Canadian politician, former Prime Minister from 15 November 1948 - 21 June 1957

Louis St. Laurent was Canada's 12th Prime Minister, and served after World War II. He was born in 1882 in Compton, Quebec and was Canada's second Quebec born PM. In 1949 he instituted the Trans Canada Highway act, brought Canada into NATO, and welcomed Newfoundland as a new province into Canada. He served from 1948 until he was succeeded by John Diefenbaker in 1957.

Previous Prime Minister: William Lyon Mackenzie King (1948)
Next Prime Minister: John Diefenbaker (1957)
Louis St. Laurent was the 12th Prime Minister of Canada and was the one who led Canada through the Korean War. The time of St. Laurent was considered a time of prosperity for Canada and many important conflicts were resolved due to his successful leadership. St. Laurent was born on 1 February 1882 in Compton, Québec. His mother was Irish-Canadian and his father was French. At home, young Louis spoke both English and French which not only helped him communicate but also understand both of major cultures in Canada. His father was a Liberal politician and young Louis was always interested in politics but never thought of having a political career. When he was requested to fill Ernest Lapointe’s job he was had a successful law career behind him and was planning retirement with his large family.

St. Laurent’s entry to politics was very unexpected and started when Mackenzie King (the Prime Minister at the time) asked him to replace Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe who died earlier that year, St. Laurent won a by-election and entered the House of Commons in 1941. The reason that he agreed to cancel his retirement was that he understood the importance of the job that he was being offered and wanted to help the Liberals and his country. King recommended St. Laurent even though he was inexperienced in politics and didn’t want the job. The reason to that was that Louis knew a lot about law and about both French and British cultures. He was also known for his ability to come up with logical arguments and present them rationally. Another important benefit that St. Laurent had over most other politicians was the very fact that he didn’t want to be one; He only thought about the good of the country and not his own benefit. St. Laurent still intended to retire as soon as possible but he turned out to be very good at his job and did not retire until 1958. From the moment St. Laurent entered the cabinet, he impressed everybody with his intelligent and logical arguments, his strong patriotism and his selfless goals. During the conscription crisis King and his Cabinet were near collapse and St. Laurent’s effort and support helped the Liberal party to get over it. Even though most of Québec’s politicians were against conscription, St. Laurent went with Mackenzie King and said that all the British and the French should fight for a common goal and not against each other. Finally the Conscription issue was resolved and St. Laurent became known as a strong supporter of the Liberal party and was even called “A second Laurier” by King. In 1948, Mackenzie King resigned from his job as a Prime Minister and St. Laurent took over as a representative of the Liberal party. The cabinet was sure of St. Laurent’s political abilities but they doubted him as a “vote-getter” because he detested political gamesmanship. Nevertheless, Louis St. Laurent did a very good job getting votes because of his good nature and honest appearance. Louis got most of his votes by talking to smaller groups of people and children using his “Common touch”. He also had the advantage of being accepted by both French and British Canadians who were the major voting groups in Canada at the time. Louis St. Laurent was among the first Prime Ministers to establish a media image due to the growing popularity of new information sources. He won the elections and became Prime Minister in 1949.

As a Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent was very much like Sir Wilfrid Laurier and saw all the groups in Canada as equals. Even though being a Prime Minister was not what he wanted to do at his age, he understood that the Liberals and his country needed him so he did his best and proved himself to be one of the most intelligent leaders Canada ever had. After the Second World War, Canada had many debts and conflicts both nationally and internationally; they could not be avoided and had to be dealt with. St. Laurent did a very good job leading Canada as it was rebuilding the economy, much with his excellent knowledge of law and his logic. During his years as a Prime Minister Canada returned back to prosperity and national unity. Under St. Laurent’s leadership, the Liberal party was advancing towards better health insurance, pensions and other social reform programs.
In 1941, Newfoundland joined the confederation as the tenth province just like St. Laurent predicted earlier. The new province raised the issue of equalization payments to all provinces. Even though many opposed this new policy from various reasons, St. Laurent managed to establish the equalized payments.
In 1956, the Suez crisis rose in Egypt and Britain once again called Canada to help and participate in the war. Louis St. Laurent did not agree with the whole Suez war issue which did not go along the Commonwealth policy. A third World War could have occurred and St. Laurent did not want Canada to participate as it did in the other wars. Britain was surprised by Canada’s refusal to directly participate in the war because it relied on Canada’s help and support. Canada decided to send its own force to help Britain, but without getting involved too much and under Canadian command. Canada played an important role in the UN peacekeeping force as well as the air force. As a result, Canada did some effort to help Britain without completly ignoring the war and yet did not lose too many lives. This shows that St. Laurent used the same strategy as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, where both sides compromise on a balanced conclusion without getting to extremes. When the Korean War broke, St. Laurent called Canadian soldiers to enlist and help the UN throughout the war. The force that was created was known as the Canadian Army Special Force and fought for Canada and the UN. Many veterans who served during the Second World War enlisted, as well as those who were too young to fight in WWII. St. Laurent managed to keep Canada relatively out of danger and yet gain respect in the eyes of the UN. St. Laurent’s other major achievements include The Trans-Canada Highway Act of 1949, promotion of the Canadian organisation in NATO, the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1954 and the appointment of first Canadian-Born Governor General.

Louis St. Laurent’s final years as a Prime Minister were when the Liberals were beginning to lose power. One of St. Laurent’s failures was when the Liberal Party wanted to build a natural gas pipeline from Alberta to central Canada. The issue led to strong disagreements and was one of the reasons for the increasing power of the opposition. Finally, the Liberals lost the 1957 election to the Conservatives; St. Laurent remained the leader of the opposition and was planning his retirement once again. He kept his position as the leader of the opposition for a year and retired in 1958. His quiet retirement was exactly as he planned before joining politics and Louis was able to enjoy his large family and many grand children.

Louis St. Laurent was a successful Prime Minister because of his patriotism and intelligent decisions. It is demonstrated when he decided to enter politics and not retire just because he cared for his country and understood that he was needed. St. Laurent did not try to change Canada but improve it and that gained him a lot of respect from the people. Louis St. Laurent was also a very good person as demonstrated by his family life and relationships with people. The best politicians are always those who do not try to persue personal interests but improve the country. St. Laurent was that kind of politician. He deserved the respect of the Canadian public because of his excellent professional, political and personal achievments.

Some of the sources used:
Marlatt, Craig. “Louis St. Laurent” 2001.
Ondaatle, Christophrer “Louis St. Laurent”. The Prime Ministers of Canada. Pagvrian Press Limited, Toronto 1968
“The Suez Crisis” Parks Canada 1998

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