17 October 2015

In whose presence we need be ashamed

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a quotation about how, while the people of the Middle Ages may not have always had good kings, they at least knew what a good king was. I then went on to observe that I do not believe that we today have any idea of what a good Prime Minister is, nor would we be able to recognize one. Then, in a very brief exchange in the combox, I stated that Lester Pearson was my favourite of the Prime Ministers. I'll elaborate on that a little bit now.

Pearson is one, perhaps the only one, of our Prime Ministers who may be called a statesman. Throughout his brief reign he sought to build consensus across party lines. A former junior conservative who was opposed to Pearson at the time later wrote of how his files from the period contain several notes from Pearson, wherein Pearson explained that the junior con had raised a good point in parliament, and he, Pearson, was unsatisfied with his own answer at the time, and had his staff look a little deeper into the issue. The notes were the result of the research, and Pearson hoped it cleared things up a bit. That was for exactly the kind of member of parliament Pearson's successor would call a "nobody".

It went deeper than that. During the long flag debate, where Pearson sought to create a consensus about Canada's new flag, Pearson was most bitterly opposed by Canada's veterans. Our men had fought and died under the old flag, and to the veteran's minds, that made the old flag sacred. Yet Pearson, himself a veteran of the first world war, believed a new flag was the way forward for Canada. So he personally traveled the country and met with the veterans in legion halls from one coast to another- meeting with the very men who opposed him the most to speak to them, to tell them that he understood why they felt as they did, but that he believed the new flag was the way to go. He tried to persuade them, not rule them.

Ultimately, he was not successful. The veterans on the whole remained unmoved (oddly enough, my father was a rare exception to this: he supported the new flag. His experience in the war had filled him with utter contempt for the British, and he wished to sever all ties with them, even the tie of the flag) but the fact that Pearson at least tried, that he met with people who disagreed with him vehemently to try and calmly persuade them, is almost incredible to me. I tried to think of any recent Prime Minister, any of the current candidates doing such a thing, and the thought made me laugh. They hold meetings among the faithful alone, where the audience acts like the old meetings in Russia under Stalin, where the first person to stop clapping at whatever came out Joe's mouth was taken out of the room and shot.

No, Pearson was not perfect,  but he was a tireless worker who tried to build consensus across the nation, and didn't try and endlessly drive wedges into our political divisions.  He and his kind are gone now, and I fear we shall never look upon his like again.

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