HISTORIANS OF THE FUTURE will be puzzled, as they turn the yellowing pages of old newspapers of the early 1960s, to find Lester B. Pearson so often described as a do-nothing Prime Minister and his period in office as an exercise in futility. For they will be aware of a fact which has escaped many of his contemporaries, though some are coming to realize it now: that Prime Minister Pearson got more done in his five years of office than any predecessor achieved in twice that time, if at all.
They will be all the more baffled since they will realize, if they are familiar with the first century of Canada’s history, that these accomplishments include several previously deemed to be impossible, or at any rate politically suicidal. They did turn out to be difficult, which is why they took a long time and thus contributed to the myth of nonachievement. But Mr. Pearson can fairly claim to have proved more than once the old flippant boast: “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.”
Most memorable, and perhaps in the long run the most important, of these “impossible” tasks was of course the Canadian flag. It’s already hard to remember, as if from a distant past, the furies of the flag debate in 1964 and the fulminations of those who swore the Red Ensign would be struck only over their dead bodies. Where are they now? Canada’s flag flies as proudly as if it had always been there.
Compared to this, the other “impossibles” seem relatively easy in retrospect, but in prospect they did not. They include these formidable items:
Unification of the armed forces, something many governments had dreamed of but none had dared to try.
Redistribution of electoral districts, to remove some boroughs almost as rotten as those of 1832 in Britain.
Rationalization of a transport system that had been growing more and more insane for eighty years.
Introduction of a Canadian Pension Plan that involved the most intricate negotiation with the provinces, at the very time when provincial relations were more delicate than ever before.
Enactment of medical insurance which, whether or not it goes into effect this year, will almost certainly remain the law of the land.
The list is incomplete, but a fair sample. This record is not merely good, it is unique. Mr. Pearson as he returns to private life can look back on it with unalloyed pride. And if the February conference has maintained the hope that it would start us on the way to a new constitution, then the things he has begun may outweigh, in the end, the things he has had time to complete. In either case he has earned his country’s gratitude.
A ’’protester” has his day
WHEN A MIDDLE-AGED CONTRACTOR from Oakville drove all the way to North York, Ont., to fire a shotgun at a bilingual STOP sign, he then rang up the Toronto newspapers to tell them what he had done. Quite rightly, the papers printed the story. Their readers might well have been puzzled to see the holes in their traffic equipment, and the account of how it happened was certainly news.
But the contractor went on with long, pompous explanations of why he had done this silly thing; the reporters obediently took it all down and the editors printed it. Why? Who cares what one obscure bigot thinks? If all a man has to do to publicize an infantile notion is to perform some infantile act in public, we have got ourselves onto a very slippery slope.
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