I enjoy nothing better than an afternoon spent on my front porch in the summertime. A glass of whiskey in hand, a cigar clamped between my teeth, good friends in attendance, and the Red Ensign fluttering above me in the sunlight. It’s a beautiful thing, The Ensign. Steeped in tradition, honour and, most of all, real meaning. The flag hearkens back to better, less confused days. Days before Canada started to founder in socialism, multiculturalism and misguided egalitarianism.
People passing by often look quizzically at me, smoking and drinking away, and then over at my flag, and then back to me again. Those particularly puzzled will sometimes ask what it is. “Hey mister, are you British or somethin’?”
“No, friend. Not British, but Canadian. You’re looking at the last true flag of Canada”, I explain. I’m graced with slack jaws and glassy stares mostly, sometimes some drool to boot. Few Canadians nowadays are aware that the Red Ensign even existed and fewer still have actually ever seen one before.
Based on the present day ignorance of its existence, one would hardly guess that the flag dates back as far as 1868, that it’s one of the few truly Canadian Icons. Not many are aware that, aside from the Union Jack (the ‘official’ National flag of Canada for years), the Red Ensign was an enduring omnipresent facet of Canada after Confederation, practically since the very inception of the country.
It evolved along with Canada, a hybrid flag that developed gradually over 96 years to include new provinces as they were founded while still reflecting Canada’s British heritage and ties to the monarchy with the inclusion of Union Jack in the upper left corner. The Ensign was flown during the Olympic Games in 1908  (Canada bagged 16 medals and managed to place fifth in overall standings at the time), throughout two terrible World Wars (including the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917), as well as through The Korean War in 1950 – 1953. The Ensign documented our evolution as a Nation. It was something unique. It was a symbol that oversaw virtually every great Canadian struggle, hardship and victory of our forefathers. That is, until things fell apart on July 1, 1965.
Now, before someone points out that the Red ensign was only briefly, officially recognized (from 1922 – 1965) and that it was always overshadowed by the Union Jack until becoming “Canada’s de facto National Flag in 1922”  let us remember that it came very, very close to becoming the official Canadian Flag, (and almost certainly would have if left to the Conservatives instead of the Liberals and Lester B. Pearson).
I’m sure that someone will feel the need to remind me that the Red Ensign was only a modified version of the Flag of the British Merchant Fleet for use at sea only, that in the late 19th century “it became fashionable to make what were known as ensigns for the colonies; red or blue flags with little Union Jacks in the top left” in order to differentiate the British Territories. You’ll go on to say that it only eventually gained widespread usage upon flag poles in 1924 when it was approved for official use on government buildings outside Canada and then, later, within Canada itself on land in 1945. 
You may furthermore try to insinuate that I’m somehow anti-Canadian, that my distaste for the Maple Leaf is proof of my dislike for the country itself. You may say I hate my country. I assure you that this is anything but the truth. I am, in fact, an ardent Canadian, a fervent believer in Canada and its people and a true patriot. It has, perhaps, been my misfortune to be born in this century, however; a century defined by the weak, the insipid, and by altruist idiots. I lament what Canada is becoming, most especially since the reasons why are so seemingly obvious, and the means of repairing it so self-evident.
To those attempting to deflate my argument, I salute your futile efforts. However, I’m really more interested in talking about some of the history surrounding the initiation of our modern flag, the Maple Leaf. I’d like to direct our little discussion to the fact that it was a flag that filled the criterion of being “simple enough that a school child could draw it”  , a flag described by Author Scott Symons in his Combat Journal for Place D’Armes: A Personal Narrative as: “Queer”, as “Crushed Cubism” and as “The Great Canadian Desubstantiation” . It’s a flag that, quite literally, is composed of the colours of the Liberal Party.
February 15, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Flag. Not many knew about it ahead of time (I know I didn’t), although Google made up a special home page to commemorate the event. The anniversary got some superficial airtime on televisions and some tweets from the twits. Yet very little about the furor surrounding the inception of our National Flag was actually brought to light. Certainly it was never illustrated that the Maple Leaf was the brainchild of mediocre Liberals, which true Conservatives fought against fiercely until literally the bitter end, or that Diefenbaker never quite accepted the fact that the Red Ensign had been relegated to the annals of history, being buried with a Red Ensign on his coffin… sewn together with a Canadian Flag. He would have undoubtedly hated this.
It all began in the mid 1960’s. In 1963, to be exact. Lester Bowles Pearson narrowly defeated John Diefenbaker’s Conservative Party in the House of Commons, winning a weak minority government. It became clear that Lester B. Pearson was to become an inadequate Prime Minister. “Pearson’s government was almost immediately in trouble” and besieged with scandals. The Liberals proceeded to limp through a subsequent five years, never managing to win a majority, despite calling another election in 1965 in attempts to improve their government’s position.  The very same year of the establishment of their government, Pearson “pitched his idea for a new flag during a speech to the Canadian Legion in Winnipeg”, meeting with a chorus ‘boo’ from the unimpressed Legionnaires. 
From the outset of his administration, “Pearson had his heart set on approval by Parliament of a Canadian Flag”. It was his outspoken (if misguided) nationalist opinion since about 1960 that the Canadian Flag ought to be “exclusively Canadian”, that the Quebecois somehow needed appeasement (they were perceived to be resentful of the “symbol of English oppression”  on the National Flag), and that it was necessary to “cut the umbilical cord of the banner of Britain”. Pearson endeavoured to put an end to what he interpreted as being British Imperialism in Canada by solving what he called the “flag problem”. Ironically, Pierre Trudeau, an assistant Professor of Law at the time, was quoted as saying that “Quebec does not give a tinkers dam about the new flag, it’s a matter of complete indifference.” 
It became evident that the motivations behind the new effort were suspect and that replacing the flag was primarily a political agenda with little substance. The Liberals convinced themselves that they were “acting in continuity with the past, not breaking with it”, but in reality, they were dedicated to changing much more than just the flag of Canada. For example, Pearson’s Senior Advisor at the time, Tom Kent, was quoted as saying that Pearson “wanted a neutral design in 1964 because he disliked flag-waving and preferred a quiet Scandinavian type of patriotism. He desired a bland flag that Canadians would not wave too much.” Outspoken patriotism was distasteful to Pearson, as was any sort of national zeal obviously.
Stripping the flag of any cultural relevance or real meaning also seemed a priority to all involved. George Stanley, the eventual ‘father’ of the Maple Leaf sent a memorandum to Liberal Flag Committee member John Matheson, in which he warned that “any new flag must avoid the use of national or racial symbols that are of a divisive nature” and that it would be “clearly inadvisable to create a flag that carried either a Union Jack or a Fleur-de-lis.”  Avoid being ethnically distinctive in any way or concentrically focused on the people of Canada, in other words. Heralding the values that the country was eventually to embrace, Stanley advocated political correctness while discouraging any symbolism common to either of the country’s two primary cultural groups.
Lester B. and his Liberal Party invited Diefenbaker and his Conservatives to assist in the establishment of the new Canadian Flag, a proposal which was flatly rejected. John Diefenbaker, in fact, led the opposition to the movement, to which the Liberals responded by writing into their policy an ‘Agenda to Replace the Canadian’ Flag in 1961. It was almost as if Pearson knew he would be stepping down as Prime Minister in only a few short years, and that his days were numbered. It was as if he wanted his legacy to include the supplanting of the flag, for better or for worse, and that it didn’t matter if the move was good for Canada or not. For, in 1963, as part of their official election campaign platform, Pearson set a deadline. Within two years of his election, he promised, his party would design and implement a new National Flag. Oh, would that it all had been election smoke, as most party platform promises tend to be today.
The ‘Great Flag Debate’, as it came to be known, was set in motion on June 15th, 1964 with the objective of a flag replacement by the end of the year, a promise which Pearson firmly intended to keep. Conservatives knew that the previous two attempts at replacing the flag had failed, and obviously thought it was a doomed proposition. They believed the Liberal’s imminent failure could only serve to enhance their own position. But the seriousness of the prospect’s fruition became clear with the leaking of the ‘Pearson Pennant’, Lester’s own personal design contribution, to the media.
Diefenbaker and his Conservatives decried the whole concept of the replacement, as did great portions of the Canadian populace. The Conservatives made a concerted effort to stop the progress of the new flag, giving impassioned parliamentary speeches. Even a filibuster was launched by Conservatives in efforts to sink the Liberal initiative. What’s a filibuster you might ask? It’s “an effort to prevent action in a legislature by making a long speech or series of speeches”. 
Think Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Desperate to stop the impending train wreck of an ill-conceived flag, consecutive speeches were presented for 37 days to derail Pearson’s entire mandate. A full 308 speeches were passionately made  by Diefenbaker and the Conservatives. Diefenbaker demanded a referendum, which was something the Liberals were opposed to at all cost.
After an entire summer spent in stalemate with Conservatives (who, justifiably, refused to budge in the slightest in regards to the proposition), Pearson realized he was getting nowhere fast. Desperate to see some forward movement, he requested and obtained Diefenbaker’s consent to refer the flag issue to a parliamentary committee, a group of fourteen men (and one woman):
Seven of the members were Liberal, five were Conservative, and the NDP, Social Credit, and Creditistes each had one member. Matheson, who was appointed the committee’s chairman, was given six weeks to produce a report. 
In case the math eludes anybody, that works out to a committee composed of only one-third Conservative members and the remaining 66.66% of a mixed bag of socialists to varying degrees. The 15-member all-party committee was formed to review the suggestions and make a final recommendation. Canadians were invited to use their imaginations and talent and submit ideas for a flag. As many as 5,900 alternative designs were sent to Ottawa for consideration. 
The Committee had a mandate to make a selection after narrowing down the choices to only three. The final three decided upon (despite the thousands of proposals by the public) were: The ‘Pearson Pennant’ (three blue leaves with a connected stem), the Maple Leaf (a design by George Stanley based on the Flag of the Royal Military College), and a hodgepodge Union Jack and fleur-de-lys combination. The Red Ensign was, regrettably, not anywhere to be found among the finalists.
The five Conservative members were uncooperative at best, attempting to run out the clock on Pearson’s compulsory deadline. It was then that an unprecedented turn of fate occurred. The Liberals turned to British Law in efforts to put an end to the debate, less than two weeks before Christmas. It is sadly ironic that the Liberals invoked British tradition to justify what Diefenbaker called “a flag by closure”. After all their rhetoric regarding the abandonment of British Imperialist symbolism , they quite literally forced a parliamentary vote:
Due to significant opposition, the flag was forced through the Commons late at night by means of closure, 10 days before Christmas. A young Liberal MP, Herb Gray, justified this as “Our British tradition … the British political tradition.” The Liberal Party Bulletin defended closure as the “British” model. 
Rather than put the decision to a national vote, the final verdict was made solely by bureaucrats. Diefenbaker and the Conservatives struggled rigorously against the decision but were ultimately out voiced by an official parliamentary vote of 163 to 78. Diefenbaker was quoted as saying to Pearson: “You have done more to divide the country than any other Prime Minister”. As the new flag was officially raised for the first time on February 15, 1965 Diefenbaker stared at the ground with tears in his eyes. 
My objection to the existing Canadian Flag is that it was hastily conceived, aesthetically frail, and thrust upon Canadian citizens with an almost authoritarian disregard. A member of the 15-person Flag Committee, Liberal MP John Matheson, recalled, years later: “…we were asked to produce a flag for Canada and in six weeks!”  How splendid that they got it done so hurriedly, that so little time was spent in contemplation. It was said that the committee considered and rejected 5900 design proposals, narrowing down the selections to a total of three. But did they really? The three final selections again were: a Union Jack & fleur-de-lys ensemble, the Pearson Pennant (obviously Lester’s own work), and the Maple Leaf, designed by George Stanley (using a colour scheme assigned by George V in 1921 and a motif appropriated from the Royal Military College of Canada’s Flag). One could hardly say that a choice really existed at all. The Red Ensign was not even included on the ballot. Even Lester Pearson, in efforts to have something… anything… pushed through, voted against his own Pennant in favour of the Maple Leaf (he did not wish to see a slim majority bring about the approval of his own design).
My biggest problem with the Maple Leaf is that it is inherently a meaningless design, despite the facade of significance commonly ascribed to it. For example, many people misguidedly believe that the 11 points of the Leaf have some underlying meaning, that it must have something to do with the number of provinces or something along those lines. In reality, the original Maple Leaf design had 13 points before being revised, again, for no reason.
After some input from the committee leaders, the maple leaf was changed to an 11-pointed leaf. Part of the motivation to change the leaf design was based on superstition (13 being an unlucky number in Christian culture). The other was to simplify the leaf design further so that even a child could draw the flag. 
Again with the kids drawing the flag. The funny thing is, children generally can’t draw the Canadian Maple Leaf. Ask any teacher, it’s frustrating if not impossible for kids and a difficult task even for adults. Give it a try sometime. And on this matter, according to the Canadian Government the number of points on the leaf “carries no special significance whatsoever”. 
Or the two red panels on the left and right of the Flag, one to represent the Pacific Ocean, and the other the Atlantic. Who ever heard of red bodies of water? At least the Pearson Pennant got it partly right incorporated blue. When Diefenbaker was first presented with the finalized draft of the Maple Leaf he dismissively said that “it would be the Peruvian flag … we would have the Peruvians saluting it …”  And it kind of does resemble it. It’s childlike, contrived, and visually nebulous.
People often say that the flag is synonymous with peace, with diversity, and with kind-hearted benevolence. They say all sorts of things. But, in reality, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it doesn’t mean anything beyond the presented subject matter. In spite of everything ascribed by the pundits in favour of the majesty of the Maple Leaf, like all art, it comes down to what is subjectively presented. It’s a leaf, and that’s all. And at the end of the day, a leaf is a leaf is a leaf.
I love my country, my heritage and my fellow Canadians. Yet I must confess that I sometimes have misgivings regarding our flag, the Maple Leaf, which was inflicted upon us as a nation by Liberals and socialists 50 years ago. It seems clear that the decline of Canada began, like so many Western and European nations, in the 1960’s, and carries on to the present day. The erosion and sublimation of our strong cultural values was foreshadowed by the replacement of the National Flag, in the name of expedience, narcissism and vanity.
And so, when people ask me what the Ensign is, I tell them with pride that it’s “Canada’s last true national flag… the flag to which I pledge my allegiance”. When they ask me who I am, I answer with a smile, “me? I’m a Canadian, bub”.