November 8, 1945 (20th Parliament, 1st Session)


Hon. J. L. ILSIASY@Acting Prime Minister

That in the opinion of this house, it is expedient that Canada posses a distinctive national flag and that a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to consider and report upon a suitable design for such a flag;
That standing order 65 of the House of Commons be suspended in relation thereto;
That the said committee have power to send for persons, .papers and records to aid iij the discharge of its functions; and
That a message be sent to the Senate to inform their honours that the House of Commons has appointed this committee and to request their honours to appoint members of the Senate to act thereon with the members of the House of Commons as a joint committee of both houses.
He said: Mr. Speaker, in moving on behalf of the Pj-ime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) the resolution standing in his name to set up a joint committee of the two houses of parliament to consider and report upon a suitable design for a distinctive national flag, I wish to inform the house that several weeks ago, when the government was more optimistic about the progress which would be made in the proceedings of the house, I asked my colleague the Minister of Veterans Affairs (Mr. Mackenzie)

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if he would be prepared to proceed with this resolution during my absence on the victory loan tour. The minister has been ready since that time to proceed with the motion, and he will now speak on behalf of the government.
Hon. IAN A. MACKENZIE (Minister of Veterans Affairs): Mr. Speaker, I wish to submit for the consideration of this house the resolution that stands on the order paper in the name of the Prime Minister.
This house will recall that similar resolutions from private members were moved here by members of previous parliaments, not by members of the government, but by private members of this house.
I recall this afternoon the repeated efforts of the former member -for North Battleford, Cameron McIntosh, to bring this issue to the attention of previous parliaments, and on one occasion a resolution along similar lines moved by a former Conservative member for Nanaimo, Mr. Dickie, who was highly respected in this house.
In the discussions of previous days there were very valuable contributions made, notably by the hon. member for Davenport (Mr. MacNicol), by the former member for Kin-dersley, Mr. Elliott, by the Right Hon. R. B. Bennett, now Lord Bennett, and by the present Prime Minister.
There have been suggestions by some persons that this is not an important matter, and that it should not be brought forward at this time. With this I emphatically disagree. In the life of every nation symbols are important, and perhaps the most important of these is a national flag. We need only to think of the vast affection and loyalty that has attached to the union jack in Britain and throughout the commonwealth, and I yield to no one in this house in my admiration for that great symbol of empire. In the same way, for our neighbours to the south the stars and stripes have been an inspiration to national unity and national endeavour. We in Canada have shared the union jack, and we shall always honour it as the symbol of much that is best and most precious in our heritage; but we have had nothing that has been peculiarly and indisputably our own, that would symbolize Canada-all of Canada and everyone in Canada. There should be something that all cam see and look to with pride, as the symbol of this great nation of ours, to which affection and loyalty can attach, and which can become the sign of the unity and purpose that will make Canada great.
In advocating that Canada have a flag of its own, we are not suggesting that a narrow nationalism become our goal. Far from it. We are not turning our backs on the British
commonwealth; far from it. We are not drawing away from the new international community of the united nations; far from it. It is the firm intention of the government, and of everyone in Canada, that we shall continue to play our part in the British commonwealth, an association of nations that has been an example to the world. It is equally our intention that Canada shall be a strong and unselfish voice, and a courageous and active member in the united nations; that is our hope for future peace. All of that is ' our purpose. In our laudable longing to have a national flag we are only seeking to give to the spirit of Canada, to the enthusiasm of our people and to the sacrifice of our men in two terrible wars, the symbolism that all other nations have joined to create a force in their national life, the symbolism of a national flag.
There are, however, definite practical disadvantages in not having a distinctive Canadian flag. There is the necessity for a Canadian flag on the buildings of our ambassadors, ministers and high commissioners in other lands. At present the Canadian red ensign flies from them, the same flag that now flies from the peace tower here. But it has never been adopted as a national flag although it has become recognized generally as distinctive of Canada, and there is much confusion concerning its use.
On our war memorials in France, Belgium, Great Britain, and other countries where the flags of the allied nations have been enshrined, there is no distinctive flag to commemorate the Canadians whose sacrifice is honoured there.
' A distinguished Canadian correspondent-I believe he is with us here-visited the cathedral at Amiens, where the memory is honoured of Canadians who stemmed the onrush of the Germans in 1918. He described in the following words the reaction of a leading citizen of Amiens who was his guide:
He led the way -around the altar to where on one side of the lady chapel were hung the flags of those countries whose soldiers had stood between Amiens and the invader. He went on to explain that there was no flag for Canada and the people of Amiens deeply regretted this was so. Canada, alone, was missing. But it was not their fault. They had tried to obtain the Canadian flag. They had taken the matter up with the government at Paris and had been told that there was no Canadian flag.
It would not be right, he said, to hang a second British flag. He felt and his fellow townsmen felt that this would be unworthy of Canada and, in any case, would be meaningless -since one British flag was there already. If the writer could assure him that there had been any change in this situation, the city of Amiens would write to Paris immediately.
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Unfortunately no assurances could be given. It did not seem right that the Canadian boys, of all who fell in the battle of Amiens, should not be remembered in this ancient and holy place.
Canada is to-day as a nation taking her just place in the forefront at international conferences. When both the United Kingdom and Canada are represented it would be misleading if there were not some distinctive flag to identify the Canadian delegation.
The delegations from Great Britain might have every reason to resent Canada appropriating the flag which is their distinctive emblem. Other countries of the commonwealth do not so presume.
Then again, we all recall the confusion and embarrassment at the Olympic games in 1928, when there was no Canadian flag to go to the masthead to honour Canadian victories, although our glorious athletes frequently came-in first in the competitive games in that great event.
Our Canadian defence forces have had more than one occasion in our time to serve abroad alongside other British forces. It seems only appropriate that the banners at their camps and quarters and under which they march should betoken t'heir Canadian origin.
Furthermore, the use of the union jack as the Canadian flag gives a mistaken impression abroad, especially in the United States, where, if we are to discharge our historic function as interpreter, it is of real importance to emphasize that Canada speaks with her own voice.
Other reasons too could be cited for the importance of this matter, and other instances of difficulty and embarrassment through the lack of a distinctive national flag. If the matter is, then, important, is this a proper time to bring it. up? I think it is. The war has brought Canada to a new peak of international importance, to a new recognition in the eyes of the world. We are regarded as a nation, and a powerful nation, and we are expected to have the attributes of one. A national flag is one of thesq. Moreover, after Canada's great part in this war, after the solidarity of the commonwealth that was demonstrated in the face of peril and attack, none can misunderstand our action, none can think that this is a symbol to withdrawal and isolation. In the debate on this question in -1938 our present Prime Minister concluded with, a cogent argument, which if it was effective then, is ten times more pointed now- an argument, too, as we can now see, which was pungent in its prophecy. Let me quote his words:
There has never been a time, I believe, when the relations between Canada and the mother country were so cordial, so completely friendly,
fMr. Mackenzie.]
helpful and cooperative in every way as they are at the present time. The present is the time, then, to consider this question. It will not be disposed of, in my opinion, until it is settled in Canada as it has been in the other dominions. If we do not settle it now, some issue may arise in the course of a few years which will provoke another discussion and lead to the settlement of the question in a manner that may be misunderstood elsewhere. To-day there is no possible danger of misunderstanding on the part of anyone in this country, in Britain, in Europe or elsewhere in the world, as to what Canada has in mind in seeking to have a distinctive national flag.
In considering the question of a national flag, I think it may be helpful, if I give to the house a brief summary of the historical background and of the present position with regard to flags in Canada.
Prior to 1867, the flag in general use was the union jack, which was flown in all the colonies. Upon the establishment of com-federation, however, it was felt desirable to have a symbol of the new country that had been created, and this was achieved through the use of a flag made up of the British red ensign with the Canadian coat of arms in the fly, a flag which became known as the Canadian red ensign. The ensign was flown from all public buildings after 1867, and achieved quite general use. In a governor general's dispatch of December, 1891, on the question of the issuance of a formal warrant for use of the flag on Canadian merchant vessels, Lord Stanley wrote:
Though no actual order has ever been issued the dominion government has encouraged by precept and example the use on all public buildings throughout the provinces of the red ensign with the Canadian badge in the "fly". I submit that the flag is one which has come to be considered as the recognized flag of the dominion both ashore and afloat, and on sentimental grounds I think there is much to be said for its retention.
In 1870 the Canadian blue ensign was formally approved for use on Canadian government vessels. In 1892 the Canadian red ensign was authorized by admiralty warrant for use on merchant vessels registered in Canada. On account, however, of the lack of any formal adoption as a national flag the use of the red ensign on public buildings ceased about 1904, on instruction of the Minister of Public Works of that day. With this change the use of the ensign gradually declined, until by 1912 the colonial secretary gave it as his opinion that "the union flag is the national flag of Canada."
In 1903 Australia had adopted a national flag; in 1900 New Zealand had done the same, and it soon became clear, especially after the first world war, in which Canada played so magnifieant a part, that it was necessary to

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have some emblem that would be distinctive of this country. The same need was felt in the Union of South Africa, which adopted a flag about 1927 or 1928. So far as Canada wTas concerned the only immediate action taken was an order in- council in 1924 authorizing the Canadian red ensign to be flown "over all premises owned or occupied by the Canadian government abroad".
The order in council of 1924 did not give the ensign any formal status as a national flag, but the obvious need for a national emblem led to its steadily increased use. At both the Quebec conferences-in 1943 and 1944 it flew alongside the union jack and the stars and stripes. On October 22, 1943, the cabinet war committee agreed that the army should provide for flying the Canadian red ensign where Canadian forces were serving with forces of other nations, and noted with approval action taken by the R.C.A.F. to fly it in conjunction with the R.C.A.F. service flag at all stations where the air force were serving with the forces of other nations. During the entire conference at San Francisco last summer it flew with the flags of forty-nine other united nations. On V-E day and V-J day the red ensign flew from the peace tower in honour of the part played by the Canadian forces in the victories that had been achieved. To remove any possible doubt as to the propriety of its use, pending action on a national flag by parliament order in council P.C. 5888 was passed1 on September 5 of this year, copies of which were tabled in this house by the Acting Prime Minister on October 1. The text appears in Hansard at page 593.
I might mention one or two other points with regard to the use of flags for Canadian purposes. I have already referred to the adoption of the Canadian blue ensign in 1870 for use on Canadian government vessels. There was, of course, no Canadian navy at that time. However, under a memorandum of agreement of 1911 between the government and the admiralty, ships of the Royal Canadian Navy were authorized to fly the Canadian blue ensign at the jack staff as a distinctive national flag, the white ensign being displayed at the stern. The present practice with the Royal Canadian Navy, I believe, is to fly at sea only the white ensign, and in harbour to add the Canadian blue ensign at the jack staff.
There have been many discussions of the flag question in former parliaments. In 1925 the government appointed a committee of officials to choose a design for a Canadian flag, an incident that provoked a heated debate in the House of Commons owing to an unfortunate coincidence as to the personnel of
the committee. As a result of that debate the committee was disbanded and no action was taken.
I cannot be certain of all the occasions on which the issue has been debated since chat year, but there were debates in 1931, in 1932, in 1933, in 1935, in 1937 and in 1938. There have been resolutions, as I said, by Mr. Cameron McIntosh, the Liberal, and by Mr. C. H. Dickie, the Conservative. In 1938 the present Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) and the then leader of the opposition, the Right Hon. R. B. Bennett, agreed that a committee should be appointed to recommend an appropriate design, but the resolution died on the order paper without a vote.
The debate of 1938 is worth recalling for another reason, because in that year the former member for Kindersley, Mr. Elliott, recalled that Canada already has a flag which is 176 years older than the union jack itself. He referred to the flag of Nova Scotia, authorized in 1625 by Charles I. This flag of Nova Scotia consists of the blue cross of St. Andrew on a white field, with an orange tawny shield bearing a red lion in the centre. Mr. Elliott said he would have had no objection to the dominion asking Nova Scotia if that flag might be adopted for the whole of Canada. While I am not making that suggestion, we are indebted to Mr. Elliott for bringing out the fact that as early as 1625 the king had no objection to his subjects on this side of the Atlantic having a distinctive flag of their o^n.
Arising out of this, the fact that even at so early a date no impropriety was seen in having distinctive flags, I want to reemphasize that in choosing -a national flag for Canada there is no thought or suggestion that we shall cease to honour the union jack as the symbol of the British commonwealth and empire as a whole. Our affections are not so shrivelled or our enthusiasm so narrow that we need renounce the one because we adopt the other. Both can have their place; both do have their place; both, will have their place.-
As Canadians we take justifiable pride in the growth of Canada, in its individuality, in its nationhood. Our Canadain army went into action under the red ensign and, without deviating from our determination to pool our resources with those of the other British nations and our allied nations in the most effective manner towards the attainment of victory, the Canadian people at all times indicated a strong desire that the identity of Canadian forces and of individual Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen be maintained.
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Even Canadians who joined the fleet air arm of the Royal Navy, a force operated and maintained entirely by the government of the United Kingdom, wore the "Canada" badge on their shoulders, and we were proud that they should do so. This sense of distinctive pride is in no way inconsistent with the broader attachment to the British commonwealth as a whole.
We do not think of one who has a well developed sense of local pride in his home city as lacking in national patriotism; nor should we think of one who has a good sense of Canadian national pride as being any the less devoted to the purposes and principles of the British commonwealth of nations.
Turning now to the resolution. itself, there are one or two matters I should like particularly to point out. Hon. members will have noted that the resolution is not only for the establishment of a committee on the flag, but also to place it on record-
That in the opinion of this house, it is expedient that Canada possess a distinctive national flag.
In other words, approval of this resolution will involve a decision by the house that Canada should have a distinctive national flag. If there are any members who do not agree that Canada should have such a flag, this is their opportunity to record such a view, by voting against the resolution. If the resolution- is carried it will not be for the committee to consider whether a distinctive flag should or should not be adopted. Approval of the adoption of a distinctive flag is embodied in approval of the resolution itself, and the sole function of the committee, as the resolution makes clear, will be "to consider and report upon a suitable design for such a flag".
One further point to which I would refer is, in a sense, related to the rule about discussion in the house of matters before a committee. This matter of the design of the flag Is not yet before the committee, but I think there is good reason to feel that much might be lost, and little gained by a discussion of designs here in the house, before the committee has an- opportunity to study the matter and make its report. The question of the design of a national flag is one that will re-quire careful study and investigation. It is also a subject about which many of us have personal views on the question-as indeed I have myself-but I feel that it will avoid a great deal of trouble and difficulty if these personal views are withheld until we have the report of the committee before us. For that reason I do not myself intend to ad-

vocate or suggest any particular flag or design that might be adopted as our national flag.
There is nothing more, Mr. Speaker, that I wish to say. I earnestly hope that it will be unanimously adopted by the house, and that the work of the committee will settle now and for all, and for the good of Canada, and through the growth and influence of Canada for the good of the commonwealth and the community of nations, this question of our national flag and symbol. The children of to-day and, let us pray, the children of tomorrow, will strive for and gain a ne-w peace, a new freedom and a new security under the protection of the flag of Canada.

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