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A Man's Convictions

A liberal from the onset, Laurier always sought to govern according to his convictions, remaining indulgent towards others and ever seeking to increase his understanding of human beings. A man of courage, he always sought ways to achieve his objectives through compromise, rather than confrontation.

Much of Laurier’s liberal thinking was grounded in English liberalism and based on three precise concepts: freedom, equality and unity. This attachment to British ideals was clear in all of Laurier’s speeches, both in his country and during speeches given abroad in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world. At the close of the 19th century, several schools of thought existed in politics. Laurier was accused of resorting to doctrinal liberalism in his actions and decisions, which he denied. He affirmed instead that he was promoting Canadian liberalism, the basis of liberalism today.

“I know that Catholic Liberalism is condemned by the head of the church... But I may also say that Catholic Liberalism is not political liberalism. [...] It is true that there is in Europe, in France, in Italy, in Germany, a class of men who call themselves liberals, but who are liberals but in name, and who are the most dangerous of men. They are revolutionists; their principles have reached such a pitch of exaltation that they aspire to nothing short of the destruction of modern society. With these men, we have no connection; but it is the tactics of our adversaries incessantly to compare us to them. These accusations are beneath us, and the only reply worthy of us is to state our true principles and to always act in a manner conformable to them.”

– Excerpt from a lecture by Wilfrid Laurier before the Club canadien de Québec, on June 26, 1877, in response to accusations regarding his form of liberalism.

Even today, the Liberal Party of Canada’s school of thought is based on Wilfrid Laurier’s premises.

A Man of Compromise

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Like his idol Abraham Lincoln, Laurier governed using compromise to satisfy the majority while not harming the minority.
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: Indeed, Laurier truly championed compromise: between English Canadians, French Canadians; between Protestants and Catholics. For him, compromise was the only possible path in a country so divided, in so many different ways. [Picture of Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the United States] And he took… Laurier followed the example of Abraham Lincoln whom he admired greatly. In one of his most important letters, Lincoln was asked “Why do you not free all the slaves?” This was years before Laurier would become Prime Minister, several decades even. And Lincoln’s answer to one of his correspondents was: “My priority is to save the Union. If I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves, I would. If I could save the Union by freeing no slaves I would too.” Not because Lincoln felt that freeing the slaves was not important; but the first thing to do, including eventually freeing the slaves, was to maintain the American Union. For Laurier, the situation in Canada was similar. It was important to embrace principles and values of note, but it was also important to take into account opinions, different trains of thought, preconceptions, and even different regions.