Sir Wilfrid Laurier, (born Nov. 20, 1841, Saint-Lin, Canada East [Currently Quebec, Can.] , the very first French-Canadian prime minister of this Dominion of Canada (1896–1911), noted especially for his attempts to define the role of French Canada in the federal state and to define Canada’s relations to Great Britain. He was knighted in 1897.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier Early Life And Education.
Laurier was created of French-Canadian parents and studied in the college at l’Assomption, where he received literary training beneath Catholic priests. He then studied law at McGill University in Montreal and has been called to the bar in 1864. His bicultural education, most unusual at the time, could have played a part in his lifelong commitment to Canadian unity.
While at McGill, he became a prominent member of the Institut Canadien, a political club of advanced liberals (Les Rouges) with anticlerical and republican views. Afterward, he joined the law offices of one of the leading Rouge politicians and donated several articles to radical newspapers, one of which he edited for a few months in the mid-1860s.
In 1868 he married Zoë Lafontaine of Montreal, and, even though having a very long relationship with Emilie Lavergne, his law partner’s spouse, his childless marriage appears to have been a happy one. In 1871 he was elected to the opposition benches of the provincial legislature of Quebec, where his very first speech, an eloquent request instructional reform, brought much attention. In 1874 he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons, where he was to be a member until his departure.
Rise to Leadership
Since Laurier gradually rose to become minister of internal earnings (1877–78) and finally to direction of the opposition Liberal Party in 1887, he persistently sought to bring along his countrymen on the issues that have since been acknowledged as the dominant themes of contemporary Canadian politics: the relations of church and state, the bicultural entente between French- and English-speaking Canadians, and the nation’s association with all the British Empire and connections with the United States. Among those political highlights of these years for Laurier was his famous speech on Liberalism delivered in 1877 from town of Quebec.
In that speech, he places himself against both the Quebec politicians who attempted to form a Catholic party and the extremist elements in his own group who sought to exclude the clergy from all political activity. Because of his skillful statesmanship, the chilly antagonism between conservative churchmen and liberal politicians slowly began to thaw; after 1896 no anticlerical ever achieved significant public office and no cleric officially interfered in politics.
Get exclusive access to articles by our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today
Back in 1885 Laurier became a national figure when he presented a moving plea of clemency to get Louis Riel, who’d led a rebellion of the Métis (people of mixed Indian and French extraction) at Manitoba and whose death sentence provoked violent outbursts involving the French nationalists in Quebec and the Britannic groups in Ontario. Showing great courage, Laurier, though not condoning Riel’s activities, charged the authorities with all of the rebellion. Although he did not succeed in saving Riel, he established his reputation as a man of principle and high ideals. During his political life, he highlighted compromise and moderation and gradually became recognized as the only leader able to effect a national reconciliation.
In the exact same time he had been turning his personal magnetism to a political weapon that was valuable. Between 1887 and 1896 he chased his party’s organization, elegant Liberal plan, made political alliances, assessed neighborhood partisans, and judiciously implemented his personal appeal to winning over Conservative adversaries along with dissident Liberals. He infused new life into his party, for example, by campaigning vigorously for unrestricted reciprocity, the grant of mutual industrial statements, together with the United States. Following the coverage had served its function, however, he dropped it from his stage in 1893. Between 1895 and 1896 he spoke in between 200 and 300 meetings, thus personally attaining some 200,000 voters. In mid-1896, with the Conservative government split and disorganized, he readily carried the Liberal Party to victory in the general election.
Laurier’s“federal policy” Intent on heading an administration of federal unity, Laurier brought to his first Cabinet guys who had won distinction in their own provinces. His”national policy” consisted of security to Canadian businesses, the payoff of the west, and also the construction of a successful transportation system. The years between 1896 and 1911 became a boom period for the Prime Minister himself provided that the motto:”The Twentieth Century belongs to Canada.” The funding of 1897 reduced tariffs but established a protection policy that continued until 1911.
Laurier’s property and emigration policy remain as perhaps the basic achievement of his administration. During 15 years more than 1,000,000 individuals moved into Manitoba and in the western territories, which in 1905 became the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Wheat became the major product of the new Prairie Provinces; towns and vents sprang up; railroads flourished; and in 1903 Laurier announced a second transcontinental rail system would be constructed: the Canadian west was the granary of the world.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s attention had been diverted to outside affairs. Back in 1897, 1902, 1907, and 1911 he attended Imperial Conferences at which he steadily resisted British proposals for closer ties that might commit Canada to shield responsibilities. He despised the associations and liberal policies of Great Britain–he accepted a knighthood (1897) and once declared that he would be pleased to find a Canadian of French descent affirming the principles of liberty in the British Parliament–yet he’d never agree to some dilution of Canadian autonomy. Thus, out of his policies there started to emerge the contemporary concept of a British Commonwealth of independent states.
Quebec nationalists denounced his decision to send a force of 1,000 men, while English Canadians thought the number inadequate. Then, a collection of invidious disputes–over denominational schools in the Northwest, Sunday observance laws, the restrictions of French linguistic rights in Manitoba and Ontario–retained widening the rift between the nationalities from the east and new Canadians from the west and between Laurier and his Cabinet. As the election of 1911 approached, the Prime Minister tried to return his factious party by negotiating a treaty of reciprocity with the United States, but he failed.
Reciprocity did not distract Quebec from the persuasive argument that each of Laurier’s compromises was a surrender of French Canada’s fundamental rights. One of the Britannic Canadians, reciprocity seemed an opportunistic capitulation to the United States, the initial step toward annexation. In a month of bitter campaigning in 1911, the 70-year-old prime minister delivered over 50 speeches yet couldn’t overcome the powerful mixture of imperialist small business interests and bigoted nationalism. He retired with all the dignity Canadians had learned to anticipate him and spent his remaining years as leader of the resistance.
To his loyal followers, especially at Quebec, in which his surname is used as a first name by many other Canadians, Laurier is a charismatic hero whose term of office was a happy time at Canadian background . He worked all his life to get collaboration between French- and English-speaking Canadians while he strove to keep Canada as independent as possible from Britain. His personal charm and dignity, his amazing skill as an orator, and his amazing gifts of intellect won the esteem of all Canadians and non-Canadians alike.