Skip to primary content

A Liberal with a New Vision

During this period, freedom and political commitment were inseparable from the man. Laurier’s words were based on the concepts of harmony and the union of races. Indeed, they were part of his values on a daily basis. Wilfrid Laurier had an open mind and a wish for inclusion that was quite rare among politicians of his era. He established a new vision for his country. During his first years at the head of the country, he distanced himself from his predecessors on many issues, in particular the subject of Canada’s independence from the British Empire. 

Wilfrid Laurier was convinced that Canada should become increasingly independent from England. From his earliest mandates as a Member of Parliament, he acted accordingly. Canada had to stand apart and assume its independence through its decisions and positions. 

Military Freedom

One of the earliest landmark decisions during Laurier’s first mandate was to distance Canada from England on the issue of Canadian involvement in British military conflicts. Laurier travelled to London during the summer of 1897 to discuss military projects involving the British dominions and England. Before all the representatives of the dominions and British colonies, he took a stance to maintain the status quo and rejected London’s proposal regarding participation in the imperial federation. 

Sir Laurier

During this first trip to England, Wilfrid Laurier was knighted Sir by Queen Victoria on June 22, 1897. The title troubled him because he received it while trying to distance himself from England. He tried not to make much of it upon his return to Canada.

Religious Independence

Laurier also stood apart from his predecessors regarding his position on religion. He advocated a distinction between politics and religion in decision making. He encouraged religious tolerance where everyone was free to worship as they wished in the manner that they wished. 

"So long as I have a seat in this House, so long as I occupy the position I do now, whenever it shall become my duty to take a stand upon any question whatever, that stand I will take, not from the point of view of Roman Catholicism, not from the point of view of Protestantism, but from a point of view which can appeal to the consciences of all men, irrespective of their particular faith, upon grounds which can be occupied by all men who love justice, freedom, and toleration.”  March 3, 1896

He sought to defend what was just and moral for men of good will, regardless of their origin and religion.

The Desire to Govern for All

During his first mandate as Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier governed as much for Francophone Canadians as for Anglophone residents. Language was not a factor of distinction for him. All citizens warranted representation in the same manner and, above all, deference to their beliefs and religious backgrounds.

In this respect, it was unquestionable to Laurier that all Canadian citizens were entitled to clearly express their opinion. They were free to try to influence a group, but under no terms might they impose their opinion on this same group.

“The constitution, as I have already said, intends that the opinion of each be freely expressed as it is held at the time of its expression.” June 26, 1877

Canada Must Unite

Download video: MP4, (7,56 MB), WebM, (7,56 MB), Ogg (6,39 MB) (50 seconds)

Laurier wished to unite Francophones and Anglophones to ensure the success of Confederation.
Wilfrid Laurier, le pays avant tout avec André Pratte, Les publications universitaires #19, Productions EBICO

[Mr. André Pratte and a reporter talk to each other in a library]

André Pratte: Laurier’s vision was prompted by the fact that he was deeply convinced that if Canada failed to work, Francophones, Quebec and the province of Quebec would quickly be swallowed up by the United States and that would spell the end of the French language and Catholicism. Therefore, Laurier’s first concern was to preserve the Canadian union for the benefit of Francophones. The challenge was considerable: to have people of different nations share the same convictions regarding the country’s future. For example and by comparison, Trudeau wanted a charter of rights; Laurier knew exactly what form the Canadian Union must take. In Laurier’s opinion the important thing was to bring the two nations closer, so that they might together manage the emerging country that would become Canada.