Lester Pearson (1897-1972), 14th prime minister of Canada (1963-1968). Pearson took office in 1963, with a minority in the Canadian House of Commons. He approached the political process with an idealism that was strongly tempered by practicality. He approached problems cautiously, gathering as much background information as he could, then acting decisively. Pearson was uncomfortable campaigning and lacked the ruthlessness often associated with political leadership.
His relaxed manner and sense of humor contributed to Pearson's talent for solving difficult diplomatic problems. His natural charm was combined with a sophisticated diplomatic mind. In diplomacy, Pearson's philosophy was to draw the best out of people and policies, and make allowances for their limitations.
Lester Bowles Pearson was born in Newton Brook (now part of Toronto), Ontario, in 1897. His father, Edwin Arthur Pearson, a Methodist minister, took his family along on his journeys as itinerant preacher through Ontario and western Canada. Pearson's background gave him deep religious convictions and an old-fashioned morality. His father inspired in him a deep concern for people and a boundless curiosity.
Pearson attended public school and completed his college preparatory studies in Peterborough and in Hamilton, Ontario. He entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1913. He remained there until World War I (1914-1918) broke out and then enlisted in the university's ambulance corps, which was attached to British forces in Greece. Later, Pearson served with the Canadian army, and toward the end of the war he was commissioned flight lieutenant in the royal flying corps. He was injured in a crash during his first solo flight and was returned to Canada as a training instructor.
When the war ended, Pearson resumed his studies at Victoria College and received his bachelor's degree in history in 1919. In 1921 he resumed his studies in history through a Massey Foundation fellowship. He entered Saint John's College at England's University of Oxford, where he won recognition as an athlete and student. In 1923 Pearson received his bachelor's degree at Oxford, and in 1924 Pearson was appointed lecturer in history at the University of Toronto. The following year he married one of his students, Maryon Elspeth Moody. In 1927 he was appointed assistant professor of history.
|III||EARLY GOVERNMENT SERVICE|
Oscar D. Skelton, head of the Canadian government's small Department of External Affairs, induced Pearson to take the difficult foreign-service entrance examination. Pearson made the best showing among the applicants and in 1928 entered the department as a first secretary. During his early years in public service he gained firsthand experience in international affairs and in Canada's economic problems and national politics.
In 1935 Pearson was sent to London, England, to serve as assistant to Vincent Massey, the high commissioner for Canada. During this time, Pearson met with many of the world's leading statesmen and he attended several critical sessions of the League of Nations, an international organization established in 1920 to preserve peace. He remained in London after the start of World War II (1939-1945) and during the worst days of the Battle of Britain, in which the Germans tried to establish air superiority over southern England. In 1941 he was called back to Canada by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to serve as assistant undersecretary of state for external affairs. In June 1942 he was sent to Washington, D.C., as minister counselor and was placed directly under the Canadian ambassador to the United States. His status was later changed to minister plenipotentiary, a function similar to that of a diplomatic troubleshooter. In January 1945, Pearson became ambassador to the United States and held that position until September 1946, when he was recalled to Canada to serve as undersecretary of state for external affairs.
In 1943 Pearson served as a delegate to several conferences and planning sessions of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, a forerunner of the United Nations (UN), an international organization established to maintain peace and security, and as chairman of its supplies committee, which undertook emergency feeding and refugee programs in troubled areas. In 1944 he was asked to head initial planning sessions of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an agency whose goal is to eliminate hunger. In 1945 Pearson was Canada's chief delegate to the San Francisco Conference, which drew up the charter of the United Nations. At the first session of the UN the political and security committee chose Pearson as its chairman. From 1948 to 1956, he was head of the permanent Canadian mission to the UN, and during the 1952-1953 UN session, Pearson was president of the General Assembly, the representative body of the UN.
Pearson drafted the proposal for a Western alliance that eventually became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On April 4, 1949, he signed the treaty for Canada, and he represented his country at many of NATO's meetings. He was involved in establishing the state of Israel in 1948. Five years later he took part in the negotiations to achieve a truce in the Korean War (1950-1953). He led the Canadian delegation to the 1954 Geneva Conference on political settlements in Asia.
In 1955 Pearson visited the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and met with that country's leader, Nikita S. Khrushchev. Their exhaustive review of Cold War issues brought about some relaxation of world tensions. In 1956 Pearson initiated the resolution that terminated the conflict between the Egyptian government and the French and British governments over the Suez Canal, and sent a UN police force to restore peace to the Gaza Strip, an area then under Egyptian control from which terrorist attacks on Israel were being staged. He designated certain battalions of the Canadian army to be used as a United Nations peacekeeping force, a practice that was soon adopted by other nations. Pearson supported the outlawing of nuclear testing. He also participated in the Commonwealth foreign ministers' conferences that defined a more independent role for Commonwealth countries.
In 1957 Pearson was the first Canadian awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel Prizes are awarded for outstanding contributions in a field. At the presentation it was declared that he had been awarded the prize for his efforts to restore peace in situations where local unrest might have developed into worldwide conflagration. In his acceptance speech, Pearson emphasized the need to close the gap that had developed recently between man's material progress and his social and moral advancement. “In facing the choice of peace or extinction, man must renounce predatory nationalism and look to the primacy of world concerns to bring about peace and security for all,” he stated. He outlined four points as being essential to peace and to the prosperity of nations: bridging the gap between rich nations and poor ones; establishing coalitions for collective defense until long-term universal solutions to problems were found; a greater effort in diplomacy and peacemaking; and increased communication among nations.
Although Pearson had a long career as a civil servant, he did not enter Canadian politics until 1948. That year he was induced to run for Parliament in a by-election to fill a vacant seat. The by-election followed a major Liberal victory in September, and as a Liberal Party candidate, Pearson won by a comfortable margin in Algoma East, Ontario. He was reelected to the House of Commons in elections between 1949 and 1965. He was immediately made secretary of state for external affairs in the cabinet of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. In this post, Pearson set a new standard of frank exchange and cooperation that brought him respect and esteem. However, many Canadians with strong loyalties toward Britain or France resented his efforts to prevent the two countries from asserting their power over Egypt in the Suez crisis. This resentment was a minor factor in the defeat of the Liberal government in the election of 1957, an event that brought the Conservative Party, under John G. Diefenbaker, to power.
After the Liberals' setback, Pearson was tempted to retire from politics and return to academic life. However, the ailing Liberal leader, St. Laurent, gave notice that he was retiring. Major figures in the party convinced Pearson in January 1958 to head the Liberal opposition and to prepare the way for the party's return to power. For the next few years, Pearson studied Canada's financial and economic problems and the long-standing conflict between its French-speaking and English-speaking citizens. Having devoted many years to world problems, Pearson found it necessary to immerse himself in facts and statistics related to the local problems of each province. Gradually, Pearson rebuilt the strength of the Liberal Party.
Pearson revived the concern for social welfare shown by King in the earlier successful days of the Liberals, and he rallied to the defense of the individual, calling for a return to human values.
In the 1963 election campaign, Pearson proposed a royal commission on bilingualism and biculturalism to inquire into minority rights in Canada, a suggestion that increased his popularity among the French Canadians. He also attacked Prime Minister Diefenbaker's opposition to nuclear weapons for Canada, one of the main issues in the election. Pearson called for the addition of nuclear weapons to the Canadian arsenal, with the provision to forgo such weapons if a world conference agreed on nuclear disarmament. The Liberal Party was returned to power in the April election, and on April 22, Pearson became head of a new government. His position was precarious, for his party controlled 129 seats, 4 seats short of a majority in the 265-seat House of Commons, In 1965 Pearson attempted to obtain a parliamentary majority by calling a new election. The move failed as the Liberals won only 131 seats.
Almost immediately the new Liberal government was in trouble. Its budget put a high tax on foreign securities and raised tariffs, taxes on imports, to protect Canadian farmers and manufacturers; these tariffs discouraged trade. The budget had been inspired and planned by Walter Gordon, the new finance minister and one of Pearson's close associates. It was presented in June, before Pearson had the opportunity to evaluate it, and during the ensuing political uproar he was forced to repudiate the unpopular measure. A later trade deficit crisis was averted by the successful sale to the USSR and other countries of Canada's 1963 large wheat crop. The important grain sales helped the Liberals make some inroads in the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, which were strongholds of Diefenbaker support.
Just after becoming prime minister in 1963, Pearson went to the United States for talks with President John F. Kennedy. Pearson meant the meeting to be conciliatory and to make up for the anti-U.S. feeling that had been expressed in the Canadian elections. In their discussions the two statesmen repaired much of the breach between Canada and the United States. By this time the U.S. business boom had spread to Canada and U.S. investments again flowed into the iron, oil, and base-metal enterprises that were opening up in Canada's northland.
One of the major problems Pearson had to face was the desire of the French Canadians for greater political independence and economic opportunity. Separatists in Québec were vigorously advocating the withdrawal of the predominantly French-speaking province from the rest of Canada. Extremist groups, such as the Québec Liberation Front (FLQ), were carrying out bombings and other terrorist activities. Pearson warned that a divided Canada, with a French-speaking wedge on the St. Lawrence River separating the two English-speaking sections of the country, would eventually fall under complete U.S. domination. He chose Guy Favreau, a French Canadian, as government leader in the House of Commons, brought several able French Canadian ministers into the Cabinet, and gave Québec more federal funds to help carry out its legislative program. Pearson kept his campaign promise and established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.
In January 1964, Pearson met with French President Charles de Gaulle in an effort to improve economic and cultural relations with France. Pearson also made several visits to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who vetoed a restriction on Canadian lumber imports into the United States. Pearson offered Canadian troops to the United Nations during the crisis in Cyprus that threatened war between Greece and Turkey. The Canadian economy continued to prosper, and in 1964, unemployment reached its lowest level in eight years. Pearson declared that his government would try to achieve basic long-term objectives. These included the promotion of peace and collective security abroad, the unity of all the Canadian people, improvement in the national economy, a fairer distribution of its wealth, and an expansion of welfare legislation.
In the second year of the Pearson minority government there was a further decentralization of federal power, with more administrative authority being transferred to the provinces. During 1964 parliament debated the issue of a distinctive national flag for Canada, while more important problems were ignored. A compromise proposal substituting one maple leaf for the three originally proposed and changing the blue edge panels to red was adopted after a debate lasting from June to October. Canada's colors thus changed from the traditional British red, white, and blue, to red and white. The separatist movement persisted in Québec, and there were disturbances and threats by extremists in Québec City during the October 1964 visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
Much of Pearson's time as prime minister was spent ensuring good relations with the United States. He expressed himself frankly and frequently on the “overwhelming influence of the American way of life” upon Canada. In 1965 he said in a speech before the Canadian Society of New York, “Indeed [regarding cultural matters], the pressures against our own thoughts, our own ideas, and our own diversions are a greater danger to our national identity, to our cherished separateness than anything that could arise from financial control and economic imperialism.” Although Pearson appreciated the important part U.S. enterprise and U.S. capital had played in the development of Canada, he worried about the high proportion of Canada's resources and industrial production coming under U.S. ownership and control. Yet while he was in office no restrictions were placed on the extension of U.S. control, which passed 70 percent in manufacturing, and was even higher in petroleum and other branches of mining. Over a ten-year period, imports from the United States had exceeded U.S. purchases of Canadian goods by more than one billion dollars. Pearson was eager to reduce the huge annual deficit, and his greatest hope lay with the development of Canada's great quantities of natural resources in iron ore, oil, lead, and zinc deposits and vast waterpower.
On the international level, Pearson was apprehensive about U.S. action in the Vietnam War (1959-1975). He preferred a stronger role for the United Nations to avoid the escalation of local incidents into a general war. In summing up Canada's obligations under a firm policy of interdependence and friendly cooperation with the United States, he qualified Canada's support of U.S. foreign policy. “Our policy does not permit either automatic support or captious criticism. We must protect and advance our own national interests; but we must never forget that the greatest of these is peace and security. The achievement of this aim—it is chastening to realize—does not depend on our policies so much as it does on those of our American neighbor.”
|B||Retirement from Politics|
In December 1967 Pearson announced his intention to resign as prime minister. He was succeeded in April 1968 by his minister of justice, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Pearson then accepted a post in international affairs at Ottawa's Carleton University. In August 1968 the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, known as the World Bank, selected Pearson to lead a commission to prepare a report on the bank's long-range role in providing economic aid to developing countries.
Pearson felt that the United Nations should be viewed as the core of a future world government and that nationalism should be increasingly eliminated in an era of instant communication and of world interdependence. He called upon the West to initiate a positive approach toward peaceful coexistence with the USSR. However, he maintained that patience, steady economic growth and effective military posture were essential to coexisting with Communism.
Pearson viewed the British Commonwealth as a means of mutual assistance among nations in every stage of development. He called upon the Commonwealth nations to help expand world trade not only for their own benefit, but also to demonstrate confidence in the interdependence of all people and nations. Pearson made it plain that NATO's function would have to expand to form a closely cooperating political and economic community, with less emphasis on strictly military defense.
In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Pearson was awarded many honorary degrees for his significant role as peacemaker, diplomat, and historian. His degrees were received from such noted universities as Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Notre Dame, and Johns Hopkins. Pearson wrote two books, Diplomacy in the Nuclear Age (1959) and Democracy in World Politics (1955), and he edited two other books, Council on World Tensions: Restless Nations (1962) and Four Faces of Peace and the International Outlook (1964). In 1935 Pearson was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 1963 Pearson was honored by being admitted to the British Privy Council. Pearson was chancellor of Victoria University from 1950 to 1958. He became chancellor of Carleton University, Ottawa, in 1969. He died in 1972.