When Canada went to war in 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King promised there would be no military conscription for overseas service. But the war dragged on with no apparent victory in sight. In this speech on April 7, 1942, King asked Canadians to vote in a referendum, not on conscription, but rather to relieve the government from its earlier promise. Eventually, the government imposed conscription near the war’s end.
Lester Pearson on a new flag, 1964
Canada's new maple leaf flag was adopted in late 1964 after months of bitter political debate between Prime Minister Lester Pearson and Opposition leader John Diefenbaker. Here is Pearson's speech to launch the flag debate in June 1964.
Pierre Trudeau, no to Quebec sovereignty, 1980
Early in 1980, Premier René Lévesque and the Parti Quebecois launched a referendum on sovereignty association. Lévesque wanted voters to say yes to a sovereign Quebec that would form a commercial and trade association with the rest of Canada. Trudeau made only three campaign appearances, his last in the crowded, steaming Paul Sauvé arena in... Continue Reading →
Joe Clark, community of communities, 1979
Joe Clark had been involved in Progressive Conservative politics since childhood, and he won party leadership in 1976. He proposed a federation much more decentralized than that of Pierre Trudeau. Clark defined his concept of Canada as a “community of communities” in this speech during the federal election campaign in April 1979. “We are fundamentally... Continue Reading →
Stephen Harper, residential schools apology, 2008
On June 11, 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the Canadian government’s removing Indigenous children from their parents and homes and placing them in residential schools. Also in 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) began its work, documenting the history and lasting impact on students and their families, and telling that... Continue Reading →
Jean Chretien, Quebec referendum, 1995
The Parti Quebecois called a sovereignty referendum for October 1995, and polls indicated the PQ might win. Belatedly, Prime Minister Jean Chretien joined the fray, and on October 25 he made this televised address to Canadians. He played on love of country, and the serious economic consequences for Quebec if it chose to separate. "What... Continue Reading →
Pierre Trudeau, October crisis, 1970
In October 1970, the Front de Libération du Quebec, a separatist group, kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the province’s labour minister, and James Cross, a British diplomat. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. On 16 October 1970, a sombre Trudeau appeared on national television to explain and defend his decision to citizens of the... Continue Reading →
Jean Chrétien, trade tower attacks, September 2001
On September 11, 2001 terrorists crashed two hijacked jetliners into the twin World Trade Center Towers in New York City. On September 17, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was the first of many MPs to speak in the Canadian House of Commons to a motion of condolence to the families of victims and to the American people.
John Diefenbaker, a new national policy, 1957
John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th prime minister died this month in 1979. He was one of Canada’s finest political orators and election campaigners. He became leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1956, and six months later the governing Liberals called an election. A young economist named Merril Menzies sent Diefenbaker a series of memos proposing a... Continue Reading →
Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s century, 1904
Wilfrid Laurier was campaigning for reelection when he made the following speech before a packed house in Toronto’s Massey Hall on 14 October 1904. The speech, while not one of his best, was vintage Laurier -- suave, playing to the audience, and discreetly undermining his political opponents. Near its end, he provided his grand vision... Continue Reading →