It was not until Wilfrid Laurier became leader that the Liberal Party emerged as a modern party. Laurier was able to capitalize on the Tories' alienation of French Canada by offering the Liberals as a credible alternative. Laurier was able to overcome the party's reputation for anti-clericalism that offended the still-powerful Quebec Roman Catholic Church. In English-speaking Canada, the Liberal Party's support for free trade made it popular among farmers, and helped cement the party's hold in the growing prairie provinces.
Laurier led the Liberals to power in the 1896 election (in which he became the first francophone Prime Minister), and oversaw a government that increased immigration in order to settle Western Canada. Laurier's government created the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the North-West Territories, and promoted the development of Canadian industry. The Liberals lost power in the 1911 election due to opposition to the party's policies on reciprocity (or free trade), and the creation of a Canadian navy.
The Conscription crisis divided the party as many Liberals in English Canada supported conscription. Many of them joined Sir Robert Borden's Conservatives to form a Unionist government. With numerous Liberal candidates running as Unionists or Liberal-Unionists with the support of provincial Liberal parties in a number of provinces, the Laurier Liberals were reduced to a largely Quebec-based rump. The long term impact of the Conscription crisis benefited the party as the issue only added to the animosity of French-Canadians towards the Conservatives, making that party virtually unelectable in Quebec for decades.
Under Laurier, and his successor William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Liberals promoted Canadian sovereignty and greater independence from the British Empire. In Imperial Conferences held throughout the 1920s, Canadian Liberal governments often took the lead in arguing that Britain and the dominions should have equal status, and against proposals for an imperial parliament that would have subsumed Canadian independence. After the King-Byng Affair of 1926, the Liberals argued that the Governor General of Canada should no longer be appointed on the recommendation of the British government. The decisions of the Imperial Conferences were formalized in the Statute of Westminster, which was actually passed in 1931, the year after the Liberals lost power.
In the period just before and after the Second World War, the party became a champion of 'progressive social policy'.
As Prime Minister for most of the time between 1921 and 1948, King introduced several measures that led to the creation of Canada's social safety net. Bowing to popular pressure, he introduced the mother's allowance, a monthly payment to all mothers with young children. He also reluctantly introduced old age pensions when J. S. Woodsworth required it in exchange for his Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party's support of King's minority government. Later, Lester B. Pearson introduced universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, and the Canada Assistance Plan (which provided funding for provincial welfare programs).
The Trudeau Liberals became the champions of official bilingualism, passing the Official Languages Act, which gave the French and English languages equal status in Canada. Trudeau hoped that the promotion of bilingualism would cement Quebec's place in confederation, and counter growing calls for an independent Quebec. This policy aimed to transform Canada into a country where English and French-Canadians could live together in comfort, and could move to any part of the country without having to lose their language. While this has not occurred, official bilingualism has helped to halt the decline of the French language outside of Quebec, and has also ensured that all federal government services (as well as radio and television services provided by the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada) are available in both languages throughout the country.
The Trudeau Liberals are also credited with support for official multiculturalism as a means of integrating immigrants into Canadian society without forcing them to shed their culture. As a result of this and a more sympathetic attitude by Liberals towards immigration policy, the party has built a base of support among recent immigrants and their children.
After Trudeau's retirement in 1984, many Liberals, such as Jean Chrétien and Clyde Wells, continued to adhere to Trudeau's concept of federalism. Others, such as John Turner, supported the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Constitutional Accords, which would have recognized Quebec as a "distinct society" and would have increased the powers of the provinces to the detriment of the federal government.
Under the party's new leader, John Turner, the Liberals lost power in the 1984 election, and were reduced to only 40 seats in the House of Commons. The Progressive Conservatives won a majority of the seats in every province, including Quebec. It was the worst defeat in the party's history. What was more, the New Democratic Party, successor to the CCF, won almost as many seats as the Liberals, and some thought that the NDP would push the Liberals to third-party status. The party began a long process of reconstruction. A small group of young Liberal MPs, known as the Rat Pack, gained fame by criticizing the Tory government of Brian Mulroney at every turn.
Turner resigned in 1990 due to growing discontent within the party with his leadership, and was replaced by bitter rival Jean Chrétien, who had served as a Cabinet minister under Pearson, Trudeau and Turner. Chrétien's Liberals campaigned in the 1993 election on the promise of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and of replacing the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Just after the writ was dropped for the election, they issued the Red Book, a detailed statement of exactly what the Liberals would do in office if they won power. This was unprecedented for a Canadian party. Taking full advantage of the inability of Mulroney's successor, Kim Campbell to overcome a large amount of antipathy toward Mulroney, they won a strong majority government with 177 seats—the third-best performance in party history, and their best since 1949. The governing Progressive Conservatives were reduced from a majority government to only two seats, due to their unpopularity, a poorly run campaign, and their support being siphoned off by the Bloc Québécois and Reform Party . The Liberals were re-elected with a considerably reduced majority in 1997, but nearly tied their 1993 total in 2000.
For the next decade, the Liberals dominated Canadian politics in a fashion not seen since the early years of Confederation. This was because of the destruction of the "grand coalition" of Western socially conservative populists, Quebec nationalists, and fiscal conservatives from Ontario that had supported the Progressive Conservatives in 1984 and 1988. The PCs' Western support, for all practical purposes, transferred en masse to the Western-based Reform Party, which replaced the PCs as the major right-wing party in Canada. However, the new party's agenda was seen as too extreme for most Canadians. Even when Reform restructured into the Canadian Alliance, the party was still unable to gain much traction in the east of the country, winning only three seats east of Manitoba in the next decade. Reform/Alliance was the official opposition from 1997 to 2003, but was never able to overcome wide perceptions that it was merely a Western protest party. The Quebec nationalists who had once supported the Tories largely switched their support to the sovereigntistBloc Québécois, while the Tories' Ontario support largely moved to the Liberals. The PCs never recovered from the 1993 blowout; while they rebounded to 20 seats in the next election, they won only two seats west of Quebec in the next decade.
Ontario and Quebec are guaranteed a majority of seats in the House of Commons under both Constitution Acts (59 percent of the seats as of 2006). As a result, it is very difficult to form even a minority government without substantial support in Ontario and/or Quebec. No party has ever formed a majority government without winning the most seats in either Ontario or Quebec. It is mathematically possible to form a minority government without a strong base in either province, but such an undertaking is politically difficult. The Liberals were the only party with a strong base in both provinces, thus making them the only party capable of forming a government.
There was some disappointment as Liberals were not able to recover their traditional dominant position in Quebec, despite being led by a Quebecer from a strongly nationalist region of Quebec. The Bloc capitalized on discontent with the failure of the 1990 Meech Lake Accord and Chrétien's uncompromising stance on federalism (see below) to win the most seats in Quebec in every election from 1993 onward, even serving as the official opposition from 1993 to 1997. Chrétien's reputation in his home province never recovered after the 1990 leadership convention when rival Paul Martin forced him to declare his opposition to the Meech Lake Accord. However, the Liberals did increase their support in the next two elections due to infighting within the Bloc. In the 1997 election, although the Liberals finished with a thin majority, it was their gains in Quebec which were credited with offsetting their losses in the Maritime provinces. In particular, the 2000 election was a breakthrough for the Liberals after the PQ government's unpopular initiatives regarding consolidation of several Quebec urban areas into "megacities." Many federal Liberals also took credit for Charest's provincial election victory over the PQ in spring 2003. A series of by-elections allowed the Liberals to gain a majority of Quebec ridings for the first time since 1984.
The Chrétien Liberals more than made up for their shortfall in Quebec by building a strong base in Ontario. They reaped a substantial windfall from the votes of fiscal conservatives who had previously voted Tory, as well as rapid growth in the Greater Toronto Area. They were also able to take advantage of massive vote splitting between the Tories and Reform/Alliance in rural areas of the province that had traditionally formed the backbone of provincial Tory governments. Combined with their historic dominance of Metro Toronto and northern Ontario, the Liberals dominated the province's federal politics even as the Tories won landslide majorities at the provincial level. In 1993, for example, the Liberals won all but one seat in Ontario, and came within 123 votes in Simcoe Centre of pulling off the first clean sweep of Canada's most populated province. They were able to retain their position as the largest party in the House by winning all but two seats in Ontario in the 1997 election (it was assured that Liberals would continue governing once the Ontario results came in, although there was uncertainty whether they could retain a majority, which they did in the end). In 2000, the Liberals won all but three seats in Ontario.
While the Chrétien Liberals campaigned from the left, their time in power is most marked by the cuts made to many programs in order to balance the federal budget. Chrétien continued the Trudeau Liberal approach to federalism, and opposed making major concessions to Quebec and other provincialist factions. In contrast to their promises during the 1993 campaign, they implemented only minor changes to NAFTA, embraced the free trade concept and -- with the exception of the replacement of the GST with the Harmonized Sales Tax in some Atlantic provinces -- broke their promise to replace the GST.
Paul Martin, author of the 1993 Red Book, succeeded Chrétien as party leader and prime minister in 2003. Despite the personal rivalry between the two, Martin was the architect of the Liberals' economic policies as Minister of Finance during the 1990s. Chrétien left office with a high approval rating and Martin was expected to take the Liberals to greater heights. While his cabinet choices provoked some controversy over excluding many Chrétien supporters, it at first did little to hurt his popularity. However, the political situation changed with the revelation of the sponsorship scandal, in which advertising agencies supporting the Liberal Party received grossly inflated commissions for their services.
Having faced a divided conservative opposition for the past three elections, Liberals were seriously challenged by competition from the newly-united Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper. The infighting between Martin and Chrétien's supporters also dogged the party. Nonetheless, by criticizing the Conservatives' social policies, the Liberals were able to draw progressive votes from the NDP which made the difference in several close races. On June 28, 2004 federal election, the Martin Liberals retained enough support to continue as the government, though they were reduced to a minority.
In the ensuing months, testimony from the Gomery Commission caused public opinion to turn sharply against the Liberals for the first time in over a decade. Despite the devastating revelations, only two Liberal MPs--David Kilgour (who had, ironically, crossed the floor from the PC in 1990) and Pat O'Brien--left the party for reasons other than the scandal. Thanks to Belinda Stronach who crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals, Martin barely managed to hold onto power when an NDP-sponsored amendment to his budget was passed only by the Speaker's tiebreaking vote on May 19, 2005.
In November, the Liberals dropped in polls following the release of the first Gomery Report. Nonehtheless, Martin turned down the NDP's conditions for continued support, as well as rejected an opposition proposal which would schedule a February 2006 election in return for passing several pieces of legislation. The Liberals thus lost the no-confidence vote on November 28; Martin thus became only the fifth prime minister to lose the confidence of the House, but the first to lose on a straight no-confidence motion. Due to the Christmas holiday, Martin advised Governor General Michaëlle Jean to dissolve Parliament and call an election for January 2006.
The Liberal campaign was dogged from start to finish by the sponsorship scandal, which was brought up by an RCMP criminal investigation into the leak of the income trust announcement. Numerous gaffes, contrasting with a smoothly run Conservative campaign, put Liberals were as many as ten points behind the Conservatives in opinion polling. They managed to recover some of their momentum by election night, but not enough to retain power. They won 103 seats, a net loss of 30 from when the writs were dropped, losing a similar number of seats in Ontario and Quebec to the Tories. However, the Liberals managed to capture the most seats in Ontario for the fifth straight election (54 to the Tories' 40), holding the Conservatives to a minority government. While the Conservatives captured many of Ontario's rural ridings, the Liberals retained most of the population-rich Greater Toronto Area. Many of these ridings, particularly the 905 region had historically been bellwethers (the Liberals were nearly shut out of this region in 1979 and 1984), but demographic changes have resulted in consistent Liberal returns in recent years.
Martin resigned as parliamentary leader after the election and stepped down as Liberal leader on March 18, having previously promised to step down if he didn't win a plurality. Even without this promise, the only way he could have held onto power was with the support of the Bloc--a politically unrealistic possibility.
On December 2nd of 2006 in Montreal, the Liberals voted for their new Liberal party leader. The ballots came down to Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion, who surpassed Bob Rae on the third ballot. Stéphane Dion catapulted from third place in the second ballot to first place thanks in large part to an alliance with Gerard Kennedy. Dion finally won with 54.7% of the votes.
On May 11, 2006, Montreal's La Presse reported that the Government of Canada will file a lawsuit against the Liberal Party to recover all the money missing in the sponsorship program. Scott Brison told reporters that same day that the Liberals has already paid back the $1.14 million into the public purse, however the Conservatives believe that there is as much as $40 million unaccounted for in the sponsorship program. http://www.politicswatch.com/adscam-may11-2006.htm
Principles and policies
In the present times, as a centrist party, the Liberal party has favoured a variety of policies from both right and left of the political spectrum. Thus, it has been a strong champion of balanced budgets, and has removed the deficit completely from the federal budget a few years after coming to power in 1993 and turned it into a $13 billion surplus, reducing spending on some social programs and gradually introducing tax cuts. On the other hand, it has legalized same-sex marriage and use of cannabis for medical purposes, and has been proposing complete decriminalization of possession of small amounts of it. The party also holds progressive views on various other social issues like abortion.
During the 2006 election the Liberal party's platform has included an * Introduction of a national childcare program * Immediately cut tax for low income earners by 1 point from 16% to 15% * Cut corporate tax by two points from 21% to 19% by year 2010 * Tougher firearm laws, including a ban on handguns, * Reducing wait times for medical treatments * Increased support and opportunities for seniors, immigrants and the aboriginal populations * Increased spending on military * Additional investment in research and higher education.
Liberal Party infighting
left|thumb|[Paul Martin] As the Liberals have traditionally been the most united of Canada's major parties, and most intra-party disputes did not manifest themselves publicly. Since Louis St. Laurent, every Liberal leader/prime minister has served in the previous leader/prime minister's Cabinet. However in the 1970s, there was the emergence of two distinct wings in the party--a socially-populist and federalist wing (represented by Trudeau and Chrétien), and a constitutionally flexible, fiscally conservative wing (represented by Turner and Martin). The split between the wings gathered some prominence, notably when Turner resigned from Trudeau's cabinet in 1975 over implementing wage and price controls, and the years stretching from the 1984 leadership convention to 1990 where Chrétien's supporters waged a backroom battle to topple Turner.
In the 1990 leadership convention, Chrétien captured the leadership on the first ballot, though many of Turner's supporters rallied around Martin, who made several bitter attacks that hurt Chrétien personally in Quebec. When the Liberals won power in 1993, party unity was assured by placing Martin, whom Chrétien had defeated for the party leadership in 1990, in the crucial role of Minister of Finance.
Martin's supporters moved to dominate the party machinery, putting Martin in the driver's seat to become the party's next leader. However, the two men appeared to work very well together for a decade. The split opened wider, however, in the summer of 2002 when Chrétien moved to curtail Martin's apparent campaigning for the leadership, after promising that he would remain prime minister until 2004, in defiance of the Martin camp's organizing. There are varying stories as to what actually occurred at this point; Chretien claimed that Martin resigned from cabinet while Martin claims that he was fired; this made little difference as being outside of cabinet meant that Martin did not have to publish his campaign contributions. Chretien and Martin have reportedly spoken little to each other since the summer of 2002.
Martin was replaced as Finance Minister by Deputy Prime MinisterJohn Manley, whom many saw as Chretien's preferred heir. Manley criticized Martin for refusing to name campaign donors but was unable to cut into the latter's huge lead, prompting Manley to bow out. Earlier, cabinet ministers Brian Tobin and Allan Rock had announced that they would not contest the leadership, given Martin's stranglehold on the party machinery.
Martin's influence in the party, and the fact that polls at the time indicated that Martin was a more popular leader among the Canadian public than Chretien, forced Chrétien to announce his retirement later in the year, several months earlier than he had originally hoped. Martin easily beat the Minister of Canadian Heritage Sheila Copps at the Liberal leadership convention in November 2003, and in December of that year Martin was sworn in as Prime Minister.
While the issue of the party leadership was settled, at the lower levels of the party considerable in-fighting began. Most of the Chrétien-era cabinet ministers were relegated to the backbenches and ministers such as Copps, John Manley, Allan Rock, Don Boudria, David Anderson, Herb Dhaliwal and Stéphane Dion were moved into minor roles as Martin built his cabinet. Many of them decided to leave politics for the private sector.
Some Chrétien loyalists refused to retire, hoping to remain as backbenchers. Unlike in previous elections, however, Martin refused to sign the nomination papers for incumbents (likely used against Chrétienites), while also parachuting in his star candidates. In many cases, Chrétien allies faced challengers who received unofficial support from the Martinites, who had often taken over the local riding association against the incumbent's wishes. For example, the periodic redrawing of riding boundaries resulted in a high-profile battle between Copps and future Martin House Leader Tony Valeri for a riding nomination.
In late 2004, Martin expelled former supporter and Mississauga MP Carolyn Parrish from the party after she told Martin he could "go to hell." Other reasons for her dismissal include several comments which were perceived as anti-American. Parrish sat as an independent in the House of Commons until the dissolution of Parliament in December 2005, but voted with the Liberals on almost all issues.
Issues have also arose between the largely Chrétien-appointed Liberal Senate Caucus and the Prime Minister's Office. Martin also faced criticism for being closer with and more rewarding to recent political additions to the Liberal Party including MPs Jean Lapierre, Scott Brison, Ujjal Dosanjh, Keith Martin and most recently Belinda Stronach, as opposed to regular Liberal MPs. In April 2005, David Kilgour, one of the party's two MPs from Alberta announced that he was leaving the party to sit as an independent member of the House of Commons due to the damaging allegations of corruption in the Liberal Party's Quebec wing based on testimony in the Gomery Commission inquiry. This was followed shortly thereafter by the announcement of Liberal MP Pat O'Brien that he too was departing from the Liberal Caucus because of the Prime Minister's decision to rush same-sex marriage legislation through the House of Commons.
1 Brown was regarded by most Liberal candidates as their leader in the 1867 election but did not officially hold the title. Had he won a seat he would have almost certainly become Leader of the Opposition and had the Liberals won enough seats to form a government Brown would almost certainly have become Prime Minister. However, he failed in his bid for a seat in the House of Commons and the Liberals had no official leader until 1873.
2Herb Gray served as Leader of the Opposition from February 6 until Chrétien was re-elected to Parliament in December 1990. He led the Liberal Party in parliament though he was never the leader or interim leader, of the Liberal Party as a whole.
3 After the defeat of the Liberals by the Conservatives of Stephen Harper in the 2006 Canadian federal election, Paul Martin announced in the early hours of January 24, 2006 his intention to resign the leadership of the Liberal Party. Bill Graham was later selected as parliamentary leader by caucus, while Martin indicated he would remain nominal party leader. On March 18, 2006, Graham was appointed interim leader after Martin officially stepped down from the post.
The relationship between the federal and provincial Liberal parties in Canada varies across Canada. In the four largest provinces (BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec) the parties are informally linked to varying degrees. In the case of BC and Quebec, because provincial parties to the right of the Liberals are relatively weak or nonexistant, many federal Conservatives as well as federal Liberals are active in the provincial Liberal party, and the provincial party therefore tends to formally maintain neutrality in federal politics.
In the 6 other provinces and one territory, the provincial parties are direct organizational affiliates with the federal Liberal party, much like the provincial sections of the New Democratic Party.
The Saskatchewan Party was an unofficial merger of the members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan and members of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, and now contains supporters of the federal Conservatives and federal Liberals in its ranks. Because the politics of the province are so clearly divided between the NDP and the Saskatchewan party, there is little room for the rump of the Liberal party. The Saskatchewan Party is also completely independent and officially neutral when it comes to federal politics, although its only leaders have had roots in the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties of the past.