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Not The First Trade Dispute Between US And Canada


President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker detested each other and made little effort to conceal it. Like today, trade was the contentious issue.

In his first public address in the U.S. after becoming Canadian Prime Minister, Diefenbaker revealed his deep concern about trade imbalances at Dartmouth College in 1957, while accepting an honorary degree from then college president John Sloan Dickey.

To an audience that included prominent international political, diplomatic and business leaders he said, “We sell to you 60 percent of our total exports … we import from you 73 percent of our imports … Brooklyn sells more to Canada than Argentina,” he told them, “Chicago almost as much as West Germany.” He argued that for the sake of fairness and stability in trade, the US should make a greater effort to buy Canadian products.

Diefenbaker was a fiery prosecuting attorney from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, leader of Canada’s Conservative party, and 22 years older than Kennedy, a Democrat.

The ice began to form a few weeks after Kennedy was sworn in, in 1961. When announcing the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington in February, 1961, Kennedy mispronounced Diefenbaker’s name. With his Boston accent, he called him “Diefenbaacker.” A furious Diefenbaker considered sending a note of protest.

He didn’t, but the Washington visit didn’t go well. Kennedy told aides he never wanted to see that “boring so-and-so again.” Diefenbaker privately referred to Kennedy as “that young pup.”

When visiting Ottawa in May 1961, Kennedy again mispronounced Diefenbaker’s name, then in a speech to the Canadian parliament, went on to ignore trade and focused instead on military and other issues Diefenbaker didn’t much care about.

The feud lasted until 1963 when Diefenbaker was defeated in a federal election by Lester “Mike” Pearson, leader of Canada’s Liberal party and a Kennedy friend.

Immediately, Kennedy invited Pearson to visit the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts.