History of the Liberal Party of Canada
The origin of Canadian political parties can be traced to the early days of the
English and French colonies of Upper and Lower Canada. The American Revolution
had seen the influx into Canada of a substantial number of United Empire
Loyalists. Settling largely in what is now Ontario (Upper Canada) and in parts
of Atlantic Canada, the majority of the Loyalists believed in the need for a
governing class. This class was comprised of the chief families as well as
business and professional elite in the colonies and formed a closely-knit group
around the British Governor. Like their counterparts in England, those who
followed this belief became known as Tories.
The ancestors of the modern Liberal Party contended that freeborn
Englishmen did not lose any of their rights by crossing the Atlantic. They
believed that the real objective of government in the colonies should be the
welfare and advantage of the settlers themselves.
Following the War of 1812 there was increased demand for self-government
in what was to become Canada. The American Revolution had established a
definitive precedent for revolt that the colonists chose to reject in favour of
a more gradual process of change.
Those who opposed the ruling class theory – The Reformers (Liberals) –
were much less organized than the Tories who were already in power. In Lower
Canada, the Reformers were led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, and in Upper Canada by
William Lyon Mackenzie.
There had been considerable agitation for reform throughout the sparsely
settled regions of Upper Canada. In Lower Canada, similar outcries for reform
had led to the election of an Assembly dominated by Reformers led by Papineau.
There was a steady correspondence among the Reformers in the various regions.
Mackenzie and Papineau and their followers in Upper and Lower Canada were
consciously working for the same ends in close alliance.
The Reformers were opposed to the special privileges of the ruling
oligarchies in Upper and Lower Canada known respectively as the “Family
Compact” and the “Château Clique”. The “Château Clique” was an elite who
governed with disregard for and usually in opposition to the wishes of the
majority. In Upper Canada, its equivalent, the “Family Compact” was equally
tyrannical. The Reformers realized, however, that the only effective way to
redress grievances and destroy special privileges was, as William Lyon
Mackenzie put it in 1835, to establish “the British constitutional system, by
which the head of the government is obliged to choose his councilors and
principal officers from men possessing the confidence of the popular branch of
the legislature”. The Reformers saw responsible government as the means to root
out special privilege and give equal rights to all.
Frustration with the seeming impossibility of reform led the reformers to
resort to arms in the Rebellion of 1837. Although the rebellion was small, and
quickly failed, it demonstrated the reformers determination and the fact that
the need for reform was great.
After the Act of Union
In 1838, the British dispatched Lord Durham as governor with authority to
restore order, to inquire into the causes of the rebellion, and to suggest
measures for the future. The result of his mission was the presentation of the
Durham Report, which is considered to be one of the greatest constitutional
documents in British colonial history. His two major recommendations were the
union of Upper and Lower Canada and the immediate grant of responsible
In 1841, the Act of Union combined Upper and Lower Canada and established
a single legislative unit to be called Canada. The Act provided for a governor,
a legislative council, appointed for life by the Crown (this was changed in
1856, by making the members submit to election for an eight-year term), and an
elected legislative assembly of 84 members, each of the two former colonies
being given 42 members.
The issue of responsible government, however, was not settled until the
general election of January 1848. Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte
Lafontaine, the leaders of the Canadian Reformers realized that responsible
government would not become a reality unless they secured the support of a
majority of the members of the legislature in both of the former colonies. In
1848, seven years after Upper and Lower Canada were formed into a legislative
union, the voters went to the polls and elected a majority of Reformers.
Lafontaine and Baldwin were entrusted with the task of forming the first
cabinet. This dual French and English speaking leadership was symbolic not only
of the union of Ontario and Quebec, but was to be a basic policy of the Liberal
Party down through the years.
Responsible government implies well-organized parties because its
efficient functioning depends upon a party being able to maintain a stable
majority in a representative assembly. The Lafontaine-Baldwin coalition did not
quite become a party in their day, and it disbanded quickly when they retired
in 1851. Nevertheless, it is one of the great achievements in Canadian
political history. It was the beginning of organized party government. The
Lafontaine-Baldwin coalition was also the first example of what has become the
most striking and distinctive feature of Canadian politics – the biracial party
which overcomes differences between French and English and brings them together
inside one party to conduct a government on principles on which they can agree.
In the years following the adoption of responsible government (1848),
there occurred a gradual restructuring of the political parties. In 1854, a
Liberal-Conservative coalition was formed in order to ensure a majority. This
coalition gradually solidified into a party under the skillful leadership of
John A. Macdonald and Georges-Etienne Cartier.
In opposition to the Liberal-Conservative government of the 1850s, there
emerged two groups: The Grits of Upper Canada, headed by George Brown, the
powerful editor of The Globe, and the Rouges of Lower Canada.
They combined briefly but never quite coalesced into a real party before
1867. Taking in allies from the Maritime provinces after Confederation, they
were to become the Reform or Liberal Party of Mackenzie, Blake and Laurier.
Confederation was brought about, as far as the province of Canada was
concerned, by a coalition of the Macdonald-Cartier Conservatives with Brown’s
Grits. The Rouges group refused to join the movement. Before July 1, 1867,
Brown had led most of his followers out of the coalition. Macdonald formed the
first federal government by constructing a cabinet out of his own Conservative
allies whom he had found in the Maritimes and a few Upper Canada Grits. There
were a few years of party confusion; but gradually a pattern of party
alignments emerged and by the time of the second election in 1872, a straight
party fight took place between a Conservative government and a Reform or
The Liberals – Alexander Mackenzie
The Conservatives dominated the political scene from the time of
Confederation until 1896, with the exception of the years 1873 to 1878.
In November 1873, Macdonald was forced to resign because of the Pacific
Scandal and an election was called for the following year. In the election of
1874, the Liberals won 133 seats, the Conservatives 73. For the next four
years, Canada had a Liberal government under Prime Minister Alexander
Mackenzie. During these years, the Liberals carried out many reforms. Some of
the more notable were the replacement of open voting by secret ballot, the
confinement of elections to a single day, the creation of the Supreme Court of
Canada, and the establishment of Hansard, the public record of the House of
Commons Debates. Despite these reforms, the Liberal Party under Mackenzie was
unable to achieve a solid popular base of support in any province except
Ontario, and in 1878, the government was badly defeated in the general
election. The Conservatives won 137 seats, the Liberals 69.
In 1880, Edward Blake, a great parliamentarian but a man whose leadership
was not extremely successful, succeeded Alexander Mackenzie as leader of the
Liberal Party. On the retirement of Blake, the Liberal members of Parliament
elected Wilfrid Laurier national leader of the Liberals. The choice of Laurier
to succeed Blake was a clear demonstration that the Liberal Party accepted the
equal partnership of the English and French in Canada. From the time of his
election as leader, Laurier began to preach the ideal of national unity. Until
his death in 1919, Laurier spent a total of almost 45 years in the House of
Commons, 15 of them as Prime Minister of Canada.
The Laurier Years
Wilfrid Laurier has been called the architect of modern Liberalism. In
Quebec City, in 1877 – 10 years before he became leader – he defined
“The principle of Liberalism resides in the essence of our nature itself,
in this thirst for happiness we bring with us in life, which follows us
everywhere, but which however, is never completely quenched this side of
Heaven. We gravitate incessantly towards an ideal that we never reach. No
sooner have we reached the point we are aiming at, that we discover new
horizons whose existence we never even suspected. We dash towards them, and
those new horizons, explored in their turn; we discover others to which we are
carried away, on and on, further always. Thus will it be as long as man is what
he is; as long as a soul immortal sits in a mortal body; his desires will
always spread wider than his means, his actions will never reach the level of
During the late 1880s, the Liberal Party made steady advances in the
provinces, and in 1891, the Liberals held office in every province except
British Columbia. Although they did not win the federal election that year,
winning 92 seats to the Conservatives’ 123, they had made impressive gains. In
1893, Laurier called the first National Convention of the Liberal Party of
Canada. Some 2,500 delegates from across Canada met in Ottawa. This was the
first time that Liberals from all parts of the country joined together in
working out policy. Evidence of the new Canadian national consciousness
permeated the Convention and delegates returned home to build up a truly
national political party pledged to reconcile provincial autonomy and national
unity, to uphold civil and religious freedom, and to build a self-governing
Canadian nation in which all the elements would be harmonized without losing
their own distinctive character. The crisis resulting from the execution of
Louis Riel in 1885 marked the beginning of the disintegration of Macdonald’s
regime. The old French-English bitterness flared up again. After Laurier’s
Liberals defeated the Conservatives in 1896 (the Liberals won 117 seats and the
Conservatives won 89), they drew into their party many of the Bleus, the
moderate Conservatives of Quebec. In this way, they received substantial
support in Quebec, making the Liberal Party the party of French-English
cooperation, just as Macdonald’s Conservatives had been.
Laurier’s Liberal government embarked upon an ambitious development
policy based on immigration and railway building. The rapid expansion of
Western agriculture, based largely on wheat, stimulated and largely created a
national economy in Canada for the first time. The development of the West
created an expanding market for Eastern industry. The growth of modern industry
in turn brought new difficulties of industrial relations and social welfare. In
1900, the Liberal government established a Department of Labour to handle
problems created by the growth of large-scale urban industry.
Defeat by Robert Borden
The first period of Liberal reform continued until 1911. The combination
of Laurier’s Naval Bill, which Quebec Nationalists denounced, and his
acceptance of the United States’ offer of a limited measure of reciprocity in
trade, which the Conservatives attacked, provided the basis for the
Conservative-Nationalist alliance. After the general election in 1911, the
Liberal Party once again found itself in Opposition; 132 Conservatives and 86
Liberals were elected.
Sir Robert Borden became Prime Minister and was in office when World War
I broke out. Wilfrid Laurier’s efforts to keep English and French working
together were thwarted by a new cause of cleavage between the two groups: the
question of Canada’s relations with the Empire. Beginning with the Boer War in
1899, the two groups took opposite sides on the issue; and when the strain of
World War I made itself felt, they divided in the bitter quarrel over
By 1917, the conscription question had become a crisis. Borden was
convinced that conscription was necessary but did not believe a one-party
government could apply it successfully. He invited Laurier to join in a
coalition to impose conscription and when Laurier refused, he entered into
negotiations with the leading English-speaking Liberals. One after another,
they left Laurier and either joined the Union government or gave it their
support. When the election came in December 1917, William Lyon Mackenzie King
was almost the only English-speaking privy councilor that remained at Laurier’s
side and he went down to defeat. Not a single French-Canadian from the province
of Quebec had been elected to support the Union government and Laurier had only
a handful of followers from outside Quebec. Sixty-two of the 82 Liberal members
were from Quebec and, of the rest; almost half were elected in constituencies
with a substantial French-speaking population.
On February 16, 1919, Wilfrid Laurier died.
Six months later at the Liberal Party’s second National Convention in
Ottawa, William Lyon Mackenzie King was chosen leader. The Convention again
adopted resolutions formulating a progressive new program for Canada designed
to strengthen a country weakened by the prewar depression and shattered by the
impact of war with its resulting inflation and economic dislocation.
The cooperation of the French-speaking Liberals at the Convention, and
the choice of an English-speaking leader demonstrated that the French-speaking
Liberals were resolved to restore the Liberal Party on the basis of racial
harmony and national unity.
In 1921, the Liberals with Mackenzie King as their leader were returned
to power but the face of the House of Commons was radically altered. The
Liberals with 116 seats were one seat short of a majority, and over half of its
members were from Quebec – all 65 seats in that province had returned Liberals.
The Conservatives had only 50 seats; and 65 seats went to the Progressives, a
group of farmers elected in protest against Ottawa’s agricultural policies.
In the next four years, Mackenzie King pursued policies such as support
for the Canadian National Railway and its branch lines, and the restoration of
the Crow’s Nest Pass rates on grain that were highly acceptable to farmers. But
on the issue of tariff reduction, he did not act quickly enough. As a result,
in the 1925 general election, the Liberals and Progressives split the vote in
the West and the Conservatives gained. The Conservatives won 116 seats, the
Liberals 101 and the Progressives 24. However, the Progressives supported
Mackenzie King and he was able to continue as Prime Minister.
In June 1926, Governor General Lord Byng refused to grant Mackenzie King
dissolution of Parliament, although his minority government was defeated in the
House of Commons. Byng asked Conservative leader Arthur Meighen to form the
government, but he was unable to gain support in the House. Another election
was held in September 1926.
In the interval, an agreement was reached between many Liberal and
Progressive candidates in Manitoba and Ontario whereby Liberal-Progressive
candidates who pledged to support the Liberal government were nominated
jointly. This alliance and the strength of Liberal organization in Saskatchewan
resulted in the restoration of the Liberal Party to its position as a truly
national party. The Liberals won 116 seats, the Conservatives 91, and Mackenzie
King was able to govern with the support of the allied minor parties.
The King Years
The 1920s were a period of growth and development in Canada. Together
with his Quebec lieutenant Ernest Lapointe, Mackenzie King strove to add a new
dimension to the achievements of Liberalism. Recognizing the political and
social needs of the new urban industrial society that had developed rapidly in
Canada under the impetus of World War I, he persuaded the Liberal Party to
endorse a progressive policy of social reform.
With regard to Canada’s position internationally, Mackenzie King believed
in the conversion of the British Empire into a Commonwealth of equal nations,
freely associated but without centralized institutions. After prolonged
resistance, this concept was finally accepted as the constitutional basis of
the new British Commonwealth of Nations at the Imperial Conference of 1926.
Defeat by Bennett, then Victory
After the boom years of 1927 and 1928, the impact of the Great Depression
in 1929 shook all of Canada and left the Liberal government uncertain as to how
to survive the social and economic upheaval. In the summer of 1930, the
Conservative Party under the leadership of R.B. Bennett defeated the Liberal
government. The Conservatives elected 137 members and the Liberals 88. The
Tories, however, were not capable of remedying the economic disturbance and
were blamed by the people for failing to stop the disastrous decline in the
standard of living and for the loss of confidence and hope which marked the
years 1930-35. In the election of 1935, Mackenzie King was returned to power
with 171 members.
After 1935, Mackenzie King and his colleagues were faced with the threat
of another world war and the possibility that Canadian unity might again be in
jeopardy. Liberals were divided about the best means of avoiding the
catastrophe of war, but were united in the desire to prevent it.
The Post-War Period
The war affected the organization as well as the thinking of the Liberal
Party. After the election of March 1940, the Party organization was dismantled
until the summer of 1943, when victory in the war seemed assured. At this time,
Mackenzie King concentrated activity on the preparation of a post-war program.
To crystallize thinking and to formulate a far-reaching program,
Mackenzie King called upon the National Liberal Federation to arrange a meeting
of its advisory council in 1943. This meeting considered and debated policies
for Canada that Liberals felt would have to be adopted if the country were to
continue to grow and prosper after the war.
Mackenzie King and his government accepted the recommendations of the
council and in the Speech from the Throne opening the session of Parliament in
January 1944, virtually the whole post-war program was set out in the
government’s legislative intentions. This included a new monetary policy, an
extensive social security program, a generous and comprehensive
re¬establishment plan for the benefit of servicemen, the establishment of the
Industrial Development Bank to provide credit for small business, and such
measures as the National Housing Act and the Farm Improvement Loans Act. This
was the program which, supported by the people of Canada, gave Mackenzie King
his sixth victory at the polls in 1945. The electorate voted in 125 Liberals
and 67 Progressive Conservatives.
One more element essential to this Liberal victory in a society obsessed
by memories of the Great Depression was a promise of full employment. This
Mackenzie King was reluctant to give until he was assured that it was a
politically and economically feasible objective in peacetime. He recognized
that full employment necessitated the expansion of trade. Although a post-war
slump had been widely anticipated, it did not materialize. It became evident
that a shortage of manpower was more likely to develop than a surplus. In 1947,
the Liberal government embarked upon an immigration program that contributed to
the greatest increase in Canada’s population in any decade in our history.
The St. Laurent Years
In January of 1948, Mackenzie King, in his 29th year as leader of the
Liberal Party, announced his intention to retire from the Party leadership. A
call was issued for a National Convention to meet in Ottawa in August. Louis
St. Laurent was chosen as his successor on the first ballot.
Mackenzie King had left to St. Laurent the strongest Party organization
ever known in Canada, which, despite the electoral losses of 1945, was in
perfect running order. The Liberal government under St. Laurent was to
accomplish much for Canada in the next nine years.
One of the first achievements of the St. Laurent government was the
completion of Confederation through the Union of Newfoundland with Canada in
During this period Canada became the world’s third largest trading nation
and the Canadian government took part in the creation of the General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Canada’s social security program was improved. Among the changes were:
old age pension legislation without a means test, old age assistance,
allowances for the blind, extension of health grants, enactment of the Disabled
Persons Act, and other measures.
Canada’s legal system gained complete autonomy with the replacement of
the Judicial Committee of The Privy Council in the United Kingdom by the
Supreme Court of Canada as the final court of appeal for Canadian cases,
including Constitutional cases.
In the field of international affairs, St. Laurent and Lester B. Pearson,
his newly appointed Secretary of State for External Affairs, worked in close
collaboration to secure national support for an active and constructive
Canadian participation in world affairs. Canada’s role at the United Nations,
in the establishment of NATO, in the formation of the Colombo Plan, as a member
of the International Advisory Commission in Indo-China, in the Korean conflict
and other areas made Canada one of the world’s most respected countries. At the
time of the Suez crisis, Pearson’s leadership in establishing the United
Nations Emergency Force earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace.
The St. Laurent era was also one of the greatest periods of growth in
population, in national wealth, and in personal incomes in Canadian history.
This tremendous economic development was facilitated by the encouragement of
immigration to Canada of both labour and capital on a large scale.
National development, however, was by no means confined to material
progress. One of the most imaginative initiatives of this government was the
appointment of the Royal Commission on the Arts, Letters and Sciences under the
chairmanship of Vincent Massey. The Canada Council, which provides financial
support for the arts in Canada, was established as a result of the commission’s
In the Wilderness
By 1957, the Liberals had been in office for 22 years. This fact,
combined with their haste and apparent misjudgment during the pipeline debate
led the majority of Canadian voters to support other parties.
The Conservatives had a new leader, John Diefenbaker, whose powerful
oratory and political skill was focused on the government’s age and its alleged
An election was called for June 10, 1957. Though the Liberal Party had
won 40% of the popular vote and the opposition 30%, only 105 Liberals faced 112
Conservatives in the new Parliament. 25 Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
(CCF) members and 19 Social Credit members held the balance of power in the
Conservative minority government. On June 21, 1957, John Diefenbaker became
Canada’s new Prime Minister.
The Pearson Years
In September 1957, St. Laurent announced his intention to resign from the
leadership of the Liberal Party. At the National Convention in Ottawa in
January 1958, Lester B. Pearson was chosen as his successor. The policies of
the Party were also carefully discussed and reaffirmed with a number of
significant amendments. For the first time, an Atlantic trading community was
adopted as a political objective of the Liberal Party. A vast program of
national scholarships, supplemented by national funds, to provide loans for
deserving students also became an immediate objective. In addition, the Liberal
program included establishment of a municipal loan fund and an Atlantic
provinces capital assistance fund, with special aid to the Atlantic provinces
for the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway and for trunk highway
On February 1, 1958, with the new leader barely in position, Parliament
was dissolved and the country was faced with a general election. The Liberals
suffered one of the greatest defeats in their history – they won 49 seats, from
only four of the provinces. The Conservatives won 208 seats, the largest
majority in Canadian history. The Social Credit Party did not take one seat,
while the CCF had elected only eight members.
The Climb Back to Power
Lester B. Pearson immediately committed himself to the dual task of
providing an effective Opposition and to the rebuilding of the Liberal Party
Under his leadership, the Liberals achieved three broad objectives. They
established a new direction for the Liberal Party. They brought in a new team
of competent people, such as Judy LaMarsh, who was elected to the House of
Commons in a 1961 by-election, Maurice Sauvé, Guy Favreau, Walter Gordon,
Mitchell Sharp, Charles M. Drury, Jean-Luc Pépin and John Turner to aid the
Party in the discussion and formulation of Liberal policy. And they provided
responsible opposition in Parliament proposing constructive alternate courses
The first of these objectives was most dramatically realized at the
Kingston Liberal Conference of 1960, where a new forward-looking and
challenging Liberal program, including vastly expanded welfare services, was
worked out. Academics, politicians and leaders from all fields of Canadian life
participated in the formulation of Liberal policy.
In the 1962 campaign, Pearson emphasized unemployment, mismanagement in
Ottawa and loss of international prestige, but more than any other single
issue, the question of nuclear weapons became very important. The roots of the
issue went back to 1957 when NATO decided to stockpile American nuclear weapons
for the use of its forces (including Canadian troops) in Europe. In 1958, the
Diefenbaker government decided to abandon the projected construction of the
Avro Arrow aircraft and to replace it with the Bomarc B missile which was to be
equipped with a nuclear warhead. A crisis of indecision arose when the time
came to furnish the warheads without which the Bomarc was nothing but an
expensive blank cartridge.
Badly split over the nuclear armament question, the Conservatives emerged
from the 1962 election with their power considerably reduced; dropping from 208
seats to 116 seats. The Liberal Opposition, winning 99 seats, doubled their
strength. The Social Credit and the NDP greatly increased their support with 30
and 19 seats respectively. Only the imbalance in rural representation allowed
John Diefenbaker to carry on his government in a minority position for a few
In 1962, Lester B. Pearson decided that Canada’s commitment to NATO must
be honoured, and took a stand in favour of nuclear warheads when and if
After a campaign based on the promise “Sixty Days of Decision”, the
Liberal Party emerged victorious from the April 1963 election but did not win a
majority. This was, in part, due to the unexpected rise in popularity of Réal
Caouette’s Créditiste movement, which received considerable support in Quebec.
The standings were: Liberals 129, Progressive Conservatives 95, NDP 17 and
Social Credit 24.
Pearson realized on taking office that the survival of Confederation
depended to a great extent on his success in reconciling the desires of the
French and English Canadian communities. In the fall of 1963, the government
set up the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism “to recommend
what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis
of an equal partnership between the two founding races.” Upon the
recommendation of the B and B Commission, the Liberal government began an
extensive program to promote bilingualism in the civil service.
In order to counter growing dissension and to strengthen national unity,
the Liberal government formulated the policy of co operative federalism. This
has been defined as cooperation between Ottawa and the provinces at three
levels: pre-consultation in the formulation of federal policies, collaboration
in the drafting of these policies, and coordination in their implementation. Co
operative federalism harmonized federal and provincial initiatives,
particularly in the area of social welfare legislation and shared-cost
Pearson’s decision to give Canada a new flag was perhaps the most
dramatic contribution he made to the country as Prime Minister. He was
convinced of the need for a distinctive flag to assert Canadian identity. The
long, difficult struggle over the flag issue immobilized Parliament for almost
six months in 1964. However, on February 15, 1965, the red maple leaf on its
red and white banner became the official flag of Canada.
The Search for a Majority
In September 1965, after two and a half years of minority government,
Prime Minister Pearson dissolved Parliament and sought a majority mandate. The
Conservatives claimed that the election was unnecessary, and the Canadian
people, faced with the third election in four years, agreed. Although the
Liberals were victorious in the November 8 election, and increased their
standing from 129 to 131 seats, they were again denied a majority. The Tories
won 97 seats, an increase of two seats over the previous election.
Disappointed but undeterred, the Pearson government rededicated itself to
the tasks of unity and progress; and the Party renewed its efforts to fashion a
program and a philosophy that would merit the confidence of Canadians in all
parts of the country.
It was in this spirit that the Party held its national policy conference
in October 1966. This was the first occasion a national party had held such a
policy conference while in office. It established a complete legislative
program endorsing principles as broad as accountability and universal
accessibility to education.
Although the Pearson government was accused of inaction or of maintaining
the status quo rather than moving forward, it implemented an impressive list of
reforms. A strong basic structure of social security and welfare was
established including the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the
Guaranteed Income Supplement, the Canada Assistance Plan, and the Medical Care
Act. Other significant legislative measures provided the reorganization and
unification of the Armed Forces, new manpower placement and retraining
programs, and greatly increased financial aid to the provinces.
In February 1968, the first Federal-Provincial Conference on the
Constitution was held in Ottawa. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then Minister of
Justice, introduced a Bill of Rights, to be entrenched in the British North
America Act which, if accepted, would have precedence over statutes of the
federal government and of the provincial legislatures. The Bill of Rights was
of particular importance in that it would guarantee the protection of the
language rights of French-speaking Canadians throughout Canada.
The Trudeau Years
On December 14, 1967, Lester B. Pearson announced his intention to retire
as leader of the Party. A National Leadership Convention to be held in Ottawa
was called for April 4, 5 and 6, 1968. The choice of Pierre Elliott Trudeau
marked the dawning of a new era and a new style in Canadian politics. At the
Convention, he expressed his definition of Liberalism as follows:
“Liberalism is the philosophy for our time, because it does not try to
conserve every tradition of the past, because it does not apply to new problems
the old doctrinaire solutions, because it is prepared to experiment and
innovate and because it knows that the past is less important than the future.”
On April 23, 1968, Parliament was dissolved and a general election was
called for June 25. In the ensuing campaign, Trudeau’s vision of Canada and of
the “Just Society” spread contagiously across the country. The combination of
Trudeau’s image as a man of reason and his unprecedented charismatic effect on
people swept the Liberal Party back to power with 155 seats. His concern for
social justice and his intellectual capacity captured the imagination and
admiration of the entire country. In this first general election for new Tory
leader Robert Stanfield (elected leader at the Progressive Conservative
Leadership Convention in September 1967), the Conservatives won 72 seats. The
NDP won 22 seats while the Créditistes took 14 seats.
Immediately after the election, Prime Minister Trudeau set about the
implementation of the “Just Society”. For the first time, the sophisticated
techniques of modern management became evident in government planning. New
priorities were established and old programs reviewed. A massive reorganization
of government created new departments to respond to the problems of the 1970s:
Environment, Urban Affairs, Science and Technology, and Communications.
At the same time, the Liberal Party underwent considerable
reorganization. The Party completed the most elaborate policy process in
Canadian history, beginning with a “thinkers” conference at Harrison Hot
Springs in British Columbia in 1969, and culminating in a major policy
Convention in Ottawa in November 1970. The Convention brought together
interested people from across the country and made possible a wide-ranging
exchange of views between decision makers in government and party workers and
supporters in the constituencies. Some 2,000 delegates were involved in mapping
out the Liberal Party’s goals for the 1970s.
The outstanding characteristic of Prime Minister Trudeau’s first term in
office was change and innovation. Many of these changes involved governmental
and parliamentary processes in an attempt to make them speedier, more
methodical, and less vulnerable to unexpected pressures or events.
Many other of the Prime Minister’s policies were also highly visible.
Among these were measures taken to strengthen national unity, which concerned
Mr. Trudeau deeply. Parliament approved an Official Languages Act, a policy of
Multiculturalism was developed, and the Department of Regional Economic
Expansion was established to lead the fight against regional disparities within
the country. In the pursuit of greater social justice in Canada, important
advancements were made for native peoples, for women, for those with low and
fixed incomes, and in the area of law reform.
In world affairs, the recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the
improvement in relations with the USSR, Mr. Trudeau’s instrumental role at the
1971 Commonwealth Conference in preventing the breakup of that important body,
and the extension of jurisdiction over the Arctic to control pollution,
illustrated the government’s desire that Canada play an active international
role as a mid-sized power.
Strong leadership and swift action in meeting two major crises also
highlighted the term: the FLQ threat in October 1970 and the negative impact of
the United States’ economic policies in the late fall of 1971.
In the general election of October 30, 1972, Canadians elected their
fifth minority government since 1957: Liberals 109, Progressive Conservatives
107, NDP 31 and Social Credit 15. Mr. Trudeau and his colleagues prepared to
meet Parliament to seek the confidence of the House of Commons. On January 4,
1973, in the Speech from the Throne opening the 29th Parliament, the government
outlined major initiatives in the areas of economic and social policy.
One important initiative undertaken by the Prime Minister during the 29th
Parliament was the calling of the Western Economic Opportunities Conference in
July 1973 at Calgary. This conference was the first time a Prime Minister and
Premiers from a specific region had met to focus on problems of that region. It
resulted in federal government commitments on transportation, resource
development, prairie agriculture, and others, which were of great benefit to
the western economy.
In August, Canada was host to the 1973 Commonwealth Heads of Government
Meeting. All Commonwealth countries were represented and Mr. Trudeau was warmly
praised for the positive tone and constructive approach of the meeting, which
once again demonstrated the vitality and flexibility of the Commonwealth.
The Liberal Party’s National Convention held September 14, 15 and 16,
1973, in Ottawa, continued the policy process begun at the November 1970
Convention. This Convention covered a wide range of topics: industrial and
resource development, Canadian identity, agricultural economy and rural life,
transportation, work and social policy, and fisheries and marine resources.
Approximately 2,500 delegates participated in the Convention, and 125
resolutions were adopted.
The Prime Minister’s historic visit to China in October 1973 established
a new level of understanding between the two nations and led to the later
acceptance of China as a member of the United Nations by other Western
The Second Trudeau Majority
In the House of Commons on May 8, 1974, the combined opposition of the
Progressive Conservative and the New Democratic parties defeated the minority
Liberal government, on an NDP motion of non¬confidence in the budget that had
been presented two days earlier. A general election was called for July 8. Mr.
Trudeau conducted a vigorous election campaign throughout the country and was
returned at the head of a majority Liberal government with 141 seats. Robert
Stanfield’s Progressive Conservatives won 95 seats, the NDP 16 and the Social
Credit 11 seats.
The 30th Parliament began sitting on September 30, 1974. The first two
years were dominated by the battle against inflation, which was running high in
all countries in the world. Of the several actions taken, establishment of
prices and incomes guidelines in October 1975, administered by a newly created
Anti-Inflation Board, was the most visible and far reaching. The success of the
program could be seen in the drop of the annual rate of inflation from 12
percent in December 1974 to 6.5 percent in mid-1976. Phase-out of the controls
program began in April 1978.
Other moves against inflation were taken, especially to increase the
supply of goods and services. Prime Minister Trudeau and his government set out
to help protect those particularly hard hit by inflation, and this involved
wider participation in the Canada Pension Plan, introduction of the spouse’s
allowance under the Old Age Security Act, increased and extended benefits to
veterans and their families, and the new Registered Retirement Savings Plan.
The Liberal government also undertook measures to ease the unemployment
situation in Canada. These included the Canada Works scheme, the Young Canada
Works Program, and the Employment Tax Credit Program.
A new Human Rights Act afforded Canadians greater protection against
discrimination. Under this legislation, a Human Rights Commission was
established and a Privacy Commissioner appointed to perform an ombudsman-type
role with wide powers of investigation.
The government also presented a peace and security program in two Bills:
one to abolish capital punishment and an omnibus bill directed at crime
prevention, both of which were passed.
A new Immigration Act – the first revision since 1952 – eliminated
discrimination and promoted national economic, social and cultural goals.
A significant development in the participation of the public in
government took place in the 30th Parliament: the televising of all the
proceedings of the House of Commons. A first in the world, the Canadian
experiment has been highly successful in increasing awareness of and interest
in the public affairs of the country.
During this period, energy supply and prices became a concern of all
Canadians. In 1975, the Trudeau government created Canada’s national oil
company, Petro Canada, to give each and every Canadian a stake in their energy
future. Energy conservation was given a high priority with the introduction of
such measures as the Canadian Home Insulation Program. The Trudeau government
was also responsible for legislation creating the Northern Pipeline Agency, and
the groundwork was laid for a massive gas pipeline.
Internationally, Canada played a particularly effective role in working
to bring about economic stability, both at the Conference on International
Economic Cooperation and at economic summit conferences.
During the Seventies, Canada along with most countries in the world had
to face serious economic problems. The escalating costs for energy, the massive
shift of financial resources to the oil-producing countries, the instability
and wild fluctuation of currencies, the emergence of newly industrialized
countries in the Third World, the changes in the pattern of population growth
and structure of the work force, all contributed to unstable global economic
conditions. These conditions were generally characterized by spiraling
inflation, coupled with economic stagnation and high unemployment.
In July 1978, Mr. Trudeau met with other Western leaders at the Bonn
Summit in West Germany to work out solutions to mutual economic problems.
To meet the commitments made at Bonn and to answer Canada’s immediate
problems, the Liberal government introduced an eight-point program designed to
get Canada’s economy growing, and to deal with high unemployment and inflation.
Three important measures were: a $20 a month per household increase in the old
age pension supplement, a $200 child tax credit, and increased resources for
In November 1976, the province of Quebec elected its first separatist
government. The Prime Minister established a Task Force on Canadian Unity to
hear Canadian’s views, to encourage public efforts to foster unity, and to
advise the government on national unity issues. In September 1977, Mr. Trudeau
created a new Ministry of Federal-Provincial Relations. In November and
December 1977, he traveled across Canada to discuss national unity and
constitutional change with all the provincial premiers.
The Speech from the Throne on October 11, 1978 reflected the government’s
two main concerns: strengthening of the economy and renewal of the Canadian
Major Policy Meetings
During this period, the Liberal Party organized three national meetings.
In November 1975, the Party held its tenth National Convention. Delegates from
across the country met in Ottawa to discuss policies and issues of importance
to the future of the Party and to the future of Canada. The emphasis was on
individual participation under the theme “The Canada that I want to build”.
During five major sessions and 10 workshops, the delegates participated in
discussions related to four main themes; political action, Canada and other
countries, growth, and the individual in society.
On March 24-27, 1977, the Liberal Party organized a policy workshop in
Toronto. Over 500 Liberals attended. The workshop provided an open forum for
people from all parts of Canada to debate and discuss the issues facing Canada
in the future. The participants then returned to their ridings for further
meetings and regional interchanges, aided by discussion papers on the four main
theme areas planned for the next Biennial Convention – strategies for the
economy, social programs, rights and freedoms, and unity.
The Liberal Party held its National Convention in Ottawa on February 24 -
26, 1978, with over 3,500 participants in attendance. The delegates received a
record number of resolutions for discussion and approval. These resolutions
covered the major issues of vital interest to all Canadians, but with the
economy and unity dominating.
Canadians Face Two Elections
In March 1979, Parliament was dissolved and an election was called for
May 22, 1979. Redistribution had increased the number of seats in the House of
Commons to 282. After 16 years of Liberal government, Canadians elected a
minority Progressive Conservative government. The Conservatives had a new
leader – Joe Clark, chosen at his party’s National Convention in February 1976
– and 136 members. The Liberals elected 114 members, the NDP 26 and the Social
In the months that followed, Liberals moved to strengthen the Party
across the country and to carry out their role as an effective and strong
Opposition in the House of Commons. The government of Joe Clark survived less
than one year. On December 13, 1979, it was defeated in a vote of
non-confidence. Just two days earlier, the Tories had brought down a budget
that was unacceptable to Liberals. The combined opposition of the Liberal and
New Democratic parties ended nine months of Tory government. An election was
set for February 18, 1980.
On November 21, 1979, just weeks before the defeat of the Tory
government, Pierre Trudeau had announced that he was stepping down as leader of
the Liberal Party and had asked the Party to call a Leadership Convention. With
the announced election, the National Liberal Caucus and the Liberal Party
appealed to him to continue as leader. Mr. Trudeau accepted the draft to
continue as leader.
The Tories’ broken promises, their image of bad government, and their
budget, all combined to defeat them. On February 18, 1980, Canadians elected a
majority Liberal government – the third for Pierre Trudeau since 1968 – 146
seats out of 281 (A deferred election gave the Liberals another seat, for a
total of 147). The Tories held 103 seats and the New Democratic Party 32. With
a strong and energetic cabinet and revitalized caucus, Mr. Trudeau prepared to
lead Canada into the 1980s.
Soon after winning the 1980 election, Liberal Party members gathered once
again in National Convention. The first to be held outside of Ottawa, the
Convention took place in Winnipeg, July 4 - 6, 1980. A Discussion Paper, which
attempted to set out in one document a statement of Liberal Party history,
purposes and policy principles, was presented to the delegates for debate.
Resolutions were limited to each provincial and territorial association
presenting three resolutions considered to be of top priority for that
province, with the Women and Youth Commissions presenting one resolution each.
The Discussion Paper, with amendments by the Convention, was referred to the
Policy Committee for study and reporting to the next Convention which was held
November 5 - 7, 1982 in Ottawa.
A new Policy Committee had convened a conference of 100 Liberals in June
1981 (called the Carleton Conference), to identify the major themes for the
Convention. A total of 73 resolutions were passed at the Convention covering
economic development; resource development; expansion of employment; social
policy reforms; parliamentary electoral and government reforms; and Party
In response to a question put by the Policy Committee, the 1982
Convention also decided that the 1980 Discussion Paper should not be the single
document stating Liberal principles and policies, and that the resolutions
process should continue as the primary basis of policy formulation in the
On April 14, 1980, Pierre Elliott Trudeau returned to the House of
Commons as Prime Minister. The first session of the 32nd Parliament lasted
until November 30, 1983; a record 588 days – the longest and most productive
session in Canadian parliamentary history. More than 200 pieces of legislation
were introduced and over 150 of these were proclaimed into law. Many major
initiatives were launched by the Liberal government and in the words of the
Speech from the Throne closing the first session, “four in particular have
Following the rejection of sovereignty-association by Quebecers in a
referendum, the federal Liberal government initiated the process of federal
renewal through patriation of the Canadian Constitution with an amending
formula and an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Due largely to the
efforts of Prime Minister Trudeau, over many years, Canada became a fully
independent nation in April 1982, and the new Constitution formally guaranteed
every citizen certain basic rights and freedoms.
This guarantee was to be strengthened when Parliament adopted, in 1983, a
resolution urging the Manitoba government to fulfill the constitutional
obligations and protect the rights of the French-speaking minority in that
Another major accomplishment of the government was the setting up of a
National Energy Program in 1980 to provide a comprehensive set of measures to
achieve security of supply, greater Canadian ownership and participation, and
fairness to the consumer in developing our petroleum potential.
During the early 1980s, Canada was caught in the grips of a severe global
economic recession. The Liberal government responded with the introduction of
the 6 & 5 program to protect Canadians as much as possible from
international recession and domestic inflation. This program, limiting incomes
and prices to six percent and five percent over two years, was reinforced by
widespread voluntary adoption by the private sector and the provinces.
To further fight the effects of inflation on Canadians, the
government-assisted homeowners with grants of up to $3,000. Special measures
were enacted to assist farmers, fishermen and small businesses. The childcare
expense deduction was doubled to $2,000 per child. And training and employment
programs for Canada’s young unemployed were launched.
The fourth major highlight of the parliamentary session was the passage,
in late 1983, of the Western Grain Transportation Act, replacing the outdated
Crow’s Nest Pass freight rate with a more equitable system. The development of
a more modern and efficient rail system in Western Canada resulted in
stimulating billions of dollars in direct investment by the railways and
creating thousands of new jobs.
The Liberal government proved to be innovative on several other fronts.
The first woman Speaker of the House of Commons and first woman justice on the
Supreme Court of Canada were appointed. O Canada became the official national
anthem. The government also took steps to strengthen the medicare system in
Canada’s foreign policy took on special importance when Prime Minister
Trudeau outlined a bold plan to ease East-West tensions through political
rather than military initiatives. Mr. Trudeau met with many world leaders to
seek support for his peace initiative for arms control and disarmament. The
Prime Minister’s efforts focused world attention on renewing dialogue on these
issues – a major victory for Mr. Trudeau and for Canada, which won him the
Albert Einstein Peace Award.
The Turner Years
After serving as Liberal Party leader for over 15 years. Pierre Elliott
Trudeau announced his intention to retire on February 29, 1984. A National
Leadership Convention was called for June 14, 15 and 16, 1984. More than 3,400
delegates gathered in Ottawa; and on the second ballot on June 16, John Napier
Turner was elected leader of the Liberal Party. Two weeks later, on June 30, he
was sworn in as Canada’s Prime Minister.
On July 9, Parliament was dissolved and Canadians went to the polls on
September 4, 1984. The Canadian voter had a choice of two new leaders: Prime
Minister John Turner and Brian Mulroney, whom the Progressive Conservative
Party had chosen at its Leadership Convention in June 1983. As well, the
Liberal Party had held continuous power since 1963 – over 21 years – except for
the short-lived Conservative government of Joe Clark in 1979. As the campaign
wore on, it became apparent that the Liberals were facing an electorate which
clearly desired a change of direction.
On September 4, 1984, Canadians elected a majority Progressive
Conservative government. In the new Parliament were 211 Conservatives, 40
Liberals, 30 New Democrats and 1 Independent. Although the election results
were devastating to Liberals, the Leader, the National Federal Caucus and Party
members across the country quickly took up the challenge and opportunity to
renew and modernize the Party. The 1982 National Convention resolution 40 on
Party reform had resulted in the establishment of the President’s Committee on
Reform of the Liberal Party, with a mandate to consult Party members broadly
and to recommend wide-reaching reforms on the structure, organization and
practices of the Party. This democratic reform process had been interrupted
with the Leadership Convention and election during 1984, but was taken up with
vigor again in 1985. As John Turner had said at the Leadership Convention: “For
Liberals across Canada, it is the beginning of an era of reform and renewal.”
With only ten more seats than the New Democratic Party in the House of
Commons, there were dire predictions from ‘pundits’ and observers that this was
the last chapter of the long history of the Liberal Party in Canada. John
Turner and his Caucus colleagues set out to prove them wrong.
Liberals had not faced an extended period in Opposition since the
Diefenbaker sweep of 1958. Traditional opposition skills had to be relearned
and new strategies created in order to respond as the official Opposition to
the right-wing agenda of the Mulroney government. The first major confrontation
with the government came over their proposal to de-index old age pensions.
Liberals led the fight against this challenge to the principle of universality
of Canada’s social programs; programs successive Liberal governments had put in
place. Strong opposition in the House of Commons, and in the country at large,
forced the government to back down in 1985. The Liberal Caucus held the
government to account on a wide range of issues, including a series of scandals
that saw the resignations of several Cabinet Ministers.
After repeated promises not to raise taxes, the government increased the
tax load on low and middle income Canadians and decreased it for the wealthy
and large corporations, eventually bringing in the 7% Goods and Services Tax
which took effect in January 1991. The government also reduced support for
social programs and regional development funding, withdrawing completely the
federal contribution to the Unemployment Insurance Program, bringing in the
“clawback” on old age pensions, refusing to honour promises on child care and
worker retraining, among others.
Liberals in the House of Commons and in the Senate opposed these
regressive policies vigorously. Liberals across Canada helped sustain and
encourage the Parliamentary opposition with well-considered and compelling
debate and discussion at several policy Conventions.
Party Renewal and Rebuilding
In November of 1985, under the guidance of Party President Iona
Campagnolo, Liberals gathered at the Reform Conference in Halifax. They
proposed a number of changes to the Party Constitution designed to update and
modernize the Party, and encourage more active participation by women, young
people, aboriginal Canadians as well as a representation that better reflected
the multicultural nature of the country. Many of these and other proposals were
brought to the 1986 Policy Convention in Ottawa and were endorsed by delegates
from across Canada. Included among them was the adoption in principle of a
resolution supporting the creation of an Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission. The
Convention also responded to the automatic Leadership review question by giving
John Turner a strong vote of support.
After the 1986 Convention, the Leader called for a series of Canada
Conferences to bring together Liberals and experts in various fields. Over 450
people participated in the three conferences held in late 1987 and early 1988.
The conference themes were: Building the Canadian Economy: the agenda for the
1990s; Building the Canadian Society: family and social values for a maturing
nation; and Building the Canadian Nation: sovereignty and foreign policy in the
These discussions, the 1985 and 1986 Convention resolutions, a 1988
conference on aboriginal and human rights issues and other meetings and
discussions among Liberals led to the production of the 40 point platform for
the 1988 election.
The Canada-U. S. Trade Deal
The focus of the 1988 election, however, was the Conservative
government’s trade deal with the United States, which was actively opposed by
the majority of Liberals. John Turner asked Liberal Senators to delay passage
of the deal until the people of Canada had the chance to vote on this complex
new arrangement. Among the problems with the deal pointed out by Liberals was
the gradual reduction of Canadian sovereignty and control over our own economic
and social policies, the negative impact of the deal on farmers, fishermen and
several other groups, the inadequacy of support programs for those adversely
affected and a number of other concerns including the agreement of the
government to lengthy negotiations with the Americans over the definition of
In 1987, the federal government and the ten provincial governments signed
the Meech Lake Accord to amend the Constitution. Following debate and
discussion within the Party, and the presentation of Liberal amendments, the
majority of Caucus Members supported the initiative to bring Quebec back to the
negotiating table. The deal was later to fall through, not receiving unanimous
provincial support following the three-year confirmation period. Both the
rigidity of the process and the unwillingness of the Mulroney government to
consider any changes were sighted as the major reasons for its demise.
Although the dominant issue of the campaign was the trade deal, the
Liberal Party’s 40¬point platform also included commitments to fair taxation,
child care, housing, the environment, and a number of other progressive
measures. John Turner’s spirited performance during the campaign, particularly
in the debates with the other two party leaders, won the praise and admiration
of Canadians. The election results were disappointing for Liberals, however the
disappointment was alleviated somewhat by the fact that Liberal representation
in the House of Commons doubled, the NDP had not made substantial gains, and
the government’s majority was reduced. The final result was Liberals 83,
Conservatives 169 and NDP 43.
1990 Calgary Leadership Convention
On May 3, 1989, John Turner announced that he was stepping down as Leader
of the Party. A Leadership Convention was called for Calgary in June of 1990.
The Honourable Herb Gray was named Leader of the Opposition in the House of
Commons on February 7, 1990, and served until the new leader was sworn in that
December. In the period leading up to the Convention, six Leadership Forums
were conducted across Canada to give candidates the opportunity to explain
their approach to issues, and to listen to the concerns of Liberals in every
region. Nearly 5,000 delegates converged on Calgary, not only to elect a new
leader, but to vote on a new National Executive, and a number of changes to the
Party’s constitution. Hosted by outgoing President Michel Robert and Ethel
Blondin, the Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic, the Convention chose
the Honourable Don Johnston as its new President, and the Honourable Jean
Chrétien as its new Leader.
One of the first things the new leader did was launch an active campaign
to revamp the organization of the party and to renew fundraising efforts in
order to put the Party on an election readiness footing. The Leader also
rearranged the “shadow cabinet”, allocating new responsibilities to Liberal
On December 10, 1990, Jean Chrétien was elected in a by-election in
Beauséjour, New Brunswick, and joined his Caucus colleagues in the House of
Commons. He was sworn in as Leader of the Opposition on December 20, 1990. He
quickly took steps to speak out for national unity on behalf of the Liberal
Party of Canada. Appearing before the Commission on the Political and
Constitutional Future of Quebec, known as the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, just
days after the by-election, Mr. Chrétien said: “A careful weighing of the
evidence inevitably leads us to the conclusion that the accomplishments that
have made us one of the most advanced societies in the world deserves to be
A mandate to study and bring forward proposed amendments to the Party’s
Constitution was given to the Reform Commission by the 1990 Liberal Leadership
Convention in Calgary. The Reform Commission was specifically asked to make
recommendations on the method of universal suffrage to be employed in the
election of the next Liberal leader, the establishment of a permanent electoral
commission, Party finances, the structure of the Party, its membership and any
other proposals that would enhance democracy, accessibility, accountability and
equity within the Party. Recommendations in the Commission’s final report
entitled “Road Map to Reform” were used as the draft constitutional amendments
document at the 1992 Constitutional Convention that was held in Hull, Quebec on
February 20 - 21.
Shortly after being elected, Mr. Chrétien asked the Liberal Party of
Canada to convene a conference to discuss and debate Canada’s place in a world
that was changing dramatically, structurally as well as internationally. The
objective was to bring together experts from Canada and abroad to discuss the
implications of this globalization and government’s role in the economy, the
environment, health care, and science and technology.
Held from November 22 - 24, 1991, the conference was a resounding
success. It brought together 200 participants from industry, the volunteer
sector, interest groups and learning institutions to discuss major issues
facing the nation as it enters the 21st century and, in particular, the
challenge of governing in the new era.
The Aylmer Conference marked the revival of a Liberal Party tradition of
“ideas conferences” established by the Port Hope Conference of 1933 and the
Kingston Conference of 1960. It also marked a key step in the Liberal Party
pre-election plan, which included the Party’s National Constitutional
Convention and Biennial Convention in February 1992 and the formulation of the
National Campaign Committee and the National Platform Committee.
In February 1992, the Liberal Party Biennial Convention, brought together
thousands of Liberals from across Canada and passed a series of resolutions
setting out objectives for a new Liberal government. Throughout 1992 and the
first half of 1993, the Party’s Platform Committee, co-chaired by M.P. Paul
Martin and Chaviva Hosek, built on the work of 1990 and 1991 and travelled
across Canada, meeting and listening to thousands of Canadians. This
consultation resulted in the formulation of “Creating Opportunity: The Liberal
Plan for Canada”. Released during the election campaign, the Red Book, as it
became known, was based on an integrated and coherent approach to economic,
social, environmental and foreign policy.
On October 25, 1993, the Liberal Party of Canada won 177 seats and was
the only political party to elect Members of Parliament in every province. Jean
Chrétien was sworn in as Canada’s 20th Prime Minister on November 4, 1993.
1996 Biennial Convention: Three Years of Liberal Government
Creating Opportunity, better known as the Red Book, was the centrepiece
of the 1993 election campaign. For the first time, a political party made a
detailed, written statement of how it intended to govern.
At the Party’s 1996 Biennial Convention, the Right Honourable Jean
Chrétien released “A Record of Achievement”, a detailed 120-page account of how
the government kept 78% of its Red Book commitments, only three years into a
From broad, big-picture commitments, such as getting Canada’s fiscal
house in order and creating a climate for job creation, to very specific
commitments, such as restoring funding for literacy programs or the creation of
a prenatal nutrition program, “A Record of Achievement” provided an accounting
of the government’s record since its election in 1993.
Election 1997: Liberals Win 155 Seats, Second Straight Majority
When Prime Minister Chrétien called the general election on April 28, he
knew that Canadians would look at their options and decide what kind of country
they wanted, for themselves and for their children.
On June 2nd, the Chrétien government won its second straight majority,
the first time since Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent won back-to-back
victories in 1953. With Members of Parliament elected in every region of the
country, the Liberal Party of Canada was still the only Party that could
demonstrate its ability to be representative of a wide variety of regional
opinion in Canada.
Throughout the campaign, Jean Chrétien offered a vision of Canada to the
Canadian public. The Party’s platform document “Securing Our Future Together”
was a plan that built on the solid and stable foundations that had been laid
over the past four years; and proposed feasible measures for moving forward
together and expanding opportunity for all Canadians in order to advance with
confidence and success into the next century.
In the 1997 election, a record number of women candidates ran for
Parliament. Prime Minister Chrétien had announced that the Liberal Party of
Canada would have at least 75 women candidates. By the time nominations closed,
84 women had been named to carry the Liberal banner, and 37 were successful in
their bid to become a Member of Parliament.
With the results of the election producing five official parties in the
House of Commons, the 36th Parliament was again an interesting mix of
diversity, politics and regional faultlines.
1998: A Balanced Budget and a new era of opportunity
On February 24, 1998, Finance Minister Paul Martin presented a historic
Budget: for the first time in 50 years, the Budget would be balanced. This was
a great accomplishment by the citizens of Canada, who made some sacrifices and
who accepted the re-engineering of their federal government in the tough
budgets of 1995 and 1996.
With a first surplus budget, the government began to gradually pay down
the national debt and investing, gradually, and within its means, in
incremental programs with moderate and fixed projections.
The Budget provided resources for the National AIDS Strategy, an
aboriginal healing fund, and an increased base level for cash transfers to the
provinces for health and other programs.
1998 Biennial Convention
Over 2500 delegates from across Canada met in Ottawa in March 1998 for
the Biennial Convention. They gave the Leader a 90% approval rating. In his
closing remarks on Sunday afternoon, the PM emphasized his government’s
achievements in the areas of tax reduction, helping young Canadians build their
lives, making major investments in our national health care system, and helping
re-connect Canadians with their government and with each other.
The Clarity Act
The Clarity Act is an important legislative item passed introduced by the
Chrétien government on December 13, 1999. The Act established the conditions
under which the federal government would recognize a vote to leave Canada by
any province and it passed through the House of Commons on March 15, 2000, and
the Senate on June 29, 2000, becoming law.
It gave the federal House of Commons the power to determine if a
separation question was considered clear before a public vote, the ability to
decide whether a clear majority had been obtained on the clear referendum
question, and allowed the House of Commons to override a referendum decision if
it was contrary to the Clarity Act.
Jean Chretien often referred to the Clarity Act as a proud achievement of
his government which strengthened the fabric and stability of Canada.
Biennial Convention 2000
Held in March in Ottawa, over 2,800 delegates saw Prime Minister Jean
Chrétien deliver his main address – a passionate vision of the Liberal Party of
Canada - the only party with a national vision. Invoking the names of great
Liberal leaders of the past, the Prime Minister recalled the accomplishments of
Laurier, King, St. Laurent, Pearson and Trudeau. “The Liberal Party is a party
that builds bridges,” he said. “A party that is open to new ideas … that unites
rather than divides.” Chrétien also attacked the values of Liberal Party
opponents. “Canadians do not want a right wing party in this country. They do
not want a party that does not support a woman’s right to choose … that
supports the National Rifle Association against gun control.” Having drawn the
line between the values of Liberals and those of the right, the Prime Minister
promised ground would not be lost after the gains of the first two mandates.
“We will not let them erode medicare through creeping privatization,” he said.
“That will not happen under the watch of the Liberal Party of Canada!”
On September 28, 2000, Pierre Elliott Trudeau died of prostate cancer in
his Montreal residence. Sworn in as Canada's 15th Prime Minister on April 20,
1968, he formed his first majority government in June of that year. He won a
minority government in 1972 and a second majority in July 1974. Announcing his
intention to resign after the 1979 election defeat, Mr. Trudeau returned to
fight the February 1980 election, winning a third majority government. Having
served as Prime Minister for more than 15 years, he was responsible for the
Official Languages Act, lead MPs in a free vote abolishing the death penalty,
became the first Prime Minister to address the U.S. Congress and appointed
Bertha Wilson and Jeanne Sauvé as the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court
of Canada and the first woman Governor-General respectively. For many
Canadians, his greatest achievements were the repatriation of the Constitution,
giving Canada full legal independence from Great Britain, and the entrenchment
of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
His vision was of a mature and confident Canada shaping its own destiny,
tied together by a common citizenship based on shared rights and mutual
responsibility; a bilingual Canada in which citizens could enjoy and benefit
from its rich French and English heritage; a country respectful of the special
place of aboriginal people; a multi cultural Canada, open to the world and
fully seized of its global responsibilities; and a just Canada in which
opportunity is truly equal.
Economic Statement and Budget Update: Largest Tax Cuts in Canadian
On October 18, 2000, Finance Minister Martin presented an Economic
Statement and Budget Update which added $21.1-Billion in health care funding
following federal-provincial meetings in September, added $2.2-Billion to the
provinces for children’s programs and committed $1.2-Billion towards a cleaner
Some $10-Billion dollars was paid down against the debt and personal
income tax rates were lowered for all Canadians by an average of 21%. The total
tax measures contained in the Update and the 2000 Budget resulted in
$100-Billion in tax relief to Canadian citizens and corporations: the largest
tax cut ever in Canada.
Election 2000 - A Third Consecutive Majority
On October 22, 2000 Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party of
Canada Jean Chrétien called an election by saying that Canadians had a clear
choice. And on November 27, 2000 the people of Canada made a clear choice and
elected the Liberal Party of Canada with a third consecutive majority mandate.
The Party increased its majority by 17 seats over the 1997 election (172 vs.
155) and its percentage of the popular vote (40.8% vs. 38%) and for the first
time since 1980, the Liberal Party won a plurality of the votes in Quebec (44%
to 39.9% for the BQ)
The platform – Opportunity for All – outlined a plan that would ensure a
brighter future for all Canadians. Canadians chose a Liberal Plan that was
moderate and balanced – striking the right balance in terms of paying down the
debt, cutting taxes fairly, investing in health care, research and innovation,
families and children and the environment.
With the Speech from the Throne in January 2001, Canada’s Governor
General, her Excellency, Adrienne Clarkson, announced to Canadians the
direction the third Liberal majority government would take as the work of the
37th Parliament began. Building on the achievements of the last two Liberal
mandates, the government focused efforts on ensuring that all Canadians share
in the fruits of an economy with record low rates of unemployment, strong
growth, and a workforce that is ready to meet the challenges of the global
The new Liberal government continued to live within its means and deliver
the balanced budgets it had promised starting in 1998. Canada maintained its
fiscal sovereignty and gradually reduced its debt spending, able to dedicate
more dollars to balanced program investments and less to paying interest on our
On April 4, 2001, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced the Commission
on the Future of Health Care in Canada, under the direction of Roy Romanow, the
former Premier of Saskatchewan. The Commission was given a mandate to engage
Canadians in a national dialogue on the future of health care and to make
recommendations to preserve the long-term sustainability of Canada’s
universally accessible, publicly funded health care system.
The government also worked on an “innovation agenda” across all
government departments and launched a ten year innovation program in February
2002 with the goal of creating the most skilled and talented labour market
force anywhere through better early childhood programs, continuing education
programs, employment insurance improvement programs and collaboration with the
private and academic sectors to maximize the impact of new Canadian ideas.
The government increased the focus of its investments, especially
directing investment to children and disadvantaged groups such as aboriginals,
and also launched an ambitious $500-million cultural investment agenda under
the Department of Canadian Heritage called “Tomorrow Starts Today” in May 2001.
Canada hosted two major international meetings: the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment (MAI) meeting in Quebec City in 2001 and the G-8 summit
in Kananaskis in the summer of 2002, during which Prime Minister Chrétien
championed a New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD.)
The Government’s priorities, and indeed those of much of the western
world, shifted suddenly starting on September 11, 2001. Terrorists attacked the
World Trade Centre in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC,
crashing jet planes into the towers and taking the lives of many, including
U.S. airspace was closed indefinitely and passenger planes were diverted
to Canadian airports. Canadian residents, particularly in Atlantic Canada,
opened their homes to stranded American travellers and passengers from around
the world. Canada provided troops and resources for a counter-offensive in
Afghanistan, alongside the U.S., U.K. and other countries.
Canada and the U.S.A. had already been working together, along with
Mexico and new Mexican President Vicente Fox, to discuss secure and efficient
access to each others’ markets and modernization of shared borders. The
discussions with the USA were expanded to include security issues and resulted
in the Smart Border agreement.
The December 2001 Budget, the first full Budget since February 28, 2000,
prioritized immediate economic and personal security concerns while sticking to
the long term plan of careful projections and gradual debt reduction while
making social investments that Canada could afford.
A new Cabinet was formed in January of 2002 to reflect some of the new
realities in the post-September 11 world.
On May 31, 2002, Finance Minister Paul Martin and Prime Minister Jean
Chrétien could not resolve a disagreement over a significant new direction for
Canada’s cities and the way that the cities should be funded and treated in
coming years. Finance Minister Martin wanted to launch an ambitious “new deal
for Canadian cities.” The disagreement resulted in his exit from the federal
Paul Martin began a tour of Canada in the summer of 2002 that
demonstrated the popularity of his fiscal achievements and his new ideas with
Prime Minister Chrétien, meanwhile, having completed the hosting of the
G-8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, and the launching of the G-8 Africa Action
Plan there, decided that he would stand down. He announced that he would not
run in the next federal election and planned to retire in February 2004, after
almost 14years as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He made the
announcement August 20, 2002, in Chicoutimi during a Liberal caucus summer
That decision meant that the Liberal Party would not need to hold a
Leadership review vote at its next major Convention and allowed the Liberal
government to return to a stronger focus on domestic affairs, in the wake of
September 11th, internal challenges in the Party, and the exit of Paul Martin
from the Cabinet. The government undertook an ambitious agenda in the fall of
2002 while Leadership campaigns shaped up in earnest, and the Liberal Party of
Canada began a debate about its next directions under a new Leader.
At the end of September, a new Speech from the Throne began the second
session of the 37th Parliament of Canada. The government declared that it would
continue to use a balanced approach with balanced budgets for its program
spending. Health care was a top priority, alongside urban infrastructure
renewal, aboriginal investments, a new public ethics package, and a commitment
to endorse the Kyoto protocol on climate change.
On November 28, 2002, the final report of the Romanow Commission on
health care in Canada was released, recommending sweeping changes to ensure the
long-term sustainability of Canada’s health care system. It focused on three
areas: First, strong leadership and improved governance required to keep
Medicare a national asset. Second, that the healthcare system must become more
responsive and efficient and more accountable to Canadians. And third, that
strategic investments over the short-term must be made to address priority
concerns, as well as over the long-term to place the system on a more
On December 10, 2002, in a hotly contested vote, the House of Commons
endorsed Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions
and a week later, Canada delivered its signed ratification papers to the United
The government moved confidently into 2003 and presented another balanced
budget based on building a society Canadians value through investments in
individual Canadians, their families and communities, while promoting
productivity and innovation in a framework of fiscal prudence and increased
Just after the Budget, the Liberal Party of Canada issued the Call for
the 2003 Leadership and Biennial Convention on February 24, 2003. This marked
the official beginning of the Leadership campaign to replace Jean Chrétien.
Three individuals competed to lead the Liberal Party of Canada. Paul
Martin was the clear frontrunner throughout the process. John Manley, the
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, also joined the race, as did
Sheila Copps, the Minister of Canadian Heritage. She had run and finished third
behind Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin during the 1990 Leadership contest.
The Liberal Party of Canada hosted six Leadership forums in different
cities across Canada between May 3rd and June 14th allowing members, and
Canadians watching on TV, to assess the merits of the candidates. June 20th was
selected as the date by which citizens wishing to take part in the Leadership
process could join the Liberal Party of Canada.
Following the completion of the debates, and the close of the membership
deadline, John Manley withdrew from the race in late July. The Liberal Party of
Canada reached a total membership of more than 500,000 across Canada.
On September 19, 20, and 21st, eligible Liberals attended meetings across
the country to mark a ballot for their preferred candidate, Paul Martin or
Sheila Copps, and to select the delegates to go to the Convention.
Approximately 92% of voting Liberal members expressed their preference for Paul
The 2003 Leadership & Biennial Convention of the Liberal Party of
Canada got underway in Toronto on November 12, 2003. Delegates to the
Convention attended a tribute to outgoing Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien on
Thursday November 13th and, the next day, they heard speeches from the two
candidates for Leader of the Party. Rock superstar Bono memorably appeared at
the Convention, to applaud Canada, outgoing Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and
incoming Leader Paul Martin, for their shared vision of a better world, with a
particular emphasis on decisions that will benefit Africa, and third world debt
relief. On Friday, delegates also marked their ballots and the count was
revealed: over 93% of the delegates favoured Paul Martin as the next Leader of
the Liberal Party of Canada and Prime Minister.
On Saturday, November 15th, Paul Martin released Making History: the
Politics of Achievement, his vision for Canada in the 21st century.
With the de facto support of the majority of Liberal Party members across
the country, a transition agreement was reached and Jean Chrétien agreed to
hand over the office of Prime Minister of Canada to Paul Martin in December.
On December 12, 2003, Paul Martin was sworn in as Prime Minister of
Canada by the Governor General. He began a substantial re-structuring of the
government and created a bold new Cabinet, further empowered Parliamentary
Secretaries, re-designed Cabinet committees, and substantially altered several
departments to reflect an increased focus on the social economy, an integrated
approach to aboriginal affairs, and public safety and emergency preparedness,
and public health.
On February 2nd 2004, the Speech from the Throne was read to start up
Parliament under Prime Minister Martin’s guidance.
The spring 2004 session of Parliament included the establishment of a
fully independent ethics counsellor who reports to Parliament, and the
implementation of significant enhancements under the umbrella of democratic
reform. The controversial sponsorship program was terminated. The government
tackled the heated issue of assisted human reproduction and passed a bill to
define and restrict it.
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale’s 2004 Budget began the first stage of the
New Deal for Canada’s communities by initiating an exemption from the Goods and
Services Tax for municipal governments. Over a ten year period, municipal
governments will save $7 billion dollars which they can re-invest in greening
local communities, improving decaying infrastructure, and investing in people,
parks and public transit.
The government also amended the patent act and the food and drugs act to
give many developing countries easier access to pharmaceutical products needed
to combat HIV/AIDS and other public health problems. This earned Canada
substantial acclamations around the world.
Prime Minister Martin called a general election on May 23, 2004, in order
to validate his Liberal Party of Canada mandate with the citizens of Canada.
The campaign was the most hotly contested since 1988, because the formerly
fractured Canadian Alliance Party and Progressive Conservative Party merged
into the Conservative Party of Canada, creating a more competitive race in many
ridings across the country.
During the campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada vigorously defended the
values of official bilingualism, a woman’s right to choose, and the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms and judicial system, while making major commitments to
implement substantive change in the health care sector in partnership with the
provinces, and a national child care initiative.
The Liberal Party of Canada won re-election with a stable minority based
on 135 seats versus 99 for the Conservatives. The Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats,
and the NDP won 19. Once again, only the Liberal Party of Canada had
representation in every region of Canada, demonstrating its national strength.
A new Cabinet was unveiled on July 20th. To reflect the priority emphasis
on a new deal for Canada’s municipalities, a new position of Minister of State
(Infrastructure and Communities) was created.
The next big challenge was in health care. In mid-September, the Prime
Minister convened a First Ministers’ meeting in front of live television
cameras. On September 13th, the Prime Minister announced a special $700-million
plan to improve health delivery to aboriginal people following a special round
of discussions with aboriginal leaders. Following three days of intense
discussions with the Premiers and numerous senior federal and provincial
officials, Prime Minister Martin announced a ten year plan to strengthen health
care in Canada, valued at $41-Billion over the next ten years, and with an
“escalator” to ensure that transfers to provinces keep up with demographic
growth in health care consumption. The historic ten year funding will begin to
eliminate the gaps in the national health care system identified by the Romanow
Commission in 2002. Prime Minister Martin listed this federal-provincial
agreement as his proudest achievement in his first year in office.
With that commitment kept, the House of Commons reconvened with the First
Speech from the Throne of the minority government on October 5, and the Prime
Minister embarked on several international tours to promote the role of Canada
in the world, and the responsibility to protect nations from crippling
humanitarian disasters resulting from civil strife. He also advocated for an
L-20 forum in which emerging economic powerhouses such as China, India, and
Brazil would have a greater voice in world affairs, similar to the G-20 Finance
Ministers’ meetings he initiated in the late nineties.
Another great tragedy shook the world at the end of 2004 when an
underwater earthquake unleashed a great tsunami tidal wave that devastated 11
countries in South and Southeast Asia. Canada reacted compassionately,
ultimately announcing $425-million in aid and reconstruction investments and
also matching the unprecedented individual donations of Canadian citizens which
reached upwards of $150-million dollar for dollar.
The Liberal Party of Canada prepared to hold its Biennial Convention in
Ottawa early in 2005, with a policy plenary session to renew the Party’s
always-forward thinking policy ideas and a Leadership endorsement vote, , while
the minority government continued to work responsively in Parliament to meet
the needs of all Canadians and respect the opposition as well.