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Lester Pearson contends for Liberal party leadership

The Story


After holding power for 22 years the Liberal party was swept out of office in the summer of 1957 by John Diefenbaker's Conservatives. Months later, Louis St. Laurent reluctantly steps aside, paving the way for new blood. This retrospective CBC Television clip shows the contenders for the Liberal leadership lining up and recounts Pearson's transition from diplomat to political leader.

Medium: Television
Program: The Tenth Decade
Reporter: Blair Fraser
Guests: John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson
Broadcast Date: Nov. 3, 1971
Duration: 5:33

Did You know?


• After the surprising Liberal election loss on June 10, 1957, leader Louis St-Laurent came under pressure to resign.

• The ailing Liberal leader had begun to resemble "a faulty radio," journalist Peter C. Newman said at the time, "[who] would have his good and bad days, sometimes fully aware of the world around him, at other times fading out completely."

• St-Laurent resigned early in September.

• From the beginning of the race Pearson was the widely acknowledged front-runner. While his two leading opponents -- Paul Martin Sr. and Harold Lloyd Henderson -- had more political experience, Pearson was still basking in the glow of his Nobel win.

• His high profile and youthful appearance earned him the backing of many Liberal insiders and ex-cabinet ministers.

• At a Young Liberal meeting early in the campaign, Pearson's call for "a charter of the new liberalism of 1957 -- not 1857" was met with cheers of "We want Mike" from the crowd.

• In this clip Pearson suggests that he didn't do much campaigning for the leadership. This proved a bit disingenuous. In fact, he received the full backing of key Liberals and employed a small but effective campaign team that produced signs, stickers and buttons that played off his affable "Mike" persona.

• By the time the leadership convention rolled into Ottawa in January 1958, Pearson was heavily favoured.

• Paul Martin Sr., an old friend of Pearson and his wife Maryon, fought a tough race. He even called delegates directly in an attempt to woo them to his side.

• In the end the "Mike" juggernaut was just too much. Liberal delegates voted 1,074 in favour of Pearson, with 335 votes cast for Martin.

• Pearson's speech was greeted with cheers by Liberal delegates, including a young Jean Chrétien. You can catch him looking furtively around in this CBC Television clip.

• Chrétien would later land his first job on Parliament Hill thanks to Prime Minister Pearson.

• The Quebec delegates gave Pearson a standing ovation when he unexpectedly delivered part of his speech in French.

• While he would later become a strong advocate for francophone rights in Canada, Pearson never managed well with the language itself. He would later regret that he chose Latin over French class during his days at the University of Toronto's Victoria College.


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