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01 October, 2015

AN ELECTION PROMISE TO EQUAL ALL ELECTION PROMISES?


Grade 6 student Paul Grein, of Durham, producer of a video featuring the
birth place of John Diefenbaker in Neustadt, ON. 
I simply cannot keep this one to myself.

Just when you think you’ve heard every election campaign promise in the book, you hear another one!

A re-elected Conservative government would buy the home in southern Grey County, Ontario, where former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was born and turn it into a national historic site. Get that … If re-elected!


Now, let’s think about that for a minute…Optimistically, if 100 percent of the eligible voters in Neustadt (pop. 553) were to be duly impressed with the Conservative campaign promise, you would be looking at something in the neighbourhood of 200 favourable votes. Talk about big-time politics in what may well be one of the most crucial federal elections in Canadian history!

It is now all over for me. Any other campaign announcement from here on in will pale by comparison (with tongue placed firmly in my cheek).

The announcement, last this week by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, was the subject of a news release sent out Friday, Sept. 25, by the "Campaign to Re-Elect Conservative Larry Miller" in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. Miller, who is seeking a fifth term as MP, said he has been a strong supporter of the federal government purchasing and preserving the former Diefenbaker house.

Diefenbaker, a Progressive Conservative prime minister from 1957 to 1963, was born in the house at 144 Barbara St. in Neustadt on Sept. 18, 1895. He lived there until he was eight years old, when he and his family moved to Saskatchewan. The home has served as a museum in the past and is now owned by the Bank of Montreal, which held the mortgage on the property.

Miller’s opponents, Liberal candidate Kimberley Love and the NDP’s David McLaren, both said they too would support establishing the house as a national historic site and, if elected, would push for it to happen. Who said today's politicians do not know a good thing when they see it?

“It’s not partisan. It doesn’t matter who starts it up, but certainly I’ve already had some conversations with Liberals about the possibility of that,” Love said in an interview. “I actually thought it would be a great thing if, as a Grey County girl and a Liberal, I helped to move that project along, so I would be delighted to see that happen.”

The “turning point” in making it all happen came earlier this year when Paul Grein, a Grade 6 student from Durham, entered a national history contest in which he created a video on Diefenbaker, featuring the house in Neustadt. Miller encouraged Conservative staffers to show the video to Harper. “It’s history now, but back at the end of May or June, we got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office saying that they were hoping to incorporate this into the election platform and they did,” Miller added.

Once the home is purchased, it would be operated by Parks Canada, similar to existing arrangements for William Lyon Mackenzie King’s family home in Kitchener and Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s family home in Quebec.
There are 973 designated National Historic Sites in Canada, only 168 of which are operated by Parks Canada. The Billy Bishop Home and Museum in Owen Sound, recognized as a National Historic Site in 2002 and the only other such site in Grey-Bruce, is not among them. 

Neustadt voters can certainly rest easy…Regardless of who wins the election, it seems that the birthplace of the Rt. Hon. John George Diefenbaker will have new owners and new designation. Dief will turn over in his grave, however, if it is a Liberal or NDP government that makes it happen.

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I had special interest in this story because back in 1976, as managing editor of the Prince Albert, Sask., Daily Herald, I was a founding member of what was then to be the “Museum of the North” housed in the home formerly owned by John and Olive Diefenbaker at 246 19th Street in Prince Albert. We lived just two doors east of the Diefenbakers at the time.

Diefenbaker was always conscious of his legacy and turned the property over to P.A. for $1 when, after his 80th birthday, he realized it would no longer be practical for him to maintain the residence. He also owned a home in Ottawa. He was not the least amused when we were slow getting off the mark after he donated the home to the city. To spite us, he gave parts of his library to the Diefenbaker Canada Centre, University of Saskatchewan, that was also being established at that time.


Prince Albert has been trying to have the home designated as a National Historic Site since 2013.  There is still time to make it a campaign promise in that federal riding too.  Come on Mr. Harper!
Diefenbaker House and Museum in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  My neighbour in the 1970's.  


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