Lester B. Pearson: A peacemaker's peacemaker
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.
• The crisis in the Suez developed after Egypt took control of the Suez Canal, a vital shipping link between the Middle East and Europe, from combined British and French interests in October 1956.
• Britain and France secretly banded together with Israel to move to attack Egypt and reclaim the shipping route.
• With the Second World War still fresh in many people's memories, the simmering crisis threatened to boil over into full-fledged war.
• Pearson moved quickly to propose a solution: a United Nations-sponsored emergency force that would police the area and allow Britain, France and Israel to withdraw with little loss of face.
• Pearson's UN resolution called for the creation of "an emergency international United Nations force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities" within 48 hours.
• It passed with 57 votes in favour, zero against and 19 abstentions.
• The new force was called the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and consisted of troops from six nations: Colombia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Canada.
• Over the years UNEF would become known as the "Blue Berets" after the colour of their headgear.
• Pearson was adamant that such peacekeeping forces be made up of middle power countries, not superpowers, as a means of ensuring no perception of conflict of interest.
• In addition to international acclaim and celebrity, Pearson received a cheque for $40,000 and a medal from the Nobel Foundation.
• The announcement of his win came on the same day that John Diefenbaker and the Conservative Party were sworn into Parliament following a humiliating Liberal loss by Louis St-Laurent.
• A reporter called Pearson in his new opposition office in the basement of the Parliament Buildings to tell him he had won the Nobel Prize. Refusing to believe him, Pearson hung up several times.
• When the press gallery confirmed his Nobel win Pearson was reported to have said; "Gosh!"
• While Pearson was the first Canadian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he would not be the last. In 1995 Nova Scotia's Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs shared the award with the UK's Joseph Rotblat for their efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
• In 1988 the honour was given to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces, which grew out of Pearson's original resolution more than 30 years prior.
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Oct. 20, 1957
Guest(s): Lester B. Pearson
Last updated: February 26, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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