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.
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"I was criticized for being too much concerned with the
average Canadians. I can't help that; I am one of them!"
"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."
"I don't campaign. I just visit with the people."
"Everyone is against me - except the people!"
[On Pierre Trudeau]
"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."
"I'm going to be premier of Canada, someday."
"Well, Sir Wilfrid, I can't waste any more time; I have to
sell my papers."
"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."
"I've lived history. I've made history, and I know I'll have
my place in history. That's not egoism."
"Governments propose, and oppositions dispose"
"Parliament is more than procedure - it is the custodian of
the nation's freedom."
"The quality of debate in the House is deplorable. You watch
today and count how many read from prepared texts."
"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."
"I have always been a House of Commons man."
"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."
"For an average Canadian, being chosen as leader of a nation
gives one a feeling impossible to describe. You feel a sense of
"I would never have been Prime Minister if the Gallup poll
"I do not say that everything I did was right, but what I do
say, Mr. Speaker, is that what I did was honest."
"Whom the gods would destroy, they'd first make mad with
"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."
"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."
"The duty of the Opposition is to turn out the
"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."
"The acquisition of Newfoundland will take its place, in
strategic importance, with the acquisition by the United States
of Alaska and Louisiana."
"In Canada today we have a definite crime wave."
"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
"I have one love - Canada; one purpose - Canada's greatness;
one aim - Canadian unity from the Atlantic to the Pacific."
"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."
"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."
"It was so dry in Saskatchewan during the Depression that the
trees were chasing the dogs."
"Those were the days when the only protection a Conservative
enjoyed in the province of Saskatchewan was under the provision
of the game laws."
"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."
"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!"
"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."
"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!"
"Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong."
"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
[On the foundation of the United Nations]
"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."
"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
[On the admission of South Africa to the Commonwealth]
"As long as there is a drop of blood in my body they won't
stop me from talking about freedom."
"I have an intensive hatred for discrimination based on
"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."
"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."
"Now they decide to alter the name 'Dominion day' to make it
'Canada day'. It is not a fearful thing but it is
"With her husband Prince Philip and her children she
represents to all the beauty and fullness of a family in the
"I will compromise on anything, but, speaking for myself, not
to the extent of the removal of the union jack from our national
"A flag that does not contain the greatness of your heritage
is no flag for a nation."
"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."
"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
"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."
"You cannot beat the Grits by attacking them. I never use the
word 'Liberal' when I speak."
"The Pearson policy is to make Canada a decoy for
"A vote for this government is a vote for an open season for
organized crime in Canada."
"Never in Canadian history has there been a government so
prone to be prone."
"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."
"I cannot visualize Canada without French Canada. i cannot
visualize French Canada without Canada. National unity based on
equality must be the goal."
"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."
"The object of Confederation was not to produce Siamese twins
in this nation."
[During the FLQ Crisis]
"[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."
"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.'"
"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."
"Canada has no intention whatsoever of imposing any embargo on
Canadian goods in Cuban trade"
See also The Cold War.
"The President [Kennedy] is most impressive - a truly
"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."
"President Kennedy spent one million dollars and 400 operators
to defeat me in 1963."
"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."
"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
"I am not anti-American. But I am strongly pro-Canadian."
"Canadians will not consent to be committed to war on any snap
decision made by another nation."
"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."
"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."
"Whoever has charge of commenting on the news controls the
future thinking of the nation."
"Satan saw my picture in Newsweek, and said he never
knew he had such opposition in Canada."
"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."
"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."
"You press people only know about ten per cent of the real
See also the Avro Arrow page on Diefenbaker Web.
[During the Avro Arrow crisis, to the president of A.V.
"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
"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..."
"I was even reviled for having had the completed Arrow prototypes
reduced to scrap when I had no knowledge whatsoever of this action."
See also The United States.
"You know, it's an awesome responsibility to have to ask
yourself each day - What will Khruschev do?"
"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."
[On the Soviet announcement of plans to test an atomic
"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
"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."
"We know... that the way to prevent nuclear war is to prevent
"Ah, but don't get me started on history, because then you
shall know the meaning of eternity."
"There can be no dedication to Canada's future without a
knowledge of its past."
"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
"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."
"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!"
"Sir John won in 1887 at the age of 72. And then he won again
at 76. I'm only 70."
"I'm disturbed because the doctors tell me I'm as sound as a
"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."
[During the 1965 election campaign, this was a line
Diefenbaker was tempted to use, but never did - publicly]
"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."
"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."
"Criticism is sometimes necessary to create public opinion,
but use discretion."
"Nothing I ever do is political."
"I never evade a question."
"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
"The last thing I want to do is provoke controversy."
"I never say anything provocative."
"I never think of memoirs. I'm still making history."
Last Updated: April 30, 1998.
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