Home > People I Like > People I Like: Wilfrid Laurier, 1841-1919, Canadian PM from 1896-1911

People I Like: Wilfrid Laurier, 1841-1919, Canadian PM from 1896-1911

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

I can’t say how far I will go with this series idea, but nevertheless, I do want to spotlight some of the people I do find worthy of reading about and researching, especially if they are generally neglected by history. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight someone I’ve recently been enjoying reading about and reading the speeches of: Canada’s 7th Prime Minister Henri-Charles-Wilfrid Laurier.

Now, I don’t profess to be an expert on Canadian politics, so despite the fact that I know our modern conception of the word “Liberal” here in America is not the meaning the word has always held, when I saw the word beside his name, I assumed it meant he was a Liberal in the vein of Trudeau or Pearson–or Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt here in America. It was only when, out of curiosity on night, I decided to do some research on him while looking up other things on Wikipedia. What I found was a man who appeared to be of like mind to myself. When I saw quotes like “Canada is free and freedom is its nationality,” and a man who would rather go down in defeat on the principles of free trade and a volunteer army than compromise his basic principles (even though he was nevertheless one willing to compromise when it didn’t involve selling out said principles), I knew I had to read more.

So I did, and this post is the results of my research. Here, I have provided various quotes and passages I could glean from his speeches.

But before we dive into his own words, I’d like to give a brief biographical sketch: Henri-Charles-Wilfrid Laurier was born on November 20, 1841, in what was then Saint-Lin, East Canada (today, it’s Saint-Lin–Laurentides, Quebec). His affinity for liberalism (in the old sense), as best I can tell, came both from his father, Carolus Laurier, and the time he spent as a child in the nearby village of New Glasgow, which was populated by Scottish immigrants–where he studied British culture. He attended the College of L’Assomption and graduated in law from McGill University in Montreal. In 1868, he married Zoe Lafontaine. In 1871, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec from the district of Drummon-Arthabaska. In 1874, he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons, and he served briefly as Minister of Inland Revenue under Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie.

In 1887, he was chosen as Liberal party leader, and he would remain in that position until his death. He served as Prime Minister from July 11, 1896, to October 6, 1911. He is renowned as a firm believer in federalism and provincial rights, opposing, for example, the Canadian federal government’s attempt to override Manitoba’s legislation eliminating public funding for Catholic schools (though Laurier himself was Catholic)–an issue that had felled several governments before him. Instead, he proposed a compromise: Catholics in Manitoba could have a Catholic education on a school-by-school basis, provided there were enough Catholics to support it in a given school. He also supported greater autonomy of Canada from Great Britain. Four times between 1897 and 1910, he refused to allow Great Britain to encroach upon his nation’s foreign policy–to insure that Canada was not merely a colony gone adrift, but a nation in its own right. He also established Canada’s Navy and the Department of External Affairs, both of which affirmed and strengthened Canada’s independence. What eventually led to his defeat was his support of reciprocity with the United States (free trade), a principle he was not willing to compromise on.

After his party went back into the minority status after the 1911 election, he remained leader of his party until his death in 1919. He was known for his opposition to conscription (the draft), even to the point of refusing to join his successor as Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Union government during the First World War. The “Laurier Liberals” were but a rump of some 40-odd members, but they stuck by their principles. He holds the records for most consecutive federal elections won as PM (4), longest unbroken tenure in office (15 years), and longest tenure as party leader (31 years, 8 months). He also hold the record for longest tenure of service in the House of Commons at nearly 45 years (1874-1919).

A younger Wilfrid Laurier

You can read more in his biography at the Library and Archives of Canada, his biography at the Parliament of Canada, and this article from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

History has been kind to Mr. Laurier. In June of 2011, MacLean’s ranked him Canada’s greatest Prime Minister. Other rankings typically find him in a similar position, with 3rd generally being the lowest he goes. Among American Presidents, he’s probably best compared to Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge, especially since they were from around his era. Probably Ronald Reagan, too, but I’d mention as well the world of Reagan’s day was different from the world of Wilfrid Laurier.

So, having said all that, here are some notable quotes from his speeches. Most of these speeches come from a book published in 1890, Wilfrid Laurier on the Platform (available in full for free on Google Books), which showcased the major speeches he had given from his entry into politics in 1871 up until the year of its publication. It does not contain any statements from his tenure as Prime Minister, since he did not assume office until 1896. I have also included other quotes he is known for, but I might not always have a citation for them that you can view in the same way as that book. I have also used a two volume series published in 1922 called the Life and Letters of Wilfrid Laurier (vol. 1, vol. 2), but these are for quotes from after the span of the other book–especially his time as Prime Minister. For a few quotes, I also resorted to volume 1 of the same. There is also his profile at the Library and Archives of Canada, which contains a few of his speeches as Prime Minister.

Granted, these quotes reference the particular nature of Canada’s and Quebec’s, before he went to Ottawa, legislatures, but the principles expressed here are nevertheless universal. As I have hinted at earlier, do not attach the meanings we know of today for “liberalism” and “conservatism” where they are used here. Be mindful of their meanings at the time, especially in contexts outside the United States. I’ve bolded the best parts here, if you don’t want to read everything, but I do recommend the latter if you are willing. Also, for the quotes that come from books that are available on the internet, I have generally just copied and pasted transcriptions of the pages. This might lead to a typos here and there, but I have done my best to correct them all. If you have an issue, I have linked to each speech or page in question. Speeches begin below the fold.

To leave the application of the most delicate questions of constitutional law eternally open to the fluctuations, undulations and caprices of public opinion is hardly to my mind a Conservative principle. Neither is it a Liberal principle. I am inclined rather to consider it as a subversive principle fraught with disappointments and dangers, the entire bearing of which has not been calculated.

It is undoubtedly commendable to assert, to proclaim, to defend the rights and prerogatives of the people; and, on this point I yield to no one, as there is nobody in this House who has a deeper respect than I have for the rights and prerogatives of the people or who regards it more as a duty to jealously wateh and protect the sacred trust.

But, among those rights and prerogatives, I do not recognize the privilege to bring forever into question the principles which are the logical and natural consequence of our constitution. These principles are sacred and inviolable and should be kept safe from the storms of our daily political life.

THE LIBERTY OF THE PEOPLE

is not unbounded; its natural boundaries are the rights of society.

If man were a perfect being, if his notions of right and wrong were always so clear and so luminous that all aberration on his part was impossible, then, Sir, I should say: leave to the people absolute liberty; allow them, without laying down any rule for them, to choose for themselves, in each isolated case, the principles that should guide their conduct; in fine, under such circumstances, leave them perfectly free to elect their representatives as they please, without placing any restriction on their choice.

But, if such were the case, if such were the happy condition of humanity, we would have no need either of constitution or of laws.

For, why have we a constitution?

WHY HAVE WE LAWS?

Precisely, to determine the principles which the people should follow in the exercise of their rights— to fix on the one hand the extent of the rights ofthe people and, on the other, the extent of the rights of society.

When a people accept a constitution, they make the sacrifice of a portion of their liberty, a generous sacrifice by which each one gives up something belonging to himself individually for the benefit and security of the whole.

When a people accept a constitution, they trace out themselves the circle which they assign to their liberties; they say to themselves in a sense: this space belongs to me; here I can speak, think, act; I owe no account of my words, my thoughts, my acts to any one except to my own conscience and to Godbut, as regards society, here begins its domain and ends mine and I shall not go further.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

I am a friend to liberty, but with me liberty does not mean license. A free people is not one without laws or checks; a free people is one among whom all the attributes, all the rights of the members of the State are clearly defined and determined and among whom there is no encroachment of one power upon another. That is the true liberty.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

For all their common interests and common wants, these states have a common legislature, the Federal Legislature, but for all their local interests, they have each a local and separate legislature.

Within the respective domains of their attributes, the legislatures, as well Local as Federal, are sovereign and independent of each other.

Now, in order that the federative system may not be an empty term, in order that in may yield the results it is expected to produce, the legislatures must be

INDEPENDENT OF EACH OTHER

not only in law, but in fact; the Local Legislature especially must be completely protected against all control by the Federal Legislature. If, immediately or remotely, the Federal Legislature exercises the slightest control over the Local Legislature, then you have no longer a federative union: but a legislative union under a federative form.

Speech on the Abolition of Dual Representation, 24 November, 1871

[T]he moment the people exercise the right to vote, the moment they have a responsible government, they have the full measure of liberty. Still, liberty would soon be no more than an empty name, if it left without control those who have the direction of power. A man, whose astonishing sagacity has formulated the axioms of governmental science with undeviating accuracy, Junius, has said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Yes, if a people want to remain free, they must like Argus have a hundred eyes and be always on the alert. If they slumber, or relax, each moment of indolence loses them a particle of their rights. Eternal vigilance is the price which they have to pay for the priceless boon of liberty.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

Experience has further established that institutions which, at the outset, were useful because they were adapted to the state of society at the time of their introduction, often end by becoming intolerable abuses owing to the simple fact that everything around them has changed. Such was the case in our own midst with the seigniorial tenure. It is unquestionable that, in the infancy of the colony, that system greatly facilitated the settlement of the soil. But, in 1850, everything had changed so much amongst us that the system would have eventuated in deplorable complications, if our Legislature, upon the initiative of the Liberals, had not had the wisdom to abolish it.

As a consequence of the law which I have indicated as the determining cause of the Liberal and Conservative ideas, there will be always men found, who will attach themselves with love to these abuses, defend them to the bitter end, and view with dismay any attempt to suppress them. Woe to such men, if they do not know how to yield and adopt proposed reforms! They will draw down upon their country disturbances all the more terrible that justice shall have been long refused. History, alas! superabundantly shows that very few of those who govern have been able to understand these aspirations of humanity and satisfy them. Indeed, more revolutions have been caused by Conservative obstinacy than by Liberal exaggeration.

The supreme art of government consists in guiding, directing and controlling these aspirations of human nature. The English are, in a high degree,masters of this art. Look at the work of the great Liberal party of England! How many reforms has it not brought about, how many abuses corrected, without shock, disturbance and violence ! Understanding the aspirations of the oppressed and the new wants created by new situations, it has carried out, under the sanction of the law and without other aid than the law a series of reforms which has made the English people the freest people and the most prosperous and happy of Europe.

On the other hand, look at the continental governments! The most of them have never been able to grasp these aspirations of their peoples. No sooner do the sufferers raise their heads to catch a few breaths of air and of freedom, than they are brutally crushed back again into a circle which is ever growing more and more hermetically restricted.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

I am one of those who do not fear to scrutinize the history of my party. I am one of those who think there is more to be gained by frankly stating the truth than by trying to deceive ourselves and others. Let us have the courage to tell the truth ! If our party has committed mistakes, our denials will not change matters ; moreover, if our party has committed faults, we shall always find in the other party enough of faults to balance ours, and, even if the other party were immaculate, our principles would not, for that reason, be either better or worse. Let us have the courage to tell the truth and let it prevent us from falling into the same faults in the future!

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

Our adversaries also reproach us with loving liberty and they term the spirit of liberty a dangerous and subversive principle.

Is there any justification for these attacks? None whatever, except that there exists in France a group of Catholics who pursue liberty with their imprecations. Assuredly, it is not the enemies of liberty in France alone who regard it with terror. The most ardent friends of liberty often contemplate it with the same feeling. Recall Madame Holland’s last words. She had warmly loved liberty, she had ardently prayed for it, and her last word was a sorrowful one: ” Oh! Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name !” How often have the same words been as sincerely uttered by fully as sincere friends of liberty!

I can readily conceive, without, however, sharing them, the feelings of those Frenchmen, who, regarding how much liberty has cost them in tears, blood and ruin, have some times favored for their country a vigorous despotism; I can conceive their anathemas, but that these anathemas should be repeated in our midst is a thing I cannot understand.

[...]

An English poet, Tennyson, has sung about liberty, the liberty of his country and of ours. In his poem la Memoriam, Tennyson addresses himself to a friend who enquires why he does not seek a milder climate in the South Sea islands and why, notwithstanding his impaired health, he persists in remaining under the foggy skies of England? And the poet replies:

It is the land that freemen till,
That sober-suited Freedom chose,
The land where, girt with friends or foes,
A man may speak the thing he will;

A land of settled government,
A land of just and old renown,
Where Freedom broadens slowly down,
From precedent to precedent;

Where faction seldom gathers head
But by degree to fulness wrought,
The strength of some diffusive thought
Hath time and space to work and spread.

This is the liberty we enjoy and defend and this is the liberty, which our adversaries, sharing in its benefits, attack, without understanding it.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

We have no absolute rights amongst us. The rights of each man, in our state of society, end precisely at the point where they encroach upon the rights of others.

The right of interference in politics finishes at the spot where it encroaches on the elector’s independence.

Political Liberalism: Definition of the Liberal Idea, 26 June, 1877

It is said, and truly said, in your language, Sir, that blood is thicker than water. I am of French origin, and I confess that if I were to act only from the blood which runs in my veins, it would carry me strongly in favor of these people; but, above all, I claim to be in favor of what is just and right and fair, to be in favor of justice to every man, and I say, let justice be done, and let the consequences fall upon the guilty ones…

The Second Rebellion in the North-West, 7 July, 1885.

Let us remember that the great nation from which the greater number among us derive their origin, and from which we have the institutions on which we pride ourselves, is so great to-day because, at all periods of her history, her people never shrank from performing the duty which the hour demanded of them, without fear of the consequences to themselves or to the country.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

They tell us that, whenever we want our political liberty, we are free to have it. But what we ask, Sir, is not political independence—we want to keep the flag of England over our heads; but we affirm that we arc economically independent as we are legislatively independent. Sir, colonies have interests in common with the mother land, but colonies have interests of their own also. To-day we levy a heavy toll on all imports from Great Britain. We do that not only for the sake of collecting revenue, but also for the purpose of protection, to enable us to manufacture ourselves what we had formerly purchased from England, and to that extent to destroy British trade. There was a time when this would not have been tolerated; there was a time when England would, have disallowed such a policy; but now we adopt it as a matter of course; now our policy is never questioned—why? Because England has long ago admitted the principle that colonies have interests of their own, and that it is within their right and power to develop and foster and promote those interests, even to the point of clashing with British interests. It was not always so, however. In the last century England lost her American colonies

BECAUSE THAT PRINCIPLE WAS IGNORED.

The American revolution broke out in vindication of the principle that taxation and representation should go together. Principles may lie dormant for generations until called forth for the solution of some great issue. And what was the issue which called for the vindication of those principles by the American colonies? The issue was this: At that time there was a trade in the American colonies, and there was also a British trade; and the British Parliament, from which the colonies were excluded, legislated exclusively for British trade against the interests of American trade.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

Lord Durham found at once that the colonies had interests of their own, and that these interests had to be prosecuted to their logical end; and he came to the conclusion that local parliaments were the only parliaments fitted to deal with them. He suggested therefore to give the colonies responsible government. That was indeed a revolution. Every country which, up to that time, had colonies, always thought it was necessary to keep its colonies close in hand; they all believed that to grant the slightest emancipation would generate a desire for complete emancipation. Lord Durham found that the converse proposition was true. He found and maintained that coercion generated the desire for emancipation, but that freedom would be a bond of union.

~~*~~~~*~~~~*~~

It is true that history ever repeats itself, but

HISTORY NEVER REPEATS ITSELF

in identically the same terms. It is true that the same causes always produce the same effects, but those effects are always modified by a variety of concomitant circumstances.

Speech in Favor of Reciprocity, 1888

I have this to say, that I am not and we are not Liberals of the French school. I have not said it once but ten times and twenty times in my own province, that I am

A LIBERAL OF THE ENGLISH SCHOOL,

that I and my friends have nothing in common with the Liberals of France. A short time ago, I was sorry to hear my honorable friend from Norfolk (Mr. Charlton) express regret that there was no Protestant party, as far as I understood him. There are men of my own race, who entertain the same view as the honorable gentleman, and would desire to have a Catholic party. I have always raised my voice against that doctrine, and, as far back as 1877, speaking to a French audience in the French language in the city which I have the honor to represent now, the good old city of Quebec, I used to those who, like my honorable friend, would separate men upon the ground of creed, this language:

You wish to organize all the Catholics in one party, without any other tie, without any other basis than the community of religion, but have you not reflected that, by that very fact, you will organize the Protestant population as one party, and that then, instead of the peace and harmony which exist today between the different elements of the Canadian population, you would bring on war, religious war, the most disastrous of all wars?

Those were my sentiments ten years ago; those are my sentiments to-day. My honorable friend from Norfolk (Mr. Charlton) stated that we should not allow this Act because the Jesuits are inimical to liberty. Such a statement would not surprise me in the mouth of a Liberal from France, but it does surprise me to hear it on the floor of this Parliament. Are we to be told that, because men are inimical to liberty, they shall not be given liberty? In our own doctrine and in our own view, liberty shines not only for the friends of liberty, but also for the enemies of liberty. We make no difference whatever: and, as far as the Liberals of England are concerned, I am sure of one thing, that, if they were here, they would never vote as the editor of the Mail supposes they would. The Liberals of England have been for the last century and more

THE CHAMPIONS OF FREEDOM

all over the world, and, if we have freedom to-day, as we understand it in this country and in this age, it is largely due to the efforts of the Liberal party in England. They understood long ago that liberty is not only for the friends of liberty, but for all. They understood long ago that the security of the State depends entirely upon the utmost freedom being given to all opinions, that no one is to be canvassed for his opinion, right or wrong, but that the utmost freedom shall be given to all opinions, and that the popular judgment will decide between the grain and the chaff, will select the one and reject the other. Thai is the principle which I have, in my humble way, endeavored to inculcate for many years amongst my fellow-countrymen of French origin. That, with a steadfast adherence to the broadest principles of constitutional freedom, is the guiding star which, in the station I now occupy and in any station I may have in life, I shall ever endeavor to follow.

On the Jesuits’ Estates Bill, 26 March, 1889.

The government, instead of investigating the subject, proceeded to render—what shall I call it?—an order in council they called it, commanding Manitoba in most violent language to do a certain thing, to restore the schools or they would see the consequences. Manitoba answered as I suppose every man approached as the government of Manitoba was approached, would answer; Manitoba answered it by saying, “We will not be coerced.” I ask you now, would it not have been more fair, more just, more equitable, more statesmanlike, at once to investigate the subject, and to bring the parties together to hear them, to have the facts brought out so as to see whether a case had been made out for interference or not? That is the position I have taken in the province of Quebec. That is the position I take in the province of Ontario. I have never wavered from that position….

Well, sir, the government are very windy. They have blown and raged and threatened and the more they have raged and blown, the more that man Greenway has stuck to his coat. If it were in my power, I would try the sunny way. I would approach this man Greenway with the sunny way of patriotism, asking him to be just and to be fair, asking him to be generous to the minority, in order that we may have peace among all the creeds and races which it has pleased God to bring upon this corner of our common country. Do you not believe that there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than by trying to compel them to do a thing?

–pg. 464-5, Life and Letters of Wilfrid Lauriervolume 1.

I have only this to say: even though I have threats held over me, coming, as I am told, from high dignitaries in the Church to which I belong, no word of bitterness shall ever pass my lips as against that Church. I respect it and I love it. Sir, I am not of that school which has long been dominant in France and other countries of continental Europe, which refuses ecclesiastics the right of a voice in public affairs. No, I am a Liberal of the English school. I believe in that school which has all along claimed that it is the privilege of all subjects, whether high or low, whether rich or poor, whether ecclesiastics or laymen, to participate in the administration of public affairs, to discuss, to influence, to persuade, to convince—but which has always denied even to the highest the right to dictate even to the lowest.

–pg. 475, ibid.

Canada is free and freedom is its nationality…

pg. 72Life and Letters of Wilfrid Laurier, volume 2.

I was a free trader before I came to England. I am still more a free trader having seen what free trade has done for England. It is true the dream of Cobden has not been realized. You have what is sometimes termed one-sided free trade. It is true that it is one-sided, but the advantage is not for those nations that have not adopted free trade. . . . In Canada we have had the protective system, and we have to deal with it gradually and carefully. The only reform of a permanent character we have achieved is this, that no duty shall be levied simply for protection, but for revenue. Further than that we cannot go at this moment, but the principle is laid down upon which larger measures can proceed. . . . There are parties who hope to maintain the British Empire upon lines of restricted trade. If the British Empire is to be maintained it can only be upon the most absolute freedom, political and commercial. . . . The more the Empire is free, the stronger it will be. The day will never come, I hope, when the great principle of freedom which prevails in this country, which England has promulgated all through the world, especially through her colonies,—freedom of thought, freedom in religion, civil freedom, and freedom of trade,—the day will never come when this great principle shall decline.

--pg. 73-4, ibid.

Separated from France, we have never forgotten the honour of our origin; separated from France, we have always treasured its culture; separated from France, if we have lost our share of its glories, we have made a conquest always dear to French hearts. … In passing through this city, beautiful beyond all cities, I have noted upon many a public building the proud device that the armies of the Republic carried through Europe,—Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Very well; all that there is of worth, of greatness, of generosity in that device, we have to-day in Canada: that is our conquest. We have liberty, absolute, complete, more complete—pardon my national pride for the affirmation I am making—more complete than in any country whatsoever in the world; liberty for our religion, with its worship, its ceremonies, its prayers, its costumes; liberty for our language, which is the official language as English is; liberty for all the institutions that our ancestors brought from France, and which we regard as a sacred heritage. Equality is ours. What other proof of it could I give you than this? In this country, where the majority is of English descent and of the Protestant religion, the last general elections have brought to power a man of French descent and Catholic religion, who has always strongly affirmed his race and his religion. Fraternity is ours. There is with us no domination of one race over another. . . .

pg. 80, ibid

Whilst I cannot admit that Canada should take part in all the wars of Great Britain, neither am I prepared to say that she should not take part in any war at all … I claim for Canada this, that in future she shall be at liberty to act or not act, to interfere or not interfere, to do just as she pleases.

pg. 105, ibid.

We are a free people, absolutely free. The charter under which we live has put it in our power to say whether we should take part in such a war or not. It is for the Canadian people, the Canadian parliament and the Canadian government alone to decide. This freedom is at once the glory and honour of Britain, which granted it, and of Canada which uses it to assist Britain. Freedom is the key-note of all British institutions. You find it from the lowest to the highest rung in the ladder. There is no conscription in Britain. There never was, there never shall be. We have heard it discussed by eminent authorities that Great Britain will be forced to follow suit and have recourse to conscription like France, Germany and Italy. Conscription is repugnant to the British character. The British are never inclined to go to war, slow always to go to war, never preparing until they are in it, but generally they manage to get on top at the end of it. There is no compulsion upon those dependencies of Great Britain which have reached the stature of dominions, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and such Crown dependencies as India. They are all free to take part or not as they think best.

pg. 437-8, ibid.

With his wife Zoe in 1907

I do not admit that there should be any antagonism between class and class. I do not admit that there should be any antagonism between the manufacturer and the farmer. The manufacturer is the best friend of the farmer, and the farmer is the best friend of the manufacturer. Let them walk hand in hand, let each profit by the trade of the other; but so far as we are concerned, for 14 years we have administered the government of this country on these lines, trying to do away with collisions between class and class trying to keep all abreast of one another keeping always in mind the motto: Freedom for all and privileges for none. That has been our policy and that policy we shall continue.

Speech as Prime Minister in 1911.

If my voice could be beard that far, I would presume to say to our American friends: There may be a spectacle perhaps nobler yet than the spectacle of a united continent, a spectacle which would astound the world by its novelty and grandeur, the spectacle of two peoples living side along a frontier nearly 4,000 miles long, with not a cannon, with not a gun frowning across it, with not a fortress on either side, with no armament one against the other, but living in harmony, in mutual confidence, and with no other rivalry than a generous emulation in commerce and the arts of peace.

–Ibid.

Laurier on the Canadian $5 bill

Before I end this post, I’d like to provide this excerpt from a column by Neil Reynolds in the Toronto Globe and Mail that sums Wilfrid Laurier’s vision:

The first principle was the protection of “British liberty” – the rule of law, freedom of speech, parliamentary democracy and, equally important, minimal state interference in the lives of ordinary people. For Laurier, “British liberty” meant that people were responsible for themselves and for their families; an expansive welfare state (as the alternative would be subsequently styled) would lead to stagnation and inexorable decline.

The second principle was limited government, and the fiscal discipline it implies. Laurier held this principle sacred, partly for pragmatic reasons. Canada, he insisted, should never permit Canadian taxes to exceed American taxes. Canada could forever ensure a competitive advantage simply by keeping its taxes low and keeping its books balanced.

The third principle was self-confident, competitive Canadian engagement with the United States. Although he was a strict nationalist, Laurier held that Canada could prevail against its dynamic neighbour provided (in the words of Canadian Century) “it play[ed] cleverly and well the few cards that it had been dealt.”

The fourth principle was a corollary of the third: free trade – with the U.S. for sure but with as many other countries as possible. (“Our policy will be to seek markets,” Laurier said, “wherever markets are to be found.”)

We could all learn something from Mr. Laurier. The fact that the word Liberal means something entirely different from his day is truly telling.

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