“I am a Liberal. I am one of those who think that everywhere, in human things, there are abuses to be reformed, new horizons to be opened up, and new forces to be developed. …Our means may be limited, but our nature is perfectible and we have the infinite for our arena.” (Wilfrid Laurier, June 26, 1877)
Today is the 171th birthday of that great Liberal icon and Canada’s first French Canadian prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
He remains the only prime minister to have had four consecutive election wins and, to date, has the longest unbroken term of any prime minister.
A progressive trailblazer during his long political career, his term as prime minister was stamped with the hallmarks of conciliation and comprise and his optimistic “sunny ways”, notably in his deft handling of Canada’s French – English duality, such as during the Manitoba Schools Question.
Laurier was an ardent proponent of the separation of church and state, and a campaigner for freedom – both personal and commercial. His time in office was marked with rapid economic growth, driven in no small part through his aggressive western immigration policy. The provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the Yukon Territory were all inaugurated under his watch.
Laurier made great strides to make Canada a more autonomous nation within the British Empire including creating Canada’s navy in 1910.
He also founded other great Canadian institutions including the Dominion Parks Branch – the forerunner of Parks Canada.
Laurier was a strong supporter of free trade and reciprocity, especially in support of agricultural interests. It would be decades before the Conservatives would embrace the wisdom of his free trade policies.
As Leader of the Opposition during World War One, Laurier took a principled stand against conscription, even though the policy cost the Liberal Party support in English Canada.
Laurier died in office in February 1919. His almost 45 years of service in the House of Commons continues to be a Canadian record.