By Norman Hillmer
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Extra resources for Pearson: The Unlikely Gladiator
Pearson therefore returned to government in 1963, as prime minister. Outside and inside Canada, there was a sigh of relief. Pearson was not John Diefenbaker. Government had returned to competent hands and expectations were high. But Pearson did not have, and never had, a majority in the House of Commons, and in his five years as prime minister could never be entirely certain whether his government would survive from week to week. Curiously, the domestic record of Pearson's prime ministership proved more substantial than the achievement in foreign policy.
Pearson's far-sighted cultivation of India sometimes went awry in practice, but in 1956 it proved a diplomatic pearl without price. Yet in his solution to the crisis - the creation of a peacekeeping force - there were limitations which reflected Canada's limitations and those of the international system. Pearson would have preferred a much tougher mandate, with the capacity to override local Egyptian sovereignty in the larger interests of world peace and UN authority. 7 In the crisis Pearson discounted the problem of Canadian public opinion.
This is, admittedly, not the view from inside the country. "Canada is the most difficult place in the world to govern," as prime minister after prime minister has discovered. Managing Canada can be an extraordinary achievement, drawing on qualities of imagination and reserves of principle. For five years in the middle of the twentieth century, Canada was led by an unusual Canadian, ordinary and extraordinary at the same time: Lester B. Pearson. Pearson's ordinary qualities, an easy charm foremost, topped off with a disarming smile, appealed to his fellowcitizens - appealed just enough to permit them to award him two grudging mandates to govern them.