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.