Monday, December 10, 2007

Pearson's Prize

50 years ago today, Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "saving the world" (as the Nobel committee put it). In 1956 Pearson proposed the United Nations create and send a peacekeeping force to Egypt to defuse the Suez Crisis. Thus was born peacekeeping and with it Canada's enduring image, at least to Canadians, as peacekeepers. And general all-round nice guys.

The United Nations has a history and essays on Pearson's achievement at their site [here]. The Nobel folks have information [here]. But if you are anything like me, a reasonably well-informed person, you may have always been puzzled by the Suez Crisis (what did the Brits do or not do? Who were the bad guys?). If so you will want to pick up John Melady's new history of the Suez Crisis and Pearson's role in Pearson's Prize: Canada and the Suez Crisis. And then you and I can discuss Gamal Nassar's legacy knowledgeably!

Just browsing the Lester Pearson information out there, I'm reminded of what a great prime minister he was. A 2003 survey in the political science journal, Policy Options, had Pearson ranked as "The Best Prime Minister of the Last 50 Years" [pdf]. Mulroney 2nd overall (hmm, perhaps not this month!). Historian J.L. Granatstein's 1999 book, Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders lists the PMs from "Great" down to "Failure":

1. Mackenzie King
2. Macdonald
3. Laurier
Near Great
4. St. Laurent
High Average
5. Trudeau
6. Pearson
7. Borden

That extremely authoritative source, the CBC program, The Greatest Canadian, has Pearson at #6, just ahead of, ahem, Don Cherry at #7 and John A. Macdonald at #8.

A look at Pearson's accomplishments certainly is convincing of his place as one of the great ones: brought in universal Medicare; established the Canada Pension Plan and a family assistance plan; increased old age pension payments and veterans allowances; established interest free student loans; introduced a national labour code, with a minimum wage; signed the Canada-U. S. Auto Pact; revamped immigration policy by moving to a race-free points system; established the Royal Commission on Women and the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. And of course, pushed through the adoption of the Maple Leaf flag over tremendous and bitter opposition.

Amazingly, Pearson did all this without a majority government and without incurring a deficit!

Read up on Pearson in John English's award-winning two volume biography, Shadow of Heaven: The Life of Lester Pearson: Volume One: 1897-1948 and The Worldly Years: The Life of Lester Pearson: 1949-1972. Pearson fanatics will want to pick up his three volumes of memoirs, Mike: The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson.


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