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Uncle Louis takes the lead

Louis Stephen St-Laurent never cared much for politics, its gamesmanship or its pretense. Yet under the leadership of this reluctant but passionate visionary, Canada witnessed an era of unprecedented prosperity and international influence. Accusations of arrogance would eventually cause St-Laurent to retire an embattled and disillusioned man. But the golden age would forever be the legacy of "Uncle Louis." The CBC Archives looks back at Canada's unassuming prime minister.

Brilliant, understated, dedicated and impeccably efficient, St-Laurent's list of virtues easily wins him the respect of Mackenzie King and the cabinet. And when King resigns, St-Laurent is the logical choice for new leader of the Liberal Party. As he heads into his first general election, however, there is concern that St-Laurent's cool and reserved demeanour would be unappealing to the average voter. But, as seen in this campaign speech, Uncle Louis surprises everyone when his "common touch" captivates an adoring nation. On June 27, 1949, St-Laurent leads his party to a landslide victory.
• Louis St-Laurent had already been handed the reigns of prime minister prior to this general election. After becoming party leader, St-Laurent, approaching 67 years of age, was sworn in as the 12th Prime Minister of Canada on Nov. 15, 1948. Intent on ruling by popular mandate, he quickly called a national election.

• It has been said that St-Laurent was the first prime minister to establish a "media image" during an election. St-Laurent chatted with children and gave speeches in his shirt sleeves, contrary to the lawyerly fashion with which he normally conducted himself.
• St-Laurent was asked years later why he thought people were so fond of him during the first election. Tongue in cheek, he responded, "I felt that they were getting the impression that the fact that I was of French descent and of the Catholic religion didn't prevent me from being a likeable chap."

• The final tally gave 190 seats to the Liberals, 41 seats to the Progressive Conservative's, 13 to the CCF, 10 to the Social Credit Party and 8 went to independents.

• St-Laurent inherited a strong government and a healthy political climate. He maintained most of King's cabinet and appointed Pearson, who had already established himself as a world diplomat, as the minister of external affairs. With a record of social and economic achievements, Mackenzie King's legacy helped St-Laurent define his own.
Medium: Radio
Program: Political Broadcasts
Broadcast Date: May 9, 1949
Duration: 8:32

Last updated: January 16, 2012

Page consulted on February 21, 2014

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