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Banner: First Among EqualsLouis Stephen St. Laurent banner

Speech at the opening of the general election campaign, May 9, 1949


My fellow citizens of the ten provinces of Canada, I am happy that the time has come when we can hold a general election.

Ever since I became our country�s Prime Minister last November, I have always wanted to obtain a mandate from the people themselves. But before being able to ask you to renew your confidence in us, there were three things the government had to do.

The first was to bring the negotiations for the union of Newfoundland and Canada to a fruitful conclusion.

The second was to complete the discussions for the NATO alliance and secure this treaty�s ratification by your representatives in Parliament.

The third was to stand before Parliament itself, submit the public accounts, table the credits, table the budget and extend certain necessary measures, such as rent control, for one year.

These three things have been done and we now feel at liberty to call upon the people.

As Prime Minister, I was responsible for leading the government that has administered the country�s affairs over for the past six months.

In this first speech of the election campaign, I wish to report to you how we have conducted your affairs over the course of these six months.

When I became Prime Minister, the government had begun discussions with a delegation from Newfoundland, which had been sent to Ottawa to come to an agreement on the conditions for uniting our countries.

These discussions were conducted in a cordial atmosphere by men who expected to become fellow citizens before long and who wanted to live together in harmony. On December 11, the conditions for the union were signed in the Parliament in Ottawa; but they could not take effect until after they had been approved by Parliament.

During the same November and December, the government was also preparing the work for the parliamentary session. At the opening of the session in January, our program was announced in Parliament and to the Canadian people.

The first point in this program was the legislation pertaining to Newfoundland�s entry into the Confederation. The government then presented urgent legislation, including rent control, that was passed before March 31. We must not forget that, if Parliament had not extended this law by one year, rent control would have become inoperative on March 27.

Also at the end of March, the draft North Atlantic Treaty had been prepared by representatives of Canada and the other North Atlantic nations gathered in Washington.

We were in agreement that this draft was excellent but we wanted to ask Parliament to approve the principles of this treaty before signing it on behalf of Canada. We wanted the world to know that all Canadians are united in their determination to preserve peace.

The Government being of the opinion that the amicable relations between the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States, which had existed between Mr. King and President Roosevelt, were of great importance to our two countries, I was pleased to accept an invitation from President Truman to spend a weekend in Washington in February to renew and strengthen the bonds of friendship that have united us since his visit here two years ago. This weekend visit in no way delayed the work of the House.

But, as the Parliamentary session progressed, it became more and more evident that the perspective of an election was making it more difficult to conduct the work of the House in an orderly manner and that it would be in the interests of the Canadian people to hold elections as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, when Parliament adjourned for the Easter break, we had accomplished a great deal. Newfoundland had become the tenth Canadian province; the NATO alliance had been signed with Parliament�s approval; the urgent legislation had been passed and the budget had been tabled.

On my return from the West after Easter, it was clear that the Canadian people expected an election and that the country would be living in an election atmosphere for as long as the election was not held.

We were of the opinion that the government  --  because our government is a new government  --  had successfully concluded almost all the urgent business and that we would serve our fellow citizens more effectively after having received a vote of confidence from the people themselves. In other words, let us say that it was our opinion that the time had come for the people to decide to whom they wanted to entrust public affairs for the next four or five years.

Public affairs are simply the affairs of the people  --  your affairs. And it is through general elections that the country�s people maintain control over its government and over the administration of its affairs.

On June 27, Canadians will choose 262 men and women to represent them in the House of Commons. By electing your Member of Parliament, you will help decide what government the country will have for the next four or five years.

In our opinion, it would not have been fair to a great number of voters, who travel far from their homes in the middle of summer, to delay the election until after the end of June; but we were also of the opinion that we had to ask Parliament to approve certain measures without delay. We wanted, if possible, to have Parliament vote the supply required for the country�s administration during the electoral period and until the summons of the new Parliament. I am happy to be able to say that the necessary supply was voted on the last day of April.

The government had also proposed that the old age pensions and pensions for the blind, which had been established by the Liberal government and increased twice already under Liberal administrations, be raised again.

We believed that Canadians wanted to see this project accomplished and we succeeded in having Parliament authorize increasing these pension rates by $10 per month. As you know, these pensions for elderly and the blind are administered by the provincial governments but the federal government pays 75 percent of them.

One of the greatest social measures passed by the Liberal government is the Family Allowances Act. After we realized the great benefits of this act, which improved the health and well-being of our children, increased school attendance and made family life happier, we of the government came to the conclusion that the allowances had to be paid, without a decrease in the level, for all the children in the family, however many there were. We also believed that the children of families newly settled in Canada should be entitled to the allowances after one year of residence in the country instead of three.

I am happy to be able to say that both these amendments to the Family Allowances Act were passed during the last week of the session.

During this same session, Canada�s representatives signed the International Wheat Agreement in Washington. In our opinion, it was important to have this agreement, which is of the greatest importance to our farmers and for our entire economy, approved by Parliament. The agreement was approved by Parliament towards the end of the session.

Lastly, we secured the unanimous approval by Parliament of the NATO alliance, which was ratified by Canada in Washington last Tuesday. I believe that Canadians will be happy that our country was the first to ratify the treaty, thereby demonstrating that we Canadians are ready to do our part to ward off the threat of totalitarian communism and to ensure peace.

There was also a comforting change of historical importance in the relations between Commonwealth nations, which allowed India to remain within our free association of nations. This change began during the Prime Ministers� meeting in London last October which I attended. It was completed at a second meeting held last month, at which Canada was fittingly represented by Mr. Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs.

There you have a report on the manner in which we have administered your affairs for the past six months. But we are not asking you to judge the government solely on its accomplishments of the past six months. Even though the present government is a new government, it is also a Liberal government; our accomplishments span the four years that have elapsed since the 1945 election and, in truth, well before 1945. I am sure you are all expecting me to account for this as well.

At the time of the 1945 elections, we promised to reduce income tax and we also promised to do what we could to trim the national debt.

We have kept these promises.

Income tax has been lowered every year since 1945 and so has the national debt. Canadians, I am certain, feel it is wise to pay one�s debts and they also agree that it is good to reduce the national debt when it is possible. You know that the more we reduce the national debt, the easier it is for us to then reduce income tax. As a result of the last budget, seven hundred and fifty thousand Canadians no longer have to pay a penny in income tax. And others' taxes have been reduced substantially. The income tax exemptions now are nearly at the pre-war level and, in almost all cases, the tax rate is lower than that of Great Britain and the United States.

Since 1945, we have completely removed many taxes established during the war, and many others have been considerably reduced. And, while reducing income tax and the debt, we have still managed to raise social security to a level unprecedented in the history of Canada.

In the face of these achievements, I am certain that the majority of you will admit that the present government has administered the public finances, which are your finances, with discipline and wisdom.

I would also like to remind you of several other accomplishments of the past four years that have brought about great changes in Canada.

Our country has addressed the rehabilitation of veterans and care for the war victims in a manner unparalleled in the world.

Since 1945, Canada has enjoyed  --  and still enjoys today  --  a high level of employment and prosperity. Industry has rapidly moved from war production to peace production. Management and labour collaborated in this conversion.

And I am happy to say tht labour in general has acted with moderation and judgement in these post-war years. I doubt that there have been other periods of such sudden changes in which management-labour relations have been so satisfactory.

Our policy was developed in such a way as to maintain employment at a very high level. But we have also increased the security of a greater number of workers and families by amending the Unemployment Insurance Act enacted by the Liberal government in 1941.

I have already mentioned the recent changes to the Family Allowances Act and the Old Age Pensions Act, other milestones in our social security program. Last year, we set up a program of grants for provincial governments to improve health and hospitalization services on a national basis and for paving the way for new progress in this important public health domain.

The present government has established minimum prices for ensuring greater security for farmers and fishermen. We are of the opinion that farmers and fishermen are entitled to their fair share of the national income, and never have they been as prosperous as in these past years. The government has assisted in the maintenance and rehabilitation of international trade and our foreign markets, disrupted by the war.

We have finalized fiscal arrangements with most of the provincial governments. These agreements have strengthened their financial situation and their true autonomy.

In the course of the last four years, Canadian industry has taken giant steps and our prosperity has never faltered. In fact, no country in the world can boast of any greater achievements. And the people of Canada are proud that their citizenship has been defined in the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946.

The greatest of our achievements was not even anticipated in 1945. I believe that is was a source of satisfaction for all of you, as it was for the members of the government, that we were able to achieve this union with Newfoundland, of which Canadians had been dreaming for more than eighty years, and thereby complete the dream of the Fathers of the Confederation.

In this era when so many countries are worrying about the integrity of their territory and even about their survival, it is extraordinary that, through the free and peaceful choice of two peoples, we have been able to expand our territory by several hundred thousand square miles and our population by three hundred thousand new Canadians.

One of the reasons that it has been possible for us to accomplish so much is that our government is not in the hands of one man but in the hands of a team of exceptionally qualified men.

No government can hope to cope with the day�s very difficult problems if the Cabinet does not contain several first-rate men, of whom at least a certain number have acquired the wisdom that only experience can bring. Furthermore, no government can remain alert and vigorous if it does not continue to attract young, talented men. Very few years have gone by since the beginning of the war without new men entering the government to strengthen it and help it cope with new responsibilities.

In a coming speech, I intend to tell you more about my Cabinet colleagues. You know them, at least by reputation. Ask yourself for a minute how many such gifted men the other parties combined can supply.

I believe you will admit that, whatever a political party�s program, it cannot serve the Canadian people as they have the right to be served, if it does not have among its leaders men and women who possess the capabilities and experience to implement its program and administer the country�s current affairs.

We have shown that we are a government capable of settling major issues such as the union with Newfoundland and the NATO alliance; and we have shown that we are also capable of taking an interest in those problems that affect the life of every individual, such as family allowances, old age pensions and rent control.

When you have to decide to which party you would like to entrust the responsibility of governing our country, you will want to know what each party has achieved and who are the men within. You will also want to know what its politics are and whether these politics are the best for the whole of Canada.

In the next election, we will have to choose between three political philosophies in most ridings.

One of them is socialism. I do not believe that many Canadians want socialism, even those whom I have described as liberals, in a pinch.

Another choice might be the old-fashioned conservatism disguised under a new name. I do not believe that many Canadians wish the return to reactionary conservatism, whatever it may be called for the moment.

I do believe that the attitude and the principles of the Liberal Party match the wishes of most Canadians  --  and even of a large number who say they are not Liberals. And here I am specially addressing these one million young Canadian men and women who will be entitled to vote for the first time next June 27. Allow me to remind you that to be truly progressive, it is not enough to add the word �progressive� to the name of a political party.

No party has more zeal for social reforms than the Liberal Party. But what clearly distinguishes the Liberals from the CCF is that we do not want to take away from people what they already have nor regiment a large proportion of the voters in State enterprises.

No party believes more deeply than the Liberals that individual initiative and private enterprise are fundamental to a sound, prosperous and progressive nation. The Liberal Party does not want to change the State into an instrument for exploitation; but the Liberals are ready to use the powers of the State to help give everyone equal opportunity and to prevent the exploitation of the population by self-centred interests.

This, I believe, is the attitude that the majority of Canadians approve and is the reason that liberalism attracts them so strongly.

In 1945, our country was still organized for a total war effort. In the election held that year, the Liberal government asked the Canadian people for a mandate to organize the transition from war to peace. Our conversion from a war economy to a peace economy has been achieved and achieved successfully.

Within the Canadian borders, Providence has spared us from a great number of the dangers and hardships that threaten so many nations. If some individuals and families still have problems and hardships, almost all Canadians live free and prosperous lives in a country where all men and women have equal rights and where we make every effort to ensure equal opportunity for everyone.

Too few countries are as fortunate as ours; and I believe that we have all learned that our safety and our prosperity depend at least as much on what occurs on all sides of our borders as on what happens at home. This is why the government�s first concern is maintaining peace and security. And I am sure that this is also your first concern.

I am sure there are few Canadians who do not realize that maintaining prosperity in all parts of Canada depends on our maintaining trade with other countries. And this is why trade has such importance in our program.

In 1945, the Liberal government asked you for a mandate to maintain a high level of employment and increase social security. On the domestic front, this remains the primary objective of the current government.

Today, Canada is a mature nation. We want this to be fully recognized in our constitution and in our legislation. And we also want to encourage the expression of our national spirit.

We are now asking you for a new mandate  -  a mandate to continue to work towards peace and security, towards increasing our trade and our prosperity, towards maintaining employment and social security; towards the full recognition of the Canadian nation�s mature status and towards furthering the development of our intellectual, scientific and artistic resources, in one word, our national conscience.

Now, a word about my electoral campaign projects.

The government�s duty in a democratic country is to administer the people�s affairs in everyone's interest. Since not everyone can decide on all questions themselves, they elect representatives to act on their behalf. If our system of government is to function, the people must elect representatives in whom they have confidence. This is why confidence in people in public life is an essential condition for any democratic government.

Confidence in someone is the result of what we know of his achievements and, whenever this is possible, of the man himself. This is why, ever since I became Prime Minister, I have not missed an opportunity to visit different regions of Canada and to meet as many of my fellow citizens as possible. In less than six months, I have visited numerous places from Halifax to Victoria.

In the course of the fortnight I spent in Western Canada at Easter time, I met several thousand Canadians, I chatted with them and I would like to thank everyone I met, men, women and children, for the cordial way in which they welcomed my wife, my daughter and me. Everywhere we went, we felt at home and we remarked that being a Canadian citizen has advantages that no Parliamentary law can express. All those we met, whether of French or British origin or new Canadians of other origins, set great store by our homeland and all are proud to call themselves Canadians.

Over the course of this campaign, I am going to continue these friendly visits and those I have already met will understand, I have no doubt, that I want first to go to the places I have not already visited. Canada is even bigger today than when I became Prime Minister and it will be a celebration for me to visit my fellow citizens of Newfoundland.

And everywhere I go, whether I speak in English or in French, I will speak in the same manner and I will reveal the same program.

The Liberal Party does not favour ideas that differ according to whom it addresses in one region or another, in one class or another. Our policy is designed for the good of all Canadians in all parts of Canada. Our goal is a peaceful Canada in a peaceful world, and I am sure it is also yours.

Our objective is an increasingly prosperous country, and I know it is also yours.

Our objective is work for all those who are capable of working and security for the family and home, and I am sure that it is also yours.

Our objective is a strong and united Canada where a free and vigorous people can increasingly build on its talents and its energies, and I am sure this it is also yours.

Let us all have a hand in making our great and happy country even greater and happier.


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Translation of: St. Laurent, Louis. Louis St-Laurent au peuple canadien : discours du très honorable Louis S. St-Laurent, Premier ministre du Canada à l'ouverture de la campagne en vue de l'élection générale : radiodiffusé sur le réseau national de la Société Radio-Canada. [Ottawa : Cabinet du Premier ministre], 1949. 16 p.


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