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A Remarkable Journey

In a letter to Léon-Mercier Gouin in July 1918, Laurier wrote: “One should not forget that the Canadian Confederation was a compromise. Nor should one forget that it is almost always through compromise that one finds the solution to the most difficult problems.” [translation]

Over the years, Laurier became a politician motivated by compromise and the status quo. It was his way of governing: to not displease one in order to please the other. His outlook on national unity led him to believe that negotiation and inaction were the best tools to ensure the country’s growth and long-term vitality. Despite all his political defeats and disappointments, Laurier remained convinced of the importance of compromise between Francophones and Anglophones in Canada:

“There have been found among us limited spirits who have shouted very loudly ‘No compromise; all or nothing.’ What an aberration! When a minority affirms that it will concede nothing, that it demands all or will accept nothing less than all, they are three times blind who do not see what the inevitable results will be: nothing! How can they not see that the majority itself will accept the doctrine and apply it without compunction to those who proclaim it!”

Wilfrid Laurier spent 48 years of his life in politics: 45 years in the House of Commons in Ottawa, 42 of which as the Member of Parliament for the electoral district of Québec-East. He was the Liberal Party leader for 32 years and Prime Minister of Canada for 15.

Laurier worked on landmark projects, made important decisions regarding the country’s development and protected its assets. History also remembers this great man for his modern vision of his country’s development and his strong desire for emancipation from Great Britain. 

During his entire career, Laurier sought to establish the Liberal Party and instil in it a truly national, pragmatic and biracial vision of Canada. He sought to unite all citizens of Canada with the same sense of pride and belonging.

Today, few Canadians are aware of the magnitude of Wilfrid Laurier’s achievements. We see him on our money paper, there are many statues of him, and we travel on railways across the country without being aware of this courageous man’s efforts to build a strong, united country.

“The nineteenth century was the century of the United States. I think that we can claim that Canada will fill the twentieth century.” (Laurier, 1904)

Wilfrid Laurier was correct in believing that Canada would make its presence felt at several levels during the 20th century. From a son of Saint-Lin, he became the first architect of modern Canada.


A Pivotal Figure

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A better understanding of Laurier’s heritage would contribute to modern Canadians' feeling of belonging.
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]

Reporter: Mr. Pratte, in your opinion has Wilfrid Laurier’s political heritage survived in Quebec’s collective memory?

André Pratte: No, not at all! Surveys conducted on the issue initially showed that Laurier is not well known outside Canada, outside Quebec, and in Quebec in particular. In a very recent survey, Canadians were asked who, in their opinion, was the first ― the best ―Prime Minister in the history of the country? Laurier was far from the top. However, this is not because people think that Laurier was a poor Prime Minister, but rather that they do not know him. People remember recent politicians. Evidently, Laurier has been forgotten, in large part, everywhere across Canada. This is too bad, because he is certainly an individual who marked the generations that were in contact with him, and whose teachings, values, principles and conduct would be very useful today. Perhaps not all would be pertinent. There were moments when Laurier failed and errors that Laurier made, but if one wants Canada to survive, there is no doubt that the approach advocated by Laurier during his era was the only valid approach. The Prime Ministers who have tried (or try) to apply the 'divide and conquer' principle to rule Canada may have forged a political career, but in the end, when they left (or leave), will have caused more harm than good to the country.

Some may say that Canada is a project that deserves to die on its own, but such is not the case. Laurier’s approach was the right one. I find it extremely regrettable that he is almost unknown― particularly to French Canadians ― irrespective of whether or not one agrees with him. It is not normal that people know so little about someone who played such an important role in our history. And, as a French Canadian and Francophone, he showed everyone that if they were determined and had the opportunity to study, they too could succeed. This was quite a revelation for French Canadians during the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. To learn that if they wanted to, they could reach the top levels in all fields. It was a fantastic success story and Laurier paved the way.