“Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things” (Jesse Jackson).
Wilfrid Laurier was a great leader. He became Canada’s first French-Canadian leader and the only Prime Minister to serve Canada for an unbroken 15 years. Laurier’s life long devotion was to build a unified and tolerant Canada where people of all racial and cultural backgrounds could live together in peace and harmony (Cook and Belanger 150).
His unique style of negotiation based on compromise and reconciliation set the pattern by which Canadians are well-known for today (Spigelman 4).
This essay will demonstrate Wilfrid Laurier’s upbringing that brought forth his leadership style, his contributions to Canada and the grand legacy he has left behind to Canadians. Laurier’s effective leadership skills gave Canadians the most prosperous times of their lives in Canada (Spigelman 7).
The long line of Laurier’s settled in Canada since the 1670’s (Spigelman 5).
Henry Charles Wilfrid Laurier, the seventh generation Laurier, was born on November 20, 1841 in the quiet village of St.Lin, Quebec to Carolus Laurier and Marcelle Martineau (Spigelman 5).
Wilfrid Laurier’s parents originally instilled the first ideas of politics that shaped the vision he wanted for Canada. Carolus Laurier opposed the Church’s dominant power over the people for he strongly believed that people should be given the freedom to think for themselves (Moir).
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This attitude was passed on to his son as Laurier constantly fought the control that Roman Catholic bishops and priests held over the political lives of their parishioners throughout his career(Moir).
Laurier’s mother gave him his love for the French language while his father sent him to an English school in New Glasgow, Quebec to learn the English language and the British customs (Skelton).
This gave Laurier the opportunity to grow up understanding both the French and English much better than just about anyone else at that time (Stewart 12).
Laurier began to appreciate the true value of the two founding cultures of Canada and realize that people of different backgrounds could be generous to each other (Cook and Belanger 155).
Furthermore, the young Laurie intelligently grasped the betterment of reconciliation over conflict when he deliberated that he had more success making love to the school girls than fighting with the boys (Stewart 12).
During Laurier’s education at the College de L’Assomption in Quebec, the strict priests of the school who glorified ultramontanism gave him even more confidence in his passion for politics and his hopes for liberalism (Spigelman 9).
In addition, Laurier was born into a troubled and tumultuous time which he and his generation never forgot, the disastrous Rebellion of 1837 (Désilets).
The stories of this period affected the young Laurier. He learned that British rule was not always benevolent and English Canadians were not always tolerant (Désilets).
Laurier came to believe that compromise would be the key to the peaceful evolution of Canada (Désilets).
He knew the French and English would have to work together and learn about each other before any kind of national unity could be realized (Spigelman 6).
These key issues built the original foundation of Laurier’s leadership style which shaped his perspective on politics during his career.
An important quality that makes a great leader is their ability to conquer any obstacles that deter them from their objective. The greatest roadblock Laurier faced was himself (Spigelman 33).
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He suffered from self-doubt and a lack of energy due to his chronic bronchitis (Spigelman 30).
He was thin, weak and was so frequently sick with a bad cough that he often thought he was dying (Spigelman 33).
He felt small compared to his other politicians due to his lack of experience and frequently, he would allow his insecurities to stop him from fully showing his capabilities. Many people doubted his ability to lead a country but as time passed, Laurier was able to heal from his lack of self-confidence and become healthier. In March 1886, he delivered a speech against the opposition party for the 1885 hanging of Louis Riel which former Liberal party leader Edward Blake called the “finest speech ever pronounced in the Parliament of Canada since Confederation” (Stewart 26).
In the end, Wilfrid Laurier had always remained loyal to his ideals and his beliefs no matter what anyone else thought which contributed to the fiery passion he brought to his work (Spigelman 61).
Fortunately for Canadians, Laurier overcame his fears and used his skills as a spell binding speaker and peacemaker to change Canada into a non-violent place (Spigelman 61).
No matter what obstacle was flung his way, Wilfrid Laurier stepped over it and stood his ground.
Fireworks lit up the Canadian skies on June 23, 1896 in celebration of Wilfrid Laurier’s win as the seventh Prime Minister of Canada (Moir).
At the age of 54, Laurier was handed his position as the leader who would direct Canada into the new 20th Century (Moir).
The “Age of Laurier” was a period of great economic development (Cook and Belanger 164).
A flood of two million immigrants arrived in Canada, the West was opened, farming based on wheat and grains boomed in the prairies, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created and two transcontinental railways were built (Cook and Belanger 155).
The spectacular development in the West was accompanied by a tremendous increase in mining, lumbering and manufacturing in other parts of the country (Spigelman 40).
In 1900, Laurier set up Canada’s first Department of Labour to establish labour laws that would assist in settling arguments between workers and their bosses and to improve working conditions for Canadians (Spigelman 42).
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In addition, he promoted a Committee of Natural Resources to check on wastage in fisheries, mines and forests by careless developers (Stewart 40).
This was the first action undertaken by the Canadian government to protect Canada’s environment (Stewart 40).
Laurier even made an effort to improve the quality of the Canadian government by introducing the Federal Civil Service Commission in 1907 to ensure that anyone who worked for the government was qualified instead of just being recommended by their local politician (Stewart 40).
During Laurier’s reign, Canada was constantly changing and Wilfrid Laurier ensured that it was changing for the better.
In the relations between English and French Canadians, Laurier tried to have diversity accepted as a characteristic of Canadian culture (Désilets).
His amazing public speaking skills were able to convince people of the rightness of his ideas (Désilets).
Wilfrid Laurier said “Two races share today the soil of Canada…These people have not always been friends but I hasten to say it, there is no longer any family here but the human family. It matters not the language people speak, or the altars at which they knee” (Stewart 29).
Laurier’s respect for people’s different views and his principled rejection for coercion made him a great compromiser (Désilets).
He continually emphasized the need for cooperation and compromise as exemplified by the settlement of the Manitoba Schools Issue at the beginning of his administration (Désilets).
It was at this time that he earned his nickname, “The Great Conciliator”, for his talent at reaching compromises with his opponents (Spigelman 41).
He managed to make relations between the country’s English Protestants and French Catholics more peaceful (Spigelman 41).
Also, Laurier favoured close ties with the British government but after the French-Canadian outcry against the dispatch of Canadian troops to serve with the British forces in the South African war, he sought to balance imperial cooperation with the assertion of Canadianism (Belanger).
Therefore, he resisted the establishment of imperial defence forces but created in 1909 a separate Canadian Navy (Belanger).
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In 1911, he concluded a tariff reciprocity agreement with the United States, a further assertion of detachment from the British Empire (Belanger).
These important issues formed the central focus of the important election of 1911, which brought Laurier’s downfall (Stewart 44).
On tariff reciprocity, Laurier lost Ontario, where manufacturing industries needed national protection (Belanger).
As leader of the opposition, Laurier supported Canada’s entry into World War One in 1913 however, he condemned conscription with the French-Canadian constituency vehemently opposed (Stewart 42).
To prevent a complete ethnic split, he refused to join Sir Robert Borden’s Union government (Stewart 42).
Laurier was always at the forefront of issues that threatened Canada (Spigelman 62).
He did not completely solve all the conflicts Canada faced but he dealt with all of them head on as they happened and proposed simple and rational solutions which were usually very good.
On February 18, 1919, Wilfrid Laurier passed away from a stroke. Canadians mourned for the loss of their beloved leader. Great men must die of course, but their examples, their spirit and their ideals live on (Spigelman 63).
There were two funeral speeches read, in English and French, to symbolize his extraordinary efforts to create harmony between French and English Canadians. He was buried in Ottawa, Canada (Skelton).
Wilfrid Laurier will always be remembered as the great conciliator, statesmen and politician (Skelton).
Without his leadership, Canada would not be the present day country (Moir).
Laurier’s greatest legacy to Canada was his insistence upon respect for the principles of British liberalism (Spigelman 62).
He believed in the basic goodness of ordinary people and felt that their individual freedom and liberty had to be respected (Cook and Belanger 158).
He relentlessly tried to protect the weak and minorities against the strong and powerful (Stewart 44).
Hence, in the 1870’s, he defended the French Canadians from ultramontanism and in the 1880’s, he had condemned the government for treating Louis Riel and the Métis unfairly (Moir).
Laurier had even sacrificed power, which he loved, to defend those who opposed being compelled to join the army (Stewart 44).
Canada could and would be united only if everyone were as generous and tolerant as Laurier himself (Spigelman 63).
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Wilfrid Laurier left Canadians a model for peacefully pursuing their lives while respecting their fellow Canadians (Stewart 45).
Laurier’s long and distinguished career won him the undying devotion of the country he loved.
From an average boy in a small village to the leading ruler of Canada, there are no boundaries that can confine Wilfrid Laurier. Respect, compassion, determination are some of the qualities that made Laurier a successful leader. His vision for Canada lives on almost a century after his death (Stewart 42).
At an early age, he understood the importance of compromise to create a great Canada and he tried to deliver this message to all Canadians. Laurier transformed Canada in ways many leaders have done before or since (Moir).
He always stayed loyal to his own beliefs and views which was the key to his eternal success (Spigelman 61).
In conclusion, Laurier truly was a great Canadian leader who ensured Canada’s unity, harmony and prosperity (Spigelman 62).
He did as much as any person could.