Until recently there were very few anthologies of Canadian speeches. There existed, to be sure, collections by this or that prime minister gathered by himself or his friends, but there was a dearth of more inclusive anthologies such as existed in the U.S., Great Britain and even Australia. That has begun to change. My book, Great Canadian Speeches, published in 2004, was one of the first. Now, former Member of Parliament Patrick Boyer has made a major contribution with his new book Foreign Voices in the House.
Boyer was a Progressive Conservatives MP representing the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore for nine years beginning in 1984, and he is also prolific author. I first met him through The Writers’ Union of Canada.
100 years of speeches
Foreign Voices is a hefty anthology in which Boyer collects and edits 64 speeches delivered by foreign prime ministers, presidents, kings, queens, soldiers, UN secretaries-general and a few others. The earliest speech in the book is by France’s justice minister and former prime minister, René Viviani in 1917 when Robert Borden was Canada’s prime minister. Not surprisingly, he spoke of the war that was raging on French soil and he thanked Canada for the courage and heroism of its soldiers fighting there.
The most recent speech is that of Barack Obama as he was nearing the end of his presidency in 2016. In his remarks, Obama talked about the historic bonds between the U.S and Canada – as do all American presidents in their speeches to Parliament. He also engaged in something of a bromance with the prime minister he refers to with familiarity as “Justin.”
Similar warmth existed in the 1980s between Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. But when Reagan addressed Parliament in 1987 he was heckled by NDP MP Svend Robinson over Reagan’s covert support for an undeclared war against progressive forces in Central America. Boyer says that Reagan recovered by cupping his hand to his ear and asking: “Is there an echo in here?”
Many of the world’s acclaimed leaders are featured in Boyer’s book. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943 spoke mostly about the Second World War, as did Winston Churchill in 1941. Churchill said, in speaking of the struggle with the Axis powers, “There shall be no halting or half measures. There shall be no compromise or parley.”
General Charles de Gaulle, a leader of the French resistance who had taken refuge in Britain, spoke in July 1944, shortly after the D-Day landing in Normandy. He offered high praise for the Canadian war effort: “I wish to say that for France, Canada is a dearer friend than ever.” Twenty-three years later, as France’s president, de Gaulle stood on the balcony of Montreal’s city hall and called out, “Vive le Québec libre!” Prime Minister Lester Pearson responded with such blistering criticism that de Gaulle cut short his visit and went home.
Margaret Thatcher spoke to the Canadian Parliament twice, as did presidents Eisenhower and Reagan. Nelson Mandela also spoke twice, once as deputy leader of the African National Congress shortly after his release from prison in 1990, and again as president of South Africa in 1998. British prime ministers, in addition to Churchill, and other Commonwealth leaders were also among the prominent orators. They included Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi of India, and several first ministers from Australia and New Zealand.
A durable companion
Foreign Voices in the House is not a book to be read in one session but it will be a valuable reference and a durable companion on anyone’s bookshelf.