A great anniversary today to mark, particularly for myself and all those Canadians who hail from Homeland of Scarborough, Ontario. It was, of course, on this date in 1963 that then Leader of the Opposition Lester B. Pearson traveled to Canada’s greatest community to unveil his party’s policy on nuclear weapons.
In a reversal, Mr. Pearson pledged that Canadian policy were he to be elected Prime Minister would be clear: Canada would accept nuclear weapons to live up to our obligations to our allies during those Cold War years.
The Liberal Party Leader had been provoked into taking what was regarded as a clear policy reversal by comments made by U.S. General Lauris Norstad, then serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who stated that his government was becoming increasingly impatient with the Diefenbaker government’s waffling. General Norstad urged the opposition Liberals to develop a clear policy. The global context, of course, was the tensions of the Cold War, the ongoing threat posed by communist Cuba, and the Cuban missile crisis, which occurred mere months before Pearson’s speech and thus undoubtedly factored into his thinking.
In his address announcing the Party’s modified nuclear defence policy, Pearson stressed Canada’s commitments to NORAD and NATO to accept short-range tactical nuclear weapons. The Liberal position was that the commitments entered into by PM John Diefenbaker’s Conservative government should be honoured. Advocating that deterrence was “essential to the preservation of peace”, Pearson explained that “deterrent defence” meant “the availability of nuclear tactical weapons in the face of an immediate vital threat or emergency.”
Reaction to the policy shift was swift, and often negative. A Montreal university professor, for example, wrote in response that Pearson was now Canada’s “defrocked prince of peace.” The professor’s name? Pierre Trudeau. And, of course, two years later Trudeau stood for election to Parliament running under the leadership of, you guessed it, Lester B. Pearson.
And it all began in Scarborough.
It was also on this date in 2004 that Stephen Harper announced his candidacy for leadership of the newly united Conservative Party of Canada. As we all know, Mr. Harper was successful and almost exactly two years later, was himself Prime Minister of Canada.
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.