Liberal Party of Canada
Parti libéral du Canada
  • LPC (English)
  • PLC (French)
LeaderJustin Trudeau
PresidentSachit Mehra
House leaderKarina Gould
FounderGeorge Brown
FoundedJuly 1, 1867; 157 years ago (1867-07-01)
Preceded byParti rouge (Canada East)
Clear Grits (Canada West)
Youth wingYoung Liberals of Canada
Membership (2014)Increase 300,000[1][needs update]
IdeologyLiberalism (Canadian)
Social liberalism[2]
Political positionCentre to centre-left
International affiliationLiberal International[3]
Colours  Red
0 / 105
House of Commons
155 / 338
Website Edit this at Wikidata

The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC; French: Parti libéral du Canada, PLC) is a federal political party in Canada. The party espouses the principles of liberalism,[6][7][8] and generally sits at the centre[6][9][10] to centre-left[10][11] of the Canadian political spectrum, with their main rival, the Conservative Party, positioned to their right and the New Democratic Party positioned to their left.[6][12][13] The party is described as "big tent",[14] practising "brokerage politics",[b] attracting support from a broad spectrum of voters.[20] The Liberal Party is the longest-serving and oldest active federal political party in the country, and has dominated federal politics of Canada for much of its history, holding power for almost 70 years of the 20th century.[21][12] As a result, it has sometimes been referred to as Canada's "natural governing party".[22][14][23]

The party first came into power in 1873 under Alexander Mackenzie, but were voted out five years later due to the economic conditions at the time. They would not come back to office until 1896; Wilfrid Laurier was prime minister from that year until the party's defeat in 1911 and his tenure was marked by several compromises between English and French Canada. From the early 1920s until the mid-1950s,[c] the Liberal Party under Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent gradually built a Canadian welfare state.

The Liberals' signature policies and legislative decisions include universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, the establishment of the Royal Canadian Navy, multilateralism, official bilingualism, official multiculturalism, gun control, the patriation of the Constitution of Canada and the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Clarity Act, legalizing same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and cannabis, national carbon pricing, and expanded access to abortion.[7][24][25][26]

The Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau since 2013, won a majority government in the 2015 federal election. In both the federal elections of 2019 and 2021, the party was re-elected with a minority government.


Main article: History of the Liberal Party of Canada

19th century


See also: Rebellions of 1837

The Liberals are descended from the mid-19th century Reformers who advocated for responsible government throughout British North America.[27] These included George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie, Robert Baldwin, William Lyon Mackenzie and the Clear Grits in Upper Canada, Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, and the Patriotes and Rouges in Lower Canada led by figures such as Louis-Joseph Papineau. The Clear Grits and Parti rouge sometimes functioned as a united bloc in the legislature of the Province of Canada beginning in 1854, but a united Liberal Party combining both English and French Canadian members was not formed until 1867.[27]


At the time of Confederation of the former British colonies of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, the radical Liberals were marginalized by the more pragmatic Conservative coalition assembled under Sir John A. Macdonald. In the 29 years after Confederation, the Liberals were consigned to opposition, with the exception of one stint in government.[27] Alexander Mackenzie was the de facto leader of the Official Opposition after Confederation and finally agreed to become the first official leader of the Liberal Party in 1873. He was able to lead the party to power for the first time in 1873, after the Macdonald government resigned over the Pacific Scandal. Mackenzie subsequently won the 1874 election and served as prime minister for an additional four years. During the five years the Liberal government brought in many reforms, including the replacement of open voting by secret ballot, confining elections to one day and the creation of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Royal Military College of Canada, and the Office of the Auditor General; however, the party was only able to build a solid support base in Ontario and in 1878 lost the government to Macdonald.[27] The Liberals would spend the next 18 years in opposition.

Wilfrid Laurier

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada (1896–1911)

In their early history, the Liberals were the party of continentalism and opposition to imperialism. The Liberals also became identified with the aspirations of Quebecers as a result of the growing hostility of French Canadians to the Conservatives. The Conservatives lost the support of French Canadians because of the role of Conservative governments in the execution of Louis Riel[28] and their role in the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and especially their opposition to French schools in provinces besides Quebec.

It was not until Wilfrid Laurier became leader that the Liberal Party emerged as a modern party. Laurier was able to capitalize on the Conservatives' alienation of French Canada by offering the Liberals as a credible alternative. Laurier was able to overcome the party's reputation for anti-clericalism that offended the still-powerful Quebec Roman Catholic Church. In English-speaking Canada, the Liberal Party's support for reciprocity made it popular among farmers, and helped cement the party's hold in the growing prairie provinces.[29]

Laurier led the Liberals to power in the 1896 election (in which he became the first Francophone Prime Minister) and oversaw a government that increased immigration to settle Western Canada. Laurier's government created the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the North-West Territories and promoted the development of Canadian industry.[29]

20th century


William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada (1921–1926, 1926–1930, 1935–1948)

Until the early part of the century, the Liberal Party was a loose coalition of local, provincial, and regional bodies with a strong national party leader and caucus, but with an informal and regionalized extra-parliamentary organizational structure. There was no national membership of the party. An individual became a member by joining a provincial Liberal party. Laurier called the party's first national convention in 1893 to unite Liberal supporters behind a programme and build the campaign that successfully brought the party to power in 1896, but no efforts were made to create a formal national organization outside Parliament.

As a result of the party's defeats in the 1911 and 1917 federal elections, Laurier attempted to organize the party on a national level by creating three bodies: the Central Liberal Information Office, the National Liberal Advisory Committee, and the National Liberal Organization Committee. However, the advisory committee became dominated by members of Parliament and all three bodies were underfunded and competed with both local and provincial Liberal associations and the national caucus for authority. The party did organize the national party's second convention in 1919 to elect William Lyon Mackenzie King as Laurier's successor (Canada's first leadership convention), yet following the party's return to power in the 1921 federal election the nascent national party organizations were eclipsed by powerful ministers and local party organizations largely driven by patronage.

As a result of both the party's defeat in the 1930 federal election and the Beauharnois scandal, which highlighted the need for distance between the Liberal Party's parliamentary wing and campaign fundraising,[30] a central coordinating organization, the National Liberal Federation, was created in 1932 with Vincent Massey as its first president. With the Liberal return to power, the national organization languished except for occasional national committee meetings, such as in 1943 when Mackenzie King called a meeting of the federation (consisting of the national caucus and up to seven voting delegates per province) to approve a new platform for the party in anticipation of the end of World War II and prepare for a post-war election.[31] No national convention was held, however, until 1948; the Liberal Party held only three national conventions prior to the 1950s – in 1893, 1919 and 1948.[32] The National Liberal Federation remained largely dependent on provincial Liberal parties and was often ignored and bypassed the parliamentary party in the organization of election campaigns and the development of policy. With the defeat of the Liberals in the 1957 federal election and in particular 1958, reformers argued for the strengthening of the national party organization so it would not be dependent on provincial Liberal parties and patronage. A national executive and Council of presidents, consisting of the presidents of each Liberal riding association, were developed to give the party more co-ordination and national party conventions were regularly held in biennially where previously they had been held infrequently. Over time, provincial Liberal parties in most provinces were separated from provincial wings of the federal party and in a number of cases disaffiliated. By the 1980s, the National Liberal Federation was officially known as the Liberal Party of Canada.[33]

Canadian sovereignty

Louis St. Laurent, Prime Minister of Canada (1948–1957)

Under Laurier, and his successor William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Liberals promoted Canadian sovereignty and greater independence within the British Commonwealth. In Imperial Conferences held throughout the 1920s, Canadian Liberal governments often took the lead in arguing that the United Kingdom and the dominions should have equal status, and against proposals for an 'imperial parliament' that would have subsumed Canadian independence. After the King–Byng Affair of 1926, the Liberals argued that the Governor General of Canada should no longer be appointed on the recommendation of the British government. The decisions of the Imperial Conferences were formalized in the Statute of Westminster, which was actually passed in 1931, the year after the Liberals lost power.

The Liberals also promoted the idea of Canada being responsible for its own foreign and defence policy. Initially, it was Britain which determined external affairs for the dominion. In 1905, Laurier created the Department of External Affairs, and in 1909 he advised Governor General Earl Grey to appoint the first Secretary of State for External Affairs to Cabinet. It was also Laurier who first proposed the creation of a Canadian Navy in 1910. Mackenzie King recommended the appointment by Governor General Lord Byng of Vincent Massey as the first Canadian ambassador to Washington in 1926, marking the Liberal government's insistence on having direct relations with the United States, rather than having Britain act on Canada's behalf.

Social safety net

In the period just before and after the Second World War, the party became a champion of 'progressive social policy'.[34] As Prime Minister for most of the time between 1921 and 1948, King introduced several measures that led to the creation of Canada's social safety net. Bowing to popular pressure, he introduced the mother's allowance, a monthly payment to all mothers with young children. He also reluctantly introduced old age pensions when J. S. Woodsworth required it in exchange for his Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party's support of King's minority government.

Louis St. Laurent succeeded King as Liberal leader and Prime Minister on November 15, 1948. In the 1949 and 1953 federal elections, St. Laurent led the Liberal Party to two large majority governments. As Prime Minister he oversaw the joining of Newfoundland in Confederation as Canada's tenth province, he established equalization payments to the provinces, and continued with social reform with improvements in pensions and health insurance. In 1956, Canada played an important role in resolving the Suez Crisis, and contributed to the United Nations force in the Korean War. Canada enjoyed economic prosperity during St. Laurent's premiership and wartime debts were paid off. The Pipeline Debate proved the Liberal Party's undoing. Their attempt to pass legislation to build a natural gas pipeline from Alberta to central Canada was met with fierce disagreement in the House of Commons. In 1957, John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives won a minority government and St. Laurent resigned as Prime Minister and Liberal leader.[35]

Lester B. Pearson was easily elected Liberal leader at the party's 1958 leadership convention. However, only months after becoming Liberal leader, Pearson led the party into the 1958 federal election that saw Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives win the largest majority government, by percentage of seats, in Canadian history.[36] The Progressive Conservatives won 206 of the 265 seats in the House of Commons, while the Liberals were reduced to just 48 seats. Pearson remained Liberal leader during this time and in the 1962 election managed to reduce Diefenbaker to a minority government. In the 1963 election Pearson led the Liberal Party back to victory, forming a minority government. Pearson served as prime minister for five years, winning a second election in 1965. While Pearson's leadership was considered poor and the Liberal Party never held a majority of the seats in parliament during his premiership, he left office in 1968 with an impressive legacy.[37] Pearson's government introduced Medicare, a new immigration act, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, the Canada Assistance Plan, and adopted the Maple Leaf as Canada's national flag.[38]

Pierre Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (1968–1979, 1980–1984)

Under Pierre Trudeau, the mission of a progressive social policy evolved into the goal of creating a "just society".[39] In the late 1970s, Trudeau stated that his Liberal Party adhered to the "radical centre".[40][41]

The Liberal Party under Trudeau promoted official bilingualism and passed the Official Languages Act, which gave French and English languages equal status in Canada.[27] Trudeau hoped that the promotion of bilingualism would cement Quebec's place in Confederation, and counter growing calls for an independent Quebec. The party hoped the policy would transform Canada into a country where English and French Canadians could live together, and allow Canadians to move to any part of the country without having to lose their language. Although this vision has yet to fully materialize, official bilingualism has helped to halt the decline of the French language outside of Quebec, and to ensure that all federal government services (including radio and television services provided by the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada) are available in both languages throughout the country.[42]

The Trudeau Liberals are also credited with support for state multiculturalism as a means of integrating immigrants into Canadian society without forcing them to shed their culture,[43] leading the party to build a base of support among recent immigrants and their children.[44] This marked the culmination of a decades-long shift in Liberal immigration policy, a reversal of pre-war racial attitudes that spurred discriminatory policies such as the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923[45] and the MS St. Louis incident.[46]

Trudeau-era wordmark and logo

The most lasting effect of the Trudeau years has been the patriation of the Constitution of Canada and the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[47][48] Trudeau's Liberals supported the concept of a strong, central government, and fought Quebec separatism, other forms of Quebec nationalism, and the granting of "distinct society" status to Quebec; however, such actions served as rallying cries for sovereigntists, and alienated many Francophone Quebeckers.

The other primary legacy of the Trudeau years has been financial. Net federal debt in fiscal 1968, just before Trudeau became Prime Minister, was about $18 billion CAD, or 26 percent of gross domestic product; by his final year in office, it had ballooned to over 200 billion—at 46 percent of GDP, nearly twice as large relative to the economy.[49]

John Turner

Liberal Party logo in 1984

After Trudeau's retirement in 1984, many Liberals, such as Jean Chrétien and Clyde Wells, continued to adhere to Trudeau's concept of federalism. Others, such as John Turner, supported the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Constitutional Accords, which would have recognized Quebec as a "distinct society" and would have increased the powers of the provinces to the detriment of the federal government.

Trudeau stepped down as Prime Minister and party leader in 1984, as the Liberals were slipping in polls. At that year's leadership convention, Turner defeated Chrétien on the second ballot to become Prime Minister.[50] Immediately, upon taking office, Turner called a snap election, citing favourable internal polls. However, the party was hurt by numerous patronage appointments, many of which Turner had made supposedly in return for Trudeau retiring early. Also, they were unpopular in their traditional stronghold of Quebec because of the constitution repatriation which excluded that province. The Liberals lost power in the 1984 election, and were reduced to only 40 seats in the House of Commons. The Progressive Conservatives won a majority of the seats in every province, including Quebec. The 95-seat loss was the worst defeat in the party's history, and the worst defeat at the time for a governing party at the federal level. What was more, the New Democratic Party, successor to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, won only ten fewer seats than the Liberals, and some thought that the NDP under Ed Broadbent would push the Liberals to third-party status.[51]

The party began a long process of reconstruction.[27] A small group of young Liberal MPs, known as the Rat Pack, gained fame by criticizing the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney at every turn. Also, despite public and backroom attempts to remove Turner as leader, he managed to consolidate his leadership at the 1986 review.

The 1988 election was notable for Turner's strong opposition to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement negotiated by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Although most Canadians voted for parties opposed to free trade, the Tories were returned with a majority government, and implemented the deal. The Liberals recovered from their near-meltdown of 1984, however, winning 83 seats and ending much of the talk of being eclipsed by the NDP, who won 43 seats.[27]

Jean Chrétien

Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada (1993–2003)

Turner announced that he would resign as leader of the Liberal Party on May 3, 1989. The Liberal Party set a leadership convention for June 23, 1990, in Calgary. Five candidates contested the leadership of the party, with former Deputy Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who had served in every Liberal cabinet since 1965, and Paul Martin, MP and former CEO of Canada Steamship Lines, as the frontrunners. A key moment in that race took place at an all-candidates debate in Montreal, where the discussion quickly turned to the Meech Lake Accord. Martin, favouring Meech, attempted to force Chrétien to abandon his nuanced position on the deal and declare for or against it. When Chrétien refused to endorse the deal, young Liberal delegates crowding the hall began to chant "vendu" ("sellout" in French) and "Judas" at Chrétien. The incident damaged Chrétien's reputation in Quebec, and lead to a lasting animosity between Chrétien and Martin. Chrétien won on the first ballot.[52]

Chrétien's Liberals campaigned in the 1993 election on the promise of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and eliminating the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Just after the writ was dropped for the election, they issued the Red Book, an integrated and coherent approach to economic, social, environmental and foreign policy. This was unprecedented for a Canadian party.[27] Taking full advantage of the inability of Mulroney's successor, Kim Campbell, to overcome a large amount of antipathy toward Mulroney, they won a strong majority government with 177 seats—the third-best performance in party history, and their best since 1949. The Progressive Conservatives were cut down to only two seats, suffering a defeat even more severe than the one they had handed the Liberals nine years earlier. The Liberals were re-elected with a considerably reduced majority in 1997, but nearly tied their 1993 total in 2000.

For the next decade, the Liberals dominated Canadian politics in a fashion not seen since the early years of Confederation. This was because of the splintering of the Progressive Conservative's electoral coalition. The PCs' Western support, for all practical purposes, transferred en masse to the Western-based Reform Party, which replaced the PCs as the largest right-wing party in Canada; however, the party was unable to overcome perceptions of extremism and that it was merely a Western protest party, and was virtually non-existent east of Manitoba. Meanwhile, the Quebec nationalists who had once supported the Tories largely switched their support to the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois, while the Tories' Ontario support largely moved to the Liberals. With a divided opposition, the Liberals were able to reap large majorities—especially in Ontario, where the party won all but one seat in 1993, all but two in 1997 and all but three in 2000. However, there was some disappointment as Liberals were not able to recover their traditional dominant position in Quebec, despite being led by a Quebecer.

Liberal Party logo, 1992–2004

While the Chrétien Liberals campaigned from the left, their time in power is most marked by the cuts made to many social programs, including health transfers, in order to balance the federal budget.[53] Although Chrétien had supported the Charlottetown Accord while in opposition, in government he opposed major concessions to Quebec and other provincialist factions. In contrast to their promises during the 1993 campaign, they implemented only minor changes to NAFTA, embraced the free trade concept and—with the exception of the replacement of the GST with the Harmonized Sales Tax in some Atlantic provinces—broke their promise to replace the GST.

After a proposal for Quebec independence was narrowly defeated in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the Liberals passed the "Clarity Act", which outlines the federal government's preconditions for negotiating provincial independence.[54] In Chrétien's final term, he supported same-sex marriage,[55][56] decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana,[57] and ratified the Kyoto Protocol.[58] On March 17, 2003, Chrétien announced that Canada would not support the invasion of Iraq,[59] which caused friction with the United States.[60] However, a poll conducted by EKOS for the Toronto Star and La Presse shortly afterwards showed widespread approval of Chrétien's decision by the Canadian public: 71 percent of those questioned approved of the government's decision to not enter the United States-led invasion, with 27 percent expressing disapproval.[61]

In Chrétien's final weeks as prime minister, he introduced legislation to reduce the maximum allowable donation to a political party or candidate to $5,000. The move came as a surprise even to Liberal supporters, as Chrétien had not done anything about election financing at any other point in his ten years in office. Political observers suggested that the move allowed Chrétien to retire on a positive note while saddling Martin, his longstanding rival and successor, with the burden of having to fight an election under the strict new rules.[62]

21st century

Paul Martin

Paul Martin, Prime minister of Canada (2003–2006)

Martin succeeded Chrétien as party leader and prime minister in 2003. Despite the personal rivalry between the two, Martin was Minister of Finance during the 1990s and was the architect of the Liberals' economic policies. Chrétien left office with a high approval rating and Martin was expected to make inroads into Quebec and Western Canada, two regions of Canada where the Liberals had not attracted much support since the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

The political situation changed with the revelation of the sponsorship scandal, in which advertising agencies supporting the Liberal Party received grossly inflated commissions for their services. Having faced a divided conservative opposition for the past three elections, Liberals were seriously challenged by competition from the newly united Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper. The infighting between Martin and Chrétien's supporters also dogged the party. Nonetheless, by criticizing the Conservatives' social policies, the Liberals were able to draw progressive votes from the NDP, which made the difference in several close races. In the 2004 election, the Liberals retained enough support to continue as the government, though they were reduced to a minority.

In the midst of various court rulings in 2003 and 2004 that allowed for the legalization of same-sex marriages in seven provinces and one territory, the Martin government proposed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage across Canada. The House of Commons passed the Civil Marriage Act in late June 2005 in a late-night, last-minute vote before Parliament closed down, the Senate passed it in July 2005, and it received Royal Assent on July 20. This made Canada the fourth country in the world to allow same-sex marriages.[63][64] In November 2005, the Martin government brokered a deal between first ministers and aboriginal leaders known as the Kelowna Accord, which sought to improve the education, skills training, housing and health care of aboriginal peoples by providing $5 billion in funding over five years.[65]

Following the release of the first Gomery Report, the Liberals dropped in polls. Nonetheless, Martin turned down the NDP's conditions for continued support, as well as rejecting an opposition proposal which would schedule a February 2006 election in return for passing several pieces of legislation. The Liberals thus lost a confidence vote on November 28, and Martin advised Governor General Michaëlle Jean to dissolve Parliament and call an election for January 2006.

The Liberal campaign was dogged from start to finish by the sponsorship scandal, which was brought up by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) criminal investigation into the leak of the income trust announcement. Numerous gaffes, contrasting with a smoothly run Conservative campaign, put Liberals as many as ten points behind the Conservatives in opinion polling. They managed to recover some of their momentum by election night, but not enough to retain power. They won 103 seats, a net loss of 30 from when the writs were dropped, compared to 123 for the Tories. Martin resigned as Liberal leader on March 18.[66]

Struggles in opposition

Stéphane Dion makes a speech on October 10, 2008, in Brampton West. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was among notable Liberals at this rally; this was his first time campaigning for anyone since retirement.

The ensuing leadership election was set for December 2, 2006, in Montreal.[67] Eight candidates entered the contest, but only Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, Stéphane Dion and Gerard Kennedy were considered to be the capable of garnering enough support to be able to win the leadership, with Ignatieff and Rae being considered the front-runners.[68][69] Although Ignatieff lead on the first two ballots, on the third ballot Dion picked up enough support from the eliminated Kennedy to leapfrog both Rae and Ignatieff, eliminating Rae. On the fourth and final ballot, Dion defeated Ignatieff to become leader of the Liberal Party.[70]

Dion campaigned on environmental sustainability during the leadership race, which later evolved into the "Green Shift": a proposal for a national carbon tax that would be offset by reductions to income tax rates.[71] The plan was a key policy for the party in the 2008 federal election, but it was not well received and was continuously attacked by both the Conservatives and NDP.[72][73][74][75] On election night, the Liberal Party won 26.26 percent of the popular vote and 77 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. At that time, their popular support was the lowest in the party's history, and weeks later Dion announced he would step down as Liberal leader once his successor was chosen.[76]

Graph of opinion polls conducted between the 2008 and 2011 elections

However, the 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute made Dion's continued leadership untenable: an agreement to form a coalition government between the with NDP faced public opposition if it meant Dion was to be become prime minister, even if only until the leadership election.[77] Dion thus resigned as leader on December 8, with caucus selecting Ignatieff as interim leader.[78] However, Harper prorogued Parliament before a confidence vote could be scheduled. When parliament resumed on January 28, 2009, the Ignatieff Liberals agreed to support the budget as long as it included regular accountability reports, which the Conservatives accepted. This ended the possibility of the coalition government with the New Democrats.[79] Ignatieff was formally named leader on May 2, 2009.[80]

Michael Ignatieff speaks during a news conference in Toronto on March 28, 2011

By the time Ignatieff was confirmed as party leader, the Liberal Party had a comfortable lead over the governing Conservatives.[81][82][83] Support fell over the summer as Ignatieff was characterized of "missing in action", and Ignatieff announced on August 31, 2009, that the Liberals would not support the minority Conservative government when Parliament resumed.[84][85][86] A month later, on October 1, the Liberals put forth a non-confidence motion; however, the NDP abstained from voting and the Conservative government survived.[87] The attempt to force an election, just a year after the previous one, was viewed as a miscalculation, as polls showed that most Canadians did not want another election.[88] Afterwards, popularity for Ignatieff and his party continued to fall.[89] Over the next year and a half, with the exception of a brief period in early 2010, support for the Liberals remained below 30 percent, and behind the Conservatives.[90]

The Liberal Party logo used from 2010 to 2014. In this and the subsequent logo, the stem of the maple leaf forms an acute accent, used in the word Libéral in French

Shortly after the Harper government was found to be in Contempt of Parliament over the Canadian Afghan detainee issue, Ignatieff successfully introduced a motion of no confidence against the government, beginning the 2011 election.[91] The Liberals had considerable momentum when the writ was dropped, and Ignatieff successfully squeezed NDP leader Jack Layton out of media attention by issuing challenges to Harper for one-on-one debates.[92][93][94] However, opponents frequently criticized Ignatieff's perceived political opportunism, particularly during the Leaders' debates when Layton criticized Ignatieff for having a poor attendance record for Commons votes: "You know, most Canadians, if they don't show up for work, they don't get a promotion." Ignatieff failed to defend himself against these charges, and the debates were said to be a turning point in the campaign.[95]

On election day, the Liberals took the biggest loss in their history. The result was a third-place finish, with only 19 percent of the vote and returning 34 seats in the House of Commons. Notably, their support in Toronto and Montreal, their power bases for the last two decades, all but vanished. The Conservatives won 40 percent of the vote and formed a majority government, while the NDP won 31 percent of the vote and formed the Official Opposition.[96] It marked the first time the Liberals were unable to form either government or the official opposition. Ignatieff was defeated in his own riding, and announced his resignation as Liberal leader shortly after. Bob Rae was chosen as the interim leader on May 25, 2011.[97]

Pundits widely viewed the 2011 election as a political realignment and questioned the Liberal Party's viability.The Economist said, "the election represents the biggest realignment of Canadian politics since 1993";[98] Maclean's writer Andrew Coyne wrote that "the Conservatives are now in a position to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party in Canada."[99] Books such as The Big Shift by John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker, and Peter C. Newman's When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada, asserted that the Liberals had become an "endangered species".[100][101]

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (2015–present)

On April 14, 2013, Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was elected leader of the Liberal Party on the first ballot, winning 80% of the vote.[102] Following his win, support for the Liberal Party increased considerably, and the party moved into first place in public opinion polls.[103][104] In response, the Conservatives ran a series of ads attempting to "[paint] him as a silly dilettante unfit for public office" and the surge levelled off in the following year.[105]

In 2014, Trudeau removed all Liberal senators from the Liberal Party caucus. In announcing this, Trudeau said the purpose of the unelected upper chamber is to act as a check on the power of the prime minister, but the party structure interferes with that purpose.[5] Following this move, Liberal senators chose to keep the designation "Liberal" and sit together as a caucus, albeit not one supported by the Liberal Party of Canada. This independent group continued to refer to itself in publications as the Senate Liberal Caucus until 2019.[106]

By the time the 2015 federal election was called, the Liberals had fallen back to third place. Trudeau and his advisors mounted a campaign based on economic stimulus in the hopes of regaining the mantle of being the party that best represented change from the New Democrats.[107] The campaign was successful, and the Liberals won the election in a dramatic fashion: with 39.5 percent of the popular vote and 184 seats, it was the first time a party had won a parliamentary majority after placing third in a previous general election.[108][109][110] Chantal Hébert deemed the result "a Liberal comeback that is headed straight for the history books",[111] while Bloomberg's Josh Wingrove and Theophilos Argitis similarly described it as "capping the biggest political comeback in the country’s history."[112] Spencer McKay, writing for the National Post, suggested that "maybe we've witnessed a revival of Canada's 'natural governing party'".[113]

At the 2019 federal election, Trudeau's Liberal Party lost 20 seats in the House of Commons (lowering its total from 177 to 157) from the time of dissolution, they still won the most seats of any party—enough seats to allow Trudeau to form a minority government.[114][115] For the first time since 1979, the party that garnered the largest share of the national popular vote did not win the most seats; the Liberals under Trudeau had 33.1 per cent of the popular vote, while the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer had 34.4 per cent.[116][117] It was also the first time a government took power with less than 35 per cent of the national popular vote since the Conservatives of John A. Macdonald, in 1867, who had 34.8 per cent of the votes.[118]

In the 2021 federal election, Trudeau and the Liberals secured a third mandate and his second minority government after winning 160 seats. However, the Liberals again came in second in the national popular vote, behind the Conservatives.[119] They received 32.6 percent of the popular vote, the lowest percentage of the national popular vote for a governing party in Canadian history.[120]

In March 2022, Trudeau's Liberal Party agreed to a confidence and supply deal with the New Democratic Party.[121]

Systems and realignment model

Scholars and political experts have recently used a political realignment model to explain what was considered a collapse of a dominant party, and put its condition in long-term perspective. According to recent scholarship, there have been four party systems in Canada at the federal level since Confederation, each with its own distinctive pattern of social support, patronage relationships, leadership styles, and electoral strategies. Steve Patten identifies four party systems in Canada's political history:[122]

Stephen Clarkson (2005) shows how the Liberal Party has dominated all the party systems, using different approaches. It began with a "clientelistic approach" under Laurier, which evolved into a "brokerage" system of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s under Mackenzie King. The 1950s saw the emergence of a "pan-Canadian system", which lasted until the 1990s. The 1993 election – categorized by Clarkson as an electoral "earthquake" which "fragmented" the party system, saw the emergence of regional politics within a four party-system, whereby various groups championed regional issues and concerns. Clarkson concludes that the inherent bias built into the first-past-the-post system, has chiefly benefited the Liberals.[123]

Principles and policies

The principles of the party are based on liberalism as defined by various liberal theorists and include individual freedom for present and future generations, responsibility, human dignity, a just society, political freedom, religious freedom, national unity, equality of opportunity, cultural diversity, bilingualism, and multilateralism.[124][125] From the early twentieth century, the Liberal party has favoured a variety of "big tent" policies from both right and left of the political spectrum.[14] When it formed the government from 1993 to 2006, it championed balanced budgets, and eliminated the budget deficit completely from the federal budget in 1995 by reducing spending on social programs or delegating them to the provinces, and promised to replace the Goods and Services Tax in the party's famous Red Book.[126] It also legalized same-sex marriage.

2021 party platform

During the 2021 federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada introduced their platform, which included a "Gender and Diversity Impact Summary" for each chapter,[127] as well as six key categories. These included: the pandemic, housing, health care, the economy, climate change, and reconciliation.[128][129]

Key Liberal policies of the 2021 platform included:

Provincial parties

Eight provinces and one territory in Canada have a Liberal Party in their legislatures. Neither Nunavut nor the Northwest Territories have party-based electoral and governing systems (both operate with consensus democracy). British Columbia had a Liberal Party whose name and ideology have shifted, BC United; Saskatchewan also had a Liberal Party whose name has changed, Saskatchewan Progress Party. Yukon, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec each have a Liberal Party that may align ideologically with the federal party but operates as a completely separate entity (though at one time were affiliated): Those provincial parties have separate policies, finances, memberships, constituency associations, executives, conventions and offices. The New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island provincial Liberals are each politically and organizationally affiliated with the federal Liberal Party.

Electoral performance

Election Leader Votes % Seats +/– Position Government
1867 George Brown 60,818 22.70
62 / 180
Increase 62 Increase 2nd Opposition
1872 Edward Blake 110,556 34.70
95 / 200
Increase 33 Steady 2nd Opposition
1874 Alexander Mackenzie 128,455 39.50
129 / 206
Increase 34 Increase 1st Majority
1878 180,074 33.10
63 / 206
Decrease 66 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1882 Edward Blake 160,547 31.10
73 / 211
Increase 10 Steady 2nd Opposition
1887 312,736 43.10
80 / 215
Increase 7 Steady 2nd Opposition
1891 Wilfrid Laurier 350,512 45.20
90 / 215
Increase 10 Steady 2nd Opposition
1896 401,425 41.40
117 / 213
Increase 27 Increase 1st Majority
1900 477,758 50.30
128 / 213
Increase 11 Steady 1st Majority
1904 521,041 50.90
137 / 214
Increase 9 Steady 1st Majority
1908 570,311 48.90
133 / 221
Decrease 4 Steady 1st Majority
1911 596,871 45.82
85 / 221
Decrease 48 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1917 729,756 38.80
82 / 235
Decrease 3 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1921 Mackenzie King 1,285,998 41.15
118 / 235
Increase 36 Increase 1st Majority
1925 1,252,684 39.74
100 / 245
Decrease 18 Decrease 2nd Minority
1926 1,397,031 42.90
116 / 245
Increase 16 Increase 1st Minority
1930 1,716,798 45.50
89 / 245
Decrease 27 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1935 1,967,839 44.68
173 / 245
Increase 84 Increase 1st Majority
1940 2,365,979 51.32
179 / 245
Increase 6 Steady 1st Majority
1945 2,086,545 39.78
118 / 245
Decrease 61 Steady 1st Minority
1949 Louis St. Laurent 2,874,813 49.15
191 / 262
Increase 73 Steady 1st Majority
1953 2,731,633 48.43
169 / 265
Decrease 22 Steady 1st Majority
1957 2,702,573 40.50
105 / 265
Decrease 64 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1958 Lester Pearson 2,432,953 33.40
48 / 265
Decrease 67 Steady 2nd Opposition
1962 2,846,589 36.97
99 / 265
Increase 51 Steady 2nd Opposition
1963 3,276,996 41.48
128 / 265
Increase 29 Increase 1st Minority
1965 3,099,521 40.18
131 / 265
Increase 3 Steady 1st Minority
1968 Pierre Trudeau 3,686,801 45.37
154 / 264
Increase 23 Steady 1st Majority
1972 3,717,804 38.42
109 / 264
Decrease 46 Steady 1st Minority
1974 4,102,853 43.15
141 / 264
Increase 32 Steady 1st Majority
1979 4,595,319 40.11
114 / 282
Decrease 27 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1980 4,855,425 44.34
147 / 282
Increase 33 Increase 1st Majority
1984 John Turner 3,516,486 28.02
40 / 282
Decrease 107 Decrease 2nd Opposition
1988 4,205,072 31.92
83 / 295
Increase 43 Steady 2nd Opposition
1993 Jean Chrétien 5,647,952 41.24
177 / 295
Increase 94 Increase 1st Majority
1997 4,994,277 38.46
155 / 301
Decrease 22 Steady 1st Majority
2000 5,252,031 40.85
172 / 301
Increase 17 Steady 1st Majority
2004 Paul Martin 4,982,220 36.73
135 / 308
Decrease 37 Steady 1st Minority
2006 4,479,415 30.23
103 / 308
Decrease 32 Decrease 2nd Opposition
2008 Stéphane Dion 3,633,185 26.26
77 / 308
Decrease 26 Steady 2nd Opposition
2011 Michael Ignatieff 2,783,175 18.91
34 / 308
Decrease 43 Decrease 3rd Third party
2015 Justin Trudeau 6,928,055 39.47
184 / 338
Increase 150 Increase 1st Majority
2019 6,018,728 33.12
157 / 338
Decrease 27 Steady 1st Minority
2021 5,556,629 32.62
160 / 338
Increase 3 Steady 1st Minority
(with NDP confidence and supply)

Party leadership

To date, only seven Liberal leaders never served as Prime Minister, three of whom were interim leaders.


Portrait Name Term start Term end Date of birth Date of death Notes
George Brown 1867 1867 November 29, 1818 May 9, 1880 Unofficial
(The leader of the Clear Grits, a forerunner of the federal Liberal Party)
Edward Blake 1869 1870 October 13, 1833 March 1, 1912 Unofficial
Alexander Mackenzie March 6, 1873 April 27, 1880 January 28, 1822 April 17, 1892 2nd Prime Minister (1st Liberal Prime Minister)
Edward Blake May 4, 1880 June 2, 1887 October 13, 1833 March 1, 1912
Wilfrid Laurier June 23, 1887 February 17, 1919 November 20, 1841 February 17, 1919 7th Prime Minister
Daniel Duncan McKenzie February 17, 1919 August 7, 1919 January 8, 1859 June 8, 1927 Interim leader
William Lyon
Mackenzie King
August 7, 1919 August 7, 1948 December 17, 1874 July 22, 1950 10th Prime Minister
Louis St. Laurent August 7, 1948 January 16, 1958 February 1, 1882 July 25, 1973 12th Prime Minister
Lester B. Pearson January 16, 1958 April 6, 1968 April 23, 1897 December 27, 1972 14th Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau April 6, 1968 June 16, 1984 October 18, 1919 September 28, 2000 15th Prime Minister
John Turner June 16, 1984 June 23, 1990 June 7, 1929 September 18, 2020 17th Prime Minister
Jean Chrétien June 23, 1990 November 14, 2003 January 11, 1934 living 20th Prime Minister
Paul Martin November 14, 2003 March 19, 2006 August 28, 1938 living 21st Prime Minister
Bill Graham March 19, 2006 December 2, 2006 March 17, 1939 August 7, 2022 Interim leader
Stéphane Dion December 2, 2006 December 10, 2008 September 28, 1955 living
Michael Ignatieff December 10, 2008 May 25, 2011 May 12, 1947 living Interim leader until May 2, 2009 (when ratified as permanent leader)
Bob Rae May 25, 2011 April 14, 2013 August 2, 1948 living Interim leader
Justin Trudeau April 14, 2013 Incumbent December 25, 1971 living 23rd Prime Minister

Deputy Leaders


See also


  1. ^ All Liberal senators were expelled from the party's parliamentary caucus in 2014. Those senators, who had been appointed by Liberal prime ministers up to and including Paul Martin, sat from 2014 to 2019 as the Senate Liberal Caucus, which was not affiliated to or recognized by the Liberal Party. The Senate Liberal Caucus was dissolved in 2019 and replaced by the Progressive Senate Group.[4] Senators appointed since 2015 by Justin Trudeau have affiliated with an independent parliamentary group or sat as non-affiliated members.[5]
  2. ^ Brokerage politics is "a Canadian term for successful big tent parties that embody a pluralistic catch-all approach to appeal to the median Canadian voter ... adopting centrist policies and electoral coalitions to satisfy the short-term preferences of a majority of electors who are not located on the ideological fringe."[15][16][17][18][19]
  3. ^ Party was briefly out of power from 1930 to 1935.


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  2. ^
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  9. ^ Andrea Olive (2015). The Canadian Environment in Political Context. University of Toronto Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-4426-0871-9.
  10. ^ a b David Rayside (2011). Faith, Politics, and Sexual Diversity in Canada and the United States. UBC Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7748-2011-0.
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Further reading

  • Bickerton, James, and Alain G. Gagnon. Canadian Politics (5th ed. 2009), 415pp; university textbook
  • Bliss, Michael. Right Honourable Men: The Descent of Canadian Politics from Macdonald to Mulroney (1994), essays on Prime Ministers
  • Carty, R. Kenneth. Big Tent Politics: The Liberal Party’s Long Mastery of Canada’s Public Life (2015)
  • Clarkson, Stephen. The Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics (2005)
  • Cohen, Andrew, and J. L. Granatstein, eds. Trudeau's Shadow: the life and legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1999).
  • Gagnon, Alain G., and Brian Tanguay. Canadian Parties in Transition (3rd ed. 2007), 574pp; university textbook
  • Granatstein, J.L. Mackenzie King: His Life and World (1977).
  • Hillmer, Norman, and Steven Azzi. "Canada's Best Prime Ministers", Maclean's June 20, 2011 online
  • Jeffrey, Brooke. Divided Loyalties: The Liberal Party of Canada, 1984–2008 (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Jeffrey, Brooke. Road to Redemption: The Liberal Party of Canada, 2006-2019 (2020)
  • Koop, Royce. "Professionalism, Sociability and the Liberal Party in the Constituencies." Canadian Journal of Political Science (2010) 43#04 pp: 893–913.
  • McCall, Christina; Stephen Clarkson. "Liberal Party". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on March 26, 2005.
  • McCall, Christina. Grits: an intimate portrait of the Liberal Party (Macmillan of Canada, 1982)
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