Famous Confrontations

The world’s longest undefended border hasn’t prevented a few cross-border dustups between Canadian political leaders and their American counterparts.

The cringe-worthy and tension-laced photo-ops of Justin Trudeau versus Donald Trump, for instance, harken back to the harsher treatment of Lester B. Pearson at the White House in 1965. After hearing the Canadian Prime Minister publicly slam the Vietnam War the night before, President Lyndon Johnson grabbed Pearson by the shirt collar, lifted him from the floor and bellowed, “You pissed on my rug!” Pearson dusted himself off, going on to be one of Canada’s most extraordinary PMs, as documented by John English in Parli’s entry on the man known as “Mike”.

Back at home, Canadian politicians have in many cases given as good as they’ve gotten. Progressive Conservative John Crosbie’s famous run-in with fishermen in 1992 didn’t go beyond verbal jabs. But there’s no question he landed the knock-out punchline: “I didn’t take the fish from the goddamn water,” he blurted in the face of locals who had presumably done exactly that.

And when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien came nose-to-nose with protester Bill Clennett in 1996, the latter found himself gripped at the chin and neck by the PM’s “Shawinigan Handshake.”

Some Canadians think their country has been spared the political violence seen in the United States. However, we would do violence to Canadian history by failing to acknowledge some of the hostile and tragic events in our political past: the shooting on Parliament Hill in 2014, the October Crisis and the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Plus, we’ve seen genuine armed uprisings: Louis Riel’s Red River and North-West Rebellions, epitomized by the phrase “In forty days Ottawa will have my answer,” and William Lyon Mackenzie’s Upper Canada Rebellion, given voice in his “Do you love freedom?” manifesto.

So, while “Peace, Order and good Government” might be an enduring Canadian aspiration, there’s always a battle to make it so.

Image source: Canadian Press

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