On the dot of 9:25 one morning last week, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, still smoking his after-breakfast cigarette, stepped briskly out of his apartment house on Ottawa's Elgin Street and walked toward his office on Parliament Hill. To a woman passer-by who smiled at him St. Laurent doffed his Panama. A grinning, unshaven drunk gave him a grandiose wave, got a nod in return. At a busy intersection, a policeman directing traffic kept him waiting at the curb while two streetcars rumbled by. In the five-block walk, only half a dozen Canadians saluted their handsome, 67-year-old Prime Minister.
This was not a mark of disrespect; they did not recognize him. Louis St. Laurent possesses to a marked degree the 19th Century attributes of probity, confidence and dignity—which seem to be taking on a new luster as the undignified 20th Century reaches its halfway point. He does not court public adulation. Besides, Canadians had given him the salute that counts in last June's general election: the widest mandate ever handed to a national leader (TIME, July 4). When the Canadian Parliament opens next week, St. Laurent's Liberal Party will hold a record total of 187 out of 262 seats.
St. Laurent is Prime Minister of one of the world's richest nations. Canada (pop. 13,000,000) leads the world in production of newsprint, nickel and asbestos; stands second in wheat exports, aluminum and zinc; third in copper, gold & silver mining. The hemisphere's richest uranium mine is in the Canadian North. The vast iron-ore deposits in Labrador and Quebec can replace the dwindling U.S. Mesabi range as the mainstay of U.S. steelmaking. New oilfields in Alberta are already compared to the fabulous wells of west Texas.
Best Customer. Despite such wealth, Canada today is a sort of well-heeled pauper. Reason: the world's dollar crisis. As the U.S.'s best customer, the Dominion needs a whopping supply of U.S. dollars to keep her economy going. Traditionally, she earned some of the dollars by selling in the U.S. and the balance by selling such surpluses as grain and timber to Britain and the rest of the world. Because of the dollar shortage, Britain and many another customer have slashed their purchases in Canada, and have thus ripped apart the historic pattern of Canadian trade. This week, three Canadian cabinet ministers are in Washington for the U.S.-British economic talks (see INTERNATIONAL), hoping eagerly for some near-miraculous solution that will avert the crisis Canada faces in her dwindling dollar supply.
Louis St. Laurent, the man who must deal with Canada's economic quandary, is Prime Minister of Canada almost in spite of himself. Before joining the government in 1941, he was one of the Dominion's top corporation lawyers, a man who started as a junior partner in a Quebec law firm at $50 a month and steadily built his earnings to nearly $50,000 a year. His only interests along the way had been the law and his family. A new interest was injected one night in 1941 by a long-distance call from Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who asked St. Laurent to come to Ottawa to discuss "an urgent matter." Next day, St. Laurent was asked to join the cabinet as Minister of Justice.
Madame St. Laurent wept at the news.