Liberalism is a political doctrine that stresses the point that all citizens are equal before the law; it eliminates class privileges and defends freedom of all kinds: freedom of speech and press, expression and worship, private property, etc. Liberalism states that maximization and freedom of choice should be the main goal of the representative government. This paper is going to discuss the main features of Canadian liberalism as well as the history of its development. It also concludes that the ideology is going to keep holding an influential main position in Canadian politics (Kelly 2005).
The ideology of liberalism can be traced back to John Locke, a famous philosopher and political scientist who lived in the 17th century in England (Locke & Macpherson, 1980). He upheld the concept of the new government that is aimed at protecting citizens’ lives, property and rights. He also supported the idea of a limited number of governors and division of the government into branches. In turn, Adam Smith can be credited with introducing the concept of economic liberalism and free trade market. In The Wealth of Nations he argued that the society can only reach wealth and prosperity by implementing the division of labor and eliminating primary decision-makers who act within their own interests. The concept of liberalism emerged in the 19th century during the humanitarian and political crisis in Britain (Kelly, 2005).
The government used to raise revenue through importation taxes and hence interfered into the trade process. This policy helped maintain the prices on products – mainly agricultural goods – which caused the mentioned crisis. The poor were starving, so the government was forced to change its politics. Free trade appeared to be a solution to the problem, and its supporters formed the Liberal Party. According to modern ideas of liberalism, the main task of the government is to prevent the influence of such factors as poverty, disease, ignorance and discrimination on the citizens. It should be aimed at making sure that those obstacles do not hinder people from realizing their potential and living freely (Kelly, 2005). In the modern world liberal ideology is associated with many things: freedom of speech, understanding of individual characteristics of each person, protection of gender and LGBT rights. It has always been a solution to many problems. Moreover, liberal ideas helped develop new social theories, study numerous social expressions and, finally, start talking about globalization. Globalization seems to emerge within the doctrine itself. It is important to look closer at its definition. Globalization is the process of integration among people and governments of different nations and continents. This process is caused by international trade and development of information technologies. Globalization affects all the aspects of people’s life: culture, environment, prosperity, economic development and general well-being of nations around the world. Due to the development of technologies, the process of globalization accelerates every year. In fact, the definitions of globalization and liberalism have a lot in common: free trade, mutual integration of nations and cultures, open governmental organizational systems, etc. All of these factors are shared by liberalism as a concept and globalization as an international process (Kohler & Chaves, 2003).
This is the reason why liberalism seems to be an alternative in all the times. As globalization keeps speeding up and blending cultures, it will soon become impossible without a liberal mind of every person. Progressive ideas of multiculturalism are very familiar to the Canadian Liberal Party. Since the emergence of this doctrine in Canada during Confederation till the present times liberals have been advocating free trade, tolerance towards others and freedom of state and each individual within it. Being culturally diverse, bordering a powerful country just as diverse as it is, Canada seems to naturally uphold the ideas of liberalism. Moreover, modern Canadian politics towards other cultures and countries shows that this doctrine is the one Canada will be committed to for much longer time (Ajzenstat 2003). Liberal ideology is the longest-running one in Canada. In their early history liberals upheld the ideology of continentalism. It means that their main accents were on free trade with the neighboring United States and opposition to imperialism. The Liberal Party emerged as a modern party when Wilfrid Laurier became their leader (LaPierre, 1997).
Liberalist anti-clericalism was offensive to the Roman Catholic Church, and Laurier was able to overcome this distractive reputation of the Party. Moreover, he managed not only to settle Western Canada by supporting immigration but also to promote the development of Canadian industry (LaPierre, 1997). During the colonial period of the late 19th – early 20th centuries, liberals advocated more generic, centrist positions. At the time of confederation, liberals encountered conservative ideas of Sir John A. Mcdonald (Ducharme & Constant, 2009). For a long time after Canadian confederation, the Liberal Party was in opposition. Alexander Mackenzie was the one who managed to lead liberals to power but could not hold them there. Mackenzie won the 1874 election but lost the government (Ducharme & Constant, 2009). After that accident, liberals spent almost 20 years in opposition. They upheld modern British values of free markets and personal responsibilities. They also fostered tolerant relationship between British and French Canadians. Provinces such as Ontario were controlled by the Liberal Party at that time. In the early 20th century, liberals suggested for Canada to take full responsibility for its foreign affairs. Initially, the British Empire determined external policies of the country. It was Laurier who created the department of External Affairs in 1905. He also proposed the independent Canadian army and later, in 1910 he appointed to create a Navy (LaPierre, 1997). In the period around the World War II, the party advocated “progressive social policy”. William King, who was prime minister at that time, introduced the concept of Canadian social safety net (Ajzenstat, 2003). The Liberal Party proposed several new reforms within this program. Among them were: a monthly payment to mothers with small children, pensions for older persons, Canada Student Loans, universal health care, etc.
After the World War II, the Liberal Party moved to the left wing. Pierre Trudeau, who was Liberal Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984, is considered to be the “founding father” of the modern liberal ideology. He believed that a larger and more active government can help reduce most of the economic problems and produce the “just society” (Foster, 2007). The “just society” is by definition a perfect government, a society for citizens but not for one’s benefit. This term did not identify the specific set of reforms but was applicable to all of his policies. Trudeau is usually credited with popularizing the ideas of multiculturalism, French-English bilingualism as well as internationalist foreign policy. Pierre Trudeau defined his approach: The Just Society will be one in which our Indian and Inuit populations will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future and more meaningful equality of opportunity. The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfill themselves in the fashion they judge best. (Foster, 2007, p. 329)
Trudeau’s contribution to the Canadian nationalism cannot be overestimated. He favored the ideas of independence for Canada rather than being a British colony. His values of social equality and cultural diversity values have remained eligible for Canadian Liberals ever since. Soon after Trudeau’s retirement the Liberal Party found itself in the opposition. Liberals were defeated by the Progressive Conservatives. It was the most crushing defeat in party’s history. In such circumstances, the Liberal Party started the long process of reconstruction. Jean Chrétien was elected prime minister in 1993 (Ducharme & Constant, 2009). The basic liberal policies were specified in the Red Book (Creating Opportunity: The Liberal Plan for Canada). The exceptional feature of the book was its highly specified suggestions on what exactly the party would do after it is elected. The platforms that existed before contained promises and some vague general principles. However, this book proposed a range of changes that the Liberal Party was going to accomplish once it would come to power. The next decade this party would dominate in the Canadian government. However, their values were seen as somewhat conservative by the Canadians (Ducharme & Constant 2009).
The Liberal Party of Canada had been losing its popularity since the early 2000s up until Pierre Trudeau’s son Justin Trudeau was appointed the head of the party and won the federal elections and became prime minister in 2015 (Ducharme & Constant, 2009). He established a new direction for the ideology: the party claims itself to be moderately conservative but socially progressive. They are supportive of gay marriage, abortion rights, immigration as well as unregulated free market. Although the party has moved away from supporting the large government, it still opposes the right wing. Justin Trudeau advocates progressive policies for the Liberal Party. He filled the office with an equal number of male and female ministers, which is somewhat new for the whole world. Modern liberal beliefs focus on creating an efficient infrastructure by investing into public transit and eco-friendly technologies. In addition, liberals direct attention at social infrastructure: building community centers, investing into child care, etc. The liberal plan promises to help middle-class families raise their children by paying a tax-free benefit. Besides, they offer to lower tax payments for middle-class Canadians. Considering the governmental system, the Liberal Party claims its opposition to Conservatives. They offer to modernize organizational policies by creating a commission inside the government to allow it to control itself (Foster 2007).
Since the 19th century, Canadian liberalism supported the ideas of continentalism. For them, it meant being free to interact with their powerful neighbor and embrace the changes that this relationship was expected to bring. Being such a big and diverse country, Canada seems to naturally accept liberalism. The long history of the oldest Liberal Party of Canada proves this point well. This party tends to present itself as an open-minded, modern and progressive group of high-profile politicians. It is composed of different regional, ethnic, social class and religious representatives. However, as in most Canadian parties, the main decision-making function in the Liberal Party belongs to the leader. He establishes a new ideological direction for the party. This way every new leader of the party would bring new accents to its ideological side. This way Wilfrid Laurier promoted the ideas of multiculturalism and insisted on the importance of industrial development (LaPierre, 1997). He also upheld the belief that Canada should become an independent state. Alexander Mackenzie advocated the modern British values of personal responsibility. During the times of the Second World War, the party lead by William King proposed the programs of social welfare for citizens to protect them from violent events in the world. After the war, Pierre Trudeau adopted the principle of the “just society”, which implied that the government should work for citizens but not for its own interests. He promoted the idea of multiculturalism, tolerant relationship between the French and British and extended the foreign policy. Jean Chrétien impressed the voters with a strict set of responsibilities he laid on the Liberal Party. The list of things that the party would accomplish was presented in the exceptional Red Book. However, Chrétien’s policies that he brought to the Party were considered somewhat conservative by the Canadians (Ducharme & Constant, 2009).
The Liberal Party of Canada has never lost its popularity for too long. Justin Trudeau, the current leader of the party, was elected prime minister for his progressive liberal views and active pro-social position. Trudeau took into consideration the modern views and issues around the world and united them into several simple principles. The primary one was creating an open and clear governmental system that would work for the benefit of the citizens. Secondly, he suggested creating efficient social and industrial infrastructure by investing in eco-friendly technologies, transit, social centers, child care etc. Throughout its history, the Liberal Party of Canada stayed up-to-date with its principles. They reacted on the global tendencies and served the needs of the society. This is the main reason for its popularity. Ideas of liberalism come naturally; they eliminate hatred, ignorance and discrimination and promote tolerance and intelligence. In the modern world, there are many different kinds of liberalism. Classical liberalism (also called “old”) stresses the importance of private property and individual freedom. It brings up the importance of minimal governmental interference and economics based on personal property. New liberalism, also known as “social”, questions the connection between individual freedom and personal property. It assumes that property rights can cause inequality of power for the working class. Unlike old liberals, the new ones worry that the lack of government intervention can lead to instability in the society. They support social welfare and control of economics. Neo-liberals get their ideal mainly from classical doctrine. They stress convenience of small government and market individualism. They hold the idea that each individual is an owner of his or her mind, skills and intellectual property. Neoliberalism advocates the necessity for personal development and growth. It does allow some governmental interference; however, in general, this ideology is not in favor of completely controlled economics. Utilitarian liberalism stresses individuality and freedom like the liberal ideology as a whole. However, this form emphasizes the value of moral action over economics. In other words, it means that the responsibility for the final action is on the individual, and the law as far as the government should not be concerned (Kelly 2005).
Using many different approaches, liberalism remains the dominant ideology in many countries. Due to its fundamental ideal of personal freedom and ability to adapt to the needs of citizens, it is one of the most flexible ways to establish policies. Although liberal ideology does not always express clear and coherent strategies, it manages to fit the requirements of modern society (Ajzenstat, 2003). Canadian liberalism brought the understanding of private freedom and individual rights, tolerance and cultural diversity. It also opened the borders for free trade and established friendly relations with foreign partners. Liberalism comes naturally to Canada. The Canadian society as a whole and every local community, in particular, encounter liberal ideas every day in the modern diverse environment. As it was already mentioned, the process globalization does not stop but is constantly accelerating. This fact makes liberalism stand out among all the ideologies. In the future, liberals are going to encounter new social issues and find solutions to them, like they have always done it throughout their long history. The ideology itself might go through some reforms as the global market changes; however, its fundamental ideas about freedom of personality and rights for growth and development are going to remain unchallenged.