[Diefenbaker Web: Links and information on the 13th Prime Minister of Canada.]


[Dief making a

Most of these quotations are from "I never say anything provocative". It's a collection of Dief quotes edited by Margaret Wente, published by Peter Martin Associates Limited, Toronto, 1975. I've categorized them roughly the same way she did.

Many of these quotes will show up on the right side bar on the pages in Diefenbaker Web. Each time you load the page, a random quotation is displayed. Hit "reload" for a new quote.

If you have a quote to add, or you're looking for a quote that's not here, send me an e-mail and I'll try to help you out.

The Average Man

"I was criticized for being too much concerned with the average Canadians. I can't help that; I am one of them!"
- September, 1967. Speech to PC convention.

"I want each one of you to sit down and write me your ideas and suggestions. There is no excuse for you not to do so, because you don't have to pay postage when you write to me."
- March 2, 1963, Herbert, Alberta. Peter Newman, Renegade in Power.

"I don't campaign. I just visit with the people."
- 1965 campaign picnic.

"Everyone is against me - except the people!"
- Rallying cry of the 1963 election campaign.

[On Pierre Trudeau]
"Have you ever seen him kiss a farmer?"
- John Robert Colombo.

Dief's background

"I know what discrimination is. I know how much easier it would have been for me if my name had been Bannerman, which was my mother's name."
- September, 1967. Speech to PC convention.

"I'm going to be premier of Canada, someday."
- Prophesied at a tender age, according to family legend.

"Well, Sir Wilfrid, I can't waste any more time; I have to sell my papers."
- Laurier quoted the young newsboy's parting words in his speech the same evening.

"I modeled myself from the beginning on Theodore Roosevelt. He was a remarkable man, and did more than anyone else to express the true concept of Americanism. My concept of Canadianism is modeled after that."
- June 8, 1962, Time.

"I've lived history. I've made history, and I know I'll have my place in history. That's not egoism."
- January, 1973, Maclean's.


"Governments propose, and oppositions dispose"
- November 2, 1962, House of Commons.

"Parliament is more than procedure - it is the custodian of the nation's freedom."
- September 22, 1949, House of Commons.

"The quality of debate in the House is deplorable. You watch today and count how many read from prepared texts."
- May 29, 1971, Canadian.

"Some hon. members will recall that in 1912 a very famous member from the city of Montreal spoke for 11 1/2 hours. Then he said, 'Mr. Speaker, I am coming to the essence of what I want to place before this house.' Those were the happy days."
- August 4, 1958, House of Commons.

"I have always been a House of Commons man."
- June 4, 1964, House of Commons.

"The hon. member for Halifax [Gerald Regan] does nothing but engage in occasional desk tapping. It shows his intelligence that he makes that his major contribution."
- November 26, 1964, House of Commons.


"For an average Canadian, being chosen as leader of a nation gives one a feeling impossible to describe. You feel a sense of loneliness."
- The night of the 1958 election. Peter Newman, Renegade in Power.

"I would never have been Prime Minister if the Gallup poll were right."
- February 25, 1970, Toronto Star.

"I do not say that everything I did was right, but what I do say, Mr. Speaker, is that what I did was honest."
- March 24, 1966, House of Commons.

"Whom the gods would destroy, they'd first make mad with power."
- May 27, 1975, House of Commons.

The Opposition

"My friends, you say, 'Give 'em hell, John!' I never do that. I tell the truth and it sounds like hell. It simply sounds that way to the Grits."
- March 13, 1963, Moncton, N.B.

"I've enjoyed my two periods as leader of the Opposition. It's a much freer life than Prime MInister and you have an almost equal scope of making a contribution."
- September 18, 1964, Ottawa.

"The duty of the Opposition is to turn out the government."
- March 13, 1964, Ottawa. Peter Newman, The Distemper of Our Time.


"I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind."
- July 1, 1960. From the Canadian Bill of Rights.

"The acquisition of Newfoundland will take its place, in strategic importance, with the acquisition by the United States of Alaska and Louisiana."
- February 8, 1949, House of Commons.

"In Canada today we have a definite crime wave."
- December 12, 1945, House of Commons.

"I am the first Prime Minister of this country of neither altogether English nor French origin. So I determined to bring about a Canadian citizenship that knew no hyphenated consideration."
- March 29, 1958, Maclean's.

"I have one love - Canada; one purpose - Canada's greatness; one aim - Canadian unity from the Atlantic to the Pacific."
- From nomination speech at the 1956 PC leadership convention.

"Canada must populate or perish - that is the answer. With such great resources as we possess, and such extensive territory, we can't survive with a small population."
- April 18, 1958, U.S. News & World Report.

"As I go across the country, I meet older Canadians as well as the youth of our nation. I have always been very proud of them and I am more so with the passing of days. They want to do something for Canada. There are about 4 per cent who want to create trouble, but the rest are motivated by tremendous dedication to the building of Canada."
- February 29, 1972, House of Commons.

"It was so dry in Saskatchewan during the Depression that the trees were chasing the dogs."
- John Robert Colombo.

"Those were the days when the only protection a Conservative enjoyed in the province of Saskatchewan was under the provision of the game laws."
- April 29, 1966, House of Commons.

"I mention the historic nature of Prince Albert. I am not here for the purpose of advertising my constituency, but we are the only constituency in Canada that has ever been represented by three prime ministers."
- April 29, 1966, House of Commons.

"We shall never build the nation which our potential resources make possible by dividing ourselves into Anglophones, Francophones, multiculturalphones, or whatever kind of phoneys you choose. I say: Canadians, first, last, and always!"
June 4, 1973, House of Commons.

"The War Measures Act remains on the statute books of this country. So long as it is on the statute books there is no reason why governments, if they so choose, might not create emergencies real of apprehended, thereby permitting them to commit arbitrary acts under its powers."
- May 7, 1946, House of Commons.

"Sir John A. Macdonald gave his life to this party. He opened the West. he saw Canada from east to west. I see a new Canada - a Canada of the North!"
- February 12, 1958, Winnipeg.

Human rights

"Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong."
- March 11, 1958

"Some wonder why I have such a feeling of concern over the imposition of the death penalty. I ask those who wonder how would you feel if you defended a man charged with murder, who was as innocent as any hon. member in this House at this very moment, who was convicted; whose appeal was dismissed, who was executed; and six months later the star witness for the Crown admitted that he, himself, had committed the murder and blamed it on the accused? That experience will never be effaced from my memory."
- May 1, 1972, House of Commons.

[On the foundation of the United Nations]
"This charter makes for great idealisms. It is, as Anthony Eden said, mankind's last chance."
- October 19, 1945, House of Commons

"There cannot be friendship and understanding between the continents if the Western world arrogantly assumes a monopoly of skill and wisdom or that we must try to make all other peoples conform to our way of thinking."
- June, 1958, Toronto. Saturday Night, November 22, 1958.

"I frankly state that in 1948 my own party came out in favour of outlawing communism. I was the only one to oppose it. I received a very unusual lack of welcome. The Conservative party was going to sweep Canada with that policy. I said, 'You cannot do it. You cannot deny an individual the right to think as he will. The offence is not in being wrong, the offence is in doing wrong. Whenever communism has been outlawed it has operated underground. When it has come out, it has been stronger than ever."
- October 16, 1970, House of Commons.

[On the admission of South Africa to the Commonwealth]
"Apartheid has become a world symbol of discrimination. I took the position that if we accepted South Africa unconditionally, the action would be taken as approval, or at least condonation, of racial policies which are abhorred by Canadians as a whole."
- March, 1961, House of Commons.

"As long as there is a drop of blood in my body they won't stop me from talking about freedom."
- June 3, 1962, Sudbury, Ontario.

"I have an intensive hatred for discrimination based on colour."
- March 29, 1958, Maclean's.

"Freedom includes the right to say what others may object to and resent... The essence of citizenship is to be tolerant of strong and provocative words."
- April 9, 1970, House of Commons.


"Some say to me: 'History? What does it mean? What are you concerned about the past for?' And my answer to that is a simple one - he who does not know the past can never understand the present, and he certainly can do nothing for the future."
- November 1, 1971.

"Now they decide to alter the name 'Dominion day' to make it 'Canada day'. It is not a fearful thing but it is indicative."
- March 24, 1955, House of Commons.

"With her husband Prince Philip and her children she represents to all the beauty and fullness of a family in the highest degree."
- June 28, 1967, House of Commons.

"I will compromise on anything, but, speaking for myself, not to the extent of the removal of the union jack from our national flag."
- November 13, 1945, House of Commons.

"A flag that does not contain the greatness of your heritage is no flag for a nation."
- Gerald Clark, Canada: The Uneasy Neighbour.

The Conservative party

"The Conservative party will be the national party; it is the party which founded Confederation and the party that will save Confederation.... It is my intention to unite all Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific, under the banner of patriotism."
- December 1956, PC leadership convention.

"How many of you realize this fact - that in 1965, out of the millions of votes that were cast, if, in twenty constituencies, we had secured 11,300 votes more, we would be the government of Canada today?"
- September, 1967, speech to PC leadership convention.

"Some say, Let us go back to the good old days. I was there at that time. Not one Conservative from Quebec in 1921; in 1935, five; in 1940, none; in 1945, two; and in 1949, three. And then they say there's something wrong with Diefenbaker because he has more seats today than three leaders had in four elections."
- September, 1967, speech to PC leadership convention.

The other parties

"You cannot beat the Grits by attacking them. I never use the word 'Liberal' when I speak."
- 1957 election campaign. Dalton Camp, Gentlemen, Players and Politicians.

"The Pearson policy is to make Canada a decoy for international missiles."
- March 29, 1963, Kingston, Ontario.

"A vote for this government is a vote for an open season for organized crime in Canada."
- 195 election campaign, Prince George, B.C. Peter Newman, The Distemper of our Times.

"Never in Canadian history has there been a government so prone to be prone."
- January 20, 1966, House of Commons.


"They say I was anti-Quebec, and I said to them, 'Produce one line, one word that shows I was ever against Quebec.' They couldn't do it."
- February, 164, Maclean's, March 7, 1964.

"I cannot visualize Canada without French Canada. i cannot visualize French Canada without Canada. National unity based on equality must be the goal."
- 1965, Quebec. Thomas Van Dusen, The Chief.

"I believe there must not be, as has been developing in this nation, first and second class citizens. That has been the trend as a result of all the discussion about associated states and a nation within a nation."
- June 10, 1966, House of Commons.

"The object of Confederation was not to produce Siamese twins in this nation."
- September, 19678, PC leadership convention.

[During the FLQ Crisis]
"Would the minister consider mobilizing, with the assistance of the Montreal police and also the Quebec provincial police, all experienced members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from across Canada so that there will be the fullest and immediate action taken? The Mounted Police always get their man."
- October 5, 1970, House of Commons.

"[Speaking French] is a capacity envied by those of use who are not possessed of it, and it is one that is of inestimable value in understanding the aspirations not only of the race to which I belong, but also of the French race whose contribution has meant so much to the building of our country. I wish I could express myself in French; although I understand the language, I am afraid that if I tried to speak it the house would need a translator to translate my translation."
- March 9, 1950, House of Commons.

"Apparently I just can't pronounce French well while talking. An English-speaking friend joked to me, 'I love to hear you talk French on television. When you do, every English-speaking person in the audience, who doesn't know a word of French, can understand every word you say.'"
- April 1960, Liberty.

The World

"All over the world, Canada has a black eye. And now what is the government doing? It has recognized Communist China. Well, I can just imagine the deluge of communist spies who will come in here attached to the Chinese embassy when it opens."
- October 16, 1970, House of Commons.

"Canada has no intention whatsoever of imposing any embargo on Canadian goods in Cuban trade"
- October, 1960, Winnipeg. Time, October 31, 1960.

The United States

See also The Cold War.

"The President [Kennedy] is most impressive - a truly tremendous personality."
- February 20, 1961, House of Commons.

"Whatever history may record of President Kennedy, his stand on behalf of the equality of all men without regard to colour was to me an earnest endeavour to bring about the culmination of the dreams, the idealism and the life work of Lincoln.... Whatever the disagreements, to me he stood as the embodiment of freedom not only in his own country but throughout the world."
- November 22, 1963, House of Commons.

"President Kennedy spent one million dollars and 400 operators to defeat me in 1963."
- January, 1973, Maclean's.

"When the Prime Minister of Canada went to Washington he was treated with about the same consideration by the president as his two dogs were except that he was not lifted by his ears."
- March 21, 1967, House of Commons.

"You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minster said the other day that any time he wanted to call the President on the phone he could do so. Any one of us could do that. The other side of the question is that the President does not always answer."
- October 21, 1963, House of Commons.

"I am not anti-American. But I am strongly pro-Canadian."
- July 13, 1958, New York Times.

"Canadians will not consent to be committed to war on any snap decision made by another nation."
- May 13, 1953, House of Commons.

"We should not have police officers from a foreign country wandering around in our country trying to find malefactors [U.S. deserters] from their country."
- November 23, 1966, House of Commons.

[On Vietnam]
"Is it not possible, that if at this time the United States declared an end to bombing for a period of two months as a beginning, there would be laid a foundation from which the possibility of peaceful negotiation might be the result?"
- November 24, 1966, House of Commons.

[On Vietnam]
"There are two battlefields today, one of war and one of ideology. We do not convert people to think our way by pouring bombs upon them, day after day and week after week."
- November 24, 1966, House of Commons.

"I knew that President Kennedy... thought he had something to prove in his personal dealings with Khrushchev after their unpleasant Vienna meeting.... I considered that he was perfectly capable of taking the world to the brink of thermonuclear destruction to prove himself the man for our times, a courageous champion of Western democracy."
- From One Canada: Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker.

The Media

"Whoever has charge of commenting on the news controls the future thinking of the nation."
- August 24, 1946, House of Commons.

"Satan saw my picture in Newsweek, and said he never knew he had such opposition in Canada."
- March 22, 163, Strathmore, Alberta. Peter Newman, Renegade in Power.

"The Newsweek article was all part of a plan to destroy me. A man came from Washington and met with the Who's Who of the LIberal party. They planned that. They awaited that. It was conceived in Liberal headquarters in Ottawa."
- March 14, 1963, Charlottetown.

"The Toronto Globe and Mail, ever since the cancellation of the Avro Arrow and since they failed to secure a television license in Toronto, has adopted an attitude of bitter criticism of the Conservative party. Yesterday, in an editorial vicious as it was vacuous, they denied the right of a member of parliament to advance in this chamber views that are not acceptable to that newspaper."
- June 8, 1967, House of Commons.

"You press people only know about ten per cent of the real John Diefenbaker."
- September 2, 1967, Star Weekly.

The Avro Arrow

See also the Avro Arrow page on Diefenbaker Web.

[During the Avro Arrow crisis, to the president of A.V. Roe]
"My stockholders are 18 million Canadians."
- Thomas Van Dusen, The Chief.

"Some people talk about courage. Well, we took a stand in reference to the 'Arrow.' No one wanted to take that stand.... As I look back on it, I think it was one of the decisions that was right. Here was an instrument beautiful in appearance, powerful, a tribute to Canadian production.... This instrument that was otherwise beautiful, magnificent in its concept, would have contributed little, in the changing order of things, to our national defence."
- January 25, 1963, House of Commons.

"I have it on unchallengeable authority that Mr. St. Laurent and Mr. C.D. Howe have decided that the Arrow was to be cancelled forthwith, after the June election..."
- From One Canada: Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker.

"I was even reviled for having had the completed Arrow prototypes reduced to scrap when I had no knowledge whatsoever of this action."
- From One Canada: Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker.

The Cold War

See also The United States.

"You know, it's an awesome responsibility to have to ask yourself each day - What will Khruschev do?"
- March 16, 1963, St. John's, Newfoundland.

"People do not want to believe there is going to be atomic bombing of Canada. The thought disturbs our equanimity. We like to look at the situation as though we were protected and insulated by many thousands of miles of sea and a northern ice cap. It is going to require an educational campaign to make the people realize the danger in which we find ourselves."
- May 25, 1957, House of Commons.

[On the Soviet announcement of plans to test an atomic bomb]
"The explosion of such a diabolical device would be a brutal offense against humanity for which there can be no justifiable excuse, either in terms of defense or of simply common sense. No one can deny that continued experimentation of these devices will ultimately lead to a war measured in megadeaths."
- October 27, 1961, Time.

"By the accident of geography and history we find ourselves squarely between the two greatest powers on earth. We have no fortresses facing either. We want to live at peace with our northern neighbours, as we have lived so long at peace with our southern neighbours."
- September 26, 1960, speech to the United Nations.

"My prayer is that we will be directed in this matter. Some may ridicule that belief on my part. i believe that the Western world has been directed by God in the last few years, or there would have been no survival. I believe that will continue."
- January 25, 1963, House of Commons.

"We know... that the way to prevent nuclear war is to prevent it."
- January 25, 1963, House of Commons.

Sir John A. Macdonald

"Ah, but don't get me started on history, because then you shall know the meaning of eternity."
- May 29, 1971, Canadian.

"There can be no dedication to Canada's future without a knowledge of its past."
- October 9, 1964, Toronto Star.

"Macdonald is as vital a personality today, as if he were alive. He has been able to transmit his natural vision for this country to all Canadian leaders who followed him, regardless of their party."
- July 4, 1959, Maclean's.

"When I decided to bring before the people of Canada a plan for the development of the north, it was ridiculed. Liberal members, including Mr. Pearson the then leader of that party, said that we were going to build roads and railroads from igloo to igloo. Apparently he had been reading what was said in 1874 regarding Macdonald's plan to support the building of the CPR: the Minister of Finance of that day suggested that Macdonald was endeavouring to build railroads from wigwam to wigwam."
- 1972, House of Commons.

"I think cartoons serve a very useful purpose. I see all the cartoons. macdonald used to say that he had the ugliest face of anyone of his time, but if Macdonald could see the cartoons today, he would conclude that he's in second place. As for the critics, well, big-game hunters don't go after gophers!"
- September 2, 1967, Star Weekly.

"Sir John won in 1887 at the age of 72. And then he won again at 76. I'm only 70."
- September 18, 1965, Toronto Telegram.


"I'm disturbed because the doctors tell me I'm as sound as a dollar."
- April 25, 1975, Ottawa.

"Yes, that's it, the hippies. Well, they've found an answer to the age-old problem of living without working. But I don't find them as unattractive... no, don't say that... I don't find them as unique as some people do. They're a manifestation of a passing fad."
- February 10, 1968, Star Weekly.

[During the 1965 election campaign, this was a line Diefenbaker was tempted to use, but never did - publicly]
"The papers say Dalton Camp is revolting. I cannot disagree."
- James Johnston, The Party's Over.

"I love to make Paul [Martin, Sr.] mad. You can do it by saying, innocently, that no other member has the ability to compress such small thoughts into so many words."
- September 2, 1967, Star Weekly.

"Law firms want me on their letterhead. And they'd pay me $100,000 a year just to hang around. But that's not the way I want to go out."
- May 29, 1971, Canadian.

"Criticism is sometimes necessary to create public opinion, but use discretion."
- June 9, 1942, Toronto Star.

"Nothing I ever do is political."
- January 16, 1968, House of Commons.

"I never evade a question."
- April 2, 1952, House of Commons.

"Some day I'd like to sit down for four of five days and tell the stories I know. There are many things others have missed. That's not egotism - that's fact. There are things no one else can tell."
- October 3, 1965, Toronto.

"The last thing I want to do is provoke controversy."
- April 6, 1966, House of Commons.

"I never say anything provocative."
- September 26, 1945, House of Commons.

"I never think of memoirs. I'm still making history."
- September, 1967, Peter Newman, The Distemper of our Times.

Last Updated: April 30, 1998.

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