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National Opinion Centre

Sydney Earle Smith, the veteran President of the University of Toronto, was tapped by rookie PM John Diefenbaker to be the latter’s Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1957. A respected scholar, who had also served as Dean of Dalhousie’s Law School, Smith answered the call to duty and entered Dief’s cabinet. It proved to be a difficult post as the PM was very much a rookie in world affairs. Still, Smith loyally served his boss and Canada in this crucial post. Sadly, however, he died suddenly on this date in 1958.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker learned of his minister’s death while he was in the House. It fell to civil servant Basil Robinson to deliver the news.

“I was in the Official Gallery of the House of Commons when (a fellow External Affairs staffer) phoned with the first news of the minister’s death,” Robinson recalled years later. “I sent a note to the Prime Minister on the floor of the House, and he came behind the curtains immediately. I gave him the news …. The Prime Minister was stunned and profoundly upset. After the undersecretary had had a brief discussion with him, the Prime Minister went immediately back into the House and made the announcement with the greatest emotion. “

When the shock wore off, Prime Minister Diefenbaker appointed British Columbia’s Howard Green as Smith’s replacement.

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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