Mackenzie King’s two failed attempts at giving Canada its own flag

News Feb 12, 2015 Ancaster News

By Mark Newman

News Staff

If William Lyon Mackenzie King had his way, Canada’s flag would have been a modified Red Ensign with a large gold maple leaf in the fly.

But King was not our longest serving prime minister by accident.

He managed 22 years in the PM’s office for the most part by constantly monitoring the political winds (with a little help from the occult) and to ignore, delay or avoid any issue that might provoke controversy or give opposition parties ammunition to use against his Liberal government unless absolutely necessary.

It was this predisposition to avoid stirring the political waters that saw King not once, but twice move toward giving Canada a flag and then back away from it.

“He was notable for avoiding controversy and here he was courting it,” said veteran Toronto writer Rick Archbold, author of I Stand For Canada – The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag.

Following the First World War the Red Ensign began to reappear and there was growing talk amongst the public, no doubt proud of this country’s war effort, that Canada should have a distinctive flag of its own.

On Nov. 21, 1921 the Canadian Coat of Arms was proclaimed by King George V and it replaced the shield of the provinces on the Red Ensign that became known as the Canadian Red Ensign.

In 1924 the King government authorized the Canadian Red Ensign to be flown on all federal buildings abroad and by the Canadian Merchant Marine, but there was still some question about it being flown in Canada as it had not been approved by Parliament.

King saw the growing sentiment for a new Canadian flag and in 1925 he appointed a committee of civil servants to consider the matter.

According to minutes from the Privy Council at the time there was a desire throughout the country for a distinctive flag “which shall be recognized as the flag of the Dominion of Canada.”

The committee would never finish its work.

King, whose Liberals held a bare majority in the House of Commons saw the flag as too politically controversial and abandoned the issue.

He knew very well that there were many in the opposition Conservative ranks like Tommy Church, a former Toronto mayor and Orange Order member, who would be quick to pounce on anything that might take away from what was perceived as Canada’s special connection to Great Britain.

That didn’t mean Canadians or their political representatives stopped talking about the flag issue.

The debate gained more traction in 1931 after the Statute of Westminster gave Canada and the other dominions control of their foreign affairs.

MP Agnes MacPhail noted in 1935 that the lack of a national flag was “an indication of our lack of nationhood, that we are still toddling and not walking.”

The end of the Second World War in 1945 stirred feelings of Canadian nationalism.

Many soldiers, sailors and air force members wore some sort of maple leaf badge or emblem on their uniforms.

In September 1945 The King government signed an order in council designating the Canadian Red Ensign to be flown when it was desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag until such time when Parliament formally adopts a national flag.

By then, even Mackenzie King felt the time was right for Canada to have its own flag.

In November 1945, as the House of Commons was debating the motion to set up a committee to consider the matter, Major General George Pearkes, the Progressive Conservative MP from Nanaimo, moved an amendment that the Canadian Red Ensign be approved as Canada’s national flag which would have made the committee unnecessary.

Speaker Dr. Gaspard Fauteux (who was referred to by many reporters in the press gallery at the time as Dr. Ghastly Faux-pas) ruled the amendment out of order and that was likely as close as this country would come to making the Red Ensign our national flag.

When it met in 1946 the parliamentary committee received thousands of formal designs and letters containing design suggestions.

According to the book The Flags of Canada by Alistair B. Fraser: “Of the 2,695 designs submitted to the committee by May 9, 1946, analysis revealed that maple leaves were featured in 1,611 or 60 percent, Union flags in 383, stars in 231, fleur-de-lis in 184, beavers in 116, crowns in 49, and crosses in 22. By this vote not only had Canadians shown their continuing love affair with the maple leaf, but only one in seven had shown a desire to retain the Union Flag on the national flag. Yet this is what the committee chose to do.”

The Liberal majority on the committee voted for a modified Red Ensign with a large golden maple leaf in the fly.

As this was Mackenzie King’s preferred choice, questions were raised by opposition MPs and others who wondered if the Liberal members had been told by the PM which design to pick and if the group was simply going through the motions.

Further, Canadian supporters of the British Empire continued to advocate for a flag that included the Union Jack while nationalists inside and outside Quebec wanted a flag without any foreign symbols or reminders of colonialism.

Once again the political waters were getting a bit warm for Mackenzie King who was also not in the best of health. He decided to shelve the whole flag matter, perhaps until public opinion swung around to his choice.

King would not get another chance.

He would step down as Liberal Party Leader and prime minister in 1948 and was dead two years later.

Canada’s quest for a national flag would simmer on for nearly two more decades.

— Next week: The Maple Leaf Forever

Mackenzie King’s two failed attempts at giving Canada its own flag

News Feb 12, 2015 Ancaster News

By Mark Newman

News Staff

If William Lyon Mackenzie King had his way, Canada’s flag would have been a modified Red Ensign with a large gold maple leaf in the fly.

But King was not our longest serving prime minister by accident.

He managed 22 years in the PM’s office for the most part by constantly monitoring the political winds (with a little help from the occult) and to ignore, delay or avoid any issue that might provoke controversy or give opposition parties ammunition to use against his Liberal government unless absolutely necessary.

It was this predisposition to avoid stirring the political waters that saw King not once, but twice move toward giving Canada a flag and then back away from it.

“He was notable for avoiding controversy and here he was courting it,” said veteran Toronto writer Rick Archbold, author of I Stand For Canada – The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag.

Following the First World War the Red Ensign began to reappear and there was growing talk amongst the public, no doubt proud of this country’s war effort, that Canada should have a distinctive flag of its own.

On Nov. 21, 1921 the Canadian Coat of Arms was proclaimed by King George V and it replaced the shield of the provinces on the Red Ensign that became known as the Canadian Red Ensign.

In 1924 the King government authorized the Canadian Red Ensign to be flown on all federal buildings abroad and by the Canadian Merchant Marine, but there was still some question about it being flown in Canada as it had not been approved by Parliament.

King saw the growing sentiment for a new Canadian flag and in 1925 he appointed a committee of civil servants to consider the matter.

According to minutes from the Privy Council at the time there was a desire throughout the country for a distinctive flag “which shall be recognized as the flag of the Dominion of Canada.”

The committee would never finish its work.

King, whose Liberals held a bare majority in the House of Commons saw the flag as too politically controversial and abandoned the issue.

He knew very well that there were many in the opposition Conservative ranks like Tommy Church, a former Toronto mayor and Orange Order member, who would be quick to pounce on anything that might take away from what was perceived as Canada’s special connection to Great Britain.

That didn’t mean Canadians or their political representatives stopped talking about the flag issue.

The debate gained more traction in 1931 after the Statute of Westminster gave Canada and the other dominions control of their foreign affairs.

MP Agnes MacPhail noted in 1935 that the lack of a national flag was “an indication of our lack of nationhood, that we are still toddling and not walking.”

The end of the Second World War in 1945 stirred feelings of Canadian nationalism.

Many soldiers, sailors and air force members wore some sort of maple leaf badge or emblem on their uniforms.

In September 1945 The King government signed an order in council designating the Canadian Red Ensign to be flown when it was desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag until such time when Parliament formally adopts a national flag.

By then, even Mackenzie King felt the time was right for Canada to have its own flag.

In November 1945, as the House of Commons was debating the motion to set up a committee to consider the matter, Major General George Pearkes, the Progressive Conservative MP from Nanaimo, moved an amendment that the Canadian Red Ensign be approved as Canada’s national flag which would have made the committee unnecessary.

Speaker Dr. Gaspard Fauteux (who was referred to by many reporters in the press gallery at the time as Dr. Ghastly Faux-pas) ruled the amendment out of order and that was likely as close as this country would come to making the Red Ensign our national flag.

When it met in 1946 the parliamentary committee received thousands of formal designs and letters containing design suggestions.

According to the book The Flags of Canada by Alistair B. Fraser: “Of the 2,695 designs submitted to the committee by May 9, 1946, analysis revealed that maple leaves were featured in 1,611 or 60 percent, Union flags in 383, stars in 231, fleur-de-lis in 184, beavers in 116, crowns in 49, and crosses in 22. By this vote not only had Canadians shown their continuing love affair with the maple leaf, but only one in seven had shown a desire to retain the Union Flag on the national flag. Yet this is what the committee chose to do.”

The Liberal majority on the committee voted for a modified Red Ensign with a large golden maple leaf in the fly.

As this was Mackenzie King’s preferred choice, questions were raised by opposition MPs and others who wondered if the Liberal members had been told by the PM which design to pick and if the group was simply going through the motions.

Further, Canadian supporters of the British Empire continued to advocate for a flag that included the Union Jack while nationalists inside and outside Quebec wanted a flag without any foreign symbols or reminders of colonialism.

Once again the political waters were getting a bit warm for Mackenzie King who was also not in the best of health. He decided to shelve the whole flag matter, perhaps until public opinion swung around to his choice.

King would not get another chance.

He would step down as Liberal Party Leader and prime minister in 1948 and was dead two years later.

Canada’s quest for a national flag would simmer on for nearly two more decades.

— Next week: The Maple Leaf Forever

Mackenzie King’s two failed attempts at giving Canada its own flag

News Feb 12, 2015 Ancaster News

By Mark Newman

News Staff

If William Lyon Mackenzie King had his way, Canada’s flag would have been a modified Red Ensign with a large gold maple leaf in the fly.

But King was not our longest serving prime minister by accident.

He managed 22 years in the PM’s office for the most part by constantly monitoring the political winds (with a little help from the occult) and to ignore, delay or avoid any issue that might provoke controversy or give opposition parties ammunition to use against his Liberal government unless absolutely necessary.

It was this predisposition to avoid stirring the political waters that saw King not once, but twice move toward giving Canada a flag and then back away from it.

“He was notable for avoiding controversy and here he was courting it,” said veteran Toronto writer Rick Archbold, author of I Stand For Canada – The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag.

Following the First World War the Red Ensign began to reappear and there was growing talk amongst the public, no doubt proud of this country’s war effort, that Canada should have a distinctive flag of its own.

On Nov. 21, 1921 the Canadian Coat of Arms was proclaimed by King George V and it replaced the shield of the provinces on the Red Ensign that became known as the Canadian Red Ensign.

In 1924 the King government authorized the Canadian Red Ensign to be flown on all federal buildings abroad and by the Canadian Merchant Marine, but there was still some question about it being flown in Canada as it had not been approved by Parliament.

King saw the growing sentiment for a new Canadian flag and in 1925 he appointed a committee of civil servants to consider the matter.

According to minutes from the Privy Council at the time there was a desire throughout the country for a distinctive flag “which shall be recognized as the flag of the Dominion of Canada.”

The committee would never finish its work.

King, whose Liberals held a bare majority in the House of Commons saw the flag as too politically controversial and abandoned the issue.

He knew very well that there were many in the opposition Conservative ranks like Tommy Church, a former Toronto mayor and Orange Order member, who would be quick to pounce on anything that might take away from what was perceived as Canada’s special connection to Great Britain.

That didn’t mean Canadians or their political representatives stopped talking about the flag issue.

The debate gained more traction in 1931 after the Statute of Westminster gave Canada and the other dominions control of their foreign affairs.

MP Agnes MacPhail noted in 1935 that the lack of a national flag was “an indication of our lack of nationhood, that we are still toddling and not walking.”

The end of the Second World War in 1945 stirred feelings of Canadian nationalism.

Many soldiers, sailors and air force members wore some sort of maple leaf badge or emblem on their uniforms.

In September 1945 The King government signed an order in council designating the Canadian Red Ensign to be flown when it was desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag until such time when Parliament formally adopts a national flag.

By then, even Mackenzie King felt the time was right for Canada to have its own flag.

In November 1945, as the House of Commons was debating the motion to set up a committee to consider the matter, Major General George Pearkes, the Progressive Conservative MP from Nanaimo, moved an amendment that the Canadian Red Ensign be approved as Canada’s national flag which would have made the committee unnecessary.

Speaker Dr. Gaspard Fauteux (who was referred to by many reporters in the press gallery at the time as Dr. Ghastly Faux-pas) ruled the amendment out of order and that was likely as close as this country would come to making the Red Ensign our national flag.

When it met in 1946 the parliamentary committee received thousands of formal designs and letters containing design suggestions.

According to the book The Flags of Canada by Alistair B. Fraser: “Of the 2,695 designs submitted to the committee by May 9, 1946, analysis revealed that maple leaves were featured in 1,611 or 60 percent, Union flags in 383, stars in 231, fleur-de-lis in 184, beavers in 116, crowns in 49, and crosses in 22. By this vote not only had Canadians shown their continuing love affair with the maple leaf, but only one in seven had shown a desire to retain the Union Flag on the national flag. Yet this is what the committee chose to do.”

The Liberal majority on the committee voted for a modified Red Ensign with a large golden maple leaf in the fly.

As this was Mackenzie King’s preferred choice, questions were raised by opposition MPs and others who wondered if the Liberal members had been told by the PM which design to pick and if the group was simply going through the motions.

Further, Canadian supporters of the British Empire continued to advocate for a flag that included the Union Jack while nationalists inside and outside Quebec wanted a flag without any foreign symbols or reminders of colonialism.

Once again the political waters were getting a bit warm for Mackenzie King who was also not in the best of health. He decided to shelve the whole flag matter, perhaps until public opinion swung around to his choice.

King would not get another chance.

He would step down as Liberal Party Leader and prime minister in 1948 and was dead two years later.

Canada’s quest for a national flag would simmer on for nearly two more decades.

— Next week: The Maple Leaf Forever