From Norman Spector’s blog at the Globe, emphasis is mine:
Still, these days, one increasingly hears commentators invoking the rocky relationship between Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the 1960s as evidence of the difficulties that Conservatives experience when they are in office at the same time as Democrats. That, of course, misses the irony that it was Mr. Diefenbaker who stood up to the Americans while the Liberals ultimately agreed to station nuclear-tipped missiles on Canadian soil.
The Bomarcs were purchased in lieu of interceptor aircraft (originally the Avro Arrow, but I suppose the goverment could have opted for another type of plane). Canada needed these as part of its NORAD commitments to blow up Russian bombers as they crossed over the North Pole. Diefenbaker agreed to purchase them in 1958.
The pickle is that they were only really effective if they were nuclear tipped- the bigger the boom, the better the ability to blow up the bombers. When these bombers are on their way to drop nuclear bombs on cities, preference is given to machetes over scalpals. Diefenbaker announced the purchase of the missiles, and then promptly realized it would mean committing to Canada having nuclear weapons. He waffled, and this went on to be part of the shit storm that contributed to Pearson’s election.
Pearson did accept missiles, but did so reluctantly (the Canadian Encyclopedia reference on the matter is a lesson in understatement): Canada had purchased missiles to fulfill our NORAD obligations, and these missiles weren’t much use without nuclear warheads. By the time that the missiles were phased out, we were well enough into the ICBM age to need them less.
History is open to interpretation, but Diefenbaker’s “standing up” to the Americans hardly seems noble when he agreed to purchase missiles in the first place, and Pearson’s “capitulation” is a lot less severe when you consider that we had already actually bought and installed the missiles. Heck, if memory serves, Dief had (crazily!) already agreed that the missiles might be so-armed in the event of an emergency, but that the warheads must be stored south of the border. Pearson certainly may have had warmer relations with the United States, but he also is the dude the championed a whole lot of economic nationalism and famously pissed on LBJ’s rug.
(This is, ofcourse, an aside in a post about how the Canada/US relationship might change with the Obama election. I think that Harper is way to smart to pull a Diefenbaker and let a frosty relationship with the US get in the way of him staying in power. Remember: the Tories are now the party of Canada/US cooperation, the reverse was true in 1960.)