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“Too intelligent for politics”: Lester B. Pearson announces his retirement

The Story


On Dec. 14, 1967, Lester B. Pearson tells his surprised cabinet colleagues that he is retiring from politics. The decision comes as a shock to most, coming at the end of a wildly successful year of Centennial celebrations. This CBC Radio clip looks back at his strengths and weaknesses during his 20-year tenure in politics. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning Magazine
Broadcast Date: Dec. 19, 1967
Guests: Eric Kierans, Lester B. Pearson, Jack Pickersgill, Mitchell Sharp
Host: Bill Paul
Duration: 7:29

Did You know?


• Mitchell Sharp, Pearson, and Jack Pickersgill are the first three Liberal insiders featured in this CBC Radio clip.

• The fourth person is unidentifiable and the fifth voice is Eric Kierans. The sixth voice is also unidentifiable, but is clearly a political insider.

• While his retirement was a shock to the public and to many of his closest friends, Pearson later said he had told his wife about his decision nearly a year earlier.

• The stress of life as leader had apparently become too much to bear. Pearson would always be proud of his achievements, especially the new Canadian flag, but never grew accustomed to the demands of life in the spotlight.

• Pearson resisted much of the media handling that was forced upon him. Though he was known to joke about his lisp and foibles, he never truly managed to overcome some of the problems with his public persona.

• As one confidant recounts, Pearson had trouble communicating his private self via television. "They tell me I should talk into the living rooms of Canada," the friend recalled him saying, "But all I can think of doing is talking into that damn box."

• One of the main reasons for Pearson's seemingly early departure had to be his political foe John Diefenbaker. The two men approached politics in entirely different ways: Pearson saw his role as a policy-maker, while Diefenbaker viewed it as warfare.

• Diefenbaker's partisanship even extended into Pearson's retirement. When asked by a CBC documentary crew in 1970 about Pearson's achievements, the former Tory leader immediately criticized his rival for his decision to bring in a new flag.

• Pearson would stay in office until April of 1968 when a leadership convention was planned.

• In all, Pearson fought four federal elections campaigns during his 10 years as Liberal leader.


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