Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was just coming to that, but I was prefacing my main argument with a few incidentals. I made reference to the great leaders of the Liberal party in the past and I have just one or two more sentences on that subject. The opinions of these great leaders of the Liberal party in the past on the subject of a flag have been placed on the record many times, and their contribution to the history and development of our country. I fear for the future of the Liberal party under the present leadership, if the flag resolution is any indication of his ability as a leader. I am at a loss to understand why a man with a reputation as a great diplomat would introduce such a divisive and controversial issue.
Mr. Speaker, the number of letters and telegrams that I have been receiving from my constituency indicates that the majority want the red ensign retained as Canada's flag.
I need not mention the various organizations such as the Canadian Legion, the I.O.D.E. and the L.O.L. who are requesting my support for the red ensign. Mr. Speaker, the maple tree is a thing of beauty, but I am sorry that I cannot say the same thing about the proposed maple leaf flag. As one man said to me recently, it is more of a banner than a flag. Although he did not indicate his politics to me in any way, I feel he may have been a Liberal. In any case I was happy to have him in my office. He is a retired air force chap and said he felt the present Liberal minority government has no right to impose its will on a whole people, as it is doing with the flag, because it is a minority government. I say again, if the government is determined to have a new flag this should only be decided upon by a majority of all the people voting upon it in a referendum or at another election.
The flag which the committee has asked us to accept, Mr. Speaker, has no tradition behind it, except perhaps the colours red and white which are taken from the red ensign. At the risk of being repetitious I am just adding my voice to the others raised in protest throughout Canada and here in this House of Commons against this red and white maple leaf flag replacing the Canadian red ensign which has flown so proudly in Canada and abroad all these years, and has been honoured by all. Immigrants coming to Canada have been swearing allegiance to this Canadian red ensign of ours. To me the red ensign is more than a bit of bunting; it stands for and exemplifies the hopes and aspirations of many generations of every ethnic group who have sought, and found, security and happiness beneath its folds.
I am sure no one wants to think that next year or the year after, or indeed even in 50 or 100 years from now, there should be any necessity for changing our flag. This is why we must decide right now. This matter has already caused so much disunity in this country, and this could easily happen again if at some future time any group was successful in putting enough political pressure on another weak and vacillating government. We in the Conservative party believe that this flag question has been handled in the worst possible way and we feel that the only way the people in our nation will be satisfied with any settlement of the question is to have a plebiscite. We should remember that we are settling this matter for all time
and we should not hesitate to take all the time necessary to do it right.
Many people have spoken of symbols and what the symbols on the flag are supposed to represent. It is the emotions and memories the flag evokes which make this such a serious matter to so many people. There is no doubt that many people in this country believe that a flag symbolizes not only the greatness of this nation, but certain facts about Canada and its history that we are proud of and that we hope will remain a permanent part of our future. To these people the removal of known symbols from our flag is a declaration of intention to destroy that part of our Canadian way of life.
Mr. Speaker, the controversy over the flag really boils down to one simple question: Do we have on our national flag any symbols of our history and traditions, or do we not? This is the one question on which we think there should be a national referendum. Some people may be opposed to a referendum or plebiscite because they feel there are too many practical difficulties in the way of permitting a decisive expression of opinion on the flag design. To my mind this is not necessary at all. The question need simply be asked: Should our flag have symbols and traditions? A simple "yes" or "no" is all that would be required, and I suggest that the work of the flag committee would then become relatively simple. I believe that an overwhelming majority of Canadians are in favour of retaining some symbols on our flag and I also believe they have a right to stand up and be counted on this important question.
I believe there is a great deal of misunderstanding in this country about the meaning of symbols. I am aware that many people believe that the presence of the union jack on our flag symbolizes some sort of subservience to Great Britain. I am aware that this feeling is strongly held in the province of Quebec and even to some extent in other parts of the country. We in this house know there is no question of subservience, and therefore that feeling is just plain nonsense. I am surprised that some members of this house continue to foster such notions and use such arguments. To me this is like the argument that there should be no statues in churches because some people say this suggests idolatry. Just because some people use this silly argument it has never stopped churches from having statues, because they know very well they are not their idols.
In exactly the same way I want to see the union jack kept on our flag as a proud declara-
tion and reminder of our democracy, passing on the British heritage of the parliamentary system and type of justice. This symbol is very precious and meaningful to most Canadians. No one can say that it mars the beauty of the flag design and the only argument for its removal is the silly one that some people foster a false interpretation of what it stands for.
The argument I might make to my French Canadian colleagues to enlist their support for this symbol is to remind them that it is not just the people of Quebec who are anxious that their right to their religion and language should be maintained. Western Canadians are every bit as devoted to the preservation of French Canadian rights as they are to their own. When there is misunderstanding of the French devotion to their language, responsible people in western Canada do not add strength to superstitions or ill-informed and harmful remarks. The one thing that is uppermost in the minds of responsible Canadians is that the right of individuals must be protected. In our democracy we take pride in the fact that Canadians have a right to be different. We conform to the rule of law but we do not ask the conformity of our neighbour to our particular brand of behaviour. The French Canadian's right to speak his language and retain his customs is cherished by the western Canadian and understood by him, just as he cherishes his own right to have his own language and customs. Once one right is taken away, all rights might soon slip away.
Western Canadians wish to have a fleur-de-lis on the national flag. It is a symbol and a reminder that Canada does have a history that we are proud of and that both races have made great history in building up this great Canada of ours. To me the decision of the flag committee would be acceptable if they had taken a flag with these two symbols on it. The symbols are small while the maple leaf is large, appropriate I would say to the philosophy that while we are proud of our history and traditions and intend to build on them, Canada's greatness lies ahead of us and the large maple leaf symbolizes the forward look of optimism of all our people. The two symbols are not just a reminder of our past; their position on the flag is also an indication of the future. They are placed wide apart, a symbol of their determination that both languages have a place and each culture is necessary and part of our strength. This could show the determination that each will survive and be respected and cherished as a separate entity in a united country.
I suppose that every symbol can be misunderstood. People can say the wrong things about anything. The choice of responsible people is to take the path of courage, and one does not deviate from the right because the weak or the ill-informed may criticize. It is my belief that our flag needs these symbols as a reminder to every citizen, from whatever part of the country he comes, that his way of life is cherished and respected by other Canadians who have a different culture and who ask of him only that he gives the same respect to their way of life.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, let the Canadian people vote on the flag in another election or by a referendum as suggested in the amendment by the hon. member for Perth (Mr. Monteith). Why all the rush about a new flag before Christmas? Is this the only way the Prime Minister could bring about an election, or was this what he had in mind when he suddenly introduced the flag resolution, which had not been included in the speech from the throne last February?
The Prime Minister has been known to change his mind. I suggest that if he would change his mind on this issue, it would be to the advantage of his party and himself to submit this matter to the electors of Canada and they could make the decision at the next federal election. I hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider and withdraw his motion even at this late date, and submit the issue to the electors.
Topic: CANADIAN FLAG