«Paper presented at the Canada and the End of Empire conference Institute of Commonwealth Studies London, UK 27 April 2001 José E. Igartua ...»
Editorial opinion in English-language newspapers was thus divided on the Anglo-French action in the Middle East and Canada's failure to support it at the United Nations. Those who supported Britain stressed the failure of the United Nations to act and the need to resist small-time dictators such as Nasser. Canada, they claimed, should have stood with Britain.
Those who opposed the Anglo-French action, on the other hand, were disturbed that Canada was forced to disagree with Britain, but believed Canada had acted on moral grounds, an ethics inherited from the Commonwealth itself, as the Halifax Chronicle-Herald intimated. In both cases, "British" values stood as the foundation on which editorial opinion was expressed.
In light of the fact that the Anglo-French action in the Middle East involved Canada's two "mother countries," it is remarkable that it drew almost no specific comment about the role of France and about its alliance with Britain. The issue was cast solely as one of Canada's relationship with Britain and of the survival of the Commonwealth. The English-language press did not raise the issue of Quebec's opinion on the question.65 The Quebec press wholeheartedly supported the St. Laurent government on the issue and endorsed the idea of Canadian participation in the peace-keeping mission, a departure from the isolationist stance of some French-language newspapers. But this was of no interest in the English-language press. What was at stake was its own self-definition as a British nation, for some a definition that was being abandoned, for others a definition that was being reaffirmed in spite of the failings of Britain itself.
"The Sane Course," editorial, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 1 November 1956, p. 4. The condemnation of the 61 Anglo-French action was repeated in "Realistic Plan," editorial, 15 November 1956, p. 4.
"Canada’s Lead," editorial, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 5 November 1956, p. 4.
62 "No Parallel," editorial, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 6 November 1956, p. 4.
63 "Canada's Task," editorial, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 13 November 1956, p. 4; "Proud Record," editorial, 64 Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 14 November 1956, p. 4 Globe and Mail columnist Robert Duffy summarised in sarcastic tones the editorial position of Quebec 65
III. Parliament meets The second major phase of the Suez debates in Canada occurred during the special session of Parliament, convened to vote the necessary credits for the Canadian contingent in the UN Emergency Force and to vote as well some relief funds for Hungarians refugees fleeing Communist repression. Two statements made by the Government in the House drew sharp editorial comment. The first was St. Laurent's implicit inclusion of Britain and France among the "supermen of Europe" whose time had passed, and the second was Pearson's answer to Howard Green, quoted at the beginning of this paper, in which he rejected the idea that Canada should be a "colonial chore boy." The first provoked near universal condemnation in the English-language press, while the second drew approval in some papers and condemnation in others.
For the Calgary Herald, the special session of Parliament was a renewed occasion to condemn Canadian foreign policy in the strongest terms. "The special session now under way has already proven to the country the futility of its government's policies, and the folly of its impulsive and erroneous judgement of Great Britain and France," it wrote on 28 November
1956. As for St. Laurent, he was "displaying that petulance the country has come to expect whenever Mr. St. Laurent finds himself in a tight corner he can't wriggle out of with a wellturned phrase or two. His only contribution has been a meaningless diatribe against the 'big powers.'" The same editorial snickered at the "familiar platitudes" the government "so often uses to cover up its blunders," and "the folly of its impulsive and erroneous judgement of Great Britain and France." The platitudes included the government "following an 'independent' course, free of the shackles of 'colonialism,'" an allusion to Pearson's remarks about chore boys.66 On the same page, the paper published a letter from a "fourth generation Canadian" who found it "interesting to note that much of the senseless criticism of Britain comes from Canadians of European or Quebec background. They scorn everything British except the freedom they enjoy under a British flag which permits them to employ that freedom in reviling Britain." St. Laurent's ethnic origins undoubtedly explained, for this reader, his "senseless criticism."67 The paper returned to its condemnation of St. Laurent when the latter was congratulated by the Chicago Daily Tribune on the independence of Canada's foreign policy: The Tribune, wrote the Herald, "has long been known for its malicious condemnation of anything British in war or in peace" and now regarded Canada as being a "member of that not-too-exclusive band of Britain-haters, thanks to Mr. St. Laurent." "His words about the 'supermen of Europe' will live long in the minds of Canadians as a shocking memorial to the infamous behavior of his government as long as it holds office. Even many of those who have been in agreement with Canada's record in the Middle East found his words too much to stomach."68 The Edmonton Journal was more forthright in attributing Canadian foreign policy to St. Laurent's personal "rancor and bitterness" against Britain. "One gets the impression, reading his speech, of the stored-up hatred of a lifetime suddenly coming to the surface."69 "Parliament Hears A Pathetic Story," editorial, Calgary Herald, 28 November 1956, p. 4.
66 "Letters to the Herald," ibid.
67 "Revelling in Canada’s Day of Shame," editorial, Calgary Herald, 10 December 1956, p. 4.
The Globe and Mail was more temperate in its criticism of the government. It did not take St.
Laurent personally to task. It simply called St. Laurent's remark "his own, special contribution" to Canada's foreign policy. On 28 November, its editorial "Men and Supermen" chose to believe St. Laurent was not referring to Britain and France, but to Russia.70 Yet, assessing the special session in its editorial of 1 December, it recalled St.
Laurent's "spiteful criticism of Britain and France" but emphasised Conservative External Affairs critic John Diefenbaker's call for an international conference of France, the United States, and Commonwealth members in Quebec City.71 On 4 December, it reproduced the Chicago Daily Tribune's editorial of 29 November which quoted the 'supermen of Europe' remark and it ironically labelled the editorial "a tribute to Canada's Prime Minister."72 The Globe and Mail agreed with Pearson that Canada should be no one's "chore boy."
"Nobody has suggested that we should. What is being suggested is that we ought to follow a positive and courageous course in international affairs. What has been established is that we
did not."73 It condemned Canada's foreign policy as being dictated by the United States:
"[w]e are caught seeming to approve and go along with the confusion in Washington;
seeming to assist, to cover up and to justify the U.S. retreat into isolationism." Canada's "Only Real Hope" and interest in foreign policy, it argued, "is our membership in the British Commonwealth" and Canadian foreign policy should be refashioned accordingly.74 In late December 1956, commenting on the forthcoming visit of Nehru to Ottawa, it reiterated its commitment to the Commonwealth. "[T]he British Commonwealth of Nations.... remains the most effective, perhaps the only effective international political organization in the world today." It also alluded to the "chore boy" remark with an appreciation of Canada's colonial links to Britain: "We do not wish to be a British colony today; but we count ourselves fortunate to have been one yesterday."75 The Vancouver Sun maintained its "independent" Liberal approach in its comments on the special session of Parliament. It labelled Canadian foreign policy "amateurish," the reason for St. Laurent's and Pearson's "pique in the Commons debates. They have betrayed what may be part of the motive – jealousy of Britain, the mother country, and perhaps a trace of the colonial resentment of a bygone age." It labelled Pearson's "chore boy" remark "an astonishing revelation of Mr. Pearson's subconscious mind" and an indication that the government utterly lacked an "understanding of Britain's situation."76 Like the Globe and Mail, it considered that Canada's foreign policy had been "guided by American reaction to Suez" and that it should help "re-establish Commonwealth solidarity."77 It rose to the defence of British values in an editorial reminding its readers of the "flesh and blood... English people who have... been bloodied in the cause of freedom." "They include not only the highMen and Supermen," editorial, Globe and Mail, 28 November 1956, p. 6.
70 "Europe Must Unite," editorial, Globe and Mail, 1 December 1956, p. 6.
71 Globe and Mail, 4 December 1956, p. 6.
72 "The Silent Partner," editorial, Globe and Mail, 28 November 1956, p. 6.
73 "Our Only Real Hope," editorial, Globe and Mail, 29 November 1956, p. 6.
74 "A Matter of Understanding," editorial, Globe and Mail, 18 December 1956, p. 6.
75 "Canada Must Redeem Itself," editorial, Vancouver Sun, 29 November 1956, p.4.
76 "Canada Should Help," editorial, Vancouver Sun, 6 December 1956, p.4, The editorial recommended that 77
faluting freedoms of right to worship, to speak and read freely, to assemble for discussion, to decide political destiny, but the freedom to live a commonplace life in the pursuit of happiness and escape from boredom." Besides these fundamental freedoms were a host of lesser ones which North Americans wished for, including drinking, gambling, and singing and dancing in pubs. "Small points these, it may be said. But remembering them, it is easier to visualize the background to the news. We sometimes wish Mr. Dulles, Mr. Eisenhower, Mr. St. Laurent and Mr. Pearson would remember these things – if they ever saw them."78 Lumping St. Laurent and Pearson with Dulles and Eisenhower and implying their ignorance of "British freedoms" amounted to calling into question the latter two's commitment to Britain.
The Hamilton Spectator angrily called for answers to the questions raised by St. Laurent's and Pearson's statements in the House of Commons. It wanted to know who the Canadian "colonial chore-boys" were and what part of Canada they came from. "Is a 'colonial chore boy' to be taken as identifying those Canadians who did not at once damn Great Britain and France for a step that even now seems to have been a bold precaution that may actually have prevented a major conflict? We are afraid this is the only inference." As for lumping Britain and France together with Russia, as St. Laurent had done, "is that to be taken as a slip of a skilled tongue or does it take us back to 1917 and 1944?"79 The allusion to the conscription crises of 1917 and 1944 implicitly raised the issue of St. Laurent's French-Canadian origins and, by extension, of the French Canadian people's lack of loyalty to Britain.
In Newfoundland, St. John's Daily News was appalled by St. Laurent's "scathing denunciation of Britain by inference." It told St. Laurent that he did not speak for Canada in being scandalised by Britain's conduct. "It does the Prime Minister no credit that he has refused to acknowledge that Britain has a case and it does him less than credit when he wilfully joins the myopic critics who try to throw on Britain and France the blame for the savage Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolt." "He seems to see Britain in the same light as less enlightened nations. And he has done no good to the Commonwealth, no good to Western interests, and no good to the unity of Canada by his unhappy and ill-chosen innuendos at Monday's session of the House of Commons."80 The next day, the paper's editorial columnist, "Wayfarer," called St. Laurent's statement "unjust and irrational in all the circumstances." St. Laurent's declaration "could very well have the unhappy effect of dividing Canadians at a time when unity within the nation is essential for the good of the world."81 On 30 November, the paper's editorial drew a distinction between the Prime Minister's "ill-tempered and ill-founded attack upon Britain" and Pearson's "more acceptable interpretation of Canada's policy on the Middle East question." It foresaw a threat to "the unity that is desired among the people of the Dominion of Canada" if Canadian foreign policy did not follow objectives consistent with Britain's goals in the Middle East.82 Neither of the flagship Liberal papers came to St. Laurent's defence. In its editorial of 27 November 1956, the Toronto Daily Star chose to ignore St. Laurent's remarks of the previous day in the House of Commons and instead focused on the acting Conservative Leader, Earle "These Freedoms...," editorial, Vancouver Sun, 15 December 1956, p. 4.
78 "Answers, Please!," editorial, Spectator, 28 November 1956, p. 6.
79 "St. Laurent and Britain," editorial, St. John's Daily News, 28 November 1956, p. 4.
80 "Wayfarer," "In The News," St. John's Daily News, 29 November 1956, p. 4.
Rowe, for his "perfect exhibition of the outdated colonial mentality." But the Winnipeg Free Press was not so lenient. Its own editorial, entitled "Anger is Out of Place," understood that St. Laurent might have been provoked by "some foolish Conservative criticisms," but his giving way to anger "makes this country's relations with its friends abroad more difficult.
And it unnecessarily sharpens disagreements within Canada; it raises greater obstacles to that degree of national unity, among people of diverse origins and outlooks, which is necessary to a consistent and successful policy for Canada's dealings with the world." St. Laurent was "wrong and unfair to lump together the 'Great Powers' as a group." "The tragedy of Mr. St.