Laurier, Sir Wilfrid

Laurier, Sir Wilfrid lôˈrēā, Fr. lōryāˈ [key], 1841–1919, Canadian prime minister. He studied law at McGill Univ. His premiership of Canada (1896–1911), the first to be held by a French Canadian, was the longest continuous term in the history of the dominion. From his first speech in the Quebec legislature, to which he was elected in 1871, his notable oratory was recognized. He served (1874–78) in the Canadian House of Commons, where he worked for moderate protection and for cooperation between the French and British in Canada, an objective which was his lifelong concern. He was briefly (1877–78) a minister in the cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie. Then, while the Conservative party was in power, he was prominent in the Liberal opposition in Parliament; in 1887 he succeeded Edward Blake as Liberal leader. As prime minister, he formed a strong administration and helped to build a national image for Canada. When in 1911 his party met defeat on the question of trade reciprocity with the United States, he resigned. The years of his ministry witnessed Canada's steady growth and progress. Ambitious for the development of the dominion, but within the framework of the empire, Laurier was committed to such policies as the development of the Western territories, building up railroads, tariff arrangements with the United States as well as Great Britain, and control by Canada of her own defenses. As leader of the Liberal opposition during World War I, he supported Great Britain, but opposed conscription and refused to form a coalition with the Conservative government of Canada in 1917. He was knighted in 1897.

See biographies by O. D. Skelton (2 vol., abr. ed. 1965) and B. Robertson (1971); H. B. Neatby et al., Imperial Relations in the Age of Laurier (1969).

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