Louis St. Laurent
Louis St. Laurent
|12th Prime Minister of Canada|
15 November 1948 – 21 June 1957
|Preceded by||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Succeeded by||John Diefenbaker|
|Leader of the Opposition|
21 June 1957 – 16 January 1958
|Preceded by||John Diefenbaker|
|Succeeded by||Lester B. Pearson|
|Leader of the Liberal Party|
7 August 1948 – 16 January 1958
|Preceded by||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Succeeded by||Lester B. Pearson|
|Minister of Justice|
Attorney General of Canada
10 September 1948 – 14 November 1948
Acting: 1 July 1948 – 9 September 1948
|Prime Minister||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Preceded by||James Lorimer Ilsley|
|Succeeded by||Stuart Garson|
10 December 1941 – 9 December 1946
|Prime Minister||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Preceded by||Joseph-Enoil Michaud|
|Succeeded by||James Lorimer Ilsley|
|Secretary of State for External Affairs|
4 September 1946 – 9 September 1948
|Prime Minister||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Preceded by||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Succeeded by||Lester B. Pearson|
|Member of Parliament|
for Quebec East
9 February 1942 – 31 March 1958
|Preceded by||Ernest Lapointe|
|Succeeded by||Yvon-Roma Tassé|
Louis Stephen St-Laurent
1 February 1882
Compton, Quebec, Canada
|Died||25 July 1973 (aged 91)|
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
|Resting place||Saint Thomas d'Aquin Cemetery, Compton, Quebec|
(m. 1908; died 1966)
|Children||5, including Jean-Paul|
Louis Stephen St. Laurent prime minister of Canada from 1948 to 1957.(Saint-Laurent or St-Laurent in French, baptized Louis-Étienne St-Laurent; 1 February 1882 – 25 July 1973) was a Canadian politician and lawyer who served as the 12th
Born and raised in southeastern Quebec, St. Laurent was a leading lawyer and a supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada. He was notable for having strong support within the Catholic francophone community. In February 1942, St. Laurent entered politics as he won a by-election in the riding of Quebec East and immediately became Minister of Justice under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. In September 1946, St. Laurent became Secretary of State for External Affairs and served in that post until two years later, where he became leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister, succeeding King who retired. St. Laurent carried the party to back-to-back majority governments in the federal elections of 1949 and 1953.
The second French Canadian to hold the office, St. Laurent strongly advocated against communism, and was an enthusiastic proponent of Canada joining NATO in 1949 to fight the spread of the ideology, overcoming opposition from some intellectuals, the Labor-Progressive Party, and many French Canadians. St. Laurent was a leading figure in the establishment of a UN military force in 1956 and at home oversaw the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Pipeline. After nearly 22 years in office, the Liberal Party was unexpectedly and narrowly defeated by John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives in the 1957 federal election, with the 1956 Pipeline Debate playing a major role in St. Laurent's loss. Shortly after his defeat, St. Laurent retired from politics and returned back to his law practice. He is ranked highly among analysts and the public, not least because of him overseeing the development of post-war Canada. According to historian Donald Creighton, he was neither an idealist nor a bookish intellectual, but an "eminently moderate, cautious...man...and a strong Canadian nationalist."
Early life, family, and education
Louis St. Laurent (French pronunciation: [lwi sɛ̃ lɔʁɑ̃]) was born on 1 February 1882 in Compton, Quebec, a village in the Eastern Townships, to Jean-Baptiste-Moïse Saint-Laurent, a French Canadian, and Mary Anne Broderick, an Irish Canadian. Louis was the oldest of seven children. At the time of his birth, Compton was mainly English-speaking, though it would slowly become majority French between 1901 and 1911. He grew up fluently bilingual, as his father spoke French while his mother only spoke English. His English had a noticeable Irish brogue, while his gestures (such as a hunch of the shoulders) were French. St. Laurent was also interested in English literature as a child. The St. Laurents' home would serve as a social centre for the village.
St. Laurent's father, Jean, was a Compton shopkeeper and a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Jean would unsuccessfully run in a provincial by-election in 1894. When Laurier led the Liberals to victory in the 1896 election, 14-year-old Louis relayed the election returns from the telephone in his father's store.
St. Laurent received degrees from Séminaire Saint-Charles-Borromée (B.A. 1902) and Université Laval (LL.L. 1905). He was offered, but declined, a Rhodes Scholarship upon this graduation from Laval in 1905. In 1908, he married Jeanne Renault (1886–1966), with whom he had two sons and three daughters, including Jean-Paul St. Laurent. St. Laurent had two known grandsons and three known granddaughters: Louis St. Laurent II, Michael S. O'Donnell, Helen, Marie, and Francine.
St. Laurent worked as a lawyer from 1905 to 1941, also becoming a professor of law at Université Laval in 1914. St. Laurent practiced corporate and constitutional law in Quebec and became one of the country's most respected counsel. He served as President of the Canadian Bar Association from 1930 to 1932. In 1913 he was one of the defending counsel for Harry Kendall Thaw, who was seeking to avoid extradition from Quebec.
Though an ardent Liberal, Louis remained aloof from active politics for much of his life, focusing instead on his legal career and family. He became one of Quebec's leading lawyers and was so highly regarded that he was offered a position in the Cabinet of the Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen in 1926 and was offered a seat as a justice in the Supreme Court of Canada; he declined both offers.
Minister of Justice
It was not until he was nearly 60 that St. Laurent finally agreed to enter politics when Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King appealed to his sense of duty in late 1941. King's Quebec lieutenant, Ernest Lapointe, had died in November 1941. King believed that his Quebec lieutenant had to be strong enough and respected enough to help deal with the volatile conscription issue. King had been a junior politician when he witnessed the Conscription Crisis of 1917 during World War I and he wanted to prevent the same divisions from threatening his government. Many recommended St. Laurent to take the post. On these recommendations, King recruited St. Laurent to cabinet as Minister of Justice, Lapointe's former post, on 9 December. St. Laurent agreed to go to Ottawa out of a sense of duty, but only on the understanding that his foray into politics was temporary and that he would return to Quebec at the conclusion of the war. In February 1942, he won a by-election for Quebec East, Lapointe's former riding. The riding had also previously been held by Laurier. St. Laurent supported King's decision to introduce conscription in 1944 (see Conscription Crisis of 1944). His support prevented more than a handful of Quebec Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs) from leaving the party, and was therefore crucial to keeping the government and the party united.
He had to deal with the defection of Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko in Ottawa in September 1945; Gouzenko's revelations and subsequent investigations over the following few years showed major Soviet espionage in North America.
Minister of External Affairs
King came to regard St. Laurent as his most trusted minister and natural successor. He persuaded St. Laurent that it was his duty to remain in government following the war in order to help with the construction of a post-war international order and promoted him to the position of Secretary of State for External Affairs (foreign minister) in 1945, a portfolio King had previously always kept for himself.
St. Laurent represented Canada at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference and San Francisco Conference that led to the founding of the United Nations (UN). At the conferences, St. Laurent, compelled by his belief that the UN would be ineffective in times of war and armed conflict without some military means to impose its will, advocated the adoption of a UN military force. This force he proposed would be used in situations that called for both tact and might to preserve peace or prevent combat. In 1956, this idea was actualized by St. Laurent and his Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson in the development of UN Peacekeepers that helped to put an end to the Suez Crisis.
St. Laurent also believed that the UN was failing to provide international security from communism from the Soviet Union. He therefore proposed a Western or Atlantic security organization that would supplement the UN. That would become reality in 1949, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded. St. Laurent is seen as one of the first people in power to propose such an institution.
Annexation of Newfoundland and Labrador
St. Laurent was a strong supporter of Newfoundland and Labrador joining Canada. He ignored objections from the government of Quebec as it had land claims against Newfoundland and demanded a right of veto over the admission of any new province or territory. St. Laurent led two negotiations with Newfoundland and Joey Smallwood in the summer of 1947 and the fall of 1948. These negotiations were successful, and on March 31, 1949, Canada annexed Newfoundland and Labrador, with St. Laurent presiding over the ceremonies in Ottawa as prime minister.
Prime Minister (1948–1957)
1948 Liberal Party leadership convention
In 1948, MacKenzie King retired after over 21 years in power, and quietly persuaded his senior ministers to support St. Laurent's selection as the new Liberal leader at the Liberal leadership convention that took place on August 7, 1948, exactly 29 years after King became leader. St. Laurent easily won, defeating two other opponents. In his victory speech, he told delegates that his government would fight communism abroad, establish good relations between English Canada and French Canada, and respect provincial rights. He was sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada on 15 November, making him Canada's second French Canadian Prime Minister, after Wilfrid Laurier.
1949 federal election
St. Laurent's first mission was to give the Liberals a brand-new mandate shortly after his swearing-in. In the 1949 federal election that followed his ascension to the Liberal leadership, many wondered, including Liberal Party insiders, if St. Laurent would appeal to the post-war populace of Canada. On the campaign trail, St. Laurent's image was developed into somewhat of a 'character' and what is considered to be the first 'media image' to be used in Canadian politics. St. Laurent chatted with children, gave speeches in his shirt sleeves, and had a 'common touch' that turned out to be appealing to voters. At one event during the 1949 election campaign, he disembarked his train and instead of approaching the assembled crowd of adults and reporters, gravitated to, and began chatting with, a group of children on the platform. A reporter submitted an article entitled "'Uncle Louis' can't lose!" which earned him the nickname "Uncle Louis" in the media (Papa Louis in Quebec). With this common touch and broad appeal, he subsequently led the party to victory in the election against the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party led by George Drew. The Liberals won 190 seats—the most in Canadian history at the time, and still a record for the party.
1953 federal election
St. Laurent led the Liberals to another powerful majority in the 1953 federal election, once again defeating PC leader Drew. Though they lost 22 seats, they still had three dozen seats more than the number needed for a majority, enabling them to dominate the House of Commons of Canada.
St. Laurent and his cabinet oversaw Canada's expanding international role in the postwar world. His stated desire was for Canada to occupy a social, military, and economic middle power role in the post-World War II world. In 1947, he identified the five basic principles of Canadian foreign policy and five practical applications regarding Canada's international relations. Always highly sensitive to cleavages of language, religion, and region, he stressed national unity, insisting, "that our external policies shall not destroy our unity ... for a disunited Canada will be a powerless one." He also stressed political liberty and rule of law in the sense of opposition to totalitarianism.
NATO and the United Nations
Militarily, St. Laurent was a leading proponent of the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, serving as an architect and signatory of the treaty document. Involvement in such an organization marked a departure from King who had been reticent about joining a military alliance. Under his leadership, Canada supported the United Nations (UN) in the Korean War and committed the third largest overall contribution of troops, ships and aircraft to the U.N. forces to the conflict. Troops to Korea were selected on a voluntary basis. St. Laurent sent over 26,000 troops to fight in the war. In 1956, under his direction, St. Laurent's Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, helped solve the Suez Crisis in 1956 between Great Britain, France, Israel and Egypt, bringing forward St. Laurent's 1946 views on a U.N. military force in the form of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) or peacekeeping. It is widely believed that the activities directed by St. Laurent and Pearson could well have avoided a nuclear war. These actions were recognized when Pearson won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.
St. Laurent was an early supporter of British Prime Minister Clement Attlee's proposal to transform the British Commonwealth from a club of white dominions into a multi-racial partnership. The leaders of the other "white dominions" were less than enthusiastic. It was St. Laurent who drafted the London Declaration, recognizing King George VI as Head of the Commonwealth as a means of allowing India to remain in the international association once it became a republic.
St. Laurent's government was modestly progressive, fiscally conservative, and run with business-like efficiency. Robertson says, "St Laurent's administrations from 1949 to 1956 probably gave Canada the most consistently good, financially responsible, trouble-free government the country has had in its entire history."
It took taxation surpluses no longer needed by the wartime military and paying back in full Canada's debts accrued during the World Wars and the Great Depression. With remaining revenues, St. Laurent oversaw the expansion of Canada's social programs, including the gradual expansion of social welfare programs such as family allowances, old age pensions, government funding of university and post-secondary education and an early form of Medicare termed Hospital Insurance at the time. This scheme lay the groundwork for Tommy Douglas' healthcare system in Saskatchewan, and Pearson's nationwide universal healthcare in the late 1960s. Under this legislation, the federal government paid around 50% of the cost of provincial health plans to cover "a basic range of inpatient services in acute, convalescent, and chronic hospital care." The condition for the cost-sharing agreements was that all citizens were to be entitled to these benefits, and by March 1963, 98.8 of Canadians were covered by Hospital Insurance. According to historian Katherine Boothe, however, St. Laurent did not regard government health insurance to be a "good policy idea", instead favouring the expansion of voluntary insurance through existing plans. In 1951, for instance, St. Laurent spoke in support of the medical profession assuming "the administration and responsibility for, a scheme that would provide prepaid medical attendance to any Canadian who needed it".
In addition, St. Laurent modernized and established new social and industrial policies for the country during his time in the prime minister's office. Amongst these measures included the universalization of old-age pensions for all Canadians aged seventy and above (1951), the introduction of old age assistance for needy Canadians aged sixty-five and above (1951), the introduction of allowances for the blind (1951) and the disabled (1954), amendments to the National Housing Act (1954) which provided federal government financing to non-profit organisations as well as the provinces for the renovation or construction of hostels or housing for students, the disabled, the elderly, and families on low incomes, and unemployment assistance (1956) for unemployed employables on welfare who had exhausted (or did not qualify for) unemployment insurance benefits. During his last term as Prime Minister, St. Laurent's government used $100 million in death taxes to establish the Canada Council to support research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. In 1956, using the taxation authority of the federal level of government, St. Laurent's government introduced the policy of "equalization payments" which redistributes taxation revenues between provinces to assist the poorer provinces in delivering government programs and services, a move that has been considered a strong one in solidifying the Canadian federation, particularly with his home province of Québec.
In 1957, St. Laurent's government introduced the registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), a type of financial account used to hold savings and investment assets. The plan had many tax advantages and was designed to promote savings for retirement by employees and self-employed people.
In 1948, St. Laurent's government dramatically increased immigration in order to expand Canada's labour base. St. Laurent believed that immigration was key to post-war economic growth. He also believed that immigration would create a sufficient tax base that would pay for social welfare measures that were established at the end of World War II.
Over 125,000 immigrants arrived in Canada in 1948 alone, and that number would more than double to 282,000 in 1957. This was perhaps the first time that Canada welcomed non-Western European immigrants in huge numbers, as masses of Italians, Greeks, and Poles arrived. In 1956 and 1957, Canada received over 37,500 refugees from Hungary, in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
In 1949, the former lawyer of many Supreme Court cases, St. Laurent ended the practice of appealing Canadian legal cases to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, making the Supreme Court of Canada the highest avenue of legal appeal available to Canadians. In that same year, St. Laurent negotiated the British North America (No. 2) Act, 1949 with Britain which 'partially patriated' the Canadian Constitution, most significantly giving the Canadian Parliament the authority to amend portions of the constitution. Also in 1949, following two referenda within the province, St. Laurent and Premier Joey Smallwood negotiated the entry of Newfoundland and Labrador into Confederation.
In 1952, he advised Queen Elizabeth II to appoint Vincent Massey as the first Canadian-born Governor-General. Each of the aforementioned actions were and are seen as significant in furthering the cause of Canadian autonomy from Britain and developing a national identity on the international stage.
High Arctic relocation
In 1953, St. Laurent undertook the High Arctic relocation, where 92 Inuit were moved from Inukjuak, Quebec to two communities in the Northwest Territories (now Nunavut). The relocation was a forced migration instigated by the federal government to assert its sovereignty in the Far North by the use of "human flagpoles", in light of both the Cold War and the disputed territorial claims to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The relocated Inuit were not given sufficient support to prevent extreme privation during their first years after the move. The story was the subject of a book called The Long Exile, published by Melanie McGrath in 2006.
St. Laurent's government engaged in massive public works and infrastructure projects such as building the Trans-Canada Highway (1949), the St. Lawrence Seaway (1954) and the Trans-Canada Pipeline. It was this last project that was to sow the seeds that led to the downfall of the St. Laurent government.
St. Laurent had to go through a series of negotiations with the United States in order to start the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. In order to negotiate with the U.S., St. Laurent met with president Harry S. Truman twice, in 1949 and 1951, but was unsuccessful both times. St. Laurent then threatened that Canada would build the seaway alone. Finally, in 1953 and 1954, Truman's successor, president Dwight Eisenhower, secured a deal with St. Laurent. The deal costed $470 million Canadian dollars, with Canada paying nearly three-fourths of that total and the U.S. paying about one-fourth. The seaway was completed in 1959 and expanded Canada's economic trade routes with the United States.
Reputation at home
His reputation as Prime Minister was impressive. He demanded hard work of all of his MPs and Ministers, and worked hard himself. He was reputed to be as knowledgeable on some ministerial portfolios as the ministers responsible themselves. To that end, Jack Pickersgill (a minister in St. Laurent's cabinet) said as prime minister St. Laurent had: "as fine an intelligence as was ever applied to the problems of government in Canada. He left it a richer, a more generous and more united country than it had been before he became prime minister."
St. Laurent was initially very well received by the Canadian public, but by 1957, "Uncle Louis" (as he was sometimes referred to) began to appear tired, old, and out of touch; he was 75 years old and had many hard years of work behind him. His government was also perceived to have grown too close to business interests.
Defeat in the 1957 federal election
1956 Pipleline Debate
The 1956 Pipeline Debate led to the widespread impression that the Liberals had grown arrogant in power. On numerous occasions, the government invoked closure in order to curtail debate and ensure that its Pipeline Bill passed by a specific deadline. St. Laurent was criticized for a lack of restraint exercised on his minister C. D. Howe, who was widely perceived as extremely arrogant. Western Canadians felt particularly alienated by the government, believing that the Liberals were kowtowing to interests in Ontario and Quebec and the United States. (The opposition accused the government of accepting overly costly contracts that could never be completed on schedule. In the end, the pipeline was completed early and under budget). The pipeline conflict turned out to be meaningless, insofar as the construction work was concerned, since pipe could not be obtained in 1956 from a striking American factory, and no work could have been done that year. The uproar in Parliament regarding the pipeline had a lasting impression on the electorate, and was a decisive factor in the Liberal government's 1957 defeat at the hands of the PCs, led by John Diefenbaker, in the 1957 election. Because the Liberals were still mostly classically liberal, Diefenbaker promised to outspend the incumbent Liberals, who campaigned on plans to stay the course of fiscal conservatism they had followed through St. Laurent's term in the 1940s and 1950s.
By 1957 St. Laurent was 75 years old and tired. His party had been in power for 22 years, and by this time had accumulated too many factions and alienated too many groups. He was ready to retire, but was persuaded to fight one last campaign. In the 1957 election, the Liberals won 200,000 more votes nationwide than the Progressive Conservatives (40.75% Liberals to 38.81% PC). However, a large portion of that overall Liberal popular vote was gained by huge majorities in Quebec ridings, and did not translate into seats in other parts of the county. Largely due to dominating the rest of the country, the Progressive Conservatives took the greatest number of seats with 112 seats (42% of the House) to the Liberals' 105 (39.2%). The result of the election was considered to be perhaps the greatest upset in Canadian federal political history.
Some ministers wanted St. Laurent to stay on and offer to form a minority government, arguing that the popular vote had supported them and the party's long years of experience would make them a more effective minority. Another option circulated within the party saw the balance of power to be held by either the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and their 25 seats or Social Credit Party of Canada with their 15 seats. St. Laurent was encouraged by others to reach out to the CCF and at least four of six independent/small party MPs to form a coalition majority government, which would have held 134 of the 265 seats in Parliament—50.6% of the total. St. Laurent, however, had no desire to stay in office; he believed that the nation had passed a verdict against his government and his party. In any case, the CCF and Socreds had pledged to cooperate with a Tory government. It was very likely that St. Laurent would have been defeated on the floor of the House had he tried to stay in power with a minority government, and would not have stayed in office for long even if he survived that confidence vote. With this in mind, St. Laurent resigned on 21 June 1957—ending the longest uninterrupted run in government for a party at the federal level in Canadian history.
Supreme Court appointments
- John Robert Cartwright (22 December 1949 – 23 March 1970)
- Joseph Honoré Gérald Fauteux (22 December 1949 – 23 December 1973)
- Douglas Charles Abbott (1 July 1954 – 23 December 1973)
- Patrick Kerwin (as Chief Justice, 1 July 1954 – 2 February 1963; appointed a Puisne Justice under Prime Minister Richard Bennett, 20 July 1935)
- Henry Grattan Nolan (1 March 1956 – 8 July 1957)
Retirement and death
After a short period as Leader of the Opposition and now more than 75 years old, St. Laurent's motivation to be involved in politics was gone. He announced his intention to retire from politics. What had been a "temporary" political career had lasted 17 years. He was succeeded as Liberal Party leader by his former Secretary of State for External Affairs and representative at the United Nations, Lester B. Pearson, at the party's leadership convention in 1958.
St. Laurent preferred law over politics. In a 1961 interview with the CBC, he stated, "One can be more outspoken, frank and sincere before the courts than he could be before the public audience in a political campaign." In that same interview, St. Laurent acknowledged that the Pipeline Debate played a major role in his 1957 loss, stating, "Perhaps I didn't say as much as I should have; people do make mistakes you know. I did my best and, as a matter of fact, we had become accustomed to carry on as a board of directors and that displeased a part of the Canadian public." St. Laurent admitted that it took a while to resume his good mood after a sudden electoral loss.
After his political retirement, he returned to practicing law and living quietly and privately with his family. During his retirement, he was called into the public spotlight one final time in 1967 to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada, a newly created award.
Former Prime Minister of Canada. For his service to his country.
Louis Stephen St. Laurent died from heart failure on 25 July 1973, in Quebec City, Quebec, aged 91 and was buried at Saint Thomas d'Aquin Cemetery in his hometown of Compton, Quebec. He was survived by granddaughters Helen, Marie, Francine and grandsons Louis St. Laurent II and Michael S. O'Donnell.
Legacy and memorials
One of St. Laurent's advisors, Jack Pickersgill, noted of him, "St. Laurent had made governing Canada look so easy that the people thought anyone could do it—and thus they elected John Diefenbaker."
St. Laurent was ranked #4 on a survey of the first 20 prime ministers (through Jean Chrétien) of Canada done by Canadian historians, and used by J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer in their book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders.
The house and grounds in Compton where St. Laurent was born were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1973. St. Laurent's residence at 201 Grande-Allée Est in Quebec City is protected as a Recognized Federal Heritage Building.
The riding, Louis-Saint-Laurent, is named in his honour. Created in 2003, it partially consists of St. Laurent's old riding of Quebec East.
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The Relocated–a term still spoken in hushed terms–were then planted as human flagpoles in this desolate place.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Louis St. Laurent.|
- "Louis St. Laurent". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2016.
- Louis St. Laurent – Parliament of Canada biography
- Order of Canada citation
- CBC Digital Archives – Uncle Louis and Canada's Golden Age
- Louis St. Laurent's Grave
- Louis St. Laurent fonds at Library and Archives Canada
- Newspaper clippings about Louis St. Laurent in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW