Books

Despite his efforts to influence it, history has yet to prove Dief right

ONE CANADA: THE YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENT, 1956-1962, by John Diefenbaker

DOUGLAS FISHER November 15 1976
Books

Despite his efforts to influence it, history has yet to prove Dief right

ONE CANADA: THE YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENT, 1956-1962, by John Diefenbaker

DOUGLAS FISHER November 15 1976

Despite his efforts to influence it, history has yet to prove Dief right

Books

ONE CANADA: THE YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENT, 1956-1962, by John Diefenbaker

(Macmillan of Canada, $15.95)

Benevolent neutrals on the subject of Diefenbaker as Prime Minister are not helped much by The Years Of Achievement, second volume of his memoirs. This is not to say the book is all dull or mostly wind, despite its overload of long quotes from old speeches. The Chiefs brooding purpose is to resurrect an image of the solid, coherent programs and actions that he undertook to unify Canadians at home, and make us both a forthright moral force and more successful traders abroad.

The result is a belated exposition and defense of the “One Canada” the Chief has spoken so much about since 1956. It’s also a rebuttal to an alleged journalistic conspiracy by the likes of Peter Newman (Renegade In Power: The Diefenbaker Years). The Chief continues to believe the conspiracy was a prime cause of his bad name as an incompetent Prime Minister. He’s too egocentric to realize that this reputation has much faded now that we’ve had other incompetent Prime Ministers. But the Chief still fights back. “Journalists may write their worm’s-eye views,” he writes. “Prime Ministers are presented with the broader vista.”

It’s familiar Diefenbaker: sooner or later entertaining, often vicious, even more often petty in his spites, but sharp, tough, resilient, a fighter, occasionally a visionary, and always, always tuned to the political process, past and present. Some of the sharpest jabs in the book are at Trudeau—

for example, on parliament’s decline, on the War Measures Act, on the extremism of bilingualism as enforced.

The surprise for the politically minded reader is that more than a third of the book is given to international matters, to trips and speeches abroad, to closet sessions with the great such as De Gaulle, Eisenhower and Adenauer. The narrative of his dealings with Kennedy is much more believable now that time and revelations in Washington have put JFK into a tinier and less saintly perspective. “He [Kennedy] hated Britain and did not conceal his attitude,” Diefenbaker writes. Again and again the President tried to bully him and his government; Diefenbaker almost says, certainly he hints, that Kennedy determined to embarrass his government because he stood up to the President, for example, on Cuban trade, the China wheat deals, and in refusing to join the Organization of American States.

Politicians will particularly relish Diefenbaker’s ramble through the cabinets. The Chief is mean about Alvin Hamilton, George Hees, the late J. M. Macdonnell (“Members regarded his speeches on financial questions as less than significant”), and wildly over-generous to some of his disciples such as Hugh John Fleming and David (now Senator) Walker (“a man who at all times had a national perspective”). His views of parliament are nicely presented, but out of date. One has to wonder why a man who finds the Senate useless did little about either improving it or ending it.

As an MP through this period, 1 always

admired the Chief. But is this a fair story, well told? No. While to have it is better than nothing, it isn’t even fair to the Chief himself—this because of too much rancor to some and too many prizes for the applepolishers. Perhaps because the Chief is so intent on his role as world statesman and on the details of his government’s legislative programs, there is too little analysis of the very matters that bring out his pettiness—Pearson and the Liberal strategy, his own difficulties in handling the surplus of caucus he had after the 1958 election or in dealing with his Quebec followers. There’s nothing much on the crucial, steady antagonizing of the entire business and industrial community.

The reader does not get considered answers—he gets another question: Why, if the programs were so excellent and the leadership sound, did the Prime Minister with the greatest backing ever lose out in just five years? There prevails in Canada, as Donald Creighton has best described, a Liberal interpretation of our modern history and politics. Diefenbaker’s is an antithetical argument, but not a convincing antidote. DOUGLAS FISHER

DOUGLAS FISHER