Sauvé was born in Saint-Benoit, Quebec, Canada to Arthur Sauvé, journalist and parlementarian, and Marie-Louise Lachaîne. By 1923, his family moved to Saint-Eustache and he began his studies at the Séminaire de Ste-Thérèse and was transferred to the Collège Sainte-Marie de Montréal where he graduated in 1927. As a law student at the Université de Montréal, he succeeded and was appointed to the bar on July 8, 1930.
Arthur Sauvé, his father, was the Conservative party leader in opposition to Taschereau and left the provincial political scene in 1930, when he was elected as a Member of Parliament. He became Postmaster General in the R. B. Bennett administration. Paul Sauvé's political career began in 1930, when he was elected as a Conservative, to the Quebec legislature as the youngest elected member at the age of 23. He took over his father's seat as Conservative deputy of the comté des Deux-Montagnes. He was defeated in the 1935 election but re-elected in 1936 and returned to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec that year. That same year, at the age of 29, he became the youngest Speaker of the House [Orateur de la Chambre] in Quebec.
When Canada entered the Second World War in 1939, Paul Sauvé reported to the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, the regiment to which he belonged as a reserve officer, and served overseas in the Canadian military for the duration of the Second World War, and took part in the Normandy landing. In 1945, he came home from the European front and resumed his official duties with the Quebec government. In 1946, he became the first cabinet minister for Social Welfare and Youth, a ministry just created by the Quebec government.
After the death of Premier and UN leader Maurice Duplessis on September 7, 1959, Sauvé succeeded him in both positions. He also retained and cumulated the position of Minister for Social Welfare and Youth while Premier. Sauvé died in St Eustache whilst in office on January 2, 1960, of a heart attack. having served as premier for only 112 days.
In 1936, he married Luce Pelland, with whom he had three children: Luce-Paule (1937), Pierre (1938) and Ginette (1944).
Sauvé is viewed as having upheld his convictions and had not succumbed to fear of demotion by "The Chief" (Duplessis). Some say that he stood alone in a cabinet of "yes men".
When he became Premier (also called "Prime Minister" in Quebec), he announced radical changes in the ways Quebec would run. His resolve was conveyed in the motto he adopted: "Désormais" (from now on). During those "hundred days", Sauvé undertook a wide-ranging review of issues facing the Quebec government, including many that had been ignored during the Maurice Duplessis era.
As educational reform was seen as a means to social change and national development, Sauvé begun negotiations to recover the money Ottawa set aside for higher education, while government grants would increase towards educational institutions, no longer distributed at the government's discretion.
Regarding Canadian federalism, the Sauvé provincial government considered that federal grants to universities encroached within an area reserved exclusively for the provinces, as in the Constitution Act, 1867. Demands were also made in respect that the provincial university education tax be deductible.
The Sauvé government also wanted to undertake an indepth study of the federal legislation regarding the federal hospital insurance system and the means for adapting it for Québec.
Paul Sauvé Arena in Montreal is named after him, and was used by the Parti Québécois for their election night rally in 1976 where they celebrated victory in the provincial election. In the CTV TV-movie "Separation", the arena was depicted as rented by federalist forces to celebrate a hoped-for negative vote in the referendum.