Lester Pearson

Lester Pearson

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Lester Pearson

Lester B. Pearson lived from 1897-1972. He was born on April 23 1897, in
Newtonbrooke Ontario (now part of Toronto). He died on December 27 1972. He
was born the son of a Methodist parson. As a child he worked very hard in
school, and he became one of the minority of high school graduates who went on
to college.

In his studies he went to Victoria College and the Methodist College inside the
University of Toronto. In his free time he played hockey and baseball. He then
became a medical doctor in the Royal Flying Corps. He was Private Pearson in
the Canadian Army Medical Corps. This took him to numerous foreign countries
from 1915-1917. When he returned he went to Oxford University under the
guidance of the poet Robert Graves. When he graduated he enrolled for the
assignment of the Royal Flying Corps. He then began taking flight training but
as fate would have it he was hit by a London Transport Bus. He remained in the
hospital until he revived in the spring of 1918. In November 1918 he enrolled in
the University of Toronto again. On June 5 1919 he graduated. Like many other
young veterans he was at a loss for something to do. Law was a respectable
profession at the time so he ground away at the ungrateful task of articling for
law. After a week he decided that business was more promising. He worked at a
number of places but in the end he decided to teach at the University of Toronto.


He taught history in the University of Toronto from 1924-1928. All his students
said he was a very unique teacher. In March 1924 one of his students, Maryon
Moody decided to ensure getting her degree by becoming engaged to her teacher.
And it worked. On August 22, 1925 Lester Pearson and Maryon Moody got married
in Winnipeg. From there on they lived just outside of Toronto. Later he signed
up for a position in The Canadian External Affairs Department. The government
officials at first thought he had some sort of mental disorder due to the way he
dressed and acted. In 1928 he got a position in the Canadian Department of
External Affairs despite their beliefs. At the time Pearson had a very important
position because Canada had finally achieved a feeling of nationalism. Canada
also had hardly any diplomatic relations with other countries because Great
Britain still handled most of it's affairs. For that reason when Great Britain
went to war with Germany, so did Canada.

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In 1948 he was named Secretary of
State for external affairs. He promoted proposals for western alliance tied in
with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He was the
chairman of the NATO project at the time of the Korean War. He sat on a three
man committee that negotiated the Korean cease-fire. In 1952-1953 he was the
president of the UN general assembly.

In 1957 he won the Nobel Peace prize. It was mainly for creating the UN
emergency force which helped settle the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. When the
Conservative Party under John Diefenbaker defeated The Liberals in 1957 Pearson
was out of public office for the first time in nearly 30 years. In 1958 Pearson
replace St. Laurent as head of the Liberal Party and became leader of the
opposition in the house of commons. As Leader of the Opposition he advocated
close relations between Canada and the US. When Diefenbaker refused to accept
nuclear warheads from the US it caused the fall of his government in 1963. In
1968 the Liberals won 129 seats, four short of a majority. The conservatives 95,
the Socreds 24, and NDP 19 which made Pearson Canada's 14th Prime Minister.
People knew he would do a good job and they also thought the Liberals would
bring economic stability.

Pearson's first move was to restore relations with US and Great Britain that
Diefenbaker had destroyed. Pearson became good friends with John F. Kennedy
while trying to resolve the nuclear weapons issue.

One of Pearson's major moves was the Canada Pension Plan. The Canada Pension
Plan was available to anyone with a job. It had to be decided on by all the
provinces. The only one who gave trouble was Quebec. They said that the money
should be used to benefit their provinces. In 1965 Quebec finally agreed.

The slogan “Sixty Days of Decision” had created the illusion that the Liberals
would transform the country during their first 2 months in power where in
reality they hadn't. Pearson's government finally became aware of Quebec
nationalism and separatism problems when French terrorists in Quebec city
planted bombs in public buildings and mailboxes. The most dramatic indication
was when the Queen visited Montreal and was confronted by a large mob. The
treatment towards the Queen from Quebec shocked Pearson and the rest of the
government. Pearson started to worry about a full scale revolution in Quebec.

Pearson's only mistake was to take power right after WW II because that was the
time the provinces needed revenue the most. While Pearson was in government
Quebec announced that it didn't want to be run by a English government. They
said that they needed a French government for the “awakened” Quebec. Pearson
said that this problem could only be resolved by cooperation. During his first
year and a half Pearson called more meetings than Diefenbaker had in his six
year reign. Even though Pearson's knowledge lay mostly in external matters he
had little time devoted to foreign affairs in his time of Prime Minister.

In May 1964, Pearson put a maple leaf on the Canadian Flag without any consent
with the cabinet members. People criticized the new flag greatly. Some said
that they liked the old flag because it was the one that they had fought under
during the war. Others said that it was a desperate attempt to appease Quebec.
Pearson's original design was three maple leafs on a white background with a
blue strip on either side to represent the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. When an
opinion poll was taken it showed that only 44% of all Canadians liked the flag.
Pearson said that the new flag would show Canada's independence and national
unity. Diefenbaker said that it would destroy Canada's unity. Pearson answered
by saying that it was time Canada got a new flag that could be easily identified
and not mistaken for another countries. Also the Union Jack should still be
flown in Canada as a symbol of Canada's membership in the commonwealth and of
its loyalty to the crown, but just not as the national flag. Despite his
argument that the acceptance of the new flag didn't imply any disrespect to the
Union Jack or to Canada's history. Pearson was almost drowned out by boos and
insults.

When Pearson was going to retire he had to choose someone to succeed himself.
His first choice was Jean Marchand because in his mind a French-Canadian
candidate was absolutely essential to maintain the credibility of the Liberal
Party as a bi-racial institution, but Marchand refused. However he, suggested
Pierre Trudeau. Pearson was surprised when Marchand mentioned Trudeau as a
possible leadership candidate. Until then there had been little discussion of
him in inner political circles, although there was a forlorn hope outside.
Pearson met Trudeau and conferred a qualified blessing on him, but he would have
to get elected first. Trudeau won and succeed Pearson. Pearson accomplished
many things in his life and was very well known and liked by people across
Canada.
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