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Changing of the Grit guard

United Nations peacekeeping. Canada's first Nobel Peace Prize. The Maple Leaf flag. Official bilingualism. The Canada Pension Plan. These are a few of the achievements that can be credited to Prime Minister Lester Bowles Pearson during his 40 years in public service. But the passionate and pragmatic Pearson was also a sportsman, intellectual and war veteran who defied easy definition.

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After five highly productive and embattled years, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson is preparing to make his official exit from politics during the 1968 leadership convention in Ottawa. As this CBC Television clip shows, the party has voted in a new leader; the young and charismatic Pierre Trudeau. A jubilant Trudeau completes his first speech as Liberal leader, then gives the stage over to Pearson to deliver his final address.
• Though Pierre Trudeau's legacy is now well entrenched in the Canadian psyche, you wouldn't know it from the results of the April 1968 convention. It was a close race, with Trudeau winning 1,203 votes compared to 954 for Jack Winters and 195 for John Turner.

• While Pearson publicly refused to endorse any one candidate for the Liberal leadership, he privately worked to secure funding for Trudeau and secretly advised him during the campaign.

• Pearson's wife, Maryon, was also taken with Trudeau. She is seen here hugging him several times and Trudeau even jokes that he was keeping her on staff as a party planner.

• Even though his wife nods and smiles when he jokes about her homemaking skills, Maryon Pearson was no shrinking violet. A feminist and academic when she met Pearson in the 1920s, she was a strong-willed woman who wasn't entirely at ease in her role as a politician's wife. One historian would later refer to her as a "feminist disguised in a single strand of pearls."

• Paul Martin Sr., who had fallen short once again in his leadership bid, was secretly miffed at Pearson's backing of the younger Trudeau. Martin's son, Paul Jr., would later experience a similar fate as he would wait in the wings for years before getting a chance at the leadership.

• He would have to wait for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to resign before claiming the leadership role his father never achieved. In a historical twist, a young Chrétien can be seen on the stage following Pearson's speech - just on the other side of the podium from Martin Sr.

• As part of the Liberal party's send-off for Pearson, they gave him a West Highland puppy as a going-away gift. While he would later say that he was surprised by the gift (he was expecting an oil painting or a pair of slippers) the sleepy pup, named "Toby", would go on to become a cherished part of Pearson's retirement.

• Though he faced criticism for his leadership qualities, Pearson was certainly a keen judge of talent. Along with Trudeau, both John Turner and Jean Chrétien were ministers in Pearson's cabinet. Each of them would go on to become prime minister.

• Other prominent Liberals on the stage that April night included, Mitchell Sharp, Jack Pickersgill and Allan McEchearn.

• Though Trudeau clearly owed a debt to Pearson, he would prove to be his own man. Almost immediately after the convention he called a federal election in a move that was seen as disrespectful of Pearson's tenure.

• Trudeau would also distance himself from Pearson's approach to international affairs. He disliked the various "goodwill" tours that his predecessor was known for, and would all but reject them outright in his years as PM.

• During this clip the CBC's Norman DePoe talks about a new style of politics marking Canada's entry into the 1970s. While Trudeamania would prove undeniable to many, some of his policy decisions owed a great debt to Pearson.

• Pearson instituted official bilingualism in the civil service during his final year in office, though much is made about Trudeau's continuation of this policy. Pearson had also talked publicly about wanting to patriate Canada's constitution - something that Trudeau would follow through on in the 1980s.

• Trudeau would later soften somewhat on his disavowal of Pearson. He would step up his foreign visits in later years and oversee the renaming of the Toronto international airport to Lester B. Pearson International Airport in 1984, his final year in office.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: April 6, 1968
Guest(s):
Host: Norman DePoe
Speaker: Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Duration: 8:29

Last updated: November 6, 2014

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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