Liberal Party of Canada
Parti libéral du Canada
|Founded||July 1, 1867|
|Headquarters||81 Metcalfe St,
|International affiliation||Liberal International|
|Seats in the House of Commons||77/308|
|Seats in the Senate||53/105|
The Liberal Party of Canada (French: Parti libéral du Canada), colloquially known as the Grits, is a major political party in Canada. The party lies between the centre-left and centre of the Canadian political spectrum. The party has been the Official Opposition in the Parliament of Canada since the 2006 federal election. The Liberal 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.
The Liberals are descended from the mid-19th century Reformers who agitated for responsible government throughout British North America. These included George Brown, 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.
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. Alexander Mackenzie was able to lead the party to power in 1873 after the Macdonald government lost a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons because of the Pacific Scandal. Mackenzie subsequently won the 1874 election, but lost the government to Macdonald in 1878. They spent the next 18 years in opposition.
In their early history, the Liberals were the party of continentalism (free trade with the United States), 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 Quebecers because of the perceived role of Conservative governments in the execution of Louis Riel, and their role in the Conscription crisis of 1917.
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' apparent 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 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 unpopular 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 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.
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.
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).
Under Pierre Trudeau, the mission of a progressive social policy evolved into the goal of creating a "just society".
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.
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. 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 & alienated many francophone Quebecers
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 per cent of gross domestic product; by his final year in office, it had ballooned to $206-billion– at 46 per cent of GDP, nearly twice as large relative to the economy.
From fiscal 1976 to fiscal 1985: ten straight years in which the government ran not only an overall deficit, but an operating deficit. The overall deficit throughout this later phase never fell below 3 per cent of GDP; it averaged 5.6 per cent. In the final year of Liberal rule, 1984-85, total spending exceeded revenues by more than 50 per cent. The deficit that year, at $38.5-billion, was equal to nearly 9 per cent of GDP. Interest payments alone were now enough to consume nearly one-third of every revenue dollar. With interest costs compounding at a rate of 13 per cent per year, and the debt doubling every three or four years, that ratio could only grow.
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.
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. Immediately, upon taking office, Turner called a snap election, citing favourable internal polls. However, 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 due to 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 CCF, won only ten less seats than the Liberals, and some thought that the NDP under Ed Broadbent 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. Also, despite public and backroom attempts to remove Turner as leader, he managed to consolidate his leadership at the 1986 review.
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. 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.
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 in every Liberal cabinet since 1965. 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, 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 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.
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 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 nonexistent 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.
Ontario and Quebec combine for a majority of seats in the House of Commons by virtue of their 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.
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 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.
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.
After a proposal for Quebec independence was narrowly defeated in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the Liberals passed the "Clarity Act" Clarity Act which outlines the federal government's preconditions for negotiating provincial independence. In Chrétien's final days, he supported same-sex marriage in Canada as well as decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana. Chrétien displeased the United States government when he pledged on March 17, 2003 that Canada would not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Polling released a month later showed the decision was largely popular, with 62% in favour of the Prime Minister's decision, and 35% opposed. Later polls would increase that margin of support.
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 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 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.
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. 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 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.
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.
Bill Graham was appointed interim party and parliamentary leader and the process to select a new party leader began. An unusually large number of prominent members such as Frank McKenna, Brian Tobin, Allan Rock and Belinda Stronach declined to run, yet at the same time many new faces stepped forward. There were eight people running for the leadership of the Liberal Party at the time of the convention:
The Liberal Party reportedly felt they could quickly regain power, so they accelerated the leadership selection process. While there were some predictions the party's National Executive would call the convention for as late as March 2007, it instead decided to announce the convention for the first weekend of December 2006.
On December 2 in Montreal, the Liberals voted for their new party leader. The first ballot results had Michael Ignatieff leading the pack with 30% of the delegates, Bob Rae second with 20%, and Stéphane Dion and Gerard Kennedy in third and fourth respectively with 16% of the votes each. The remaining contenders gathered less than 5% of the first ballot vote and Martha Hall Findlay was eliminated as she came in last on the first ballot, she endorsed Stéphane Dion for leader before voting began for the second ballot the next morning. Before voting began for the second ballot, Scott Brison and Joe Volpe voluntarily dropped out of the race, and both endorsed Bob Rae. The second ballot results showed Ignatieff again leading the way, with Rae in second, Dion in third, Kennedy in fourth, and Dryden in fifth. Dryden was thus eliminated, and he endorsed Bob Rae as well. Kennedy dropped out of the race and endorsed Stéphane Dion. Thus the third ballot came down to only Ignatieff, Rae and Dion. Dion jumped to first on the third ballot with Ignatieff and Rae falling to second and third respectively. Rae was eliminated, and Dion was elected leader over Ignatieff on the fourth ballot.
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.
On September 28, 2007, party national director Jamie Carroll, was criticized for comments he allegedly made in response to a suggestion that the Liberals should hire more francophone Quebecers to appeal to francophone voters. According to some persons present at a private meeting, Carroll said "Do we also have to hire people from the Chinese community to represent the Chinese community?". He later indicated that a statement he made was taken out of context. Several Quebec MPs and the president of the party's Quebec wing said that Carroll was quoted correctly, with Pablo Rodriguez and Liza Frulla demanding that he be fired. Dion affirmed Carroll's version of events, and rejected calls for his dismissal. Carroll initially threatened to sue for defamation and demand 12 to 18 months of severance, though Dion later had him quietly reassigned to another position.
British Columbia MP Blair Wilson was resigned from caucus and the shadow cabinet, after the Vancouver Province charged that he was involved in unlawful off-the-books cash spending, and that his private businesses had numerous discrepancies and unpaid debts. Wilson, who is being investigated, has denied the allegations.
In the present times, the Liberal party has favoured a variety of policies from both right and left of the political spectrum. When it formed the government from 1993 to 2006, it was a strong champion of balanced budgets, and eliminated the 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 GST in the party's famous Red Book. It also legalized same-sex marriage and the use of cannabis for medical purposes. The party generally holds liberal views on various other social issues like abortion.
During the 2006 election the Liberal party's platform included an
Current governments and premiers:
Current official oppositions and leaders:
Third party status and leaders:
Not represented provincially and leader:
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, the provincial party severed formal ties with the federal party and tends to maintain neutrality in federal politics. In the 6 other provinces and one territory, the provincial parties are direct organizational affiliates with their federal counterpart.
The Quebec Liberal Party was long affiliated with the federal Liberals since Confederation. In the 1940s, the party's fortunes were aided and hindered by close association with the federal Grits over the issue of conscription, winning the 1939 election but losing in 1944. The provincial party, serving a long spell in opposition, partially due to the conscription fallout, formally severed ties in 1955. Since then, relations have been tense between the federal and provincial parties, as exemplified by Pierre Trudeau and Robert Bourassa's arguments over Quebec nationalism.
Some in the Alberta Liberal Party feel it has suffered as a result of federal Liberal policies unpopular in Western Canada, such as the National Energy Program and official bilingualism. The British Columbia Liberal Party ended its own ties with the federal party in 1987.
The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have non-partisan legislatures. Historically the Northwest Territories had political parties between 1898 and 1905. In 1905 the bulk of the populated parts were formed into the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. the Northwest Territories Liberal Party formed the opposition for two elections before 1905.
| % of
|1949||262||259||190||+65||2,878,097||49.2%||Majority gov't||St. Laurent|
|1953||265||263||171||-19||2,743,013||48.6%||Majority gov't||St. Laurent|
|1957||265||265||105||-66||2,703,687||40.9%||PC minority||St. Laurent|
* In 1917, some Liberals ran under the Unionist banner, figures only count those who ran as "Laurier Liberals"
* 1949-1968 includes one Liberal-Labour MP who sat with Liberal caucus.
|Picture||Name||Term start||Term end||Date of Birth||Date of Death||Notes|
|George Brown||1861||1867||29 November 1818||10 May 1880||First Leader
|Edward Blake||1869||1870||13 October 1833||1 March 1912||(Interim)|
|Alexander Mackenzie||1873||1880||28 January 1822||17 April 1892||2nd Prime Minister|
|Edward Blake||1880||1887||13 October 1833||1 March 1912|
|Wilfrid Laurier||1887||1919||20 November 1841||17 February 1919||7th Prime Minister|
|William Lyon Mackenzie King||1919||1948||17 December 1874||22 July 1950||10th Prime Minister|
|Louis St. Laurent||1948||1958||1 February 1882||25 July 1973||12th Prime Minister|
|Lester B. Pearson||1958||1968||23 April 1897||27 December 1972||14th Prime Minister|
|Pierre Trudeau||1968||1984||18 October 1919||28 September 2000||15th Prime MInister|
|John Turner||1984||1990||7 June 1929||living||17th Prime Minister|
|Herb Gray||1990||25 May 1931||living||(Interim)|
|Jean Chrétien||1990||2003||11 January 1934||living||20th Prime Minister|
|Paul Martin||2003||2006||28 August 1938||living||21st Prime Minister|
|Bill Graham||2006||17 March 1939||living||(Interim)|
|Stéphane Dion||2006||2008||28 September 1955||living|
|Michael Ignatieff||20081||present||12 May 1947||living|
1Interim leader from December 10, 2008 until May 2, 2009 when ratified as permanent leader.
The Liberal Party of Canada (french: Parti Libéral du Canada) is a political party in Canada. The party is considered to be on the centre-left. The party is the Official Opposition since 2006, after it lost the government to the Conservative Party of Canada.
The current party leader is Michael Ignatieff.