Canadian History

John Diefenbaker: One Canada

Sukhbir Banwait

Canadian History

Canadians remember John Diefenbaker as the prime minister of Canada whose legacy united all Canadians. John Diefenbaker is a pivotal figure in Canadian history and is known for his most famous motto, "One Canada for all Canadians. The battle Diefenbaker fought in regards to human rights and world peace was his defining legacy. Diefenbaker's accomplishments lets Canada today live under a system that emphasizes equality amongst all its citizens, reducing discrimination from society. This includes fighting for human rights, equality and trying to maintain peace in the world. Although Diefenbaker's political career was surrounded by many controversies in regards to national defence, he nonetheless made a significant improvement to human rights and peacekeeping on both the national and international stage.

National defence was one of the top issues on the mind of Canadians as the Cold War raged on. There was a threat that the Soviets might decide to attack Canada or the United States. Since Canada is geographically between the two countries they were forced to improve their defences. To do this, the RCAF needed to increase the number of interceptor fighter jets in its fleet to stop a potential Soviet bomber. The RCAF looked into buying a foreign built plane, specifically the Cr-101 Voodoo built in the Unites States. However, they rejected it because they believed it did not meet the requirements to defend Canada's unique geographic position. Thus, the Canadian government provided funding to the production of the Avro Arrow. However, on February 20th 1959 Diefenbaker shocked all of Canada when he announced the cancellation of the Avro Arrow. This came as a big shock to Canadians as there were already five Arrows produced and they were set to break all world speed and altitude records. The controversy lies in the fact that Canadians felt a loss of protection and a loss of national pride. People were upset that the decision to cancel the Arrow came so late.

The Diefenbaker government claimed that money was a key reason in the cancellation of the Avro Arrow. However, some critics argued it would have been cheaper to complete the production of the Arrow than to buy Bomarc missiles and the CR-101 Voodoo. The Arrow program was becoming increasingly expensive; it was estimated to cost one billion dollars to complete production. In addition, on August 1957, Diefenbaker had agreed to the NORAD (North American Air Defence Agreement) agreement with the Unites States which would integrate both countries air forces. Thus, Diefenbaker was being pressured from the Unites States to install Bomarc nuclear missile sites in northern Ontario and Quebec for protection. The Diefenbaker government claimed that they could not purchase both the Arrow and the Bomarc, but only one. However, the cancellation meant $400 million wasted tax dollars and unemployment for 14 000 employees. As is evident, people were upset at the amount of money wasted and the number of jobs lost.

In the beginning, Diefenbaker opposed having nuclear warheads in Canada, but he eventually collapsed under pressure from the Unites States. One of the reasons he was against it was because if Bomarc launching sites were set up, the missiles if launched, would explode over Canadian cities. After the cancellation of the Arrow, the Diefenbaker government bought the previously rejected CR-101 Voodoo and the Bomarc surface to air nuclear warhead. Consequently, the Avro Arrow situation created uproar in the nation which led to Diefenbaker's ultimate defeat in the elections of 1962. Evidently Canadians felt that the Voodoos were not sufficient for their protections as they were initially rejected by the RCAF.

Diefenbaker was a very outspoken character when it came to fighting for equality, peace and human rights on the international stage. When the Cold War was in full swing, most of the west opposed the "Red Menace, which was the fear of the expansion of the ideologies of communism outside of the USSR. While most people in the West despised the USSR, Diefenbaker stayed out of the fight and looked at both sides. In another situation, Diefenbaker was the first western leader to respond to Khrushchev, the leader of USSR, who delivered a speech at the UN assembly stating he will no longer continue disarmament negotiations. If disarmament negotiations stopped, it would only increase the conflict in the Cold War. Diefenbaker responded by saying, "What good can there come from threats to rain rockets or nuclear bombs on other countries, large or small? he ended with an appeal to peace. As is evident, Diefenbaker questions the consequences of stocking up on nuclear warheads and what good can come from this.

Diefenbaker was also known for his stance against the apartheid in South Africa. Diefenbaker defended the underdog and fought hard for equality. The apartheid policy of Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister of South Africa, was upsetting many, including Diefenbaker. The White prime ministers wanted S. Africa to be a part of the commonwealth, hoping the issue would be resolved whereas the Asian and African leaders wanted S. Africa expelled. In this situation, Diefenbaker stood up for the Blacks. To convince South Africa to treat its citizens equally, Diefenbaker wrote up a 'draft communiqu' for the commonwealth nations which stated, "For all Commonwealth Governments' it should be an objective policy to build in their countries a structure of society which offers equality of opportunity for all, irrespective of race, colour or creed. Hendrik said he would only sign if Diefenbaker agreed to allow the apartheid to continue. Diefenbaker refused and South Africa was excluded from the commonwealth. Thus, Diefenbaker did not want any relationship to a country that supported such discriminatory acts. Diefenbaker made many important contributions to the human rights movement, which resulted in many significant changes in the lives of many.

Furthermore, Diefenbaker emphasized the importance of the need for equality amongst all Canadians. Diefenbaker was a tireless advocate for farmers, aboriginals, the underdog and the disadvantaged even before he became prime minister. For example, during WWII Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes and forced to live in contained camps because the government suspected them to be spies. Diefenbaker was one of the few politicians who argued against it and spent much of his time in Ottawa defending the Japanese. He also defended the rights of the Jehovah's witnesses, who did not want to join the army.

One of Diefenbaker's greatest accomplishments was the implementation of the Canadian Bill of Rights, which is a document that represents equality amongst all Canadians regardless of their social status, race or country of origin, on August 10th, 1960. The Canadian Bill of Rights enshrines equality for all Canadians and gives every citizen of Canada the will power to say that, "I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose who shall govern my country. The Canadian Bill of Rights acknowledges that Canadians have the right to their own beliefs and values, and they have freedom to speak out and voice their opinion. Therefore, Diefenbaker's success in introducing the Canadian Bill of Right ensured every Canadian an equal opportunity to live a successful life.

Diefenbaker also focused on providing equal opportunities to serve in the Canadian parliament. As a child growing up Diefenbaker knew how it felt to be amongst a minority due to his German heritage. Therefore, he tried to stop discrimination and spread equality amongst all Canadians. He granted aboriginals the right to vote in federal elections and he introduced the position of Canada's First Nations Senator in parliament. He was also the first prime minister to name women and citizens of foreign descent into his cabinet. His vision of equality of all Canadians would eventually become an example of multicultural peace and harmony for the world today. Diefenbaker thus played an essential role in the development of equality and equal opportunities for all Canadians regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

Diefenbaker may have made some debatable decisions, nonetheless his accomplishments outshine his setbacks. Diefenbaker fought a difficult battle while taking a stand for human rights and peace. John Diefenbaker may have made some questionable decisions, but the one accomplishment that no one can take away from his legacy is his commitment and dedication in fighting for peace and human rights. Diefenbaker's fallbacks can be outweighed by his contributions towards human rights and peacekeeping in not only Canada, but also worldwide.

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