The Crown in Canada

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
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Head of State | United States – President | Yacht

Description: John and Olive Diefenbaker, Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at official opening, St. Lawrence Seaway, on Royal Yacht Britannia

Date Created: [1959]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1941XB

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Creator: RCAF Photographic Establishment

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Carriage | Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Description: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in an open coach driven to the opening of Parliament

Date Created: 14 October 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1875XC

Queen Elizabeth II with representatives of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Head of State | Commonwealth – Prime Ministers

Description: Official photograph of the Queen and her ministers at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference, London

Date Created: October 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1447

Queen Elizabeth II and Dwight Eisenhower with John Diefenbaker
Creator: Unknown

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

Description: Queen Elizabeth II, Dwight Eisenhower and John Diefenbaker standing outside unknown building

Date Created: [v./ca. 1958]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1189

John Diefenbaker with Queen Elizabeth in Newfoundland
Creator: Unknown

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

Description: John Diefenbaker greeting Queen Elizabeth II behind left wing of airplane at St. John’s, Newfoundland as spectators and military look on in background

Date Created: 18 June 1959

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1185XB

John Diefenbaker, Vincent Massey and the Cabinet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Creator: National Film Board of Canada

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

Description: John Diefenbaker and his 1957 Cabinet posing with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Vincent Massey at Government House

Date Created: October 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD438

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with John and Olive Diefenbaker
Creator: Unknown

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

Description: John Diefenbaker and his 1957 Cabinet posing with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Vincent Massey at Government House

Date Created: 15 October 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD432


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:24April1965

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:22January1965

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T536a-c-PAC175bc


Documents

More
< Previous ExhibitNext Exhbit >