CBC Digital Archives

Pearson tells nation he seeks to clarify confidence in 1968

Nationally broadcast addresses from Canadian prime ministers are a rare occurrence. They usually happen only during times of war, constitutional or political crisis. The CBC Digital Archives presents some of the most significant historic addresses by Canada's prime ministers from 1939 to 2008.

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The crisis: an unexpected government defeat, 84 votes to 82, on an amendment to the Income Tax Act in February 1968. Though it had already passed through the committee level and two readings in the House of Commons, the bill is defeated, throwing Parliament into uncertainty. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson rushes home from a visit to Jamaica and adjourns the House for 24 hours to consider his options.

In a statement to Canadians that evening, Pearson says he plans to put a motion before Parliament that "will be clearly and without doubt one of confidence or non-confidence in the government." If the motion carries, government business will continue. If it is defeated, the government will resign and there will be a federal election - although, Pearson adds, "I can think of many things the country needs more at the present time than a general election."  

• The House was closed for several days as the crisis continued, so much of the debate among parties took place via television instead. Pearson agreed to an interview on CBC Television two days after the defeat. He told Canadians the authority of the Constitution was on his side, and that the opposition had used trickery to defeat the government.

• The confidence vote Pearson promised took place the following week. As expected the Liberals triumphed, winning 138 votes to 119 (with three abstentions).

• For more about Lester B. Pearson, see the CBC Digital Archives topic Lester B. Pearson: From Peacemaker to Prime Minister.

• According to the Globe and Mail, cameras "swarmed all over the Parliament buildings, penetrating many areas where formerly they have been forbidden." The article went on to predict that it would not be long before cameras were permitted in the chamber. It took another nine years before proceedings in Parliament were regularly broadcast.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Feb. 20, 1968
Guest(s): Lester B. Pearson
Duration: 3:42

Last updated: October 22, 2014

Page consulted on October 22, 2014

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