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John Diefenbaker

John George “Dief the Chief” Diefenbaker, PC, CH, KC, FRSC, prime minister 1957–63, politician, lawyer (born 18 September 1895 in Neustadt, ON; died 16 August 1979 in Ottawa, ON). John Diefenbaker was Canada’s 13th prime minister. He was well known as a defence lawyer before his election to Parliament, and was an eloquent spokesman for “non-establishment” Canada. A supporter of civil rights for all, Diefenbaker championed the Canadian Bill of Rights and the extension of the right to vote to First Nations peoples. He also played an important role in the anti-apartheid statement that led to South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961. He was a charismatic and popular speaker; but he was also a divisive force within the Progressive Conservative Party. He was criticized for his indecision concerning nuclear missiles on Canadian soil; for his strained relations with US President John F. Kennedy; and for his cancellation of the Avro Arrow project.

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Jean Chrétien

Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien, CC, PC, OM, QC, prime minister of Canada 1993–2003, lawyer, author, politician (born 11 January 1934 in Shawinigan, QC). Lawyer and longtime parliamentarian Jean Chrétien was Canada’s 20th prime minister. Early in his political career, Chrétien helped negotiate the patriation of the Canadian constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Prime Minister, he led the federal government to its first surplus in nearly 30 years. However, his administration also presided over a costly sponsorship program in Quebec that sparked one of the worst political scandals of modern times. His government committed Canadian forces to the Kosovo conflict (1999) and to the war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2002). Chrétien publicly refused to provide direct support for the subsequent American war in Iraq. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, he is involved in several international organizations dedicated to peace, democracy and other global concerns.

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Prime Minister of Canada

The prime minister (PM) is the head of the federal government. It is the most powerful position in Canadian politics. Prime ministers are not specifically elected to the position; instead, the PM is typically the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons. The prime minister controls the governing party and speaks for it; names senators and senior judges for appointment; and appoints and dismisses all members of Cabinet. As chair of Cabinet, the PM controls its agenda and greatly influences the activities and priorities of Parliament. In recent years, a debate has emerged about the growing power of prime ministers, and whether this threatens other democratic institutions.