- Laurier, Sir Wilfrid
- (1841–1919)Prime minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911, Wilfrid Laurier was born in rural Quebec, the son of a farmer. After a classical education, he studied law at McGill University. Laurier established himself as a lawyer and newspaper proprietor in the small town of Arthabaska, Quebec. Elected to the Dominion Parliament in the Liberal sweep of 1874, Laurier held his seat even when Sir John A. Macdonald’s Tories came back into power in 1878. Laurier spoke in favor of the Metis rebel Louis Riel, executed for treason in 1885, but reacted with studied ambiguity to other English-French and parallel denominational issues dividing Canadians. Laurier became leader of the Liberal Party in 1887, and after Macdonald’s death in 1891 and the Conservatives’ inability to produce a compelling successor, he won power in 1896. As a Liberal, Laurier was a free trader and hence opposed to Macdonald’s protectionist national policy. But in obeisance to imperial feeling as well as the antitariff views of his supporters, Laurier, in 1897, lowered tariffs on the goods of nonprotectionist countries, which effectively meant Britain. In the imperial climate of the diamond jubilee of that year, Laurier was seen as a pioneer of Imperial Preference, a strange fate for a free trader who opposed schemes for imperial consolidation or centralization. During the Boer War, Laurier’s government agreed, in response to English-Canadian opinion, to recruit and equip a relatively small number of volunteers for service in South Africa, a policy that alienated some of his more nationalist Quebec supporters. In the face of the Edwardian naval race, Laurier declined to contribute to the Royal Navy, but did found, in 1910, the Royal Canadian Navy for coastal defense, immortalized by its imperialist opponents as the “tin pot navy.” In response to an American initiative, Laurier negotiated a treaty of trade reciprocity with the United States. He fought the election of 1911 on the issue, losing to Sir Robert Borden, who saw free trade with the United States as a threat to imperial cohesion. During World War I, Laurier supported the war effort but opposed the conscription policies of Borden’s government, losing the election of 1917 decisively. Laurier is remembered as a Canadian nationalist who attempted to reconcile Canada’s French and English populations.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Skelton, O. D. The Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. 2 vols. Toronto: S. B. Gundy, 1921.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.