John Buchan: Model Governor General
J. William Galbraith
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Soldier, spy, politician, bestselling thriller writer, and governor general of Canada ― John Buchan was a man of many seasons and talents.
An accomplished Scottish journalist, soldier, head of intelligence, and Member of Parliament, John Buchan (1875-1940) is best known for penning thrillers such as The Thirty-Nine Steps. However, as Canada’s 15th governor general (1935-40), Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, played a significant leadership role as a statesman and diplomat.
Buchan was the first governor general appointed after the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which gave Canada constitutional equality with Britain. He worked tirelessly for Canadian unity and promoted the sovereignty, and loyalty to the sovereign, of Canada. In 1937 he founded the Governor General’s Awards, still Canada’s premier prizes for literary achievement.
Lord Tweedsmuir helped draw Canada, Britain, and the United States closer together to strengthen the democracies threatened by Nazism and Fascism. He was an inspiration to several of his successors and still inspires us today.
44] Reinforcing views the two men had shared previously, King then explained that in this type of international meeting, “no country can too frankly express in advance what its position at the moment of crisis is pretty certain to be. ” The crisis in the League was also exposing differences between countries of the Empire and raised concerns about Empire unity. A number of Tweedsmuir’s correspondents relayed their concerns to him.  The situation was exploited by King, who told British leaders that if Britain were to go to war, it would mean the breakup of the Empire, because Canada was not united in its view to participate in another war.
The British proposed, after their in-kind contribution of aircraft, that Canada pay half the estimated costs, amounting to about $375 million, an amount King and his colleagues found excessive.  The Canadians also expressed emphatically that Britain’s in-kind contribution of aircraft and parts, valued at $140 million, was too small. Canada could not borrow funds in the United States, where financing would have been cheaper, and so, instead, negotiated on the basis of making Britain buy more Canadian wheat and of limiting credits to Britain for buying war-related material.
Echoes of the speech continued years after, its promotion of sovereignty still rankling imperialists. Five years later, in June 1942, during a speech in London that dealt with, among other issues, relations within the Commonwealth, former Canadian prime minister R. B. Bennett made specific reference to Tweedsmuir’s CIIA speech, commenting that he “wholly disagree[d] with that view. ” The context of the war and the resultant closer relations with Britain that came with it, not to mention the character of the audience he was addressing, would have been factors in Bennett’s statement.
Buchan was, at the time, travelling on business as deputy chairman of Reuters, the British-based international news agency, but while in the United States he would also meet with his American publisher. They spent one night at Laurier House, King’s green-trimmed, mansard-roofed residence in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill area, and one night at Kingsmere, King’s Gatineau Hills estate, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. On the Sunday, after lunch, King and the Buchan couple took to the outdoors, climbing a hill near Kingsmere.
65] Themes Tweedsmuir had set out in his notes for the prime minister were stated publicly by both men that same month. On May 12, before a crowd of some fifty thousand people on Parliament Hill celebrating the coronation, the governor general said: “The Crown is the emblem of sovereignty to which the British people pay homage and in which they recognize all that they cherish most — their national and family traditions, their common heritage of individual and collective freedom and their love of peace and order.