Louis Stephen St-Laurent, lawyer, politician, prime minister (b at Compton, Qué 1 Feb 1882; d at Québec City 25 July 1973). Born into a poor family, St-Laurent was fluently bilingual, became a prominent lawyer and, in 1914, a law professor at Laval. During the 1920s and 1930s he was a successful corporation lawyer and served as batonnier of the Québec Bar and president of the Canadian Bar Association (1930-32). In 1937-40 he was a counsel to the Rowell-Sirois Royal Commission on DOMINION-PROVINCIAL RELATIONS.
In Dec 1941 St-Laurent was approached by PM Mackenzie KING to become minister of justice. He had no political experience but felt it was his duty to accept, and in Feb 1942 he was elected to the House of Commons representing Québec E. Alone among Liberal ministers from Québec, he was not pledged to oppose CONSCRIPTION and supported King in 1944 when he imposed it for overseas service.
King was grateful and, impressed with St-Laurent's logical mind, made him secretary of state for external affairs in 1946. St-Laurent represented Canada at international conferences and the UN. He promoted Canadian membership in NATO, believing that Canada must help resist Communist expansion.
As King's chosen successor, a selection ratified by a Liberal convention, St-Laurent became prime minister on 15 Nov 1948. He headed a Cabinet of exceptional competence, including Lester PEARSON in external affairs, C.D. HOWE in trade and commerce, Douglas Abbott in finance and Brooke CLAXTON in national defence. Old-age pensions were extended; hospital insurance was enacted; equalization payments among the provinces were approved; and Newfoundland formally joined Canada. Abroad, Canada garrisoned troops in Europe under NATO and sent forces to fight for the UN in Korea.
St-Laurent's grandfatherly appearance and his government's record caused the Liberals to be re-elected in 1949 and 1953 with overwhelming majorities. In 1954 a successful round-the-world trip seemed to tire St-Laurent; thereafter, observers noticed that he seemed removed from events around him. During his last year in office the Liberals suffered reversals in public opinion, partly as a result of the PIPELINE DEBATE in 1956.
In June 1957 St-Laurent's government was defeated by John DIEFENBAKER's PCs, and in Jan 1958 he retired from public life, returning to his law practice in Québec. St-Laurent was much admired for his decisiveness, patriotism and sharp mind, and was held in great personal affection by those who worked with him.