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Louis St-Laurent

Born in Compton, Quebec, Louis Stephen St-Laurent (1882–1973) was a lawyer, professor, politician and Prime Minister of Canada from 1948 to 1957. St-Laurent’s family was poor, but he became a successful corporate lawyer as well as a professor at Laval University. He was recruited into politics as Minister of Justice by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1942, succeeding him as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister in 1948. St-Laurent’s lack of enthusiasm for health insurance and his belief in the division of federal–provincial powers as set out in the British North America Act was clear in the Liberal Party’s 1953 campaign platform, which stated: “The Liberal Party is committed to support a policy of contributory health insurance to be administered by the provinces when most of the provinces are ready to join in a nationwide scheme” (Malcolm G. Taylor, Health Insurance and Canadian Public Policy: The Seven Decisions That Created the Canadian Health Insurance System and Their Outcomes, 2nd ed. [Montréal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 1987], p. 108). Regardless of St-Laurent’s reluctance to support social security initiatives, efforts by Cabinet ministers like Paul Martin, Sr. and provincial premiers like Tommy Douglas, W.A.C Bennett and Leslie Frost meant that Canada continued to move towards medicare while St-Laurent was in office.

Photo: Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent’s three-way handshake with premiers Leslie Frost (Ontario) and  Maurice Duplessis (Quebec) at the Dominion-Provincial Conference in 1950

This cheerful image of Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent’s three-way handshake with premiers Leslie Frost (Ontario) and Maurice Duplessis (Quebec) at the Dominion-Provincial Conference in 1950 gives no hint of the difficulties that lay ahead in the negotiation of the national hospital insurance plan
Courtesy of the Kingston General Hospital Archive, Kingston, Ontario, EQ 19-3. Used with permission.




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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: April 21, 2010