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Uncle Louis

Image-makers and spin doctors are an integral part of politics and a prime minister's role today. Before television brought politicians with their speeches, gestures and faces into the living rooms of the nation, the first prime minister to establish a "media image" was Louis St. Laurent. In his first election as leader in 1949, the Liberal party was worried about what kind of image this elderly corporate lawyer would project. In person, St. Laurent was a shy, diffident man, with a quiet reserve that appeared almost courtly. Would such a personality appeal to post-war Canada?

Louis St. Laurent did appeal, for there was another side to his character. The father of five and grandfather of twelve, he adored children. On one of his first campaign stops in a small town in Manitoba, he immediately approached a group of youngsters on the railway platform. The children responded enthusiastically to his kind attentions. No matter what the adults thought, he was a hit! An astute reporter watched this rapport develop over the campaign tour and predicted "Uncle Louis will be hard to beat."

The Liberals maximized St. Laurent's instinctive "common touch" before and after the election. Usually a man of impeccable dress, St. Laurent would appear on a campaign platform in his shirt sleeves to deliver a chatty speech. Travelling by train to the U.S. in 1950, he donned the engineer's cap and overalls, and drove the locomotive part of the way!

Source: Canada's Prime Ministers, 1867 - 1994: Biographies and Anecdotes. [Ottawa]: National Archives of Canada, [1994]. 40 p.

St. Laurent: main page

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