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Listen: JFK calls Diefenbaker "thief and liar" in rare White House tape

Bad blood between John F. Kennedy and John Diefenbaker? Try toxic.

By 1963, the infamously off-the-rails relationship between the American president and the Canadian prime minister had disintegrated completely, and they were no longer on speaking terms.

Have a listen to this obscure but revealing White House tape, in which JFK calls Dief "a liar" and a thief. At issue, is a "stolen" top-secret U.S. memo Kennedy left behind during his 1961 visit to Ottawa and the fact that Dief had been wielding the paper like a weapon against the White House. 

In the laundry list of grievances that fed the legendary JFK/Dief feud, the "Rostow Memo" was the clincher. But there were personal differences as well -- the clashing styles so readily apparent in the oil-and-water interaction between the hypersensitive Diefenbaker and the brash, confident American.

Deeper still, raw Cold War geopolitics -- a U.S. plan to deploy nuclear weapons on Canadian soil -- drove the saga. We explore it all in a new Toronto Star Dispatches ebook,  JFK and Why Camelot Was a Living Nightmare for Canada.

Two weeks after Kennedy's March 28, 1963, telephone conversation, Diefenbaker was out of a job, having lost the Canadian election to Lester Pearson, who moved quickly to complete the nuclear deal.

And five weeks after JFK was shot to death in Dallas, the first shipment of nuclear warheads arrived in Ontario, ready to confront the Soviet menace from the RCAF station in North Bay.

We welcome your thoughts on this fractious moment in Canada-U.S. history. Join us here for a live chat at noon Friday, or weigh in with comments below. Thanks to the archivists of the Miller Center for making this tape and many other fascinating JFK dictaphone recordings available.

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Follow him on Twitter @MPwrites.



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Diefenbaker wore out his welcome with Canadians too.

I will certainly never forgive him for totally destroying the Avro Arrow programme and sending all of our best minds and the cream of aerospace technology (of the time) to the US as a result.

"Thief and lair"? By a Democrat in the States about a Conservative in Canada? Situation normal...

I was always under the impression that while we did purchase Bomarc missles, we never agreed to have atomic warheads.

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