Louis Stephen St-Laurent, prime minister 1948–57, attorney, politician (born 1 February 1882 at Compton, Québec; died 25 July 1973 in Québec City). Under St-Laurent’s direction, Canada extended old-age pensions, enacted hospital insurance, and approved provincial equalization payments. Throughout his tenure, Newfoundland combined Confederation, and Canada battled in the Korean War.
Louis Stephen St-Laurent Legal Career
Born to a poor family, St-Laurent was fluently bilingual, became a prominent attorney, and, in 1914, a law professor at Laval. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he had been a successful corporation lawyer and served as batonnier, or head, of the Québec Bar and president of this Canadian Bar Association (1930-32). Back in 1937-40, he was a counselor to the Rowell-Sirois Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations.
Louis Stephen St-Laurent Federal Politics
In December 1941 St-Laurent was approached by Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King to become minister of justice. He had no political experience but felt it was his obligation to accept. In February 1942 he was elected to the House of Commons representing Québec East. Contrary to other Liberal ministers out of Québec, he had not vowed to oppose conscription from the Second World War and affirmed King in 1944 when he enforced it for overseas support.
King was thankful and, pleased by St-Laurent’s rational mind, made him secretary of state for external affairs in 1946. St-Laurent represented Canada at international conferences and in the United Nations. He encouraged Canadian membership in NATO, presuming that Canada must help withstand communist expansion.
As King’s chosen successor, a selection ratified by a Liberal conference, St-Laurent became prime minister on 15 Nov 1948. He led a cabinet of exceptional competence, such as Lester Pearson in external affairs, C.D. Howe in commerce and trade, Douglas Abbott in finance and Brooke Claxton in national defence.
Old-age pensions were extended; hospital insurance has been enacted; equalization obligations one of the provinces were approved; and Newfoundland formally united Canada. Abroad, Canada garrisoned troops in Europe under NATO and sent forces to fight to the UN in Korea.
The Korean War started on 25 June 1950 when the UN threw its support behind the South Korean military in a struggle against North Korea. The UN Security Council was dominated by Western nations and boycotted by the Soviet Union — allowing the UN to officially enter the war (headed by the USA ) from the communist North, which was later backed by China. Canada sent almost 30,000 troops to Korea, together with warships and other forces. Over 500 Canadians were killed and approximately 1,200 wounded.
The war ended in a stalemate with the Korean peninsula divided with a demilitarized zone that still forms the boundary between North and South. St-Laurent was prime minister for the war’s duration.
Louis Stephen St-Laurent Retirement from Politics
St-Laurent’s reassuring, grandfatherly look, and his government’s record helped the Liberals get re-elected in 1949 and 1953 with overwhelming majorities. However, a successful round-the-world trip in 1954 appeared to psychologist St-Laurent; thereafter, observers noticed that he looked removed from events.
During his last year in office that the Liberals suffered reversals in public comment, partly as a consequence of this Pipeline Debate in 1956. In June 1957 St-Laurent’s government was defeated by John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives. In January 1958 he retired from public life and returned to his law practice in Québec.
St-Laurent was much admired for his decisiveness, patriotism, and sharp head, and was held in great personal affection by those who worked with him. In 1967, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada” because of his service to his nation.”
Shortly after his death in 1973, the home of his birth became the Louis S. St-Laurent National Historic Site of Canada. The house, general store and other buildings in Quebec’s Eastern Townships celebrate his life. His achievements are further commemorated at Louis S. St-Laurent Heritage House at Quebec City.