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Lester Pearson

(1897—1972) diplomatist and prime minister of Canada


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(b. 23 Apr. 1897, d. 27 Dec. 1972).

Prime Minister of Canada 1963–8 Born at Newtonbrook (Ontario), he served in World War I before studying at the Universities of Toronto and Oxford. After Oxford, he returned to Toronto University to teach history, and began working for the Department of External Affairs. He became first secretary in the Canadian high commission in London in 1935, and in 1942 was sent to Washington as second‐in‐command of the Canadian legation. As Canadian ambassador to the USA from 1945, he attended the founding conference of the UN, in which he continued to take a strong interest. Recalled by Mackenzie King to become Deputy Minister of External Affairs in 1946, he left the civil service to become a Liberal MP in the House of Commons in 1948. Following his election, he was appointed Minister for External Affairs, and subsequently formulated Canada's foreign‐policy principles that were to be in place for the rest of the century: a commitment to NATO allied to a strong commitment to the UN as the best mechanism for international peace.

Pearson was president of the UN General Assembly in 1952, and in 1956 found a relatively face‐saving way out of the Suez Crisis for British and French troops, through their temporary replacement by a UN peacekeeping force. He was rewarded for this accomplishment with the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. From then on, involvement in international peacekeeping came to be regarded by Canadians as an important part of their identity. Pearson became Liberal Party leader in 1958, and in 1963 he was Prime Minister with a minority government, failing again in 1965 to produce a majority. Nevertheless, he further expanded the welfare state, introducing for instance a national pension plan and a universal healthcare system. The least political of Canada's Prime Ministers, he retired in 1968 and was succeeded by Trudeau.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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