National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

Canadian sensitivities about our southern neighbour kicked into high gear on this date in 1955 after Lester B. Pearson, Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs, addressed the Canadian Club of Toronto. In his speech, Pearson described the reality of Canadian-American relations, arguing that Canada depended on the U.S. more than was the reverse.

Nationalists kicked into high gear afterwards.

“Twice in this century Canada has been involved in a major war for periods of two years or more before our American neighbors came in,” Pearson told his audience. “Today, I think that the neutrality of either of us … would be unthinkable. That is a tremendous change, and one which must affect all our relations with the U.S. . . . Certain U.S. commitments, those, for instance, covering help to Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa and certain coastal islands, have not been accepted by us. But that is not saying that they may not involve us … The fortunes of both our countries are interdependent. But the dependence of Canada on the U.S. is far greater than is the reverse. That is a fact which we must accept even if, at times, it makes us feel uncomfortable.”

A few days later American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles visited Ottawa. In a private discussion with Pearson, the Canadian described to his American counterpart some of the criticisms he had faced in the speech’s aftermath.

U.S. note-takers at the meeting reported on the talks: “(Pearson) said he had been bitterly attacked by certain elements in Canada although others had approved the stance he had taken. The violence of the attack against him had been very great. There had been editorials suggesting that since the U.S. dictated Canadian foreign policy, he, Mr. Pearson, should resign and let Mr. Dulles conduct Canada’s External Affairs. He had received a letter from a staunch supporter in his constituency saying that he would never vote for him again. Despite these criticisms, Mr. Pearson felt that it had been important and essential to say the things that he had said, and he did not regret his speech.”

Note-takers recorded the reply from Dulles: “The Secretary said the speech had produced a very favorable reaction in the U.S. and that he fully agreed with Mr. Pearson that the destinies of Canada and United States were inextricably linked together and what happened with respect to one country inevitably affected the other. He had no doubt that Canada and United States would continue to stand staunchly together.”

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.
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