Lester Bowles Pearson had an important role in Canadian history. He was Canada’s Prime Minister, politician, and professor. Pearson was born on April 23, 1987 in Newtonbrook, Ontario. He was the son of a Methodist parson. He spent his childhood moving from one parsonage to another before enrolling at University of Toronto.
He first enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War l. In 1915, he was shipped to Greece to join the Allied armies fighting the Bulgarians. After 2 years, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in England.
His military career came to an end when he was run over by a London bus and invalided home. In 1919, he earned his BA at University of Toronto, but he was undecided on a career. He tried law and business, won a fellowship to Oxford, and was hired by University of Toronto to teach History. He got married and soon had children. Finding a professor’s salary insufficient, he joined the Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development). From 1935-1941, Pearson was sent to London as first secretary in the Canadian High Commission. In 1942, he was sent to Washington as second-in-command at the Canadian Legation.
From 1945-47, he was named Canadian Ambassador in the United States. Lester Bowles Pearson was one of the greatest Prime Minister’s who rebuilt the Liberal Party, created new plans and systems as Prime Minister and had a major role during the Suez Crisis. Pearson had many different positions in the government that made him significant to Canadian history. In September 1946, Lester was called back to Canada by Prime Minister Mackenzie King to title him as the Deputy Minister of External Affairs. He promoted closer political and economic relationship between Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. His work made Canada join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. In September 1948, he became the Minister of External Affairs and represented Algoma East, Ontario, in the House of Commons. He lead Canada into the Korean War, and in 1952, he served as the President of the United Nations General Assembly.
As president, he tried to solve the Korean War. In 1956, Pearson and St-Laurent were blamed for not standing by Britain. The Liberals were defeated and St-Laurent resigned as leader.
In January 1958, Pearson won against Paul Martin Sr. to become the leader of the party. The Liberals faced a minority Conservative government under John Diefenbaker. In his first act of leader of the opposition, Pearson challenged Diefenbaker to resign and make him leader. In the general election, the Liberals were reduced to 49 of the 265 seats.
Pearson then began the task of rebuilding the Liberal party. He had the assistance of parliamentary debaters such as Paul Martin and J.W. Pickersgill and party workers such as Walter Gordon, Mitchell Sharp, and Maurice Lamontagne.
He re-established the Liberals as a national party. In 1962, the general elections were held and Pearson raised the party’s total to 100 seats. In 1963, the Diefenbaker government collapsed over the issue of nuclear weapons. In the subsequent election, the Liberals won 128 seats and Pearson became Prime Minister.
As Prime Minister, Pearson had many accomplishments, which made him one of the greatest in history. He took office on April 22, 1963. In 1964, the Parliament spent time on the flag debate. On February 15, 1965, Canada’s new flag was adopted. In the same year, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) was being talked about. It passed the House of Commons on March 29, 1965.
It was approved by the Senate on April 1st and received Royal Assent on April 3rd. The CPP and QPP (Quebec Pension Plan) came into effect on January 1st, 1966. The purpose of the CPP was to ensure all working Canadians have an opportunity to retire in dignity. An Old Age Security was built to achieve greater social justice linked to progress in the economy.
The CPP/QPP was an historical accomplishment. On July 12, 1966, the Medical Care Act was introduced in the House of Commons. Cabinet Allan J.
MacEachen stated, “The government of Canada believes that all Canadians should be able to obtain health services of high quality according to their need for such services and irrespective of their ability to pay. We believe that the only practical and effective way of doing this is through a universal, prepaid, government-sponsored scheme.” Pearson left for the Commonwealth Conference in London and the acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Mitchell Sharp, made a public announcement on how the Medicare would have to be rejected or delayed because of the country’s financial situation. With the help of the NDP party, the bill made it through its first reading. The second and third reading of the bill was long because opponents believed that there was division within the government ranks.
Insurance companies and advocates tried to persuade Members of Parliament that their organizations could administer plans in a cost-effective manner. The federal government introduced funding for 5 million Canadians who lacked medical insurance, and left the other 15 million to continue with private insurers. This action increased public pressure in support of the bill. The bill passed it third reading in December, after the Liberals agreed on the implementation date and shifted it from July 1st, 1967 to July 1st, 1968. In December 1967, Pearson announced his intention to retire and in April 1968, Pierre Trudeau was picked as his successor.