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Friday, February 15, 2013 

Canada Gets New Flag - February 15th, 1965

Here's your political history lesson for the day:
 "From the Tory benches the prime minister (Pearson) was greeted by jeers and hoots and shouts of derision. 'Vote with pride', "All right," exclaimed Mr. Pearson, "they have turned it down with jeers and insults, but we will vote with pride."

Shouts, screams, desk-banging - even obscene gestures - marked the final phase of the Conservative fight against the red Maple Leaf Flag.

Introduced in senate today, and even with the last vote they declared that they would not quit and that the fight would go on in the senate, where a similar flag resolution was being introduced today.

The early-morning victory for the new flag had been heralded much earlier Monday when the government had won a vote on its closure motion to limit debate. The count was 152 to 85.

At midnight Monday the result was plain to see when the last Conservative amendment calling for substitution of the Red Ensign for the Maple Leaf flag, was defeated by 162 to 80."

Ottawa Citizen
December 15, 1964

Following Canada's great contribution to the First World War, King George V granted Canada a coat of arms with red and white as the official colours. In 1925 Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed a parliamentary committee to investigate possible designs for a flag, but it failed to make a formal report. Almost yearly, there would be a debate in the House of Commons on the issue and invariably the debate bogged down on whether or not Canada's flag should be free of colonial symbolism.

Immediately after the end of the Second World War, Prime Minister Mackenzie King again appointed a parliamentary committee to consider the matter. English-speaking MPs demanded that the Union Jack form part of the flag, while French-speaking MPs wanted it eliminated. The committee hoped that its compromise which reduced the size of the Union Jack and added a gold maple leaf on a white background would satisfy everyone. It did not. In fact, the government of Maurice Duplessis passed a motion in the Quebec Legislature demanding that all 'foreign symbols' be excluded from any Canadian flag. When some Quebec Liberal MPs, including Jean Lesage (later premier of Quebec), threatened to vote against the government if it moved to adopt the recommendation, King quietly allowed the matter to drop. The matter remained unsolved largely because some Canadians wanted Canada's symbols to reflect its British heritage while others wanted them to be Canadian.

When he became prime minister in 1963, Lester B. Pearson, the Nobel-prize winning diplomat for his peacekeeping initiatives, wanted a distinctively Canadian flag. He had promised in the Liberal party platform in 1961 that a Liberal government would 'establish a distinctive Canadian flag within two years of taking office.' Unlike previous prime ministers, Pearson was committed to a new flag and, despite the political risks to his government, he ask heraldry experts to work on the flag. He favoured a flag with 3 maple leafs on a white background with a blue bar on each side. When Pearson introduced this flag at a Canadian Legion in Winnipeg on 17 May 1963, he was jeered and howled down by a angry group of veterans and created a storm of protest in parliament and across the country.

The Progressive Conservatives under former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker wanted a flag that honoured the French and British heritage; the New Democratic Party wanted a single maple leaf. The views varied across the country. A columnist in Toronto wrote that Pearson's design is 'a rag of appeasement, thrust upon us by a dictator who has split the country.' A letter to the Toronto Star said 'If all Canadians will fight as vigorously under the new flag as they have over it, there is still hope for us as a great nation.'

Pearson appointed Liberal MP John Matheson to chair a special parliamentary committee to bring a proposal to parliament. It proposed the current flag of a single maple leaf on a white background with two red banners on either side, but that, of course, did not settle the matter. After a lengthy parliamentary debate that tied up government for nearly six months, the government invoked closure to end debate and forced the members of parliament to vote. In the end, the 163 Liberals voted for the current flag; the 73 Conservatives were opposed.

On 15 February, 1965, the red maple leaf was flown for the first time as Canada's official flag and, despite some lingering opposition, an issue that had plagued governments for generations had been finally resolved. The Maple Leaf quickly became a powerful Canadian symbol, showing how much Canada had changed in a single generation.

From 'The Flag Debate'

  Progressive Bloggers

I'm old enough, Buck, to remember that fracas quite clearly to this day. It's still a burr under some Tory saddles just as they recoil in disgust at the Charter (see, my friend, Liberals can actually do some good things - or at least they could in the past). Fortunately the Canadian people came to embrace both our flag and our Charter. They're two of the main things you and I have in common.

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