BTC: Again with the Diefenbaker


As reported elsewhere today, Canada’s next great ice-breaking vessel is to be named for our 13th Prime Minister, John George Diefenbaker, to whom our present PM seems to have taken a certain fondness.

On the BBQ circuit last week, he changed a line from his Levis speech about lowering the tax burden to its lowest point since Trudeau to include mention of Dief. He now also, in making the Conservative claim to compassionate governance, lauds Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights. And speaking this week, now obviously in a wink to today’s announcement, he found an excuse to reference the Chief.

What to make of this?

On a very practical level, referencing Diefenbaker may simply be a matter of necessity. The three Conservative prime ministers between Harper and Diefenbaker are as follows: Campbell, Mulroney, Clark. In other words, Harper’s speechwriters have to reach back to Diefenbaker to find a Conservative it’s presently acceptable to mention in mixed company.

There are otherwise perhaps some anecdotal comparisons to be made between the two Prime Ministers (both Western boys, neither particularly warm or photogenic), but you might be hard-pressed to make them amount to much. There is, though, this.

Bereft of much else, Diefenbaker ran 50 years ago, after dissolving his own minority government, on a vision called “Canada of the North.” Similarly, this Prime Minister’s men have promised that the seemingly inevitable campaign of 2008 will focus on an aggressive look upward. The timing of this week’s trip is surely convenient in this regard. (One of Harper’s least objectionable ministers already referenced Diefenbaker’s call-to-arms a few months ago.)

“There were flaws in the scheme, and little of the new national policy would ever be fully realized,” P.E. Bryden writes of Diefenbaker’s ’58 campaign, “but it caught the imagination of the electorate in ways that Pearson’s rather inchoate ‘Plan’ never did.” 

Indeed. And it has surely not escaped the Prime Minister’s men that Diefenbaker trounced his overwhelmed and unprepared rival (the diminutive and cerebral Lester B. Pearson) that year, to the tune of the second largest majority in Canadian history.


BTC: Again with the Diefenbaker

  1. And yet the lisping and cerebral former diplomat (who was a veteran and Nobel Laureate) hung on and become Prime Minister and is arguably much more fondly remembered and introduced many more lasting measures than the Chief.

  2. Dief the Chief : Being 54 I remember him only just a little as it was just after the end of his career and people were just starting to say nice things about him (this always happens)shortly after is when I started to get interested in politics he had a lot of support and was canny and powerful politician who definitely made his mark and I can see why Harper admires and emulates him and I wonder who Dion’s hero is? … anyone know Trudeau maybe no on second thought that’s too easy

  3. I’m convinced Wayne has a direct hotline to the PMO Bureau of Talking Points.

  4. Hey Dean maybe my name isn’t really wayne and it’s Flanagan or Steven wouldn’t that be something because on the internet you just never know.

  5. Well, they certainly couldn’t name any planes or spacecraft of any kind after Dief the Chief after the Avro mess could they.

  6. I also think Dief is mentioned because he was the last proper conservative to be PM. Clark and Campbell barely qualify as PM, and they were both a bit ‘wet’, and Mulroney was a liberal who happened to wear a blue tie.

  7. *cough*Avro*cough*

  8. I think it’s a fitting trbute to a former PM, regardless of one’s political affiliation.

    The Diefenbreaker as Harper nicknamed it seems more fitting than the Diefenbunker bomb shelter in Carp, Ont.

    Say, what would you call the accompanying navy ship patrolling the Arctic used to threaten any unapproved American vessels transversing our sovereign waters?

    The Deifenbaaawker?

  9. “least objectionable ministers”

    … right, because we all know that if they are objectionable, Harper will pontoon them.
    But let’s take umbrage to those silly talking points that aren’t silly wayne’s… Did Dief come from Ontario? Was he a pretend westerner like a certain so-called leader we know? How quickly did it take Dief to tank the economy? And if Mulroney was ‘a liberal’, what does Harper’s current financial record make him – an enronian?
    Unfortunately, Harper is no Diefenbaker, but neither is Dion a Pearson, or Layton a Douglas. Maybe Duceppe be a Caouette?

  10. That should read “aren’t objectionable”

    and yes, Diefenbaker, like Harper, was Ontario-born. But at leastt the country lawyer evolved into a true man of the prairies, not like Mr. Harper.

  11. dan, thanks for the clarifications. I was thinking wtf is he saying? Double negatives, irony, sarcasm etc.?

    As far as partisan hackery, a good motto I understand comes from, I believe, “a true man of the prairies” (whatever that is)

    “Measure twice, cut once”.

  12. I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of taking nine years to build a ship. Really, nine years? Is Steve building this himself on weekends in the 24 Sussex garage or something?

    In the early 1940s, the Collingwood yard spit out something like 20 corvettes in five years for the war effort. By the time this gets built, there won’t be any ice in the Arctic for it to break…

  13. Mike “introduced many more lasting measures than the Chief”

    the flag
    pension reform

    I think you made a sweet understatement

    And would somebody please ban Wayne
    he is sooo boring ….

  14. Diefenbreaker, gotta love it. Let’s hope we can pay for it, otherwise we’re looking at the Diefenbilker.

    Seriously, that name never gets old.

    Don’t dis Wayne, dude. Wayne is sane.

  15. Nine years? It only took them two to cancel the navy supply ships. Is it harder to cancel an ice-breaker or something?

  16. If Harper gets back in after the next election, I wonder how many days/weeks it will be before the imaginary icebreaker, having served its real role, finds itself the object of a late Friday night Press Release, cancelling the process (in the fashion of the 3 Support Ships and the 12 Coast Guard Patrol Vessels). All the while relying on the media to be in its usual weekend slumber. As the saying goes “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

  17. Reminds me of how John Kennedy used to pronounce it Doffenbocker.

  18. Actually, Dief was a Prime Minister not without his controversies. Harper should have reached back to the last real Conservative PM–Borden.

    Borden was the last great Tory PM and his days reflect the sunset of Empire.

    Goes to show you how Canada changed after Borden to become a Liberal-oriented nation.

  19. I am not a Conservate, but I think that an icebreaker — which will have, I believe, an honourable and long futureup north — is a worthy way to express Canada’s thanks to the Chief. And I do love the term: The Diefenbreaker. That’s too cool!

  20. comment by T. Thwim on Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 11:43 pm:

    Nine years? It only took them two to cancel the navy supply ships. Is it harder to cancel an ice-breaker or something?

    He’s building it by hand. Actually, Mulroney started building it by hand back when he promised it, and it’s still taking a while.

  21. Dief appointed the first female federal cabinet minister, the first cabinet minister of Ukrainian descent, the first aboriginal senator and the first francophone Governor General. His government gave the vote to aboriginal men and women.

    Joe Clark described his flaws and strengths in an excellent article:


    Harper is not fit to shine Dief’s shoes.

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