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1963: Lester B. Pearson becomes Prime Minister

The Story

Following several close calls, Lester B. Pearson finally grabs hold of the Canadian electorate during the 1963 federal election. But, as this CBC Television clip shows, the minority win was not exactly what Pearson had in mind. Despite this, Canada's 14th prime minister would quickly make good use of his time in Ottawa. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: April 8, 1963
Guest: Lester B. Pearson
Reporter: Norman DePoe, Bruce Marsh
Duration: 4:51

Did You know?

• After five years in the opposition, the Liberal party was returned to power in the April 8, 1963, election. Pearson would be sworn in as prime minister on April 22, one day before his 66th birthday.

• But his win was an unstable one, since he won only 129 seats -- just four seats shy of a majority government. (In 1965 Pearson would call a new election in a bid to gain his much-desired parliamentary majority. He would come within two seats of his goal.)

• Pearson's response in this clip seems less than victorious. Part of this can be blamed on his cautious nature -- notice how his supporters cheer his less-than-victorious words -- but he was also likely disappointed with his minority status.

• John Diefenbaker had himself failed to secure a majority government in the 1962 election, which had contributed to another federal election call less than a year later.

• Pearson had campaigned hard in 1963 to turn things around for his party.

• He proposed a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to address the growing issue of francophone rights, which bolstered his popularity in Québec.

• He also attacked Prime Minister Diefenbaker's opposition to nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, which had become one of the main issues in the election.

• In a controversial move, Pearson came out in favour of the addition of nuclear weapons to the Canadian arsenal. Despite a provision to disarm said weapons if a world conference agreed on nuclear disarmament, the move was met with mixed results.

• While it surely helped to define the race and his persona, many Liberals saw it as a smear to his peacekeeping ways.

• Pierre Trudeau was so outraged that he left the Liberal party and worked briefly with the New Democrats.

• Despite the messy victory, Pearson would soldier ahead with an ambitious policy agenda over the next five years. He would push through the Maple Leaf flag despite fervent opposition and usher in official bilingualism, the Canada Pension Plan and national medicare -- all despite never holding a majority government.


Lester B. Pearson: From Peacemaker to Prime Minister more