The Right Honourable John G., Speaker
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Item Type
Humorous and anecdotal review of Mr. Diefenbaker's experiences as a Canadian politician. A historical viewpoint with a focus on what has changed for the worse. Many topics are covered. Some highlights follow. A belief that Canada's institutions and constitutional principles are being challenged from within. A defense of the monarchy. The rights of Parliament. The British North America Act. The Avro Arrow controversy. Quebec. Canada's relationship with the United States. Canada for Canadians.
Date of Original
9 Mar 1972
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Full Text
MARCH 9, 1972
Those Things We Treasure
AN ADDRESS BY The Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, P.C., Q.C., M.P., D.LITT., D.C.L., LL.D., F.R.S.C., F.R.S.A., FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
CHAIRMAN The President, Henry N. R. Jackman


It will not have escaped your attention that many of those who are at the Head Table today can be described as the "class of 1957"--it now falls on me to say a few words about the Headmaster.

More has been written and said about John Diefenbaker than any Canadian in history. His career more than any other figure in public life today, represents the finest tradition of Canada's pioneer spirit of self-reliance and determination.

When our guest was a small boy, the Diefenbaker family left the relative comfort of southern Ontario and went to northern Saskatchewan at a time when the North West Rebellion was still fresh in our memories, when Red River carts were still being used along the Battleford Trail, and the horizonless prairie seemed to offer little to the settlers but the remnants of the rapidly vanishing buffalo herds. And there, some eighty miles north of Saskatoon, at Fort Carlton, the elder Diefenbaker homesteaded a quartersection when $10 plus a commitment to stand by the land alone and unaided if need be--one could, with hard work and God's providence, build a future.

Our guest today suffered the privations of those early pioneer days, but John Diefenbaker worked, and studied, and read,--and reached the realization that one day he might be called upon to share his deep convictions with the people of Canada.

His rise in Saskatchewan politics was far from meteoric. Defeated five times for elected office, he finally achieved success when in 1940, he was elected to Parliament for the constituency of Lake Centre. In Parliament, as in his practice of law, he always championed the cause of the underdog, reflecting his belief that the promise of Canada would ring hollow if justice were not available for all. His years in Opposition were not easy--often he was considered a radical and unorthodox by his own Party--and leadership was twice denied him.

But when in 1957, leadership could no longer be denied, he spoke of his vision of the greatness and potential of this country, asking all Canadians to join with him to bring about the achievement of their own destiny. After twentytwo years of Liberal government, long since grown complacent, John Diefenbaker struck a chord in the nation's subconscious and by 1958 he achieved the conquest of a generation and was afforded the greatest majority ever gained under our free parliamentary system--either before or sine. Always a great orator, he was able to put into words the secret cravings of a nation. His faith in Canada was never doubted. His concern for the less fortunate was never questioned.

It was never easy to have a neutral opinion about John Diefenbaker. Some have said that he believed too strongly, for deep felt convictions bring forth strong reactions and by 1963, facing the open hostility of the nation's press and the desertion of many of his own followers, he once again stood alone. Considering the forces that were ranged against him, perhaps his 1963 campaign represented his greatest personal triumph, and as the years have passed, John Diefenbaker has taken his place in Canadian history.

Those of you who are familiar with Shakespeare's "King John" may remember that the play chronicles a rather weary account of King John's barons fighting among themselves and rebelling against their sovereign. But in the final scene, when faced with external danger, the barons come back again and on bended knee, pay homage to their chieftain and the play closes with the lines:

"This country never did, nor never shall, Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, But when it first did help to wound itself, Now these her princes have come home again. Come the three corners of the world in arms, And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue, If we unto ourselves do rest but true."

If John Diefenbaker ever leaves public life, a little bit of all of us will go with him, but what will remain as part of the legacy which belongs to each and every Canadian, will be our increased awareness of the meaning and the potential of this great country of ours and for this reason, I have a very high honour to present to you--the former Prime Minister of Canada--John Diefenbaker.


Mr. President, members of the Privy Council, Mr. Mayor--no one could help but be touched by an introduction such as that and the welcome that you have given me. You mentioned, Mr. President, that sometime when I am gone--there will be some part of Canada--that will have lost something. Well--we won't worry about that possibility in the immediate future. (applause)

If my friend Rabbi Monson will allow me to clear this situation up once and for all--a few years ago a Jewish congregation gave me an award--"The Tree of Life"--a magnificent thing--no gentile had ever received one. After the presentation I naturally asked what it meant. He said it meant I would live as long as Moses. (applause)

Well, Dr. Mutchmor, I did not have you there to help me out--so I had to ask, "What do you mean by that?" He said, "According to the Thirty-first chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses lived to one hundred and twenty years." Mr. President, when that news got back to Ottawa (applause)--well--and so I say to you, Mr. President, to clarify the situation.

I would like to refer to various people on the platform here, the guests, but I am going to have to restrict myself to two. One is my boy friend--he is three days younger than me--the Honourable Leslie Frost, (applause),--a man for whom I have a tremendous admiration. Last evening I was unable to be at a Club meeting honouring Sir John A. Macdonald, because I was not permitted by my doctor to leave Ottawa so I say to the President of that organization, and to Mr. Richardson, how deeply I regretted not being there.

I come to you today to speak to a Club that I have spoken to on a number of occasions over the years. You mentioned something of my earlier days. Well I can tell you this: My forebearers were in York in 1816 and I lived in Todmorden where my father was a teacher from 1900 to 1903. There were twenty-eight youngsters in that all-grade school and when I arrived in the House of Commons there were four of us sitting on the same side out of the twenty-eight. Mr. Mackenzie King, whose father taught in the Primer, sat opposite. (laughter)

My father was the only teacher in Canada's history that ever taught two Prime Ministers and I am not going to discuss with you at the moment in which case he made the biggest mistake. (laughter)

However, I have a deep affection for Toronto, Mr. Mayor, but I have been disturbed by recent events. Who could have ever believed a few years ago or dreamed of the fact that Toronto would have an international airport 360 miles away in South West Quebec? (laughter)

I don't want to enter into any controversial matters because I am not built that way--but I spent several years in Greenwood and Pickering Townships and I understand the resentment of the people there, that beautiful land, whose forebearers in their magnificent homes have lived there for generations. Who would ever have dreamed that in Toronto the Good in 1972 the Rochdale College would be in existence, more suicides than graduates (laughter) and they are receiving $270,000. from the LIP program. If this was not a gentlemanly meeting at which I was free to speak I would define "LIP" but I won't. There they are receiving money for all kinds of things under the sun, crackpots, parasites, draftdodgers;--Hamilton, Mrs. Fairclough, isn't far behind. (laughter) There, $40,000. has been made available to a chap who is to produce two communist plays to be used in schools and libraries--And In Ottawa--I have to tell you what we have there. (laughter) We have a chap, a French citizen, three years in Canada, who gets $280. a week to tell the people of Ottawa how to be poor. We don't need any help with taxes being at the present levels.

Now, I want to deal today with a number of matters that I feel have to be discussed. I hope you will bear with me because I am not going to make a partisan speech. I am going to speak as a Canadian, seeing things happening today that disturb me and disturb Canadians everywhere. This Club preserves the traditions of the past, maintains the present and looks forward to the future. I have never been frightened to say what I have to say because I might fear being described as a bigot. You know--I like a nice spirit of tolerance where we do not say harsh things about each other, where nobody speaks out--where everybody is happy. I was greatly disturbed recently by the confrontation between the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of British Columbia. They got into an argument, (I am not going into that) but it was a private argument. I would like to have seen rather a St. Valentine's day card. I thought now, isn't there some way in which they could have said these things about each other without being so personal and I place this before you for what it is worth. There is a cartoon--a Valentine--from the Prime Minister to the Premier of British Columbia "To the great big bigot of the Big B.C., (laughter), a handful of horseradish and a stinging bee"; (laughter) and then I can see Premier Bennett replying: "Roses are rouge"--he never uses French = "Roses are rouge, violets are bleu, Bennett is great, the bigot is you". (applause) Now, in that way we would have that friendly relationship that we always had, Mr. Frost. (applause)

I am one of those who believe that there comes a time when one must speak. I am concerned about my country, not in a partisan sense but I wonder where are we going? My views may not be shared by too many of you but I am of an age when I must speak out and say what I have to say. How many of you in your heart of hearts have been asking yourselves in recent years where are we going? What of our institutions? What of Parliament which consists of Her Majesty, the Senate, and the House of Commons. Where are we going?

Well, you would be surprised in Parliament today. In the old days some listened. Today's speeches are read with the exception of those of some who are on this very platform. We don't do that. It has become a place where there is no debate. There is no clash of arms. I just mentioned a moment ago and I interpolate this. I was with Churchill in his home on the day his great political enemy died, Aneurin Bevan. Dr. Morin came in and said "Winston, Nye Bevan has just died". Churchill said "That is very sad". Ten minutes later in came one of his secretaries and said the press would like to know in your heart of hearts, Sir Winston, what you thought of Aneurin Bevan. And the reply was "Are you sure he's dead?" (laughter)

Well, where are we going? Well, I think of Parliament in the days when there were debates that would change the views of government. When I was Prime Minister we used to change regularly after listening to the Opposition. That is the only way in which Parliament can function because members are not ciphers--they are not puppets and they have no excuse for not standing for the things in which they believe.

Oh, I think of some of the funny things in Parliament and I will be speaking more seriously later but I think of Mackenzie King. Mackenzie King was a bachelor and of course Mr. Bennett was a bachelor. We had a member by the name of Billy Assaly who was blind but he could recognize every member in the House by his voice. He loved all mankind. He left his entire estate to help the poor children in Kootenay; but the one group that he didn't like was the Doukobours and this day he was discussing how terrible the Doukobours were and he heard from across the way somebody laugh. Mackenzie King had a little laugh all of his own, "heh, heh, heh" (laughter)--that was before politicians had to develop the Pepsodent look (laughter) and he said "The Prime Minister laughs". Sitting almost directly across, he said "I asked him this question. What will he do some morning if he were to arrive out at Kingsmere and see half a dozen Doukobour women totally devoid of all raiment?" King said "Is that a question or a rhetorical one?" (laughter) Billy Assaly very seriously said "It is a question I would like answered". And the Prime Minister said, "I would immediately call in The Right Honourable, the Leader of the Opposition" and the House just chuckled and laughed. Bennett got up in all his full pride and said "Mr. Speaker, as usual, the Prime Minister exaggerates. (laughter) Dispensing patronage outside of his party has never been a characteristic in the past". (laughter)

Those are the living things. Parliament only lives so long as men and women stand for what they believe in. Parliament isn't business. Parliament has a soul. It represents the freedom of Canadians as a whole.

Mr. President, I am concerned about Parliament. I am not concerned when there is a clash of arms, when you come out second best in a clash of arms without the use of language that is not ordinarily heard in Parliament. I wouldn't be afraid to speak out because of the danger of being called a bigot but I would not be prepared to use language that has no place in the Parliament of Canada and I offer this as a suggestion because after all traditions are built up in this way.

In the United Kingdom in 1968 it was found out that right outside the door of the House of Commons there was a bowl of snuff. It had been there ever since the days of Charles the 1st and as the Members came in who partook of snuff they had their sniff. In 1968, they were going to abolish it. It cost £5 a year. Now, there was a great uproar in the House of Commons and the snuff box was maintained and I make this as a suggestion today: at the rate we are going in the House of Commons we should have provided outside the door a strong detergent, a mouthwash. (applause)

I have been in the House of Commons for thirty-two years and I have seen the greatness of that institution. I did not always agree with those sitting opposite but they were great parliamentarians. Mackenzie King, Chubby Power, Ralston, Ilsley, Gardiner. Parliament lived. The clash of arms,--the discussion brought about change. Many of the suggestions came from the Opposition and they were accepted. Today people wonder why Parliament is not a living, vital place. It cannot be with speeches read, composed by ghost writers.

I am reminded of the United States Senator who by the course of time and a succession of elections finally rose to the top and became Chairman of the foremost Committee of the United States Senate. Everybody was disturbed how this man who had little knowledge of foreign affairs could occupy this position. He hired himself a ghost writer, a highly paid ghost writer. The first speech he delivered, his brother senators were tremendously impressed. They said "We never knew it was in the man". The second one was in the same category and then he wrote a letter to his ghost writer and he said "Those two speeches you prepared were tremendous but"--he said--"I wish from now on you would write them in a little simpler language so I will know what I am talking about as I read them." (laughter) That annoyed the ghost writer no end. The next speech the Senator made he never read it until he got to the top of page eight and it said "From now on, you old buzzard, you are on your own". (applause)

Well now then, with all the sincerity I can place in my words I say to you this--Our institutions and our constitutional principles are being challenged today from within. There is a trend to state authoritarianism with an ever fattening bureaucracy and our constitution and our institutions are not being destroyed by actual operations but surreptiously.

I look at the great trees of the West Coast, tremendous trees, a thousand years old, eight hundred years old. You don't have to cut them down to destroy them, just remove the bark continuously and ultimately the tree will die and that is what is happening. Institutions in our country are being surreptiously undermined and weakened by erosion. The subtle means is much more effective than a direct one but the result will be the same.

I mention the Monarchy because this Empire Club stands for our great institutions and I am not here to argue how beneficial a Monarch is. That would take me quite a long time, but Where are we going?

I think of the Secretary of State who is in charge of the Great Seal of Canada who in a statement made not long ago said this: "We have been accused of suppressing the Canadian Coat of Arms and it really doesn't matter. We could put Schenley's Coat of Arms on government buildings and no one would know the difference. These symbols do not mean a thing in the twentieth century."

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has now had removed from its buildings and from its vehicles the "R.C.M." and all that is left is "Police" with a Coat of Arms. Where are we going?

Under the Constitution, the British North America Act, a provision is made that the executive government in authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and to be vested in the Queen. What about the documents being issued today under the plan of what I call administrative erosion? Up to 1969, the book that is used by all government authorities is "The Organization of the Government of Canada" these words appear:

"The executive power in Canada is vested in the Queen by the British North America Act." That is no longer there. It was changed last year. The Constitution says that the executive power is vested in the Queen. The new wording is as follows: "The executive power in Canada is exercised by the Cabinet and carried out in the name of the Governor-General who acts formally on the advice of the Privy Council".

Let me give you another example. In 1969 the Canadian Yearbook stated about the Governor-General, that the primary responsibility of the Governor-General is to provide the nation with a cabinet or ministry capable of conducting Her Majesty's government with the support of the House of Commons; and that is correct. In the latest issue that is just out--that has been removed and the new wording is "The primary responsibility of the Governor-General is to provide the nation with a government capable of carrying on".

Oh yes, Information Canada put out a booklet "How Canadians Govern Themselves". I bought one of those recently. I was interested to know this. On page three it says we are no longer a Dominion. The Constitution has not been changed; it says we are. The Statute of Westminster has not changed and it says we are. The Canadian Declaration of War in 1939 said we were a Dominion. There, in Information Canada, it is removed.

And the Royal Mail is no more. The uniforms of our Armed Forces have been altered because they bore a similarity to British uniforms. Where are we going?

Now, if you are going to bring about the end of the Monarchy in Canada the people have the right to speak, not administrators. It can't be done without the consent of the House of Commons, the Senate and all of the Provinces of Canada, so instead of doing it directly it is being done indirectly.

Mr. President, in the last few days in the Speech from the Throne there was an interesting thing. A committee of both Houses said that there should be joint action on the two anthems, the Canadian national anthem, "Oh Canada", and the Royal anthem, "God Save the Queen". In the Speech from the Throne it says we are going to deal with "O Canada". Where are we going? Is it not about time that the people started to speak out?

I said I was not going to argue about the benefits of the Governor-General-but one whom all of us respect, Vincent Massey, once said "The Crown played some part, large or small, in everybody's life. The rights of the Monarchy are indestructible and provide the quality of give and take vital to the working of government".

Canada has always been a Monarchy, first under France and then under England and now under our Queen so the first thing I place before you is the situation regarding the Monarchy.

Then I come to the Constitution. The British North America Act is our Constitution with the exception of those things that are generally acceptable to the parliamentary form of government. I took strong stands on behalf of French Canada when I was a member of the bar. When it was unpopular to do so I fought a case in 1922 (and that is in the Law Reports) Butain vs. Mackie, where trustees were prosecuted for teaching too much French.

When I became Prime Minister I pointed out that to a great extent the constitutional rights of French Canada were being denied. We brought about simultaneous translation. It was my recommendation that brought about the nomination of General Vanier as Governor-General of Canada. How strange things work. I was receiving an honorary degree from the University of Montreal at the hands of Cardinal Leger and I saw in the audience General Vanier and I asked him to see me. I had always been impressed with his record in war and peace.

I had realized that there was not a fair share of French Canadians in the higher brackets of the civil service and the foreign service and we changed that.--But, I have to tell you this (you may disagree with it)--I took the stand that the language provisions required a constitutional amendment. If they had to be changed--by constitution not by a statute of Parliament that is simply dreamed up when one has a majority in the House of Commons and a majority in the Senate to push it through. I voted against the bill because of that. I asked the Government to submit the question to the Supreme Court of Canada as to whether or not it required a constitutional amendment. The Government refused. The Minister of Justice told me "Well, if we are wrong anybody can challenge it in the courts". I said "That can't be done. You can't do it". Mr. Justice Thorson questioned it and it has been defeated because of the fact that a private person cannot challenge the Act, whether or not it is in effect.

I have taken stands that are not popular. Right here in Toronto how I was condemned over the Avro Arrow because I said the day of the bomber is over. It is a hard thing to say. The Avro Arrow could go two hundred and fifty miles out and then fly back. That will never defend Canada against intercontinental missiles. The day of the bomber is over. I took the same stand on the Bomarc because changes had taken place in the intervening years. I said we are not going to take nuclear weapons because if we do, if that family ever expands, the result will be all over the world some little nation will get nuclear weapons and then we will be into a world holocaust.

A leader has to take stands. It is not a popularity contest. Well, I know again there will be a disagreement on what I am going to say on the Victoria Charter. I opposed that. All across Canada the provincial governments accepted it except for the Premier of Quebec and I think Premier Bourassa was right although for different reasons than I would have given. I want you to look at that Charter. If it had come into effect it would have meant that the Bill of Rights would have been reduced to virtual inacuity. Second: They were going to have Supreme Court Judges appointed as a result of consultation with the provinces because apparently they felt that judges would come to conclusions on the basis of their geographical address. Third: Saskatchewan and Manitoba would be secondclass provinces because we would have no right in connection with amendments to the Constitution because the provision is that the four western provinces be joined together if they have more than fifty per cent of the population of all four. We would never have that in my time and generation. And finally: The protection of education which the English language has in the Province of Quebec under the British North America Act would have been removed.

You may say it is all very well to say this but what would you have done? Well, with my colleagues on this platform we did have a plan. In February of 1963 invitations were sent out for a national conference. My government was defeated before the conference could be convened. What I had in mind was that the representatives would not sit for one day, one week or one month. They would not be sitting under the glare of TV lights because nobody can express his opinion. If everybody is looking in--you cannot change your view. You have to stand. The conference would meet, it would preserve the principles of Confederation, bring up to date those portions of the institution of the Constitution which are no longer applicable, and re-state Canada's goals. Everything else has failed now--And I come back to what was suggested in 1963 because I believe if we were to convene such a meeting representative of federal and provincial governments and also of great national organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion, The Canadian Club, The St. Jean Baptiste Society, The Empire Club and the like, we would be able to come to an agreement that would place Canada free from the trammels of its present position,--to bring about for all of us, one Canada, one nation--no special status but equal status for all.

Finally: It would also state, as the Fathers of Confederation determined it should state, that no province once joining Confederation can of itself withdraw.

Now, internationally I am concerned about our position relative to the United States. Now, they said that I was anti-American. Oh I just saw the picture of the yacht. Have you ever seen some of the cartoons? Satan's liable to sue (laughter). They said I was wrong when I spoke to the President of the United States, when he said we are not going to sell wheat to Communist China. I said we are. He said "Where are you going to get the loaders?" He had blocked the only place we could get them from, an American subsidiary in Canada. I said "I want the loaders by tomorrow".

Go to the United States today if you want to find an attitude to Canada. No nation in all history has ever contributed more for people than has the United States since the Second World War. Blood and treasure all over the world.--But human nature being what it is, they don't get the credit for it and there is nothing more disturbing to an American than not to have public appreciation shown for what has been done.

I could understand our leaders speaking in Moscow saying we fear the United States economically. I can understand that. And how we fear the United States culturally, I can understand that. But, Mr. President, I cannot understand the next part of the statement that we fear them even militarily. That caused a feeling of resentment that goes all the way down among the people of the United States at this time--We don't have to cuddle up to the United States but we should realize that our freedom and the freedom all over the world of free men ultimately rests today on the United States.

About American investment in Canada. Well, I take the view as I always did that we welcome American investment. During my period of office, I was anti-American because I dared to say Canada must make clear that Canadian subsidiaries must observe Canadian law and should make their policies in Canada and in no other nation, however friendly.

We find ourselves today, in a position where across the line in the United States people ask "What do you want?" "What does Canada want?" "What have we failed to do?"

Mr. President, I want to see Canadians stand up as Canadians but that does not mean that we should be doing those things which cannot but activate feelings of antipathy and mistrust between our nation and the United States of America.

Now, I have just touched two or three problems. I have barely touched them. But I am deeply concerned,--I repeat, of where my country is going. I am deeply concerned when I hear the United States referred to as being an elephant in bed with us. While we fear the elephant, can we noodle up to a bear? Where are we going?

I would say a great deal more if I pulled out all the stops. I have no longer anything politically to gain. I have had everything that can be given to any person, but, Mr. President, my country and your country demands that we speak out or forever hold our peace. Wipe out the Monarchy either by erosion or by direct destruction. End Parliament as an institution for debate instead of it being a pawn in the hands of a powerful Cabinet. Let us raise our standards. Let us see the Canada that I dream--for I will never live to see it. I had that dream the President mentioned when I was a boy when I talked with Sir Wilfred. I am not going into that. You can read that in his biography--except that afternoon when they laid the cornerstone at the University he said "You have interesting newsboys here. I met one here this morning, John Diefenbaker. I bought a paper from him and I invited him to my car and we talked for thirty minutes and finally he said "Prime Minister, I can't waste any more time". I had work to do. (applause)

Mr. President, forty-six years later my car, as Prime Minister of Canada, was parked in the same place. Canada, your country and mine--where is that spirit of other days? What is happening to the hopes and aspirations of Canadians, the humblest of our people.--It becomes a personal challenge from your heart of hearts--are we going the direction you want us to go? Will Canada achieve the destiny it ought to? Whatever months or years I have ahead--will be devoted entirely to trying to speak for Canada to Canadians.

- Applause.

Mr. Diefenbaker was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada by Mr. J. A. William Whiteacre, M.M., C.D., Q.C.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As John Diefenbaker never followed a prepared text, much of his oratory which is considered to be among the most effective in Canadian political history, runs the risk of being lost to posterity.

The above transcription of a tape of his remarks is one of the relatively few verbatim accounts of a major address by the former Prime Minister givers outside the House of Commons.

The subject matter of his address, the defence of the monarchy, the preservation of the rights of Parliament, even the humour, were all familiar to his audience, most of whom had heard Mr. Diefenbaker many times before. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of his oratory had not diminished and his remarks were greeted by a standing ovation by the largest audience to greet an Empire Club Speaker for many years.

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Those Things We Treasure

Humorous and anecdotal review of Mr. Diefenbaker's experiences as a Canadian politician. A historical viewpoint with a focus on what has changed for the worse. Many topics are covered. Some highlights follow. A belief that Canada's institutions and constitutional principles are being challenged from within. A defense of the monarchy. The rights of Parliament. The British North America Act. The Avro Arrow controversy. Quebec. Canada's relationship with the United States. Canada for Canadians.