Friday, October 11, 2013

Sir Wilfrid Laurier - "Canada will fill the twentieth century."

Image from Canadian War Museum

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, our first French Canadian Prime Minister, led the Liberal Party and the country between 1896 and 1911.

At the time of Confederation in 1867, Laurier was practicing law in Montreal. He had become interested in politics while studying at McGill Law School.

Laurier was a liberal who was willing to stand up for his tolerant views at a time when it was not easy to do so. In 1866 he began as Editor of Le Defricheur, a liberal publication, and in 1871 he was elected to the Quebec legislature, where he served for three years.

In 1874, he moved to federal politics. He was elected to the House of Commons, and served for a time as Minister of Inland Revenue under Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie.

When Sir John A. Macdonald and the Conservatives returned to power in 1878, Laurier retained his seat as a Liberal MP. In 1887, after the completion of the CPR and the resolution of the second Northwest Rebellion under Louis Riel, he was chosen to lead the party.

Wilfrid Laurier was a visionary politician whose ideal of independent Canadian nationhood was one of inclusiveness. In 1910, shortly before he was completed his final term in office, he met with native chiefs in Kamloops to hear their concerns about their loss of land and resources in the recently created province of British Columbia (BC joined Confederation in 1871).

According to Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, after hearing the joint statement of several chiefs as read by Father JMR Le Jeune, Laurier promised to help the Indians; however, he was defeated the following year.

He remained in Parliament as Leader of the Opposition all through the First World War. An issue that arose during this time was conscription; on behalf of French Canada, the Laurier Liberals fought against it, but were defeated in 1917 on this issue. The pro-British Anglophones won the day by joining forces to form the Unionist government.

During his fifteen years as PM, Laurier withstood attempted British encroachments on Canadian sovereignty. One such act was creating an independent maritime force for for his country, even as his opponents ridiculed what they referred to as his "tin pot navy."

Using his skill at compromise, Laurier found a permanent solution to the Manitoba Schools question. His government also oversaw the joining of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces in the Canadian Federation (1905), the immigration of many new settlers, especially to the west, and further railway building.

When he died in 1919, he was still Opposition leader. He had served the House of Commons for a total of 45 years. Canadians lined the streets in their thousands for his funeral procession to pay their respects to this great Canadian politician.

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