“What’s a million?”

A paraphrase of comments by Clarence Decatur (C.D.) Howe1 that is meant to portray government arrogance and looseness with the public purse.

During debate over estimates for the War Appropriation Bill in 1945, Howe, who was the minister responsible, told an opposition member: “I daresay my honourable friend could cut a million dollars from that amount, but a million dollars from the War Appropriations Bill (of more than $1.35 billion) would not be a very important matter.” John Diefenbaker, then an opposition MP from Saskatchewan, quickly rephrased Howe’s words2 to the pithier – if not exactly accurate – “What’s a million?”

The term – to the Liberals’ chagrin – took on a life of its own. It can still be heard tossed around in political debate today (though, taking account for inflation, the “million” is sometime updated to a “billion”) – a lasting and evocative testament to the penny-pinching of Canadians and their ever-abiding suspicion of rampant waste.

Image Source: Vancouver City Archives


  1. C.D. Howe. Juno Beach Centre.
  2. Was John Diefenbaker a good prime minister? CBC Radio Canada.

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