John Diefenbaker held a deep respect for the monarchy and was a passionate defender of the British Parliamentary system throughout his political career. However, Diefenbaker's time as Prime Minister fell within a difficult period for British-Canadian relations, as the ties to Britain slowly eroded and Canada grew closer to the United States. Despite this, Diefenbaker's love of the British tradition manifested itself in much of his policy and in his encounters with the Crown.

Throughout Diefenbaker's time as Prime Minister, there were a number of symbolic shifts away from the United Kingdom in the realm of foreign policy. In 1957, the Suez Crisis represented a rift in British-Canadian relations, as Canada decided to play a peacekeeping role in the conflict rather than supporting British troops engaged in hostilities with Egypt. Economically, however, the Diefenbaker government pushed for broader trade agreements with Britain in its early years, with the aim of diverting as much as 15% of Canada's spending on American goods to the UK. While Diefenbaker had hoped to encourage Britain to maintain strong trade ties with Commonwealth nations, the proposed trade agreements were ultimately not economically feasible for Canada and the negotiations were discarded.

Diefenbaker's profound loyalty to the Queen as the Canadian Head of State was especially apparent during her visits to Canada. In 1957, Diefenbaker's first year in office, Queen Elizabeth II read the Speech from the Throne and opened parliament on 14 October.  Diefenbaker took special care to ensure that this event be shared across the country; television cameras appeared for the first time in the House of Commons and in the Senate, as the CBC broadcast the speech nationwide. Another important opportunity for Diefenbaker to prove his allegiance to the British monarchy and solidify its importance in the minds of the Canadian people was during the Royal Tour of 1959. In addition to a 45-day tour of Canada, the Queen embarked on a brief tour of the United States in her official capacity as the Queen of the Dominion of Canada. After the Queen's summer tour, Diefenbaker personally recommended another dedicated constitutional monarchist, Georges Vanier, for the post of Governor General -- advice that resulted in Vanier's appointment.

During the Flag Debate in the 1960s, Diefenbaker believed that the Maple Leaf lacked respect for British monarchical tradition, and maintained that only the Red Ensign could adequately acknowledge Canada's history as part of the British Empire. As leader of the opposition party in 1964, Diefenbaker was a passionate defender of the Red Ensign, against Lester B. Pearson's proposed Maple Leaf flag.  Diefenbaker's love for the traditional symbols of British rule was clear to Canadians.

Though dedication to the traditions represented by the Crown has traditionally been a hub of conservative support, Diefenbaker's dedication to the British monarchy has come to represent an older Toryism, while most of Canada's contemporary politicians share a greater affinity for America than the commonwealth cultural values of the 1950s. Yet the Monarchy in Canada was reaffirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982, which repatriated our constitution from Britain. Any change to the position of the Queen or her representatives in Canada (the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governors) now requires the unanimous consent of the Senate, the House of Commons and the legislative assemblies of all the provinces.


Olive and John Diefenbaker with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip standing outside the front door of 24 Sussex Drive before formal dinner
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with John and Olive Diefenbaker

Media and Document Gallery

Images

John and Olive Diefenbaker with Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Queen Elizabeth II with representatives of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference
Queen Elizabeth II and Dwight Eisenhower with John Diefenbaker
John Diefenbaker with Queen Elizabeth in Newfoundland
John Diefenbaker, Vincent Massey and the Cabinet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with John and Olive Diefenbaker

Audio

Speech by John Diefenbaker at a meeting of the Progressive Conservative Association of Nove Scotia, Kentville, NS

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Leader of the Official Opposition | Canada – Crown

Description: John Diefenbaker warns that some in the Liberal Party of Canada have a desire to turn Canadian into a Republic, and that the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada will fight against this.

Date Created: 24 April1965

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T541-PAC177c

Speech by John Diefenbaker at the Moose Jaw Progressive Conservative Association, Moose Jaw, SK

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Leader of the Opposition | Canada – Crown

Description: John Diefenbaker describes his battle for the maintenance of traditional symbolism in Canada’s flag as upholding Canada’s past, which is necessary for any country to be a great one

Date Created: 22 January1965

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T536a-c-PAC175bc

Documents

Memo from R.B. Bryce to John Diefenbaker

Creator: R.B. Bryce

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Trade with Britain

Description: Addresses difficulties which may arise from Diefenbaker’s desire to divert 15 % of Canadian export trade to the UK.

Date Created: 12 August1957

Identifier:MG01/XII/A/731 Volume 28 (019302)

Departing words to the Queen from Diefenbaker

Creator: John Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Head of Government

Description: Press release noting that Queen’s visit has strengthened Canadian pride.

Date Created: 16 October1957

Identifier:MG01/XXII/59 Volume 1

Draft of Queen’s Televised Address

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Speech from the Throne

Description: Notes for nationally televised broadcast to be given by the Queen.

Date Created: 7 September1957

Identifier:MG01/XII/A/715 Volume 28 (019082 – 019085)

Press release announcing Queen to open Parliament

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Parliament

Description: Queen to open First Session of 23rd Parliament on 14 October 1957.

Date Created: 9 July1957

Identifier:MG01/XXII/4 Volume 1

Press release announcing new trade mission

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Trade with Britain

Description: Discussions have led to a trade mission to UK to begin 22 November 1957

Date Created: 17 October1957

Identifier:MG01/XXII/60 Volume 1

Letter from Georges P. Vanier to John G. Diefenbaker

Creator: Georges P. Vanier

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Head of Government

Description: The Government of Canada awaits official announcement that the Queen would make a royal visit to Canada.

Date Created: 15 July1959

Identifier:MG01/VI/311.3 Vanier Volume 110 (094448 – 094449)

Newspaper clipping

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Head of Government

Description: Governor General Georges Vanier’s appointment is hailed as a victory for French Canada.

Date Created:No date given.

Identifier:MG01/VI/311.2 Volume 110 (094376)

Swearing in of Georges P. Vanier as Governor General

Creator: Government of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Head of Government

Description: Document describes the swearing in of the first French Canadian Governor General.

Date Created: 15 September1959

Identifier:MG01/VI/311.2 Volume 110 (094344 - 094345)

Telegraph from Georges Vanier to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Georges P. Vanier

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Head of Government

Description: The Governor General describes his audience with the Queen.

Date Created: 4 August1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/311.2 Volume 110 (094282)