Hi! I am Lucas, the Alumni Leader from the Rivers to Sea Region. In 2013, I won the Rotary Ambassador’s Award for top project at the Regional Fair, and I represented my region at the 2013 Provincial Fair in Victoria. Last year, I participated in the Alumni Council program.
December 27 commemorates the 42nd year since Lester B. Pearson’s passing. A massive ambassador of Canada, Pearson was the 14th Prime Minister of Canada, serving in office from 1963 to 1968. Pearson also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his work in resolving the Suez Canal Crisis. In Maclean’s 1997 ranking of the best Canadian Prime Ministers, Pearson placed 6th. In 2011, he was ranked 4th.
Lester B. Pearson was the 14th Prime Minister of Canada.
The Suez Crisis (not during term in office)
Perhaps the most decisive and arguably successful move that Pearson ever made, the solution to the Suez Canal crisis was a relieving moment for the entire world. In 1956, Egypt had funding for a huge dam project withdrawn by the United States and Great Britain. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser stopped all international traffic in the Suez Canal, a shipping route that had been agreed to, by treaty, to be open to all international traffic. Britain, France and Israel decided to march into Egypt and start a war – the Suez War. The UN were pressured to get into the conflict. Pearson, the president of the United Nations General Assembly at the time, came up with the idea to employ special army forces to help “peacekeep” the conflict. The UN overwhelmingly supported Pearson’s plan. Invading forces immediately left the Suez Canal. Although the move was met by criticism, most notably Conservative leader John Diefenbaker, who taunted him for “betraying” Britain, Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He is still the only individual Canadian winner of the Peace Prize.
The blockade of the Suez Canal, formed by Egyptian ships.
The Need of a New Flag
The Union Jack had always, in some way, represented Canada. Of course, the flag was always the symbol of Britain, so in some ways Canada was still symbolically part of Britain. Pearson believed that Canada needed a new flag. This proposition was met with great skepticism, especially from Diefenbaker and war veterans that had proudly worn the Red Ensign into battle. Pearson wanted a new flag done by Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. Diefenbaker led an endless tirade against Pearson’s new flag campaign. Eventually, 2000 designs of the new flag were sent in to the federal government. One design included nine beavers urinating on a frog. The final three flags standing included a French fleur-de-lys and a smaller Union Jack in the corner, a flag that contained three maple leaves, and a final-minute entry that contained one red maple leaf with a white background bordered by two red strips. Does the final description ring a bell?
At 2 AM on December 15, 1964, a debate that had raged since the summer finally ended. On February 15, 1965, our new Canadian flag was raised.
WATCH JOHN DIEFENBAKER’S FLAG CRUSADE:
Opposition leader John Diefenbaker was highly opposed to a new flag.
New Immigration Laws
Previous immigration applications had favoured some races over others. Pearson promoted a points system, which totaled the score from categories of age, education, skills, employment chances in Canada, and fluency in English or French. It attracted more people from a diverse number of nations. This move were backed by the Social Credit and New Democratic groups.
Bilingualism and Multiculturalism
Throughout Pearson’s run as PM, Quebecers began to see themselves as more than a single province. They wanted privileges that only Quebec had access to. Pearson created the Royal Commission to recognize cultural and lingual problems between Quebec and the rest of Canada. A main idea that the creators of the commission tried to focus on was the use of two national languages in Canada. Incoming prime minister Pierre Trudeau immediately prioritized the enforcement of two national languages, English and French. With the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, language rights were included. As Pearson put it, “Our country’s existence has always depended upon achieving unity of human purpose within the diversity of our linguistic and social backgrounds.”
Pearson didn’t just address these three issues in the six years he spent as prime minister of our nation. Notable creations that occurred when Pearson was in office included CPP (the Canada Pension Plan), Medicare (universal free health care), student loans, and the Canada—United States Automotive Products Agreement (which removed a special tax on cars, trucks, buses, tires, and automotive parts between the two countries).
Legacy and Honours:
• Lester B. Pearson College, opened in 1974, is a United World College near Victoria, British Columbia.
• The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, established in 1994, is an independent not-for-profit institution
providing research and training on all aspects of peace operations.
• The Lester B. Pearson School Board is the largest English-language school board in Quebec. The
majority of the schools of the Lester B. Pearson School Board are located on the western half of the
island of Montreal, while a few of its schools located off the island.
• Lester B. Pearson High School lists five so-named schools, in Burlington, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa,
• There are Lester B. Pearson elementary schools in Ajax, Ontario; Aurora, Ontario; Brampton, Ontario;
London, Ontario; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Waterloo, Ontario and Wesleyville, Newfoundland.
Civic and civil infrastructure
• Toronto Pearson International Airport, first opened in 1939 and re-christened with its current name
in 1984, is Canada’s busiest airport.
• The Lester B. Pearson Building, completed in 1973, is the headquarters for the Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade, a tribute to his service as external affairs minister.
• Lester B. Pearson Civic Centre is in Elliot Lake, Ontario
• Lester B. Pearson Place, completed in 2006, is a four storey affordable housing building in
Newtonbrook, Toronto, near his place of birth, and adjacent to Newtonbrook United Church.
• Pearson Avenue is located near Highway 407 and Yonge Street in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada; less
than five miles from his place of birth.
It’s clear that Lester B. Pearson was a great Canadian leader. He transformed Canada for the better, nationalized it with a flag and started to whittle away at the wall between Quebecers and the English-speaking majority. Yet, at the time, a poll showed that 70 per cent of Canadians could not name a single thing that Pearson did in office. Perhaps it was his high-pitched voice, or the fact that Progressive Conservative counterpart John Diefenbaker seemed to always had the majority of the public on his side.
All of Pearson’s accomplishments as a prime minister occurred in a five-year time span, without ever having a majority in the House of Commons. Lester B. Pearson changed Canada for the better. He just doesn’t seem to get the credit for it.
WATCH: LESTER B. PEARSON INTERVIEW
Lester Pearson: The Geek Who Made Canada Proud
Canadian Prime Ministers-Warts and All Series #14
By Gordon R. Gibb
2006, Jackfruit Press Ltd.