Sir Wilfrid Laurier National Historic Site of Canada

The Long and Winding Road to Power

Black and white picture of the House of Commons. Members of the Cabinet and Liberal MPs at the House of Commons, 1902
© National Archives of Canada

Much more than law or journalism, politics was Wilfrid Laurier's abiding passion. In 1871, at the age of 30, he made his political debut as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec. He quickly made a place for himself among the young up-and-coming elements in the provincial Liberal Party, whom he stoutly defended against the attacks of the ultramontane clergy.

As of 1874, however, the federal political scene was where Wilfrid Laurier truly came into his own. The talents of the "silver-tongued" orator were soon recognized by his peers. His ardent espousal of a moderate brand of liberalism won him the position of Minister of Revenue and Interior in the Cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie in 1877. It was a short-lived moment of glory, however: his party was defeated in general elections held barely a year later. During the next seven years, Laurier stepped out of the political limelight.

In 1885, the Riel affair rekindled his flame. The career he had launched some 15 years earlier took a new turn when, in 1887, he became Edward Blake's successor as leader of the Liberal Party. He thus embarked on another stretch of his long road to power. After defeating the Conservatives in the 1896 elections, Wilfrid Laurier was to hold power for the next 15 years.