Naming of the Old Ottawa City Hall to The John G. Diefenbaker Building

Speaking Notes for The Honourable Rona Ambrose
Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Status of Women

Ottawa, Ontario
September 19, 2011

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Hello everyone. It is my honour today to be here with my colleague the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to announce the naming of this building after Canada's 18th Prime Minister, John G. Diefenbaker.

The Government of Canada extends such honours only to nation builders—people, events or places that have achieved historical significance by contributing to the building of Canada.

John G. Diefenbaker was unquestionably such a figure.

Canadians very recently elected the most diverse parliament in its history, and it's important to remember that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker started us in that direction.

In fact, although he was born in the 19th century, John Diefenbaker's vision of Canada continues to shape our nation in the 21st century.

He declared himself "determined to bring about a Canadian citizenship that knew no hyphenated consideration" and proudly noted that "in the House of Commons today we have members of Italian, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, Chinese and Ukrainian origin—and they are all Canadians"—in 1958. That's over half a century ago.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker also appointed the first woman to Cabinet, so you could say that he and Ellen Fairclough, that first female Cabinet minister, paved the way for me and all the other women in Prime Minister Harper's Cabinet.

Dief, as he was fondly known, helped farmers by finding a new market for their wheat in China.

The full enfranchisement—the right to vote—of Aboriginal people also occurred under his government and he appointed James Gladstone of the Blood tribe to the Senate, thereby making him Canada's first Aboriginal Senator.

He supported the independence of many Commonwealth countries before it was popular to do so.

And he fought apartheid. In fact, his anti-apartheid statement in 1961 is said to have contributed to the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth.

So it's appropriate that this building, used by staff from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, as well as the Canada School of Public Service and my own department, PWGSC, is being named after him.

In short, it's clear that John G. Diefenbaker was one of our great nation builders, as he helped shape the Canada we are all so proud of today.

It is a great pleasure to honour such a man: a leader, a man of vision, and a great Canadian.

Thank you.