The man who drove Diefenbaker wild

pearson(Canscene) — In 1973, I had agreed to travel to Vancouver to assist in the announcement of the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific. At Toronto Airport, I ran into a friend, a corporate lawyer who was an ardent supporter of the federal Progressive Conservative Party

When I told him why I was travelling to Vancouver, I thought he was going to have an apoplectic fit. This most reserved and genteel of men actually began to shout his invective-laden condemnation of a man who had died the year before and had, in his own quiet way left the Liberal government’s mark on so much that is Canadian. At one point, I expected him to change into John Diefenbaker, Pearson’s vitriolic adversary. But that is the kind of anger this decent and gentlemanly Pearson evoked.(A sardonic twist: in 1984, the airport was to be re-christened Pearson International).

Lester Bowles Pearson, Mike to his many friends and admirers, qualifies as one of Penguin Books extraordinary Canadians on many counts.

This book by political biographer Andrew Cohen shows Pearson as soldier, scholar. sportsman, teacher, diplomat, cabinet minister and eventually Prime Minister. He did perhaps more than any other Canadian to help us see ourselves as a nation and no longer as a colony.

By his birthright and calm nature, he might well have become a minister of the Church like his father and grandfather, but from an early age showed a propensity for moving quietly but firmly into wider fields. He joined the Canadian Army, was invalided out and then managed to get accepted by the Air Force.

Just after graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in law, he became a sausage stuffer for Armour and Company, but was at Oxford a few years later, leading to to an eventual job in Canada’s diplomatic corps.

Seldom, if ever, losing his “cool”, a tireless worker into the small hours of the morning, Pearson the diplomat followed a path that led to his election as a Liberal member of Parliament. He was appointed External Affairs Minister after Louis Saint Laurent had succeeded the indecisive and stupidly vain Mackenzie King.

In 1956, the Suez crisis and Pearson’s participation in its resolution led him to a Nobel Prize and a reputation as peacekeeper. As leader of the Liberal Party after Louis St. Laurent’s retirement Pearson suffered a crushing defeat in the 1957 election by diefProgressive Conservative prairie lawyer John Diefenbaker, but came back with a minority government in 1963, earning the lifelong hatred of Diefenbaker, who though a champion of human rights had a sycophantic attitude toward Queen and country and bitterly opposed the government’s replacement of the Union Jack with Canada ‘s own Maple Leaf flag. One recalls his near-hysterical attacks on Pearson for daring to suggest that Canada have its own flag.

Both Pearson’s governments were minority governments, but leading them Pearson got things done. Pearson who died in 1972, was a man who gave us our own flag, the Canada Pension Plan, Expo 67 and above all sense of pride in being Canadians that led to the patriation of our own Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights under his successor Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Summing up Pearson’s life, Cohen writes:

“Peter C. Newman once told Diefenbaker, ‘You are a great man, sir’. More likely, Diefenbaker was a great story. Pearson was a great man.”

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