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.