How The Americans Toppled Diefenbaker

Posted on Monday, December 22 at 19:03 by tundraboy
It wasn't the sort of regime change orchestrated by the U.S. in Iran in 1953, the Congo in 1960, or Chile in 1976. Those regime changes, as described in Mark Zapezauer's The CIA's Greatest Hits, featured secret police, kidnapping, torture, and blood in the streets. Nor was it the sort of rigged election seen in France, Italy, or Greece after World War II, when the CIA co-opted the Nazi war on communism and took it to new levels of mayhem and deception.

The ending of John Diefenbaker's regime was definitely kinder and gentler. Even an unchallenged superpower needs to be careful when it changes a regime so close to home.

As the 1950s gave way to the '60s, recently-declassified White House correspondence shows John Diefenbaker becoming an irksome problem for President John F. Kennedy. He had refused to end trade with Cuba, refused to join the U.S.-centred Organization of American States, and further alienated J.F.K. by supporting a nuclear test ban treaty in Europe and by selling wheat to China.

According to Diefenbaker, Kennedy told him bluntly that, "When I tell Canada to do something, I expect her to do it!"--a message which sat badly with the ultra-nationalist Tory prime minister.

But it was the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962 that brought Canadian-American tensions to their boiling-point. Kennedy failed to consult with Canada about his naval blockade of Soviet warships, and instead requested and assumed Canada's full support just hours before he announced it to the world.

Diefenbaker then shocked some members of his cabinet and the armed forces by refusing to put Canadian forces on advanced readiness, calling instead for an independent investigation of the alleged missiles installed in Cuba.

That the Canadian prime minister did so without the full support of his cabinet (and the then Liberal opposition) did not mitigate Kennedy's fury. Nor did the fact that, in defiance of Dief's instructions, Canada's armed forces put themselves on advanced readiness on their own, establishing for the first time that Canada's armies could and would follow an American president instead of their own prime minister.

There was also the infuriating fact that, even when Canada's U.S.-purchased Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles finally went on alert, they were useless, because Diefenbaker had never followed through on an alleged promise to arm them with the requisite nuclear warheads.

The Americans had been lobbying for Canada's nuclear compliance since at least 1959 and Dief's cancellation of the Avro Arrow fighter plane. The campaign intensified in 1961 during the U.S. ambassadorship of Livingston Merchant, a man whose connections to the world of covert action went unnoticed by the Canadian public. He was former State Department liaison to the CIA, an activist in the efforts to destabilize Cuba, and a documented supporter of political assassination, a remedy he'd suggested for both Fidel Castro and Che Guevera.

Merchant quietly launched a pro-nuclear, anti-Diefenbaker campaign aimed at Canada's mainstream media, top-ranking members of Canada's armed forces, and Diefenbaker's enemies inside and outside of his own party.

Richard Sanders, in A People's History of the CIA, quotes then RCAF Public Relations Director Commander Bill Lee as saying, "It was a flat-out campaign. We identified key journalists, big labour, key Tory hitters and...Liberals. We wanted people with influence on members of cabinet. In the end, the pressure paid off."

The nuclear push begun by Merchant was continued through 1962 by his successor, Bill Butterworth. The new ambassador was a close colleague of CIA founder-director Allen Dulles, and now known to have placed six espionage officers in his Ottawa office.

During the election campaign of 1962, Liberal opposition leader Lester Pearson was provided with state-of-the-art polling expertise from John Kennedy's own election team. Diefenbaker survived that election with a minority government, fully expecting to govern for another term. But the White House had a different agenda. With help from the State Department and the Pentagon, the second-stage strategy was to humiliate Diefenbaker in front of Canadian voters. On January 23, 1963, newly-retired U.S. Air Force General Lauris Norstad held an unprecedented press conference in Ottawa in which he publicly condemned Diefenbaker's anti-nuclear policies. (This, commented one U.S. authority at the time, was simply not done, not even to the Russians.)

Nine days later, Lester Pearson held a similar press conference. He announced (in spite of his Nobel Peace Prize and his marriage to a high-profile dove and member of the anti-nuclear Voice of Women) that he was abandoning his anti-nuclear position, and would, if prime minister, accept nuclear warheads for the Bomarc missiles. It was a shocking turnabout--one that caused Pierre Trudeau to call Pearson "Canada's defrocked Priest of Peace" and refuse to stand as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election.

Historians agree that Diefenbaker, in spite of his anti-nuclear policies and waning popularity, might still have achieved a political recovery. But, within two weeks, the second U.S. shoe would drop.

On January 23, in Washington, the U.S. State Department issued a press release supporting Pearson's pro-nuclear stance and suggesting that Diefenbaker had misled Canadians on nuclear issues. It was another unprecedented move, approved of by the Pentagon and probably the White House.

The effects were predictable. Fights broke out between the pro- and anti-nuclear ministers in cabinet. Several resigned. Diefenbaker recalled the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., and in the House of Commons Pearson called for a non-confidence motion based on Diefenbaker's alleged inability to manage relations between Canada and the U.S. Diefenbaker lost the vote, and his government fell on February 5.

The final toppling of John Diefenbaker had taken 33 days. Commenting on that period, Trudeau later asked: "Do you believe it was coincidence? Why should the United States treat Canada any differently than Guatemala (a country then openly targeted by the U.S.) if reasons of state require it and circumstances permit?"

If American agents did not orchestrate the end of their problematic Canadian enemy, they certainly believed they did. "George Ball and I knocked over the Diefenbaker government with one press release," boasted McGeorge Bundy, J.F.K.'s national security advisor, and one of those who approved the notorious press release. Rufus Smith, senior advisor to U.S. Ambassador Butterworth, added, "It was like tossing a match into dried hay!"

The Americans' self-styled image as defenders of the continent slipped a little during the subsequent 1963 federal election when U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara inadvertently let slip that putting the Bomarc bases in Canada was intended to attract the fire of Soviet missiles that would otherwise be aimed at U.S. targets. But even that slip failed to rescue Diefenbaker's campaign or tarnish John Kennedy's popularity in Canada. Diefenbaker had been effectively portrayed by the U.S. as a fool on defence and nuclear weaponry, and he paid the price when the Liberals under Pearson swept to power in the May 1963 election.

* * *
As a footnote, it should perhaps be noted that regime changes, however smooth and successful, may not last long or achieve their intended purpose. When Trudeau succeeded Pearson as prime minister, he adopted Diefenbaker's anti-nuke stance against the Bomarc missiles and had them all dismantled.

(Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg-based writer and broadcaster. Sources for all the statements in this article are available on request. She can be reached at
Taken from The CCPA Monitor, May 2003
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Note: lesleyhughescanada@yaho... http://www.policyaltern...

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