Canada’s first Francophone Prime Minister was born Henri-Charles-Wilfrid Laurier in what is now Saint-Lin-Laurentides, Quebec in 1841. Raised in an intellectually-minded Francophone family, Laurier studied in Nova Scotia, where he familiarized himself with the language and culture of the English people before embarking on a law degree at McGill University. He became involved with the radical Rouge political movement in Quebec and was integral in the creation of the national Liberal Party, where he served as its leader from 1887-1919, the longest serving leader of a Canadian political party in the country’s history. As Prime Minister for fifteen consecutive years (another record), Laurier led Canada during a period of rapid growth and prosperity: immigration expanded and led to the creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, two new continental rail lines were built, and greater autonomy from Britain was achieved.
André Pratte, chief editorialist of La Presse, is a well known leader of political thought in Quebec. He often writes about the need to rethink federalism to make it work. In some ways, he is the new, younger Claude Ryan. Increasingly he believes that the disappearance of Quebec’s major historic leaders, like Laurier, from public memory makes it difficult for people to know what’s happening in their society. In re-examining the life of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, he’ll be re-examining the emergence of modern Canada from a Francophone point of view.