Liberalism in Canada

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Liberalism has been a strong force in Canadian politics since the late 18th Century. While Canada has the same features of other liberal democracies in the Western democratic political tradition, it is, in some respects, an exemplar of liberalism. This article gives an overview of liberalism in Canada. It includes a brief history of liberal parties with substantial representation in parliament.


Liberalism as an ideology

Liberalism in Canada can be traced to the arrival in Canada of the United Empire Loyalists and the enactment of the Constitutional Act of 1791. The Constitutional Act established responsible government through the elected assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada. While the Loyalists were faithful to British institutions and opposed to American republicanism, they were committed to North American ideals of individual liberty and representative government.

Canada today is recognized as one of the more liberal nations in the world, and certainly one of the most liberal in the Americas. Liberalism in Canada, often noted as "small-l" liberal (to differentiate it from the Liberal Party of Canada) is better compared to European politics than to the more conservative United States. Canada has had a long history of liberalism due to the efforts of reformers such as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Lester Bowles Pearson, Tommy Douglas, Pierre Trudeau, and Joe Clark. They helped develop Canada into a country with responsible government, representation by population, individual rights and minority rights, guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since the middle of the 20th Century, Canada has evolved into a nation that generally supports peace over war, and social reforms such as universal medicare, multiculturalism, human rights (including gay rights), and social security in contrast to the United States, which has held back on many of these issues.

Liberal parties

Liberal parties developed in both the French and English speaking parts of Canada, and led to the formation of the Liberal Party of Canada. Liberal parties exist on a provincial level, but while they share similar ideologies, the provincial parties have no official affiliation with the federal party.

In Canada, a "capital-L" liberal refers to the policies and ideas of the Liberal Party of Canada/Parti Libéral du Canada (member LI), the most frequent governing party of Canada for the last century and one of the largest liberal parties around the world. The Quebec Liberal Party (Parti libéral du Québec) combines liberalism with more conservative ideas. Only federal parties are included in the following timeline. The sign ⇒ indicates a reference to another party in that scheme. For inclusion in this scheme, it isn't necessary for parties to have explicitly labelled themselves as a liberal party.


Canadian Party / Patriot Party / Red Party

  • 1806: Liberals in the Francophone part of Canada formed the Canadian Party (Parti canadien)
  • 1826: The party is renamed Patriot Party (Parti Patriote) and is led by Louis-Joseph Papineau
  • 1848: The party is further reorganised into the Red Party (Parti rouge)
  • 1867: The PR merged into the present-day ⇒ Liberal Party of Canada

Reform Party

  • 1841: The Upper Canada Reform Party is formed
  • 1855: Radical members formed the ⇒ Clear Grits.
  • 1867: The Reform Party merged into ⇒ Liberal Party of Canada

Clear Grits / Liberal Party of Canada

  • 1855: Radical members of the ⇒ Reform Party formed the Clear Grits
  • 1867: The Clear Grits merged with the ⇒ Reform Party, the ⇒ Red Party and provincial liberal parties into the present-day Liberal Party of Canada

Liberal leaders

Liberal thinkers

See also


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