The puzzling-to almost everybody-personality of LESTER B. PEARSON
He’d rather listen than talk—which is one reason why he isn’t much better understood by the people who are for him than he is by those who are against him. Here is the first full-length portrait of a private man who is seldom what he seems in public
THERE IS NOTHING about Canadian politics in this remarkable year that is more remarkable than the personality of the Liberal leader, Lester Bowles Pearson. At the age of sixty-five, the time when most men escape into retirement. Pearson is once more asking the Canadian people to make him their prime minister. He has offered himself twice before — in 1958. when he was utterly rejected, and in 1962, when he was nearly accepted — and now he is again making his way across the country, telling everyone who will listen about the benefits a Liberal victory will bring on April 8. In this role Lester Pearson has grown familiar, but he is still a puzzling phenomenon. He is possibly the most misunderstood of all the modern Canadian political leaders.
Pearson attracts a wide-ranging collection of followers, all of whom exhibit a curious habit of assuming he shares their own views and then demanding that he live up to them. Pacifists and bomb-banners have for years believed that he is secretly their friend, even though he helped found NATO, the most powerful military alliance in history. They were dismayed when he came out in favor of Canada accepting nuclear weapons, though his thinking has always been as militaristic as that of most Western leaders. He has never doubted that the Western countries should be prepared to resist communist aggression with force, and he has consistently favored nuclear weapons for NATO. As much as eight years ago, in his book Democracy in World Politics, he wrote: “There are differences,
The highest - and lowest - point
naturally, between sending a hundred planes to drop a hundred tenton conventional bombs on an airfield. and sending one plane to drop one atomic weapon of the same kiloton explosive power. But the differences are technical, or psychological, or even political. They arc not moral.”
Despite this, he was still in a position to say to me recently: “I've become a kind of symbol for a lot of the woolly ideas people have about peace and defense.” He said it sadly, like a man w'ho feels he is never really understood, and never will be.
It is not only bomb-banners who fasten on Pearson. Intellectuals tend to believe he’s an intellectual, though his favorite reading is the sports page. Diplomats believe he's a diplomat, not a politician, though he has been a working politician for fifteen years. Politicians, for their part, are now' saying he’s be-
come an expert politician. The left wing of the Liberal party looks on him as an ally; so. strangely, does the right wing, or a large part of it. This being so, it is less than surprising that J. W. Pickersgill has lately taken to comparing Pearson w'ith Mackenzie King.
For many people Pearson is a kind of mirror for their own ideals and anxieties, just as King sometimes was. For others, particularly for the young men he has drawn into the Liberal party, he is a symbol of Canadian excellence, of the first-class world status that many young Canadians want for their country. For young Liberal politicians he fills the role that Glenn Gould fills for musicians, or Bruce Kidd for athletes.
These strangely mixed follow'ers, w'ho might in some cases seem to be mutually exclusive, may all be attracted to Pearson by a single quality: in Ottawa, a city of obsessive talkers, Pearson is a good
listener. He believes, with an almost religious conviction, that he should hear every possible opinion before making a decision. One result of this is that he's a very bad chairman: meetings chaired by
Pearson tend to drone on endlessly. A happier result is that people who meet him privately tend to go away thinking that they, and they alone, have his ear. Even reporters who come to him with tough questions end up telling him about their own careers and throwing in their political opinions for good measure. Ottawa name - droppers may say, “1 saw the PM the other day and he said ...” but when they've seen Pearson they tend to say: "I saw Mike the other day and / told him ...”
The mirror-like quality of Pearson is itself a reflection of his mind. He almost completely lacks ideology, and he possesses nothing that could be called an obsession. His beliefs are eclectic, a com-
pound of the best thoughts available. No less a book reviewer than John F. Kennedy, reviewing Pearson's Diplomacy in the Nuclear Ape in 1959. pointed out that as a thinker he does not break much fresh ground. Pearson would not be insulted by this sort of remark; his trade is making ideas work, not originating them.
In some ways Pearson is the most unlikely politician who ever seriously proposed himself for the office of prime minister. In private he displays a manner that is so stunningly casual and so unlike that of most politicians that it falls just short of being undignified. He has less self-importance than the average small-town alderman, and a good deal less than any other major figure in federal politics.
Though he now' wants badly to be prime minister, he has never shown the usual signs of desperate ambition, possibly because power and influence have always in the
past sought him out. His employer for two decades, the Department of External Affairs, steadily promoted him from junior foreign service officer to first secretary in London, to assistant undersecretary, to minister counselor in Washington, to United States ambassador. to deputy minister. In 1948 he entered politics with ease, at the request of both Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent, and became minister of external affairs. By the time he was made Liberal leader, in January, 1958, he had already won international esteem and the Nobel Peace Prize which is as precious as anything the Canadian electorate could give him. For that reason, perhaps, his attitude to political opponents is astonishingly indulgent. Though he has learned to detest John Diefenbaker. he enjoys men like George Nowlan and George Hees and sometimes even suggests privately that the present Conservative gov-
ƒ Lester Pearson’s crowded life in party politics
eminent contains some first-class ministers. No other L iberal would make that statement.
Pearson's public image, as opposed to his private manner, is the unconcealed despair of his friends and advisors. Ironically, the man Bruce Hutchison called “the first Canadian in history who has ever printed a clear image on the mind of the world” is still unable, after working at it for five years, to imprint a clear image of himself on the mind of Canada. Pearson allows the young men around him to advise him on what kind of necktie to wear, how to talk, and how to CONTINUED ON PAGE 50
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continued front page 15
“I don’t like the circus part of politics. It makes me blush”
appeal to French Canadians, hut no one has ever discovered how he might convey to the voters the warmth and good humor that his
associates experience in his presence.
A researcher for the Liberal party told me: "If Pearson could sit down and talk privately with every voter in the country for five or ten minutes, we’d win in a landslide.” After having spent a little time with him, I don’t doubt it. But he can't. Instead he must reach the voters through TV and radio anti public meetings, and in these media he is seriously handicapped. First, to express himself adequately he requires
the reassuring give-and-take of twoway conversation: since a TV camera can’t talk back to him, he really has little to say to it. Second, he does not like or understand big crowds, and has no feeling for political speeches.
Most politicians are nourished by the cheers and applause of political campaigns. John Kennedy, who is probably more intellectual than Pearson, comes away from a major speech refreshed and stimulated. Pearson, though he’s become a good politician
in some ways, is still made ill at ease by large groups of people.
"There arc some things in politics 1 don’t like, never have liked, and never will like,” he told me recently. “The hoopla, the circus part of it, all that sort of thing. It still makes me blush.” Chants of WE WANT MIKE appear to make him nervous, and he accepts fulsome praise without much grace. At moments like these his face plainly shows his attitude: he regrets that all this nonsense must be endured before he can get on with the real business of politics, which is government.
On the night of Monday, Feb. 11, at a large dinner in the Chateau Laurier, Pearson addressed the most receptive audience a politician could desire: the national council of his own party, a gathering of Liberal organizers and MPs from all over the country. They were there in the hundreds, giddy with a sense of impending victory, and full of affection for their leader.
When he began to speak, his smile grew nervous — he has a kind of smirk with which he ends his jokes, though only in public, never in private —and his gestures stiffened. His head jerked nervously backward to emphasize one syllable in each important word: “the best thing for Canada . . .” When he made an important point he placed two hands before him, as if he were hoisting some large, invisible crate onto a high shelf. It was unconvincing at best; one had the feeling his hands were controlled by hidden wires.
Still a promising performer — at 65
Pearson’s speech gave the audience its usual applause signals (“Liberals never fear the people’s verdict”), set the campaign's tone ("We will avoid personalities and prejudices, we will take the high road”) and offered a joke about Wallace McC’utcheon's appointment in Diefenbaker’s new, antiToronto cabinet (“The new senatorial minister of trade and commerce, who will protect the little people against the moguls of Bay St.”).
Mrs. Pearson sat beside him at the head table, wearing the mild, amused, somewhat bored expression with which she usually views political events. Maryon Pearson has never learned to mask her dislike of public politics. At the beginning of this speech, when Pearson referred to her with more ease than he has usually managed in the past (“I couldn't have carried on without her"), she looked as tolerant as possible, but her expression nevertheless told a great deal about how painful it is for the Pearsons to take part in the public-private rituals that politics cruelly demands of men and their wives.
On this occasion Pearson had every reason to give one of the great political speeches of his career. And it was a good speech, as Pearson speeches go. As the start of a campaign, however, the occasion was nothing compared to what almost any other major politician would have made of it. To Pearson, quite obviously, it was a job to be done rather than an opportunity to be seized. He spoke too long, for one thing — the applause and cheers came often in
the first half, less often toward the end — and he never made intimate contact with his audience. When he finished, politicians who should have left the hall glowing, ready to rush out and round up the votes, were only mildly stimulated. Their attitude to Pearson, a kind of critical affection, was indicated by the several people who remarked to me on how much he had improved as a public speaker. It is Pearson’s unique and hideous fate that at the age of sixtyfive he is still regarded by his friends as a promising performer learning his trade.
Pearson’s attitude to crowds does not flow from any intellectual aversion to lowbrows. His high professionalism in his own field was proven decades ago, but he is not an intellectual in any of the usual meanings of that term. Like most specialists he reads a great deal in his field; like most politicians, he devours newspapers, from Le Devoir to the Times of London to the Toronto Globe and Mail. But his reading for pleasure consists usually of books by writers like Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming: his private concerns are not those of an intellectual. “To my wife's disgust,’’ he told me, “I am also an undiscriminating TV viewer.” He’s the sort of viewer who turns on the set as soon as he enters a hotel room, and settles for what’s available. He likes baseball games, hockey games, and Wayne and Shuster, but he’ll happily take Ben Casey or Dr. Kildare and he has a special affection for Marshal Dillon, of G unsmoke: “His serene and courageous solution of all the problems of the community encourages me.”
Perhaps because he made so many low-keyed and speculative speeches during his years as a diplomat, Pearson has the reputation of a man who talks more than he acts. But he is, in the most precise meaning of the term, a man of action. There are politicians who talk and there are politicians who act, and there are politicians who can both talk and act. Pearson, for all the charm and intelligence of his private conversation, is almost exclusively a politician who acts. Catchwords, slogans and ringing declarations are the bread and butter of many political campaigners, and many great statesmen, too. But they mean little to Pearson and he does not use them to his advantage. So far as anyone knows, he’s never invented a slogan in his life.
For this reason, his views are rarely made as clear as they might be. The fact that in the 1962 campaign several speakers could say that he is soft on communism, and get away with it, proves how inadequately he makes his ideas known. John Diefenbaker is a much more public anti-communist than Pearson, but this is because he, unlike Pearson, believes in the magical power of words. His famous attack on Soviet imperialism at the 1960 session of the United Nations — the "captive nations” speech — w'as just that: a verbal attack, with no diplomatic or military consequences. But both he and his supporters appear to view' it as a positive anti-Soviet act. and last year he even promised to do it again it re-elected. Pearson, who has never made such a speech and never could, spent a great deal of
time promoting the co-operative defense system which successfully contained the Soviet thrust in Europe throughout the 1950s.
In contrast to his actions. Pearson’s speeches on foreign policy have usually been careful and unexciting, the speeches of a man who expects to w'in power and cares more about what his ideas will accomplish than about how' many people they will inspire. “Pearson." one of his young researchers told me, “is problem-
oriented. His ideas aren't salable.” This attitude has not made his life as opposition leader either easy or natural. Atter a lifetime of getting things done, as a civil servant and a cabinet minister, Pearson was faced five years ago with the necessity of practicing a profession — parliamentary opposition — in which the main function was not to get things done but to get things said. The difficulties this produces were illustrated in his most important speech since 1957, the
defense policy statement he made last Jan. 12.
Some time before he made that speech, Pearson came to several conclusions: ( I ) Nuclear weapons probably aren't the most logical Canadian contribution to Western defense: (2) However, the Diefenbaker government committed the country to tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and nuclear-tipped Bomarcs in North America: (3) No moral issue is involved, since Canada, by supporting
NATO and by supplying uranium for American nuclear bombs, was already up to its neck in both the cold war and nuclear defense.
On Pearson's own scale of values, the fact that the country was committed to its allies rated higher than the fact that he didn’t think highly of the commitment itself. Therefore, he decided that if he were to take office in the near future his government would accept the nuclear weapons, but might later negotiate to replace its nuclear commitments with commitments more suitable to Canada. Before making up his mind he read and heard the best available views, including those of the people who may be his ministers of defense and external affairs. But the decision finally was his. He decided to announce it in January, before an election was called, because he believed that if the issue were raised in the campaign, particularly if it were raised close to election day, Diefenbaker might defeat the Liberals by combining the nuclear issue with an all-out lastminute anti-Americanism campaign.
When he rose to give his defense speech at a nomination meeting in the flossy Canadiana Motor Hotel in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, public Liberal policy on nuclear arms was vague, as it had been for several years. Only a month before, Paul Hellyer, a Liberal defense critic, had said Canada should accept nuclear arms, but Pearson had immediately announced that Hellyer was speaking only for himself, not for the party. Now, finally, Pearson was ready to make his own detailed statement.
His speech was a disappointment to almost everyone, in exactly the way Pearson often disappoints some of his admirers and will probably continue to if he becomes prime minister. He is disappointing because he refuses to take firmly one side of an issue which has many sides, and because he will not put policy at the service of politics.
Those who oppose all nuclear weapons reacted to his speech as if they had been betrayed. Bomb-banners picketed Pearson. The Toronto Committee of One Hundred, a disarmament group, cabled Oslo asking the Nobel committee to withdraw his peace prize, on the grounds that he had betrayed his reputation. Max Ferguson, the radio satirist, reported that Alfred Nobel had turned over in his grave. Executives of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament expressed shock and disappointment. The Toronto Star, whose editors were ardent Pearson admirers, attacked him. Quebec newspapers denounced the policy, and French-Canadian politicians predicted it would badly hurt the party in Quebec.
Pearson’s personality, with its mirror-like qualities, combined with the consistently moderate tone of his speeches, had until then somehow made these people believe he was finally and firmly on their side; his belief that the decision to adopt nuclear weapons was technical rather than moral had never before reached them.
On the other side of the argument there was only slightly more satisfaction. Pearson's apparent intention to take nuclear weapons and then give
them back later seemed like no policy at all to many people. Some Liberals did not know what it meant: at the Liberal council in Ottawa, four weeks after the speech, a Quebec MP stated flatly that the Liberals would try to get rid of the nuclear weapons. Later Pearson statements tried to clarify the point by dropping references to renegotiation of nuclear commitments. Tom Kent, a Liberal strategist and now a candidate in British Columbia, finally said the weapons would be kept at least two years. But after that, what?
Pearson doesn’t know what, and doesn’t pretend to. His policy, paraphrased, is this: "We will accept nuclear weapons, because we have to. Sometime later Canadian policy will change, as all defense policies change. We think now' that it may change into a nonnuclear policy, but it will depend on the circumstances a year or two or three from now', and those circumstances may dictate that w'e continue to maintain nuclear weapons.”
"I believe.” Pearson said in that same defense speech, "the search for a sane defense policy is only made more difficult bv mixing it up with slogans and emotions.” This is the definitive statement of the problemoriented politician, the ex-civil servant, but it does not help to w'in votes from people who are not already convinced of Pearson's good sense. Slogans and emotions have always been involved in politics, and always will be.
A mistake he couldn’t stop
At moments like these, Pearson often reads in the newspapers that he is not a particularly good politician. He reacts invariably with annoyance, because he is proud of his political accomplishments. "I don’t know what that means,” he said when I mentioned this frequent criticism. "It required some ability to rebuild the Liberal party, after what happened to it in 1958. Without being egotistical,
I don’t think that the rebuilding w'ould have been done better by someone those people would call a i>ood politician.”
The political attitudes Pearson carries into this campaign, and will carry into office if he is elected, began to develop between October, 1956, and March, 1958, the most crucial period of his life so far. In those eighteen months, Pearson experienced the best and the worst moments of his career.
At the United Nations, in the fall of 1956, Pearson was given the chance to fulfill himself in a way that no other Canadian and few other diplomats ever have. When the armed forces of Britain and France entered the war between Israel and Egypt, they split the Western alliance down the middle, brought the commonwealth to the worst crisis it had ever endured, and came close to causing a world war. Pearson, as external affairs minister, went to the UN, took charge of the Canadian delegation, and began putting to work all the skills he had carefully developed over twenty-eight years as a diplomat. Pearson did not make peace all by himself: what he did was. first, work hard and successfully to develop formulas which would bring together
the countries which Suez had split apart, and. second, press for a UN emergency force to keep peace on the Gaza Strip.
The prestige he had built carefully for himself and Canada proved strong enough to accomplish this much. His efforts didn't heal the wounds of Suez — there is bitterness yet. in Britain and elsewhere — but today there is still a kind of peace between Israel and Egypt, and a kind of unity among the Western nations. For those two accomplishments, Pearson will always receive much of the credit.
Bruce Hutchison once wrote that ‘it is from Canada and the life of ordinary Canadians that he learned the purpose, method and attitudes of his own life.” For once this was not hyperbole: Pearson won the Nobel
Prize by using those techniques of compromise which have allowed Canada to exist, and by elevating them to a level at which they were of service to the world.
In the election of the following June, the Liberal government fell and John Diefenbaker assumed power. The following winter, in the space of six weeks, these things happened to Pearson: on Dec. 10. 1957, in Oslo, he received the Nobel Peace Prize and heard himself praised for "his personal qualities, his powerful initiative, strength and perseverance;” on Jan. 16. 1958, in Ottawa, he was easily elected leader of the Liberal party; on Jan. 20, 1958, in the House of Commons, he received the most abrupt and humiliating defeat any new party leader ever had to endure.
“No one ever started off worse than I did,” he has since acknowledged. Before he went into the House that day, to take his new place as leader, he was persuaded — mostly by Jack Pickersgill, but also by St. Laurent and C. D. Howe — to move a motion of nonconfidence in the government. At this point the worst thing that could happen to the Liberals was an election. The 1957 defeat had all but destroyed the party’s spirit; even among those Liberals who had held their seats, a good many were then deciding not to run again. The party had no money, and no new candidates, and no argument to take to the voters.
So what Pearson said that day was that Diefenbaker should hand back the government to the Liberals without an election. “I would be prepared, if called upon,” Pearson said, “to form ... a government to tackle immediately the formidable problem of ending the Tory pause and getting this country back on the Liberal highway of progress from which we have been temporarily diverted.” His speech blamed the Conservatives for everything that had gone wrong with the economy, and his motion referred to “the desirability ... of having a government pledged to implement Liberal policies.” It was obviously intended to be rejected by the CCF and Social Credit members, who held the balance of power.
To many people, inside and outside the Liberal Party, that speech — coming from a party which had only recently lost the country’s confidence — sounded like the ugliest and most cynical kind of arrogance. It didn't even sound very good to Pearson. “I
knew it was a mistake as soon as Í started speaking.” he told a friend afterwards, "but I couldn’t stop then.” It was the worst political mistake of his career, because it gave John Diefenbaker a perfect chance to tear Pearson and the Liberals to pieces. Diefenbaker is a master of parliamentary swordplay, and he missed no opportunities. He noted that the motion was an attempt to evade an election, and stated accurately that "my honorable friends opposite quake
when they think of what will happen if an election comes.”
To destroy “this utter caricature of an amendment,” Diefenbaker produced a report, till then unknown, which had been prepared for the previous Liberal government by the Department of Trade and Commerce. It appeared to demonstrate beyond question that the economic problems Pearson had blamed on Diefenbaker were forecast during the St. Laurent regime. "It was hidden away so well
we just found it,” Diefenbaker said. Pearson, who had apparently never heard of it. could say nothing of consequence in his defense — he didn’t know, for instance, that a couple of other reports, made around the same time, predicted just the opposite. Maurice Duplessis, commenting later on that session, said Pearson “made it so easy for Mr. Diefenbaker to look so good.” One Ottawa political writer said recently that ever since then John Diefenbaker
has been looking for a chance to recapture the glory of that afternoon, when he was supremely confident and supremely right, and his enemy was impotent.
One friend who saw Pearson both during the Suez crisis and just after the disaster in the House of Commons says now: “He was an entirely different man. There he was in 1956, dealing with all these terrible problems at the UN, working eighteen or twenty hours a day. his eyes looking
like red circles, and he was happy! He was doing what he knew' how to do. But w'hen I saw him after Diefenbaker lore a strip off him in the House, he was miserable. His confidence was shattered.” Pearson was miserable not because of anything Diefenbaker had said but because he himself had performed badly; he was a professional who had blundered into a world in which he was an amateur.
Twelve days later Diefenbaker dissolved parliament and called an elec-
tion. Without experienced advisors or much help from St. Laurent, Pearson ran a makeshift campaign. The Conservatives won tw'o hundred and eight seats, the Liberals forty-eight, and Lester Pearson settled down to learn how to be an effective leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
During his first year or two in office, Pearson often seemed curiously apathetic. The rumors of his impending retirement which cropped up frequently w'ere never true, but they were seldom groundless. Some of them followed private conversations in w'hich Pearson made no secret of how weary he was, and how stale, and flat his new job seemed to him. He hung on, his friends suggest, mainly because he couldn’t stand the idea of Paul Martin taking over the party. This period in his life ended when several of the party’s backers demanded that he either stop talking about his dissatisfaction or quit the job. He agreed to stay, but only when it was promised that he would get enough money to make the party solvent. Then he stopped talking about his unhappiness.
Ever since then, the Ottawa press corps has made a habit of describing new, improved versions of Pearson: there must now be few correspondents who have not at one time or another announced to their readers that Lester Pearson has made a new man of himself. One of the earliest stories was written by the late Judith Robinson, of the Toronto Telepram, exactly a year after Pearson’s humiliation in the House. This time, in the Throne Speech debate, he was much more competent: “It was a new sort of Pearson speech and a new Mr. Pearson making it, not a consciously superior amateur politician playing at little jokes, but a party professional hitting to hurt.”
A year later, the Hamilton Spectator reported: “The popular conversation piece is the question of what has built Mike Pearson . . . into a fighting politician. For the first time he is really angry.” Early in I960, the Vancouver Sun noted: “The new
‘Fighting Mike’ is the change from Pearson the Statesman that many Grits have been praying for. They wanted a fighting leader, and their dissatisfaction with his striped-pants leadership got back to Pearson. He made a cold-blooded decision to become just that ..."
In June, 1961, the Ottawa Journal ran a story headed: “Lightweight
Mike Turns Political.” The same story has appeared somewhere in Canada, with only the wording and the byline changed, every few months since then.
Beyond question, Pearson’s public style has changed. Most of the change is in his manner in the House of Commons: he has grown steadily
more confident. By the summer ot 1961, when the government bungled the firing of James Coyne, the Bank of Canada governor, Pearson was ready to exploit every advantage. He handled that beautifully,” a reporter who watched the incident told me recently. “He was completely in charge of his own party, and he was sure of just what he wanted to do make the government look very bad — and he did it.” By the following winter, Pearson was close to being Diefenbaker’s equal in the cut-and-
thrust of parliamentary debate. On Jan. 23, 1962, when Diefenbaker
tried to interrupt him, Pearson brushed him off with a contemptuous “Sit down, Mr. Prime Minister, sit down,“ and a few seconds later: “Be calm, sir.” He had come a long way since January, 1958.
For his part. Pearson is not conscious of any major change in his personality. “I’m only sure my awareness of these jobs has changed. At the start I was uncomfortable in the House — I hadn't been subjected to much rough and tumble betöre. 1 had to become more aware of the political side of the job." But he has never pretended that he likes even this part of it. Jack Pickersgill and Paul Martin may glory in the job ot opposition; Pearson’s every word indicates his impatience to have done with it.
In these years Pearson has been more interested in rebuilding the party than in rebuilding Pearson. At a conference in Kingston, Ont., in August, I960, he brought together a widely assorted group of intellectuals in an attempt to produce some new' ideas for the party. Few of the ideas discussed at Kingston made their way into Liberal policy, and the Conservatives, particularly the prime minister, had a good time ridiculing them:
“Why get advice on matters which you are not going to accept?” Diefenbaker said in the Commons. But the conference made many intellectuals feel less alienated from federal politics, and it made at least some Liberals feel they were in touch with the country’s best minds. Despite Kingston, the Liberal party still has far less intellectual stature than the NDP, the American Democrats, or either of the major British parties. But the meeting achieved at least a marginal sort of progress. Pearson was pleased. He w'as also pleased with the results of the national Liberal rally at Ottawa in January, 1961. At that session, argumentative policy meetings on everything from farm supports to foreign affairs were thrown open to reporters, and the result was several hundred newspaper stories w'hich made the Liberals look more alive than at any time since the early 1950s. They also felt more alive, which was equally important; minor Liberal figures across the country began to believe they had some part in making policy.
Pearson is proud of the people he brought into the party in those years; w'hat he is obviously not proud of is the federal Liberal party’s status in Quebec. Lionel Chevrier, a holdover from the St. Laurent period, has failed to play effectively the traditional role of French-Canadian second-in-command. One of Pearson’s closest English-speaking advisors told me: “In Quebec Pearson has not yet come to grips with reality. It is now the twentieth century in Quebec, but the Liberal party there lives in the nineteenth century. The rich-uncle theory of politics is still practised by the federal Liberals there, and so long as this is so we will be in deep trouble.”
But getting rid of Chevrier, and replacing him. is much harder than it looks from outside: there is no obvious successor, and to set Chevrier aside now would not only violate
Pearson's feelings of loyalty but would also tear the Quebec branch of the federal party to pieces. Pearson has found a temporary solution in his recently close relations with Premier Jean Lesage; his friends think he will find a more permanent solution if he is elected prime minister.
In politics as in diplomacy, Pearson’s greatest strength is his ability to find the common ground between opposing forces and then enlarge it. But in times of political stress a related quality shows up as a genuine weakness: he can rarely bring himself to offend anyone, particularly anyone in the Liberal party. In the 1962 election, when Premier Joey Smallwood muzzled Donald Fleming at the Rotary Club in St. John's, Pearson refused to repudiate him. He made it look as it the national Liberals were afraid of Smallwood; as, indeed, some ot them were. Pearson frequently fails to show the kind of sternness that a leader should have.
“We just want to merchandise him”
Pearson's loyalty to the party men around him. and his willingness to listen to them, has had the curious effect of making some of his lieutenants feel, to their great personal satisfaction, that they have made Pearson what he is. At times this teeling is reflected in a tone almost ol condescension in the conversation ol the men who help w'ritc his speeches (he writes many of them himself, and edits all of them), run the party organization. and generally push Pearson towards the office of prime minister.
“So 1 told him to wear the bow' tie if he feels like it. or not wear the bow tie if he doesn't feel like it,” one of his advisors said recently. “We bring him back to Ottawa every weekend in the campaign; it’s psychologically good, makes him feel good.” “His problem is he can't project himself.” “He’s improved a lot on television, he w'as pretty bad betöre.’ “His lisp is still there, but it’s improved.” “His voice isn’t so highpitched any more.” “We don’t want to change him, really, just merchandise him.”
They talk, sometimes, as il Pearson were the creation of his assistants. It is true that he’s had professional speech lessons, that he has sat dow'n with advertising men and heard his TV manner criticized as if he were reading soap commercials, and that sibilants which will bring out his lisp are carefully pruned from his speeches. But these are " marginal changes: the qualities that will win or lose this election for him are qualities he has possessed for years; they owe nothing to the professional imagebuilders. Far from their having created him, Pearson has carefully and coolly made them what they arc. They all exist in national politics because Pearson decided they should.
Walter Gordon, who would be minister of finance in a Pearson government, is an old friend whom Pearson elevated to a high level in the party. Tom Kent was a business executive and former newspaperman whom Pearson chose as policy advisor and specchwriter. Keith Davey, the national Liberal organizer, was the advertising manager of a Toronto
radio station when Pearson chose him. Richard O’Hagan, Pearson’s executive assistant, was a public relations man in a Toronto advertising agency. These people, and a good many others, were brought out of private life and into full-time politics because Pearson thought they would be useful to him and to the party. They all seem to fit a pattern of organization Pearson carries in his head: certainly he manipulates them more than they manipulate him.
From the pure politician’s point of view, Pearson still retains a nasty habit of seeing more than one side of an argument. Just how little the years in politics have fundamentally changed him was demonstrated by a luncheon meeting he had a year ago with Retl Kelly, the hockey player. The party leaders, including Pearson, had decided that among their candidates they needed some celebrities, and Kelly looked like a possibility. .Several prominent Liberals had
spoken to Kelly about running for parliament, and now Davcy and Pearson met him for lunch at the Park Plaza Hotel in Toronto. After some conversation about hockey the candidacy was mentioned. Kelly said that though the idea was attractive he didn't really believe he could comfortably combine hockey and a seat in parliament. To Davey's astonishment, Pearson agreed it would be too much for one man. The meeting broke up on that note, and it took a lot of
talking to get Kelly interested again.
But the inability to put his political impulses ahead of all his other impulses— the inability, in fact, to have political impulses, sometimes — has not prevented Pearson from becoming in some ways an expert politician. The unity of the Liberal party as it went into the 1962 election was in itself a tribute to the skill Pearson brought to the leadership. “It is easy enough,” Jack Pickersgill told me, “for a party leader who is also prime minister to hold a party together — or it should be. He has all those loaves and fishes to distribute to the faithful. But Mr. Pearson has held this party firmly behind him, out of office.” There has not been a serious dumpPearson campaign since 1958, and no campaign against him or his policies has gained any momentum.
Recently 1 asked Pickersgill how he would compare Pearson with the two prime ministers Pickersgill worked for, St. Laurent and King.
“In the way he reaches his political decisions,” Pickersgill said, “he grows more like King every day.”
He explained that St. Laurent, with his sharp lawyer's mind, made a decision by removing the human element from it and working it out like an algebraic equation. Then he tried to make it fit political reality. Neither King nor Pearson has exhibited such a sharp mind. King listened to all political viewpoints first and then produced something like a consensus. Pearson does the same. Pickersgill believes that Pearson is much more likely than St. Laurent to arrive at political views that the public is reaching at the same time.
Pearson is also like King in what he doesn't do. He doesn’t offend people needlessly. He scrupulously avoids the sort of statement which comes back for years to haunt a politician. “1 can’t conceive of either Mr. Pearson or Mr. King making the mistake Mr. St. Laurent made over Suez, when he said the day of* the supermen of Europe is over,” Pickcrsgill told me. “Even if they were tempted to say that, they wouldn’t say it — they would know by instinct it was wrong.”
The comparison, I understand, does not delight Pearson — in foreign affairs King was much too timid for Pearson’s taste, and Pearson has written without much affection about the isolationist policies Canada pursued under King in the 1930s. But the comparison serves as an accurate description of the kind of domestic politician Pearson has become.
It has been obvious for a long time that Pearson will never be either a radical social reformer or an emotional spellbinder. He will never possess the magnetism of a Roosevelt or a Kennedy — or a Diefenbaker. In a curious, shy way, he would probably dislike himself it he ever succeeded in becoming that kind of politician. But five years ago he took over a Liberal party which had almost died of obesity, under leaders who were supposed to be first-class politicians. Today, he stands at the head of a party which is rich, lean, eager, and ready for power. He achieved this not only with charm and intelligence but also by learning, slowly and painfully, the difficult, necessary art of the professional politician. ★