Seven Surprising Facts About the World Leaders Who’ve Addressed Canadian Parliament

Seven Surprising Facts About the World Leaders Who’ve Addressed Canadian Parliament

Posted on April 11 by J. Patrick Boyer in Non-fiction
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Dundurn Press has just released Foreign Voices in the House, a striking book published ahead of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Its 600 pages are filled with, among other things, the major speeches 64 world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Boris Yeltsin, and Barack Obama delivered in our House of Commons over the past century. Alongside pithy bios of each leader, illustrated with the dramatic Parliament Hill photos of these history-makers, are many surprising facts about them, which you might never have suspected.

Let’s start with just a few of these:

Photo from Leadership Ethics Online

1. Many of Them Had Been to Jail

Many of these foreign prime ministers and presidents had spent time in prison: Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand, Guy Mollet, Vincent Auriol, Sukarno, Kwame Nkrumah, Václav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Zhao Ziyang, and Jawaharlal Nehru. Not for run-of-the-mill crimes, but as prisoners of war, prisoners of conscience, and political prisoners fighting for the independence and freedom of their countries. Mandela spoke in our House of Commons five weeks after release from 27 years imprisonment.

Photo from Daily Mail Online.

2. They Wrote a Lot of Books

Perhaps it’s less surprising than having done time behind bars — or perhaps not, considering how fraught 20th-century politics were — but these world leaders were prolific writers. A majority of them had written books, worked as journalists, or earned at least part of their livelihood at a typewriter or with pen in hand. One of them was even more involved in the press: Harold Macmillan, the prime minister of Britain, was also a publisher, whose family business is still running as Macmillan Publishing.

Photo from Emirates 247

3. They Came from Both Riches and Rags

Three monarchs addressed Canadian parliamentarians — King Hussein of Jordan, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, and Aga Khan IV — all of them born into great wealth. The majority had worked themselves up from humble beginnings; a number, abject poverty.


4. They Gave Encores

Five leaders returned to Canada’s podium a second time: British prime ministers Anthony Eden and Margaret Thatcher; American presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan; and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. The only two-generation performance came when Indira Gandhi spoke, a quarter century after her father Jawaharlal Nehru, both prime ministers of India.

Photo from Le Figaro

5. It Was a Whirlwind of Languages

Most spoke in a rich range of English accents, many spoke French, and quite a few blended or made an attempt at both of our official languages. Some spoke exclusively in their own first language, with simultaneous translation into French and English by provided by House of Commons interpreters (once this service began, in 1959), who worked from advance copies of the leaders’ Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese texts.

Photo from Radio-Canada.

6.The Most Enigmatic Message

“Let me tell you simply this, without trying to lecture anyone: know how to harvest your grain and make your flour.” – François Mitterrand, President of France, May 25, 1987

Photo from China Daily

7.The Most Elaborate Description of Canadian Democracy

“Democracy may be likened to beautiful architecture, for every part of the tracery and sculpture, supreme in its individuality, claims a permanent place on its own merit and then surrenders it to the entire composition, thereby enriching the whole and retrieving it from the tameness of mere qualitative perfection.”

Madam Chiang Kai-shek, First Lady of China, June 16, 1943

J. Patrick Boyer

Posted by Kendra on October 21, 2014

J. Patrick Boyer

J. Patrick Boyer studied law at the International Court of Justice in The Netherlands, served as Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary for External Affairs, and works for democratic development overseas. The author of twenty-three books on Canadian history, law, politics, and governance, Patrick lives with wife, Elise, in Muskoka and Toronto.