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Liberal Party of Canada

Liberal Party of Canada
Parti libéral du Canada
Active federal party
Leader Justin Trudeau
President Anna Gainey
Deputy Leader Ralph Goodale
Founded 1861 (1861)
Preceded by Clear Grits,
Parti rouge
Headquarters Suite 920
350 Albert Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 6M8
Youth wing Young Liberals
Ideology Liberalism (Canadian)
Political position Centre to Centre-left[1][2]
International affiliation Liberal International[3]
Colours      Red
Seats in the House of Commons
184 / 338
Seats in the Senate
29 / 105
Politics of Canada
Political parties

The Liberal Party of Canada (French: Parti libéral du Canada), colloquially known as the Grits, is the oldest federal political party in Canada. The party espouses the principles of liberalism, and generally sits at the Centrism of the Canadian political spectrum.[5][6][7] Historically the Liberal Party has been positioned to the left of the Conservative Party of Canada and to the right of the New Democratic Party (NDP).[8]

The party has dominated federal politics for much of Canada's history, holding power for almost 69 years in the 20th century—more than any other party in a developed country—and as a result, it is sometimes referred to as Canada's "natural governing party".[9][10] The Liberals' signature policies and legislative decisions include universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, peacekeeping, multilateralism, official bilingualism, official multiculturalism, patriating the Canadian constitution and the entrenchment of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Clarity Act, restoring balanced budgets in the 1990s, and making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.[5][11]

During the beginning of the 21st century, the party lost a significant amount of support, to the benefit of both the Conservatives and the NDP. In the 2011 federal election, the Liberals had the worst showing in its history, capturing only 19 percent of the popular vote and 34 seats—becoming the third-place party in the House of Commons for the first time.[12] In the 2015 federal election, the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau returned to prominence with its best showing since the 2000 election, winning 39.5 percent of the popular vote and 184 seats, thus regaining a majority of seats in the House of Commons.


  • Principles and policies 1
    • Current policies 1.1
  • History 2
    • 19th century 2.1
      • Origins 2.1.1
      • Confederation 2.1.2
      • Laurier era 2.1.3
    • 20th century 2.2
      • Party organization 2.2.1
      • Canadian sovereignty 2.2.2
      • Liberals and the social safety net 2.2.3
      • Pierre Trudeau 2.2.4
      • Post-Trudeau party in opposition 2.2.5
      • Liberals under Chrétien 2.2.6
    • Into the 21st century 2.3
      • Martin succeeds Chrétien 2.3.1
      • 2006 Convention and Dion 2.3.2
      • Leadership campaign and coalition 2.3.3
      • Ignatieff and the 2011 election 2.3.4
      • Justin Trudeau 2.3.5
    • Party systems and realignment model 2.4
  • Regional Liberal parties 3
  • Electoral performance 4
  • History of leaders 5
  • Presidents of the National Liberal Federation/Liberal Party of Canada 6
  • See also 7
  • Further reading 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Principles and policies

The principles of the party are based on liberalism as defined by various liberal theorists and include individual freedom for present and future generations, responsibility, human dignity, a just society, political freedom, religious freedom, national unity, equality of opportunity, cultural diversity, bilingualism, and multilateralism.[13][14] In the present times, the Liberal party has favoured a variety of "big tent" policies from both Right-wing politics and Left-wing politics of the political spectrum.[10] When it formed the government from 1993 to 2006, it championed balanced budgets, and eliminated the budget deficit completely from the federal budget in 1995 by reducing spending on social programs or delegating them to the provinces, and promised to replace the Goods and Services Tax in the party's famous Red Book.[15] It also legalized same-sex marriage and allowed the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and proposed complete decriminalization of possession of small amounts of it.

Current policies

During the 2015 election, the Liberal party's proposed policies included:[16]

  • Cut the middle class tax bracket ($45,000 – $90,000) from 22% to 20.5% and create a new tax bracket for income above $200,000 taxed at 33%[17]
  • Set national targets to lower greenhouse gas emissions through cooperation with provinces, support Keystone XL with a stricter environmental review process, spend $20 billion over 10 years on "greener infrastructure"[17]
  • Run three years of deficits that will not exceed $10 billion to finance infrastructure projects and balance the budget in 2019[17]
  • Spend $60 billion in new infrastructure spending, including $20 billion in transit infrastructure and quadrupling federal funding for public transit, all over three years[17]
  • Invest $300 million annually to fund a Youth Employment Strategy[17]
  • Reduce employment insurance (EI) premiums from $1.88 per $100 to $1.65 per $100[17]
  • Replace the Universal Child Care Benefit with a Canada Child Benefit that would provide $2,500 more to an average family of four[17]
  • Support training efforts in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, end the bombing mission against ISIS but increase humanitarian aid and training of local ground troops[17]
  • Take in 25,000 Syrian refugees and spend $100 million for refugee processing and settlement[17]
  • Negotiate a new health accord with the provinces to guarantee long-term funding, including a national plan for lower prescription drug prices[17]
  • Invest $3 billion over four years to improve home care[17]
  • Set up an all-party committee to pass legislation implementation of physician assisted death[17]
  • Full legalization of marijuana[18]
  • Implement electoral reform to move from a first-past-the-post electoral system to a system in which the seat count more closely match the popular vote[19]
  • Implementing a non-partisan appointment process for the Senate modeled on that of the Order of Canada, after having removed Liberal senators from the party caucus in 2014[20]


19th century


The Liberals are descended from the mid-19th century Robert Baldwin, William Lyon Mackenzie and the Clear Grits in Upper Canada, Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, and the Patriotes and Rouges in Lower Canada led by figures such as Louis-Joseph Papineau. The Clear Grits and Parti rouge sometimes functioned as a united bloc in the legislature of the Province of Canada beginning in 1854, and a united Liberal Party combining both English and French Canadian members was formed in 1861.[21][22]


At the time of confederation of the former British colonies of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the radical Liberals were marginalized by the more pragmatic Conservative coalition assembled under Sir John A. Macdonald. In the 29 years after Canadian confederation, the Liberals were consigned to opposition, with the exception of one stint in government.[21] Alexander Mackenzie was able to lead the party to power for the first time in 1873, after the MacDonald government lost a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons due to the Pacific Scandal. Mackenzie subsequently won the 1874 election, and served as Prime Minister for an additional four years. During the five years the Liberal government brought in many reforms, which include the replacement of open voting by secret ballot, confining elections to one day and the creation of the Supreme Court of Canada. However the party was only able to build a solid support base in Ontario, and in 1878 lost the government to MacDonald.[21] The Liberals would spend the next 18 years in opposition.[22]

Laurier era

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada (1896-1911)

In their early history, the Liberals were the party of continentalism and opposition to imperialism. The Liberals also became identified with the aspirations of Quebecers as a result of the growing hostility of French Canadians to the Conservatives. The Conservatives lost the support of French Canadians because of the role of Conservative governments in the execution of Louis Riel and their role in the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and especially their opposition to French schools in provinces besides Quebec.

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 reciprocity made it popular among farmers, and helped cement the party's hold in the growing prairie provinces.[23]

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.[23]

20th century

Party organization

William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada (1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948)

Until the early part of the century, the Liberal Party was a loose, informal coalition of local, provincial and regional bodies with a strong national party leader and caucus (and when in power, the national cabinet) but with an informal and regionalized extra-parliamentary organizational structure. There was no national membership of the party, an individual became a member by joining a provincial Liberal party. Laurier called the party's first national convention in 1893 in order to unite Liberal supporters behind a programme and build the campaign that successfully brought the party to power in 1896; however, once in power, no efforts were made to create a formal national organization outside of parliament.

As a result of the party's defeats in the patronage.

As a result of both the party's defeat in the

  • Official website
  • The Liberal Party of Canada Constitution
  • Canadian Encyclopedia entry on the Liberal Party

External links

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  • Bickerton, James, and Alain G. Gagnon. Canadian Politics (5th ed. 2009), 415pp; university textbook
  • Blais, André. "Accounting for the Electoral Success of the Liberal Party in Canada", Journal of Political Science, Dec 2005, Vol. 38#4 pp 821–840; Argues that in 1965 to 2005 the party's success depended largely on strong support from Catholics and voters of non-European origin.
  • Bliss, Michael. Right Honourable Men: The Descent of Canadian Politics from Macdonald to Mulroney (1994), essays on Prime Ministers
  • Clarkson, Stephen. The Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics (2005)
  • Cohen, Andrew, and J. L. Granatstein, eds. Trudeau's Shadow: the life and legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1999).
  • Gagnon, Alain G., and Brian Tanguay. Canadian Parties in Transition (3rd ed. 2007), 574pp; university textbook
  • Granatstein, J.L. Mackenzie King: His Life and World (1977).
  • Hillmer, Norman, and Steven Azzi. "Canada's Best Prime Ministers", June 20, 2011 onlineMaclean's
  • Jeffrey, Brooke. Divided Loyalties: The Liberal Party of Canada, 1984–2008 (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Koop, Royce. "Professionalism, Sociability and the Liberal Party in the Constituencies." Canadian Journal of Political Science (2010) 43#04 pp: 893-913.
  • McCall, Christina; Stephen Clarkson. "Liberal Party". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 
  • McCall, Christina. Grits: an intimate portrait of the Liberal Party (Macmillan of Canada, 1982)
  • Neatby, H. Blair. Laurier and a Liberal Quebec: A Study in Political Management (1973)
  • Whitaker, Reginald. The Government Party: Organizing and Financing the Liberal Party of Canada, 1930–1958 (1977)
  • Wallace, W.S. (1948). "History of the Liberal Party of Canada". The Encyclopedia of Canada IV. Toronto: University Associates of Canada. pp. 75–76. 
  • Wearing, Joseph. The L-Shaped Party: The Liberal Party of Canada, 1958-1980 (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1981)

Further reading

See also

Presidents of the National Liberal Federation/Liberal Party of Canada

Picture Name Term
Date of birth Date of death Notes
George Brown 1867 1867 November 29, 1818 May 9, 1880 Unofficial
(actually leader of the Clear Grits, a forerunner of the federal Liberal Party)
Edward Blake 1869 1870 October 13, 1833 March 1, 1912 Unofficial
Alexander Mackenzie March 6, 1873 April 27, 1880 January 28, 1822 April 17, 1892 2nd Prime Minister (1st Liberal Prime Minister)
Edward Blake May 4, 1880 June 2, 1887 October 13, 1833 March 1, 1912
Wilfrid Laurier June 23, 1887 February 17, 1919 November 20, 1841 February 17, 1919 7th Prime Minister
Daniel Duncan McKenzie February 17, 1919 August 7, 1919 January 8, 1859 June 8, 1927 (Interim)
William Lyon
Mackenzie King
August 7, 1919 August 6, 1948 December 17, 1874 July 22, 1950 10th Prime Minister
Louis St. Laurent August 7, 1948 January 15, 1958 February 1, 1882 July 25, 1973 12th Prime Minister
Lester B. Pearson January 16, 1958 April 5, 1968 April 23, 1897 December 27, 1972 14th Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau April 6, 1968 June 15, 1984 October 18, 1919 September 28, 2000 15th Prime Minister
John Turner June 16, 1984 June 22, 1990 June 7, 1929 living 17th Prime Minister
Jean Chrétien June 23, 1990 November 13, 2003 January 11, 1934 living 20th Prime Minister
Paul Martin November 14, 2003 March 19, 2006 August 28, 1938 living 21st Prime Minister
Bill Graham March 19, 2006 December 1, 2006 March 17, 1939 living (Interim)
Stéphane Dion December 2, 2006 December 9, 2008 September 28, 1955 living
Michael Ignatieff December 10, 2008 May 24, 2011 May 12, 1947 living Interim leader until May 2, 2009 (when ratified as permanent leader)
Bob Rae May 25, 2011 April 13, 2013 August 2, 1948 living (Interim)
Justin Trudeau April 14, 2013 Incumbent December 25, 1971 living Incoming 23rd Prime Minister

History of leaders

Election Leader Votes % Seats +/– Position Government
1867 George Brown 60,818 22.6
62 / 180
62 2nd Opposition
1872 Edward Blake 110,556 34.7
95 / 200
33 2nd Opposition
1874 Alexander Mackenzie 128,455 39.4
129 / 206
34 1st Majority
1878 Alexander Mackenzie 180,074 33.0
63 / 206
66 2nd Opposition
1882 Edward Blake 160,547 31.1
73 / 211
10 2nd Opposition
1887 Edward Blake 312,736 43.1
80 / 215
7 2nd Opposition
1891 Wilfrid Laurier 350,512 45.2
90 / 215
10 2nd Opposition
1896 Wilfrid Laurier 350,512 45.2
117 / 213
27 1st Majority
1900 Wilfrid Laurier 477,758 50.2
128 / 213
11 1st Majority
1904 Wilfrid Laurier 521,041 50.8
137 / 214
9 1st Majority
1908 Wilfrid Laurier 570,311 48.8
133 / 221
4 1st Majority
1911 Wilfrid Laurier 596,871 45.8
85 / 221
48 2nd Opposition
1917 Wilfrid Laurier 729,756 38.8
82 / 235
3 2nd Opposition
1921 William Lyon Mackenzie King 1,285,998 41.1
118 / 235
36 1st Minority
1925 William Lyon Mackenzie King 1,252,684 39.7
100 / 245
18 2nd Minority
1926 William Lyon Mackenzie King 1,397,031 42.9
116 / 245
16 1st Minority
1930 William Lyon Mackenzie King 1,716,798 44.0
89 / 245
27 2nd Opposition
1935 William Lyon Mackenzie King 1,967,839 44.6
173 / 245
84 1st Majority
1940 William Lyon Mackenzie King 2,365,979 51.3
179 / 245
6 1st Majority
1945 William Lyon Mackenzie King 2,086,545 39.7
118 / 245
61 1st Majority
1949 Louis St. Laurent 2,874,813 49.1
191 / 262
73 1st Majority
1953 Louis St. Laurent 2,731,633 48.4
169 / 265
22 1st Majority
1957 Louis St. Laurent 2,702,573 40.5
105 / 265
64 2nd Opposition
1958 Lester Pearson 2,432,953 33.4
48 / 265
67 2nd Opposition
1962 Lester Pearson 2,846,589 36.9
99 / 265
51 2nd Opposition
1963 Lester Pearson 3,276,996 41.4
128 / 265
29 1st Minority
1965 Lester Pearson 3,099,521 40.1
131 / 265
3 1st Minority
1968 Pierre Trudeau 3,686,801 45.3
154 / 264
23 1st Majority
1972 Pierre Trudeau 3,717,804 38.4
109 / 264
46 1st Minority
1974 Pierre Trudeau 4,102,853 43.1
141 / 264
32 1st Majority
1979 Pierre Trudeau 4,595,319 40.1
114 / 282
27 2nd Opposition
1980 Pierre Trudeau 4,855,425 44.3
147 / 282
33 1st Majority
1984 John Turner 3,516,486 28.0
40 / 282
107 2nd Opposition
1988 John Turner 4,205,072 31.9
83 / 295
43 2nd Opposition
1993 Jean Chrétien 5,647,952 41.2
177 / 295
94 1st Majority
1997 Jean Chrétien 4,994,277 38.4
155 / 301
22 1st Majority
2000 Jean Chrétien 5,252,031 40.8
172 / 301
17 1st Majority
2004 Paul Martin 4,982,220 36.7
135 / 308
37 1st Minority
2006 Paul Martin 4,479,415 30.2
103 / 308
32 2nd Opposition
2008 Stéphane Dion 3,633,185 26.2
77 / 308
26 2nd Opposition
2011 Michael Ignatieff 2,783,175 18.9
34 / 308
43 3rd Third party
2015 Justin Trudeau 6,928,055 39.5
184 / 338
150 1st Majority

Electoral performance

Affiliated provincial parties, current seats, and leaders
Party Seats/Total Leader
New Brunswick Liberal Association 26/49 Hon. Brian Gallant, Premier of New Brunswick
Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador 16/48 Dwight Ball, MHA
Nova Scotia Liberal Party 34/51 Hon. Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia
Prince Edward Island Liberal Party 18/27 Hon. Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island

Each province and one territory in Canada has its own Liberal Party. However those in British Columbia, Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are split into provincial and federal wings. The provincial parties have separate policies, finances, memberships, constituency associations, executives, conventions and offices.[6]

Regional Liberal parties

The Liberal landslide in 2015, leaving Alberta and Saskatchewan as the only two Conservative-held provinces in the country, has now challenged that narrative.[116][117]

Pundits in the wake of the 2011 election widely believed in a theme of major realignment. Lawrence Martin, commentator for the Globe and Mail, claimed that "Harper has completed a remarkable reconstruction of a Canadian political landscape that endured for more than a century. The realignment sees both old parties of the moderate middle, the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, either eliminated or marginalized."[112] Maclean's said that the election marked "an unprecedented realignment of Canadian politics" as "the Conservatives are now in a position to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party in Canada"; Andrew Coyne proclaimed "The West is in and Ontario has joined it," noting that the Conservatives accomplished the rare feat of putting together a majority by winning in both Ontario and the western provinces (difficult because of traditionally conflicting interests), while having little representation in Quebec.[113] Books such as The Big Shift by John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker, and Peter C. Newman's When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada, provocatively asserted that the Liberals had become an "endangered species" and that an NDP-led opposition would mean that "fortune favours the Harper government" in subsequent campaigns.[114][115]

Stephen Clarkson (2005) shows how the Liberal Party has dominated all the party systems, using different approaches. It began with a "clientelistic approach" under Laurier, which evolved into a "brokerage" system of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s under Mackenzie King. The 1950s saw the emergence of a "pan-Canadian system", which lasted until the 1990s. The 1993 election – categorized by Clarkson as an electoral "earthquake" which "fragmented" the party system, saw the emergence of regional politics within a four party-system, whereby various groups championed regional issues and concerns. Clarkson concludes that the inherent bias built into the first-past-the-post system, has chiefly benefited the Liberals.[111]

  • The first party system emerged from pre-Confederation colonial politics, had its "heyday" from 1896 to 1911 and lasted until the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and was characterized by local patronage administered by the two largest parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives.
  • The second system emerged following the First World War, and had its heyday from 1935 and 1957, was characterized by regionalism and saw the emergence of several protest parties, such as the Progressives, the Social Credit Party, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.
  • The third system emerged in 1963 and had its heyday from 1968 to 1983 and began to unravel thereafter. The two largest parties were challenged by a strong third party, the New Democratic Party. Campaigns during this era became more national in scope because of electronic media, and involved a greater focus on leadership. The dominant policy of the era was Keynesian economics.
  • The fourth party system has involved the rise of the Reform Party, the Bloc Québécois, and the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives. Most parties moved to one-member-one-vote leadership contests, and campaign finance laws were reformed in 2004. The fourth party system has been characterized by market-oriented policies that abandoned Keynesian policies, but maintained the welfare state.

Scholars and political experts have recently used a realignment model to explain what was considered a collapse of a dominant party, and out its condition in long-term perspective. According to recent scholarship there have been four party systems in Canada at the federal level since Confederation, each with its own distinctive pattern of social support, patronage relationships, leadership styles, and electoral strategies. Steve Patten identifies four party systems in Canada's political history:[110]

Party systems and realignment model

Justin Trudeau's Liberals would win the 2015 Canadian federal election in dramatic fashion: becoming the first party to win a parliamentary majority after being reduced to third party status in a previous general election, besting Brian Mulroney's record for the largest seat increase by a party in a single election (111 in 1984), and resuming as the top party in Quebec for the first time since 1980.[105][106][107] Chantal Hébert deemed the result "a Liberal comeback that is headed straight for the history books."[108] Bloomberg's Josh Wingrove and Theophilos Argitis similarly described it as "capping the biggest political comeback in the country’s history."[109]

The initial surge in support in the polls following Trudeau's election wore off in the following year, in the face of a million-dollar Conservative ad campaign after Trudeau's win attempting to "[paint] him as a silly dilettante unfit for public office."[103] As a consequence of this, by the time the 2015 federal election was called, the Liberals had been knocked back into third place. Trudeau and his advisors planned to mount a campaign based on economic stimulus in the hopes of regaining the mantle of being the party that best represented change from the New Democrats.[104]

Prior to Trudeau being named Liberal leader, a by-election was called in the riding of Labrador for May 13, 2013.[98] The riding, which was a former Liberal stronghold, was narrowly won by Conservative Peter Penashue in the 2011 federal election.[99] Penashue's campaign had accepted illegal donations during the campaign and he announced he would step down and run in a by-election.[100] On by-election day Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones, the former leader of the provincial party, defeated Penashue. The Liberal win marked the first that the Conservatives lost a by-election in a seat they previously held since the founding of the party in 2003.[101][102]

On April 14, 2013 Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was elected leader of the Liberal Party on the first ballot, winning 80% of the vote.[95] Following his win, support for the Liberal Party increased considerably, and the party moved into first place in public opinion polls.[96][97]

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister-Designate of Canada

Justin Trudeau

This election marked the first time the Liberals were unable to form either government or the official opposition. Ignatieff was defeated in his own riding, and announced his resignation as Liberal leader shortly after. Bob Rae was chosen as the interim leader on May 25, 2011.[94]

The Liberals suffered their worst defeat in history in the May 2, 2011, federal election. The result was a third-place finish, with only 19 percent of the vote and returning 34 seats in the House of Commons. Notably, their support in Toronto and Montreal, their power bases for the last two decades, all but vanished. All told, the Liberals won only 11 seats in Ontario (seven of which were in Toronto) and seven in Quebec (all in Montreal)—their fewest totals in either province. Newfoundland and Labrador was the only province with majority Liberal seats at 4 out of 7. They also won only four seats west of Ontario. The Conservatives won 40 percent of the vote and formed a majority government, while the NDP formed the Official Opposition winning 31 percent of the vote.[93]

The Liberals had considerable momentum when the writ was dropped, and Ignatieff successfully squeezed NDP leader Jack Layton out of media attention, by issuing challenges to Harper for one-on-one debates.[85][86][87] In the first couple weeks of the campaign, Ignatieff kept his party in second place in the polls, and his personal ratings exceeded that of Layton for the first time.[88] However opponents frequently criticized Ignatieff's perceived political opportunism, particularly during the leaders debates when Layton criticized Ignatieff for having a poor attendance record for Commons votes saying "You know, most Canadians, if they don't show up for work, they don't get a promotion". Ignatieff failed to defend himself against these charges, and the debates were said to be a turning point for his party's campaign.[89] Near the end of the campaign, a late surge in support for Layton and the NDP relegated Ignatieff and the Liberals to third in opinion polls.[90][91][92]

On March 25, 2011, Ignatieff introduced a motion of non-confidence against the Harper government to attempt to force a May 2011, federal election after the government was found to be in Contempt of Parliament, the first such occurrence in Commonwealth history. The House of Commons passed the motion by 156–145.[84]

The Liberal Party's attempt to force an election, just a year after the previous one, was reported as a miscalculation, as polls showed that most Canadians did not want another election.[81] Even after the government survived the confidence motion popularity for Ignatieff and his party continued to fall.[82] Over the next year and a half, with the exception of a brief period in early 2010, support for the Liberals remained below 30 percent, and behind the Conservatives.[83] While his predecessor Dion was criticized by the Conservatives as a "weak leader", Ignatieff was attacked as a "political opportunist".[38]

Liberal Party logo, 2010–2014

Throughout the Winter of 2008–09, opinion polls showed that while the Ignatieff led Liberals still trailed the Conservatives their support had stabilized in the low 30 percent range. However, by the time Ignatieff was confirmed as party leader on May 2, 2009, the Liberal Party had a comfortable lead over the governing Conservatives.[73][74][75] After a Summer where he was accused of being missing in action, Ignatieff announced on August 31, 2009, that the Liberals would not support the minority Conservative government.[76][77][78] After this announcement the Liberal Party's poll numbers, which had already declined over the summer, started to fall further behind the Conservatives.[79] On October 1, 2009, the Liberals put forth a non-confidence motion with the hope of defeating the government. However, the NDP abstained from voting and the Conservatives survived the confidence motion.[80]

Graph of opinion polls conducted between the 2008 and 2011 elections

With Ignatieff named interim leader of the party (on December 10), the Liberal's poll numbers saw significant gains, after they plummeted with the signing of the coalition agreement.[70][71] When parliament resumed on January 28, 2009, the Ignatieff Liberals agreed to support the budget as long as it included regular accountability reports, which the Conservatives accepted. This ended the possibility of the coalition government with the New Democrats.[72]

Ignatieff and the 2011 election

While polls showed Canadians were split on the idea of having either a coalition government or having the Conservatives continue to govern, it was clear that because of Dion's personal popularity they were not comfortable with him becoming Prime Minister.[65] Members of the Liberal Party therefore called on Dion to resign as leader immediately and for an interim leader to be chosen, this person would become the Prime Minister in the event that the Conservatives were defeated when parliament resumed in January.[66] With an estimated 70 percent of the Liberal caucus wanting Ignatieff to be named interim leader, Dion resigned the post on December 8, 2008 (effective December 10, upon Ignatieff's becoming interim leader).[66][67] LeBlanc announced on the same day that he was abandoning the Liberal leadership race and endorsing Ignatieff as the next leader.[68] The following day Rae announced he was also dropping out of the race and was placing his "full and unqualified" support to Ignatieff.[69]

On November 27, 2008, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty provided the House of Commons with a fiscal update, within which were plans to cut government spending, suspend the ability of civil servants to strike until 2011, sell off some Crown assets to raise capital, and eliminate the existing CAD$1.95 per vote subsidy parties garner in an election.[60][61] The opposition parties criticized the fiscal update, and announced they would not support it because it contained no stimulus money to spur Canada's economy and protect workers during the economic crisis.[62] With the Conservative Party only holding a minority of the seats in the House of Commons the government would be defeated if the opposition parties voted against the fiscal update.[62] With the Conservatives unwilling to budge on the proposals outlined in the fiscal update the Liberals and NDP signed an agreement to form a coalition government, with a written pledge of support from the Bloc Québécois.[63] Under the terms of the agreement Dion would be sworn in as Prime Minister, however he would only serve in the position until the next Liberal leader was chosen. Dion contacted Governor General Michaëlle Jean and advised her that he had the confidence of the House of Commons if Prime Minister Harper's government was to fall.[63] However, before the fiscal update could be voted on in the House of Commons Prime Minister Harper requested the Governor General to prorogue parliament till January 26, 2009, which she accepted.[64]

Michael Ignatieff speaks during a news conference in Toronto

New Brunswick Member of Parliament Dominic LeBlanc was the first candidate to announce he would seek the leadership of the Liberal Party on October 27, 2008. Days later Bob Rae, who had finished third in 2006, announced he would also be a candidate for the leadership. The party executive met in early November and chose May 2, 2009, as the date to elect the next leader.[59] On November 13 Michael Ignatieff, who finished second in 2006, announced he would also be a candidate.

Leadership campaign and coalition

Dion campaigned on environmental sustainability during the leadership race, and created the "Green Shift" plan following his election as leader. The Green Shift proposed creating a carbon tax that would be coupled with reductions to income tax rates. The proposal was to tax greenhouse gas emissions, starting at $10 (Canadian) per ton of CO2 and reaching $40 (Canadian) per ton within four years.[53] The plan was a key policy for the party in the 2008, federal election, but it was not well received and was continuously attacked by both the Conservatives and NDP.[54][55][56][57] On election night the Liberal Party won 26.26 percent of the popular vote and 77 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. At that time their popular support was the lowest in the party's history, and weeks later Dion announced he would step down as Liberal leader once his successor was chosen.[58]

Following the leadership race the Liberal Party saw a bounce in support and surpassed the Conservative Party as the most popular party in Canada.[50] However, in the months and years to come the party's support gradually fell.[51] Dion's own popularity lagged considerably behind that of Prime Minister Harper's, and he often trailed NDP leader Jack Layton in opinion polls when Canadians were asked who would make the best Prime Minister.[51][52]

Throughout the campaign Ignatieff, Rae, Dion and Kennedy were considered to be the only candidates with enough support to be able to win the leadership, with Ignatieff and Rae being considered the two front-runners.[45][46] However polling showed Ignatieff had little room to grow his support, while Dion was the second and third choice among a plurality of delegates.[47] At the leadership convention Ignatieff came out on top on the first ballot with 29.3 percent, followed by Rae with 20.3 percent, Dion with 17.8 percent, Kennedy with 17.7 percent, Dryden with 4.9 percent, Brison with 3.9 percent, Volpe with 3.2 percent and Hall Findlay with 2.7 percent. Brison and Volpe voluntarily dropped out before the second ballot while Hall Findlay was eliminated. Dryden was eliminated after the second ballot and while the order of the other candidates remained the same the gap between Dion and Kennedy grew. In what was believed to be a pre-arranged agreement Kennedy dropped off after the second ballot and threw his support behind Dion.[48] With Kennedy's support Dion was able to leapfrog both Rae and Ignatieff on the third ballot, eliminating Rae. On the fourth and final ballot Dion defeated Ignatieff to become leader of the Liberal Party.[49]

The leadership election was set for December 2, 2006, in Montreal; however, a number of prominent members such as; John Manley, Frank McKenna, Brian Tobin and Allan Rock, had already announced they would not enter the race to succeed Martin.[44] Throughout the campaign 12 candidates came forward to lead the party, but by the time of the leadership convention only eight people remained in the race; Martha Hall Findlay, Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff, Gerard Kennedy, Bob Rae, Scott Brison, Ken Dryden, Joe Volpe.

After their election defeat Martin chose not to take on the office of Leader of the Opposition. He stepped down as parliamentary leader of his party on February 1, and the Liberal caucus appointed Bill Graham, MP for Toronto Centre and outgoing Defence Minister, as his interim successor.[42] Martin officially resigned as leader in March, with Graham taking over on an interim basis. The date for the leadership convention was decided by the party executive in April.[43]

Stéphane Dion makes a speech on October 10, 2008 in Brampton West. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was among notable Liberals at this rally; this was his first time campaigning for anyone since retirement.

2006 Convention and Dion

On May 11, 2006, Montreal's La Presse reported that the Government of Canada would 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.[41]

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 did not win a plurality.

The Liberal campaign was dogged from start to finish by the sponsorship scandal, which was brought up by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) criminal investigation into the leak of the income trust announcement. Numerous gaffes, contrasting with a smoothly run Conservative campaign, put Liberals 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 high Liberal returns in recent years.

Liberal Party logo, 2004–2009

In November, the Liberals dropped in polls following the release of the first Gomery Report. Nonetheless, 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. Because of the Christmas holiday, Martin advised Governor General Michaëlle Jean to dissolve Parliament and call an election for January 2006.

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 crossed the floor from the PC Party in 1990) and Pat O'Brien—left the party for reasons other than the scandal. Belinda Stronach, who crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals, gave Martin the number of votes needed, although barely, 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.

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.

Paul Martin 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 make inroads into Quebec and Western Canada, two regions of Canada where the Liberals had not attracted much support since the 1980s and 1990s, respectively. While his cabinet choices provoked some controversy over excluding many Chrétien supporters, it at first did little to hurt his popularity.

Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada (2003-2006)

Martin succeeds Chrétien

Several trends started in 2003 which suggested the end of the Liberal Party's political dominance. Notably, there would be a high turnover of permanent party leaders, in contrast to their predecessors who usually served over two or more elections, particularly Trudeau and Chrétien who each led for over a decade.[38] The Liberals were also hampered by their inability to raise campaign money competitively after Chrétien passed a bill in 2003 which banned corporate donations, even though the Liberals had enjoyed by far the lion's share of this funding because of the then-divided opposition parties. It has been suggested that Chrétien, who had done nothing about election financing for his 10 years in office, could be seen as the idealist as he retired, while his rival and successor Paul Martin would have the burden of having to fight an election under the strict new rules.[39] Simon Fraser University professor Doug McArthur has noted that Martin's leadership campaign used aggressive tactics for the 2003 leadership convention, in attempting to end the contest before it could start by giving the impression that his bid was too strong for any other candidate to beat. McArthur blamed Martin's tactics for the ongoing sag in Liberal fortunes, as it discouraged activists who were not on side.[40]

Into the 21st century

After a proposal for Quebec independence was narrowly defeated in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the Liberals passed the "Clarity Act", which outlines the federal government's preconditions for negotiating provincial independence.[33] In Chrétien's final days, he supported same-sex marriage and decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana.[34][35] Chrétien displeased the United States government when he pledged on March 17, 2003, that Canada would not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[36] A poll released shortly after showed widespread approval of Chrétien's decision by the Canadian public. The poll, which was conducted by EKOS for the Toronto Star and La Presse, found 71 percent of those questioned approved of the government's decision to not enter the United States-led invasion, with 27 percent expressing disapproval.[37]

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 had supported the Charlottetown Accord while in opposition, but in power opposed 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.

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 fiscally conservative and socially liberal voters 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. The Liberals were assured of at least a minority government once the Ontario results came in, but it was not clear until later in the night that they would retain their majority. In 2000, the Liberals won all but three seats in Ontario.

Liberal Party logo, 1992–2004

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 because of 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.

Ontario and Quebec combine for a majority of seats in the House of Commons by virtue of Ontario's current population and Quebec's historic population (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.

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 Progressive Conservatives 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 conservative for most Canadians. It only won one seat east of Manitoba in an election (but gained another in a floor-crossing). Even when Reform restructured into the Canadian Alliance, the party was virtually non-existent east of Manitoba, winning only 66 seats in 2000. 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 sovereigntist Bloc Québécois, while the Tories' Ontario support largely moved to the Liberals. The PCs would never be a major force in Canadian politics again; while they rebounded to 20 seats in the next election, they won only two seats west of Quebec in the next decade.

Turner announced that he would resign as leader of the Liberal Party on May 3, 1989. The Liberal Party set a leadership convention for June 23, 1990, in Calgary. Five candidates contested the leadership of the party and former Deputy Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who had served in every Liberal cabinet since 1965, won on the first ballot.[32] Chrétien's Liberals campaigned in the 1993 election on the promise of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and eliminating the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Just after the writ was dropped for the election, they issued the Red Book, an integrated and coherent approach to economic, social, environmental and foreign policy. This was unprecedented for a Canadian party.[21] 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 Progressive Conservatives were cut down to only two seats, suffering a defeat even more severe than the one they had handed the Liberals nine years earlier. The Liberals were re-elected with a considerably reduced majority in 1997, but nearly tied their 1993 total in 2000.

Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada (1993-2003)

Liberals under Chrétien

The 1988 election was notable for Turner's strong opposition to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement negotiated by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.[21] Although most Canadians voted for parties opposed to free trade, the Tories were returned with a majority government, and implemented the deal. The Liberals recovered from their near-meltdown of 1984, however, winning 83 seats and ending much of the talk of being eclipsed by the NDP, who won 43 seats.[21]

The party began a long process of reconstruction.[21] 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. Also, despite public and backroom attempts to remove Turner as leader, he managed to consolidate his leadership at the 1986 review.

Trudeau stepped down as Prime Minister and party leader in 1984, as the Liberals were slipping in polls. At that year's leadership convention, Turner defeated Chrétien on the second ballot to become Prime Minister.[22] Immediately, upon taking office, Turner called a snap election, citing favourable internal polls. However, the party was hurt by numerous patronage appointments, many of which Turner had made supposedly in return for Trudeau retiring early. Also, they were unpopular in their traditional stronghold of Quebec because of the constitution repatriation which excluded that province. 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. The 95-seat loss was the worst defeat in the party's history, and the worst defeat at the time for a governing party at the federal level. What was more, the New Democratic Party, successor to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, won only ten fewer seats than the Liberals, and some thought that the NDP under Ed Broadbent would push the Liberals to third-party status.[22]

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.

Post-Trudeau party in opposition

Trudeau-era wordmark and logo

From the fiscal years 1976 to 1985 the government ran not only an overall deficit, but an operating deficit. The overall deficit throughout the latter phase never fell below 3 percent of GDP; it averaged 5.6 percent. In the final year of Liberal rule, 1984–85, total spending exceeded revenues by more than 50 percent. The deficit that year, at $38.5 billion, was equal to nearly 9 percent of GDP. Interest payments alone were now enough to consume nearly one-third of all revenues dollar. With interest costs compounding at a rate of 13 percent per year, the debt doubled every three or four years.

The other primary legacy of the Trudeau years has been financial. Net federal debt in fiscal 1968, just before Trudeau became Prime Minister, was about $18 billion, or 26 percent of gross domestic product; by his final year in office, it had ballooned to $206 billion—at 46 percent of GDP, nearly twice as large relative to the economy.

The most lasting effect of the Trudeau years has been the patriation of the Canadian constitution and the creation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[22] Trudeau Liberals support the concept of a strong, central government, and fought Quebec separatism, other forms of Quebec nationalism, and the granting of "distinct society" status to Quebec. Such actions, however, served as rallying cries for sovereigntists and alienated many Francophone Quebeckers.

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.[22] 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.

The Liberal Party under Trudeau promoted official bilingualism and passed the Official Languages Act, which gave the French and English languages equal status in Canada.[21] Trudeau hoped that the promotion of bilingualism would cement Quebec's place in confederation, and counter growing calls for an independent Quebec. The party hoped the policy would transform Canada into a country where English and French Canadians could live together, and allow Canadians to move to any part of the country without having to lose their language. Although this vision has yet to fully materialize, official bilingualism has helped to halt the decline of the French language outside of Quebec, and to ensure that all federal government services (including radio and television services provided by the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada) are available in both languages throughout the country.[22]

Under Pierre Trudeau, the mission of a progressive social policy evolved into the goal of creating a "just society".[22]

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (1968-1979, 1980-1984)

Pierre Trudeau

Lester B. Pearson was easily elected Liberal leader at the party's 1958 leadership convention. However, only months after becoming Liberal leader, Pearson led the party into the 1958 federal election that saw Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives win the largest majority government, by percentage of seats, in Canadian history.[29] The Progressive Conservatives won 206 of the 265 seats in the House of Commons, while the Liberals were reduced to just 48 seats. Pearson remained Liberal leader during this time and in the 1962 election managed to reduce Diefenbaker to a minority government. In the 1963 election Pearson led the Liberal Party back to victory, forming a minority government. Pearson served as Prime Minister for five years, winning a second election in 1965. While Pearson's leadership was considered poor and the Liberal Party never held a majority of the seats in parliament during his premiership, he left office in 1968 with an impressive legacy.[30] Pearson's government introduced universal health care, a new immigration act, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, the Canada Assistance Plan, and adopted the Maple Leaf as Canada's national flag.[31]

Louis St. Laurent succeeded King as Liberal leader and Prime Minister on November 15, 1948. In the 1949, and 1953, federal elections, St. Laurent led the Liberal Party to two large majority governments. As Prime Minister he oversaw the joining of Newfoundland in Confederation as Canada's tenth province, he established equalization payments to the provinces, and continued with social reform with improvements in pensions and health insurance. In 1956, Canada played an important role in resolving the Suez Crisis, and contributed to the United Nation force in the Korean War. Canada enjoyed economic prosperity during St. Laurent's premiership and wartime debts were paid off. The Pipeline Debate proved the Liberal Party's undoing. Their attempt to pass legislation to build a natural gas pipeline from Alberta to central Canada was met with fierce disagreement in the House of Commons. In 1957, John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives won a minority government and St. Laurent resigned as Prime Minister and Liberal leader.[28]

In the period just before and after the Second World War, the party became a champion of 'progressive social policy'.[22] 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.

Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada (1963-1968)

Liberals and the social safety net

The Liberals also promoted the idea of Canada being responsible for its own foreign and defence policy. Initially, it was Britain which determined external affairs for the dominion. In 1905, Laurier created the Department of External Affairs, and in 1909 he advised Governor General Earl Grey to appoint the first Secretary of State for External Affairs to Cabinet. It was also Laurier who first proposed the creation of a Canadian Navy in 1910. Mackenzie King recommended the appointment by Governor General Lord Byng of Vincent Massey as the first Canadian ambassador to Washington in 1926, marking the Liberal government's insistence on having direct relations with the United States, rather than having Britain act on Canada's behalf.

Under Laurier, and his successor William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Liberals promoted Canadian sovereignty and greater independence within the British Commonwealth. In Imperial Conferences held throughout the 1920s, Canadian Liberal governments often took the lead in arguing that the United Kingdom 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.

Louis St. Laurent, Prime Minister of Canada (1948-1957) with Mackenzie King

Canadian sovereignty


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