Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Louis St. Laurent
|Date of Birth:||February 1, 1882|
|Place of Birth:||Compton, Quebec|
|Political Party:||Liberal Party of Canada|
He received degrees from St. Charles Seminary (B.A. 1902) and Laval University (LL.L. 1905). He was offered, but declined, a Rhodes Scholarship upon this graduation from McGill in 1905. In 1908 he married Jeanne Renault (1886-1966) with whom he had two sons and three daughters.
St. Laurent worked as a lawyer from 1905 to 1914, at which point he became a professor of law at Laval University. St. Laurent practised corporate and constitutional law in Québec and became one of the country's most respected counsels. He served as President of the Canadian Bar Association from 1930 to 1932.
St. Laurent's father, a Compton shopkeeper, was a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada and was particularly enamoured with Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Louis St. Laurent inherited his father's political affiliations but, while a Liberal supporter, remained aloof from active politics for much of his life focussing 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 Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen in 1926.
Needing strong ministers from Quebec, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King recruited St. Laurent to his wartime Cabinet as Minister of Justice following the death of his Quebec lieutenant, Ernest Lapointe. St Laurent agreed to go to Ottawa on the understanding that his entry to politics was temporary and that he would return to Quebec at the conclusion of the war.
St. Laurent supported King's decision to introduce conscription in 1944, despite the lack of support from other French Canadians (see Conscription Crisis of 1944). His support prevented more than a handful of Quebec Liberal MPs from leaving the party and was therefore crucial to keeping the government and the party united.
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 (ie Foreign Minister) in 1945, a portfolio King had previously always kept for himself.
In this role he attended the founding congress of the United Nations representing Canada. At the congress, St. Laurent, compelled by his belief that the U.N. would be ineffective in wartime without some military means to impose its will, advocated the adoption of a U.N. 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 external-affairs minister Lester B. Pearson in the development of U.N. 'Peacekeepers' that helped put an end to the Suez Crisis.
As he saw the end of his own leadership tenure approaching King persuaded St. Laurent that it was his duty to succeed himself as party leader and Prime Minister to ensure the unity of the party and country and maintain the Liberal Party's tradition of alternating between anglophone and francophone leaders.
In 1948 King retired, and quietly persuaded his senior ministers to support St. Laurent's selection as the new Liberal leader at the Liberal leadership convention of August 1948. St. Laurent won and became leader of the Liberal party and Prime Minister of Canada.
In the federal election that followed his ascention to the Liberal leadership many wondered, including Liberal party insiders, if this shy, reserved, dignified, grandfatherly man 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 would chat with children, give speeches in his shirt sleeves and had a 'common touch' that turned out to be massively appealing and earned him the nickname 'Uncle Louis' in the media. Needless to say, he subsequently led the party to victory in the 1949 Canadian election against the Conservatives led by George Drew.
St. Laurent's cabinet oversaw Canada's expanding international role in the postwar world. Canada supported the United States in the Korean War and committed troops to the conflict. Under his leadership the country also helped establish and joined NATO in 1949 marking a departure from King who had been reticent about joining a military alliance. St. Laurent was an early supporter of British Prime Minister Clement Atlee's proposal to transform the British Commonwealth from a club of white dominions into a multi-racial partnership while the leaders of the other "white dominions" were less than enthusiastic. It was St. Laurent who proposed the formula of 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.
Lester Bowles Pearson, St. Laurent's Secretary of State for External Affairs, helped solve the Suez Crisis in 1956, for which Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize. St. Laurent also welcomed Newfoundland into Confederation, and established new social and industrial policies.
St. Laurent's government was modestly progressive, taking taxation surplusses no longer needed by the wartime military and establishing the Canada Council to support the arts, gradually expanding social welfare programs such as family allowances and old age pensions and bringing in an early form of hospital insurance . The government also engaged in massive public works projects such as building the Trans-Canada Highway and the St. Lawrence Seaway 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 was initially well-received by the Canadian public, who often referred to him as "Uncle Louis," but by 1957 both the prime minister and his government began to appear tired and old. The 1956 Pipeline Debate led to the widespread impression that the Liberals had grown arrogant in power when the government invoked closure on numerous occasions in order to curtail debate and ensure that its Pipeline Bill passed by a specific deadline. The ensuing uproar in Parliament had a lasting impression on the electorate and was a decisive factor in the Liberal government's defeated at the hands of John George Diefenbaker in the 1957 Canadian election.
The defeat in the 1957 election was a narrow one with the Conservatives taking a small parliamentary majority with 112 seats but forming a minority government. The Liberals took 102 seats and the balance of power was held by the CCF and their 25 seats. Some ministers wanted St. Laurent to stay on and form a minority government or reach out to the CCF to form a coalition majority government, the Prime Minister decided that the nation had passed a verdict against his government and he resigned as Prime Minister rather than be seen as clinging to office. 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 as Liberal leader and was succeeded by Lester Pearson at the party's leadership convention. In 1967 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.
After his political retirement he returned to practicing law and living quietly and privately with his family, enjoying spending many happy hours with his grandchildren. He died on July 25, 1973, in Quebec City, Quebec and is buried at St. Thomas Aquinas Cemetery in his hometown of Compton, Quebec.
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