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Lester Pearson's promises analyzed in 1963

Serious, captivating and at times downright nasty, the political roadshow known as the federal elections never fails to entertain. Politicians crisscross the country making impassioned speeches and grand promises in an attempt to woo voters. From Mackenzie King to Stephen Harper, CBC Archives examines the turning points, missteps and victories in Canada's federal elections.

During the election campaign, Liberal leader Lester Pearson threw down the gauntlet. In just 60 days, Pearson promised he could perform better and create more constructive measures than any previous government. His campaign slogan: 60 days of decision. Conservative John Diefenbaker scoffed and called it a political gimmick. But Pearson, a celebrated statesman, won over Canadians in the 1963 federal election. On day 58 of Pearson's administration, this CBC documentary examines the effect, reality and humour of that ever-fateful campaign slogan.
• The Liberals claimed 129 seats in the 1963 federal election, four shy of forming a majority government. The Conservatives won 95 seats, and the Social Credit and New Democrat Parties secured 24 and 17 seats respectively.
• In the first 60 days Liberal Finance Minister Walter Gordon produced a slipshod and much-criticized budget which was eventually withdrawn. Gordon offered his resignation on the 60th day but it was not accepted.

• Pearson later admitted regretting his campaign slogan. In his memoirs, he described British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's suggestion that Canada's Liberals should have campaigned on "100 days of decision." He writes, "I replied that one hundred had been our first choice but that I, as a historian, had reminded myself of Napoleon's 'hundred days' which took him from exile on Elba to Waterloo, and on to final exile on Saint Helena."

• In the 1965 election, the Liberals once again failed to win a majority government, claiming 131 seats to the Conservative's 97, the NDP's 21 and the Social Credit's 14. Frustrated, Pearson offered the Liberal party his resignation but it was not accepted.
• "To be prime minister of Canada, you need the hide of a rhinoceros, the morals of St. Francis, the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the leadership of Napoleon, the magnetism of a Beatle and the subtlety of Machiavelli." — Lester Pearson, 1964.

• Under Pearson's leadership, Canada struggled through the flag debate, passed universal medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and the Auto Pact agreement. Pearson's government was also plagued by scandals involving a botched budget, the Munsinger Affair and Liberal in-fighting. He retired as party leader in 1968 and was succeeded by Pierre Trudeau.

• From 1952 to 1953, Pearson presided over the United Nations General Assembly. A distinguished statesman, Pearson was the first Canadian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his United Nations Emergency Force initiative, deployed in Egypt following the Suez Crisis.

• Lester Pearson was born on April 23, 1897 in Newton Brook, Ont. In 1925, he married Maryon Moody. They had a daughter and a son. Before completing his memoirs, Pearson was diagnosed with cancer. He died Dec. 27, 1972 in Ottawa.
Medium: Television
Program: Inquiry
Broadcast Date: June 10, 1963
Guest(s): John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, Jayne Mansfield, Peter C. Newman, Jacques Normand
Host: A. Davidson Dunton
Performer: Max Ferguson
Duration: 8:10

Last updated: May 1, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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