Wilfrid Laurier

Wilfrid Laurier

Infobox Prime Minister
honorific-prefix=The Right Honourable
name=Sir Wilfrid Laurier

order = 7th
office = Prime Minister of Canada
term_start = July 11, 1896
term_end = October 5, 1911
monarch =Victoria
Edward VII
George V
predecessor = Charles Tupper
successor = Robert Borden
birth_date = birth date|1841|11|20|mf=y
birth_place = Saint-Lin, Quebec
death_date = death date and age|1919|2|17|1841|11|20
death_place = Ottawa, Ontario
spouse = Zoé Lafontaine
party = Liberal Party of Canada
religion = Roman Catholic
children = None
alma_mater = McGill University
occupation =
profession = Lawyer
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, GCMG, PC, KC, baptized Henri-Charles-Wilfrid Laurier (November 20, 1841ndash February 17, 1919) was the seventh Prime Minister of Canada from July 11, 1896, to October 5, 1911.

Canada's first francophone prime minister, Laurier is often considered one of the country's greatest statesmen. He is well known for his policies of conciliation, expanding Confederation, and compromise between French and English Canada. His vision for Canada was a land of individual liberty and decentralised federalism. He also argued for an English-French partnership in Canada. "I have had before me as a pillar of fire," he said, "a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of reconciliation." And he passionately defended individual liberty, "Canada is free and freedom is its nationality," and "Nothing will prevent me from continuing my task of preserving at all cost our civil liberty." Laurier was also well regarded for his efforts to establish Canada as an autonomous country within the British Empire. His efforts were continued by his successor as Prime Minister, Robert Borden.

Laurier is the fourth-longest serving Prime Minister of Canada, behind William Lyon Mackenzie King, John A. Macdonald, and Pierre Trudeau. A Maclean's historical ranking of the Prime Ministers placed Laurier third behind King (first) and Macdonald [http://www.ggower.com/dief/text/maclean2.shtml] . Laurier also holds the record for the most "consecutive" federal elections won (4), and his 15 year tenure remains the longest unbroken term of office among Prime Ministers. In addition, his nearly 45 years (1874-1919) of service in the House of Commons is an all-time record in Canadian politics, unmatched by any other politician. [http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/key/service_parl.asp?lang=E&Hist=Y&cham=H&begin=14610&end=16435&Service=Z&s_t=G&nm=] Finally, at 31 years, 8 months, Laurier was the longest-serving leader of a major Canadian political party, surpassing King by over two years. Laurier's portrait is displayed on the Canadian five-dollar bill.

Early life

The second child of Carolus Laurier and Marcelle Martineau,Wilfrid Laurier was born in Saint-Lin, Canada East (today called Saint-Lin-Laurentides, Quebec) on November 20, 1841. Laurier was the 7th generation of his family in Canada. His ancestor François Cottineau, dit Champlaurier came to Canada from Saint-Claud, France. He grew up in a family where politics was a staple of talk and debate. His father, an educated man having liberal ideas, enjoyed a certain degree of prestige about town. In addition to being a farmer and surveyor, he also occupied such sought-after positions as mayor, justice of the peace, militia lieutenant and school board member. At the age of 11, Wilfrid left home to study in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, a neighbouring town largely inhabited by immigrants from Scotland. Over the next two years, he had the opportunity of familiarizing himself with the mentality, language and culture of British people.

In 1864, Laurier earned a Bachelor of Civil Law at McGill University's Faculty of Law in Montreal, Quebec. He graduated Valedictorian.

Before the Liberals, Laurier was a member of the radical "Rouge" wing of Quebec politics. He became disenchanted with extremism and ideology, and was a key player in uniting "Les Rouges" of Quebec with the Clear Grits and Reformers of Ontario into what is now the Liberal Party of Canada. Laurier was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1874 election, serving briefly in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie as Minister of Inland Revenue.


Chosen as leader of the Liberal Party in 1887, he gradually built up his party's strength with his personal following in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. He led the Liberal Party to victory in the 1896 election, and remained prime minister until the party's defeat in the 1911 election.

Quebec stronghold

Laurier was able to build the Liberal Party a base in Quebec, which had been a Conservative stronghold for decades due to the province's social conservatism and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church which distrusted the Liberal's anti-clericalism. He was aided by the growing alienation of French-Canadians from the Conservatives due to the national Tory party's links with anti-FrenchFact|date=February 2007, anti-Catholic Orangemen in English Canada. These factors combined with the collapse of the Conservative Party of Quebec gave Laurier an opportunity to build a stronghold in French Canada and among Catholics across Canada.

Because Laurier believed in a separation of church and state, Roman Catholic bishops in Quebec repeatedly warned their parishioners never to vote for the man. Renowned journalist and author Laurier LaPierre wrote in his 1996 biography of Laurier: "children were made to kneel and beg God that their parents not be damned should they have the temerity to vote for the Liberal candidate. When electors asked directly whom they should vote for, the cagey priests contented themselves with informing them that 'le ciel est bleu, l'enfer est rouge' – heaven is blue, hell is red."

Personal Views on Religion:Academics in the field of Canadian history have suggested [Arthur Silver. History Professor at the University of Toronto. 2004 Lecture. ] that Wilfrid Laurier may in fact be the first atheist Prime Minister in Canadian history. There is scant evidence to suggest this beyond interpreting his method of politicking, which placed any religious considerations behind more practical and 'earthly' concerns. Considering the climate of the day, he would have been unable to express this personal point of view.

Prime Minister

Laurier led Canada during a period of rapid growth, industrialization, and immigration. His long career straddles a period of major political and economic change. As Prime Minister he was instrumental in ushering Canada into the 20th century and in gaining greater autonomy from Britain for his country.

One of Laurier's first acts as Prime Minister was to implement a solution to the Manitoba Schools Question, which had helped to bring down the Conservative government of Charles Tupper earlier in 1896. The Manitoba legislature had passed a law eliminating public funding for Catholic schooling. The Catholic minority asked the federal Government for support, and eventually the Conservatives proposed remedial legislation to override Manitoba's legislation. Laurier opposed the remedial legislation on the basis of provincial rights, and succeeded in blocking its passage by Parliament. Once elected, Laurier proposed a compromise stating that Catholics in Manitoba could have a Catholic education if there were enough students to warrant it, on a school-by-school basis. This was seen by many as the best possible solution in the circumstances, making both the French and English equally satisfied.

In 1899, the United Kingdom expected military support from Canada, as part of the British Empire, in the Second Boer War. Laurier was caught between demands for support for military action from English Canada, and a strong opposition from French Canada, which saw the Boer War as an "English" war. Henri Bourassa was an especially vocal opponent. Laurier eventually decided to send a volunteer force, rather than the militia expected by Britain, but Bourassa continued to oppose any form of military involvement.

In 1905, Laurier oversaw Saskatchewan and Alberta's entry into Confederation, the last two provinces to be created out of the Northwest Territories.

Naval Bill

The naval competition between the United Kingdom and the German Empire escalated in the early years of the 20th century. The British asked Canada for more money and resources for ship construction, precipitating a heated political division in Canada. The British supporters wished to send as much as possible, whereas those against wished to send nothing.

Aiming for compromise, Laurier advanced the Naval Service Bill of 1910 which created the Royal Canadian Navy. The navy would initially consist of five cruisers and six destroyers; in times of crisis, it could be made subordinate the Royal Navy proper. The idea was lauded at the Imperial Conference on Defence in London, but it proved unpopular across the political spectrum in Canada, especially in Quebec as ex-Liberal Henri Bourassa organized an anti-Laurier force.

Some historiansFact|date=February 2008 criticize Laurier, saying his compromises that keep both parties happy were short-term solutions, and ignored the long-term consequences. In essence, his compromises kept people happy, but Laurier avoided the root of the conflicts.

Reciprocity and defeat

Another controversy arose regarding Laurier's support of trade reciprocity with the United States. This had the strong support of agricultural interests, but it alienated many businessmen who formed a significant part of the Liberals' support base. The Conservatives denounced the deal as a sell-out, even playing upon fears that Canada would be assimilated as the next US state.

Despite the Liberal government's mandate not expiring, Laurier called an election to settle the issue of reciprocity. The Conservatives were victorious and Robert Laird Borden succeeded Laurier as Prime Minister.

Opposition and war

Laurier led the opposition during World War I. He led the filibuster to the Conservatives' own Naval Bill which would have sent contributions directly to the Royal Navy; the bill was later blocked by the Liberal-controlled Senate. He was an influential opponent of conscription, which led to the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and the formation of a Union government, which Laurier refused to join for fear of having Quebec fall in the hands of nationalist Henri Bourassa. However, many Liberals, particularly in English Canada, joined Borden as Liberal-Unionists and the "Laurier Liberals" were reduced to a mostly French-Canadian rump as a result of the 1917 election.

However, Laurier's last policies and efforts had not been in vain. As a result of Laurier's opposition of conscription in 1917, Quebec and its French-Canadian voters voted overwhelmingly to support the Liberal party starting in 1917. Despite one notable exception in 1958, the Liberal party continued to dominate federal politics in Quebec until 1984. His protege and successor as party leader William Lyon Mackenzie King led the Liberals to a landslide victory over the Conservatives in the 1921 election.


Laurier died on February 17 1919, and was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario. The Sir Wilfrid Laurier National Historic Site of Canada is in Saint-Lin-Laurentides, a town 60 km north of Montreal. His wife Zoe Laurier died in 1921. Another site is Laurier House, his residence in Ottawa at the corner of what is now Laurier Street and Chapel Street. In their will, the Lauriers left the house to Mackenzie King, who in turn donated it to Canada upon his death.


Laurier had titular honours including:
* the prenomial "The Honourable" and the postnomial "PC" for life by virtue of being made a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on October 8, 1877. [ [http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/default.asp?Language=E&Page=InformationResources&Sub=PrivyCouncilMembs] ]
* His prenomial was upgraded to "The Right Honourable" when he was made a member of the Imperial Privy Council of the United Kingdom .
* the prenomial "Sir" and postnomial "GCMG" as a knight grand cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George .

Many sites and landmarks were named to honor Wilfrid Laurier. They include:
* Avenue Laurier, located in Shawinigan, Quebec;
* Avenue Laurier, located in Montreal, Quebec;
* The Laurier Heights neighbourhood, including Laurier Drive, in Edmonton, Alberta;
* Laurier Drive, located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan;
* The provincial electoral district of Laurier-Dorion (an honor shared with Canadian politician Antoine-Aimé Dorion).
* The federal electoral district of Laurier-Sainte-Marie.
* On November 1 1973, Waterloo Lutheran University, one of Ontario's publicly funded universities, was renamed Wilfrid Laurier University. Many high schools in Canada are named after him.
* A Montreal Metro station, Laurier (Montreal Metro)
* Laurier is depicted on the Canadian five-dollar bill. .
* CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier

* Laurier is also the personal hero of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who saw in Laurier's abilities at conciliation and at winning majority governments an ideal model to follow.Fact|date=August 2007

Supreme Court appointments

Laurier chose the following jurists to be appointed as justices of the Supreme Court of Canada by the Governor General:
* Sir Louis Henry Davies (September 25, 1901May 1, 1924)
* David Mills (February 8, 1902May 8, 1903)
* Sir Henri Elzear Taschereau (as Chief Justice November 21, 1902May 2, 1906; appointed a Puisne Justice under Prime Minister Mackenzie, October 7, 1878)
* John Douglas Armour (November 21, 1902July 11, 1903)
* Wallace Nesbitt (May 16, 1903October 4, 1905)
* Albert Clements Killam (August 8, 1903February 6, 1905)
* John Idington (February 10, 1905March 31, 1927)
* James Maclennan (October 5, 1905February 13, 1909)
* Sir Charles Fitzpatrick (as Chief Justice, June 4, 1906November 21, 1918)
* Sir Lyman Poore Duff (September 27, 1906January 2, 1944)
* Francis Alexander Anglin (February 23, 1909February 28, 1933)
* Louis-Philippe Brodeur (August 11, 1911October 10, 1923)

External links

* [http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=7514 Biography at the "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online"]
* [http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/key/bio.asp?lang=E&query=1876&s=M List of Federal Political Experience from the Library of Parliament]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/wilfridlaurieron00lauruoft "Wilfrid Laurier on the platform; collection of the principal speeches made in Parliament or before the people, since his entry into active politics in 1871;" by Wilfrid Laurier at archive.org]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/lifelettersofsir01skeluoft "Life and letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier" vol 1. at archive.org]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/lifelettwilflaur02skeluoft "Life and letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier" vol 2. at archive.org]
* [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004558 Article on Sir Wilfrid Laurier from "The Canadian Encyclopedia"]


* Elizabeth H. Armstrong, "The Crisis of Quebec, 1914-1918" (1937; reprinted 1973)
* [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=8104462 H. Blair Neatby. "Laurier and a Liberal Quebec: A Study in Political Management" (1973)]
* Craig Brown and Ramsay Cook, "Canada: 1896-1921 A Nation Transformed" (1983), standard history
* [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=7300862 J. W. Dafoe, "Laurier: A Study in Canadian Politics" (1922)]
* Laurier LaPierre "Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Romance of Canada" – (1996). ISBN 0-7737-2979-8
* Joseph Schull, "Laurier. The First Canadian" (1965)
* Oscar Douglas Skelton, "Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier" 2v (1921; reprinted 1965)
* Peter Busby Waite, "Canada, 1874-1896: Arduous Destiny" (1971), standard history
* Grace Stewart, Heather. "Sir Wilfrid Laurier: the weakling who stood his ground" (2006) ISBN 0-9736406-3-4published by Jackfruit Press (http://www.jackfruitpress.com)

NAME=Laurier, Wilfrid
SHORT DESCRIPTION=7th Prime Minister of Canada (1896 - 1911)
DATE OF BIRTH=November 20, 1841
PLACE OF BIRTH=Saint-Lin, Quebec
DATE OF DEATH=February 17, 1919
PLACE OF DEATH=Ottawa, Canada

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