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Banner: First Among EqualsLester Bowles Pearson banner

Address to the Empire Club at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto, October 15, 1964


I believe in my country. I honour its past and have faith in its future. I reject the views of those men of little faith and mean spirit who, by their pessimism about our future, diminish our present and betray our past.

No country in the world is more envied, and with such good reason, as Canada. No country has a greater destiny ahead of it if we wish to make it so. Other countries would be very happy if they had not only the reality of our present but the promise of our future.

Nothing can prevent us becoming one of the world's great nations except:

  1. International chaos and the ultimate catastrophe of nuclear war. We have a part  --  but only a relatively modest part  --  to play in preventing the tragedy.
  2. Our own failure to meet the tests and exploit the opportunities that face us; the test of unity and the opportunity of national growth.

This is entirely our own, and no one else's responsibility.

Canada will not, however, realize its destiny unless we understand the nature of our nation; its origins; its history; its problems; its possibilities.

I said at this Club a year ago:

"There must be a determination to understand the real nature of Canada and the forces eroding that nature; to recognize the peril of serious internal divisions; to recognize also the competition and challenge of the changing world community and the competitive world marketplace; to realize the opportunities of national strength through unity and the fatal weakness of division and discord."

Geographically, we are satisfactorily huge but, in economic and demographic terms, we are merely a long, narrow ribbon clinging to our United States boundary.

So we must widen that ribbon by pushing development northward and bringing in the people and the capital which can make that push possible. Yet it must be, in essentials, a Canadian development under Canadian control. Insistence on Canadian nationalism must not be allowed to obscure the necessity for cultivating the best possible relations with other countries, especially with the United States and our two Mother Countries, Britain and France.

No country depends more on other countries for its prosperity than Canada. The lesson is obvious. You don't bite the hands that are helping to feed you.

We must understand the constitutional and racial structure of our country and the implications of that structure on our political development. Canada is a Federation of Provinces based on two founding peoples, English-speaking and French-speaking, which has subsequently developed as a multi-racial society.

Canadian national unity  --  which is essential  --  rests on the recognition and the acceptance of this dualism in our origin and of this diversity in our development. This dualism must not be permitted to weaken or destroy us. It can be made to strengthen our nation.

Canada is, and must remain, a sovereign political entity. In that sense it is, and must remain, one nation. Let there be no misunderstanding on this score. Inside this entity, however, there is a French-speaking sector which, socially, culturally and historically, has the nature of a national community, with the Province of Quebec as its heart and centre.

This fact must be recognized. So must the fact of national unity, politically and before the world. To maintain such unity should be a primary objective of the Governments and the people of Canada.

National unity does not imply subordination in any way of provincial rights or the alienation of provincial authority. It does require a government at the centre strong enough to serve Canada as a whole; and its full realization demands a strong Canadian identity with the national spirit and pride that will sustain and strengthen it.

To strengthen national unity, the Federal Government and the Governments of the Provinces must use all the means at their disposal. They must in particular endeavour to further and deepen among all citizens, as individuals and as members of associations and communities, the understanding of and support for the principles on which the Canadian Confederation is based.

All Canadians must actively support  --  as a matter of individual responsibility  --  policies designed to promote national confidence, national identity, national unity and national purpose; policies which will keep our union strong, our federation healthy and effective and our country one before the world.


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Source: Pearson, Lester B. Excerpt from the address by Lester B. Pearson to the Empire Club. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister, 1964. 4 p.


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