History of the Liberal Party

E.P. Whinters

LiberalUntil this year, Canadian history could be seen as a relatively constant battle between the Conservatives and Liberals – if one was not leading our government, it was the other. In my last writing, I looked at the history of the Conservative party and this time I will turn the spotlight on the history of the Liberal Party. Who were they? Where did they come from? What did they stand for? How did they influence and affect the growth of the nation we are part of today? Let’s see how those questions are easily answered.

Pretty much all we know to be Canada has been brought to us courtesy of the Liberal governments. From 1874 through 2006 (132 years), 87 of them have been under Liberal governments. We have seen prominent leaders like Wilfred Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Louis St-Laurent, Lester B. Pearson, Jean Cretien, Paul Martin and Pierre Trudeau work their good and bad for our nation. If I were to list their legacy, the positive impact they made on this nation, it would be lengthy … and I would hope so if they were leading our nation for 87 years!

After reading through a lot on their history, it seems to me that a very general grouping of their impact would be in the area of equality (policies and boards and laws) between the French and the English, for a national identity (national railroad, our own flag, western natural development for eastern industry, member of the British Commonwealth to our own nation), a massive impact on our judicial and government systems, a strong and positive presence in international affairs (NATO, UN, strong and respected military), and social and welfare programs for our nation’s people (RRSP, Canadian Pension Plan, Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, Child Benefits, etc.), an impact on the arts in Canada (with various commissions and plans and the CBC), and huge national growth in almost every facet.

They came out of a desire to confront the Conservatives in early Canada, originally called “The Reformers” (not to be confused with the Conservative offshoot party “The Reform Party” that existed from 1987-2000). They desired to bring Canada’s power into the hands of the Canadians and worked, right from the start, towards a national, dualistic identity where both the French and English could live happily.

They were not without their scandals and controversies – the King-Byng Affair (over customs and taxes), the Gomery Commission (misuse and misdirection of sponsorship funds), conflict of interest lobbying by the PM, various overspending problems, “Shawinigate”, unanswered questions with various contracts, the firearms mess, and tons of examples of cover-ups and wasted money and money that went into something that has never been reported. (Kyoto, Olympic Expense, Arar / CSIS, CSL Contracts, APEC inquiry, Somalia inquiry, underfunding the arms forces, etc.) Again, they were in for 87 years; and as they should do good things in that time, no one’s perfect, and their lists of transgressions are also there. What also is to be noted is that there are ample examples of massive raises in taxes, an opposition to balancing the budget, an intersection of circumstances, timing and turn of fortune – what is happening in the world has a ripple-over effect in Canada. During the Depression, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives could save us and their respective policies, meant to help us did more to hinder us. The Liberals saving grace was World War II, which not only pulled us (and other countries) out of the Depression but also gave us a growth mindset to focus on once the war was over. An opportunity to benefit from circumstance, and they did … it helped us forget the mess they failed to get us out of during the latter 1930s! And finally, though they put much money into military growth, they also removed a lot of it and our military weaknesses today can be traced to various Liberal military cuts. We were once to be feared and admired on the battlefield, and now there are many stories of the sad financial state of our forces.

To briefly recap – Conservatives focus has been family and family benefits, a national Canadian identity, a strong and respected presence in international affairs and opening various free-trade doors, and a resilient spirit that refuses to die. The Liberals, on the other hand, have definitely left a strong and positive legacy, with a focus on the equality between the French and the English (and multiculturalism) and many social and welfare programs. Our history is firmly entrenched in their influence … what might happen if they both are marginalized to the fringes of the Canadian identity and leadership? To see what becomes of these two parties come October 19th is anyone’s guess.