Canada Needs a Diefenbaker

Commentary, Politics, Brian Giesbrecht

In recent years, we have seen the children of former strong Canadian leaders enter politics. They don’t have to start at the bottom because of the reputations their fathers forged through the hot steel of heady Canadian issues, such as separatism and free trade. They can start at the top.

Justin Trudeau and Caroline Mulroney are examples of two politicians following in their father’s footsteps. Ms. Mulroney, who appears to be an intelligent and capable person, wanted to lead the Ontario Conservative Party – a rather staid party, from a rather staid province – that is currently anything but. Justin, on the other hand, just returned from India.

That is why I think of John George Diefenbaker. For those of us fortunate enough to have personal memories of Diefenbaker, he was a firebrand of a leader, who could eat political opponents for breakfast. I remember seeing him debating in the flesh at the old United College in Winnipeg. He was truly impressive. When he was done with them, his opponents lay scattered on the floor before him, still flopping. He would smile, thank people for attending, and quietly take his seat.

But I digress. Back to Justin’s now famous (or infamous) trip to India.

Just imagine what Diefenbaker would have done with material like that. I can almost see and hear “Dief the Chief” as he rises to speak, a sardonic smile on his jowls as he slowly begins to twist the knife. We now have to watch American late-night talk shows to see the kind of well-deserved ridicule that would be heaped on the hapless Prime Minister for his gong-show of a travel adventure.

Trudeau’s farcical trip to India is only one example of an issue that needed a Diefenbaker. The recent budget, with its many pages of “gender-equity” preaching is another. Everyone wants equal opportunities for women, but much of the budget is fluff, and a good deal of it is downright bad for the country. The opposition is so afraid of offending special interest groups, that it didn’t do the job it should have done on this gender equity.

Or the apparent suggestion by the Prime Minister and his Justice Minister through social media that there should be racial quotas on juries, following the Gerald Stanley verdict, is another example where a lame opposition was far too quiet on what was clearly a very foolish idea. For that matter, the fact that the Prime Minister met with the Boushie family after the verdict, and that he publicly criticized the jury should have resulted in a much stronger reaction from the opposition. Was the opposition too afraid of offending an interest group to do its job properly?

These people simply do not have it in them to do what “The Chief”, and the other old war horses like John Crosbie were able to do. The new breed of Ottawa politicians are so afraid of offending interest groups that bad ideas often find their way into legislation.

The cut and thrust of political debate is not just about entertainment (although it is that). True debate in Parliament is absolutely necessary to get to the core of an issue. It is free speech in action – a right that brave people fought for, from the time of the Magna Carta. It came at a great cost, and is now in danger of being frittered away because politicians are so afraid of being politically correct on tough issues.

And it is the same in other countries. One can’t imagine an England without Churchill. But Churchill’s tongue needed a lot of room to do its job, and all of our modern taboos and sensitivities would have tied that brilliant tongue in knots, and ended his career long before he was able to save the Western World, if he had lived in today’s hyper-sensitive world.

To be clear, I am not arguing for the likes of a Donald Trump in this country. It is not rude and cruel that I am advocating. The United States has had many clear thinking and plain speaking presidents who were civil and respectful, while speaking their minds forcefully, without the fear of being cut down by some aggrieved interest group. I guess I am yearning for the kind of strong political leaders who are no longer possible in today’s politically correct world.

I suppose that those great leaders are now a thing of the past.

But, for those of a certain age, if you listen hard enough, you can almost hear Dief – coiled and ready to pounce – say: “I see the Prime Minister has returned from India…”