Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Minority report: Comparing Lester B. Pearson and Jean Chrétien

Jenn HardyWebsite

Long before June’s federal election results were in, the outcome seemed inevitable: despite Paul Martin’s best attempts at dragging his heels in calling an election to try and garner more support among voters, he would convene Canada’s first minority government in 25 years.

Clearly, it was not what Martin had hoped for. But for the rest of us, it might not be a bad thing. Although Canada has seen its share of difficulties with minority governments (think of Joe Clark’s short-lived Tory government in 1979), a lot of progressive legislation has come out of a centrist government forced to lean on the left for a little support.

Below, we’ve compared the legacies of Lester B. Pearson’s minority government, which sat for two terms from 1963 to 1968, with Jean Chrétien’s majority reign of power from 1993 to 2003.

Education Pearson created the Canada Student Loans Program in 1964 to make post-secondary education possible for lower-income families, providing eligible students with low-interest loans.

Chrétien cut $4 billion from federal funding for social services, including education. Thanks to Chrétien’s changes, the National Student Loan Service Centre, banks and even the government itself will now report delinquent grads to private debt collectors and take legal action if they default on their loans.

Medicare Pearson introduced universal medicare in 1968, due in no small part to the urging of Tommy Douglas and the New Democratic Party.

Chrétien was soft on two-tier health care, allowing private MRI, CT, orthopedic and ophthalmology clinics to grow across Canada.

Military Pearson resisted US pressure to participate in the Vietnam War and spoke out against the bombing campaign, angering then-president Lyndon Johnson.

Chrétien ordered troops to join the coalition to fight in Afghanistan immediately after September 11. Operation Apollo brought soldiers, patrols, frigates and other military equipment to the war against terrorism in the Middle East.

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