Wilfred Laurier is not an Anglo-Canadian. He was shockingly able to perform the duties incumbent to his job while ultimately being unable or unwilling to stop Canada’s typical all-Canadian stupidity. He is one of the tougher Prime Ministers to judge simply because he was an able hand during a time of substantial change who failed to solve for the problems that said massive change was inevitably going to bring. How do you judge “decent – not visionary” in a context where vision is the thing most urgently needed?
Laurier was an expert negotiator. Trapped behind the various gears and grindstones of Canadian affairs, Laurier deftly moved the country away from getting crushed by any one of these affects. To Britain, Laurier was a king of some useless snowy rocks; his compromises – towards sending troops during the Boer War, towards building a piss-poor Navy rather than funding Britain’s – managed to placate the Eye of Victoria without compelling the Quebecois and others to react. He solved the Manitoba Schools Question by creating a system that would inevitably decay and collapse into Anglophony. He even had to deal with the power of the Pope bearing down on his decisions, though the Pope himself wasn’t the worst enemy Laurier ever had.
If Alexander Mackenzie is the first Prime Minister to be rightly considered a positive, I think Laurier is the second. Certainly, the string of useless that followed Mackenzie would hardly have been able to solve anything, seeing as how three of them fell on their asses precisely because they failed at negotiations. Laurier also grasped the concept that Macdonald was simply too drunk to understand – Canada as it was could never fit both English and French identities. He knew that Canada could only survive in a decentralized way, opposing Conscription during his time in the Opposition precisely because he knew how much the issue would enflame the French.
That this ignored the Indians and that Laurier directly failed to resolve his glaring hypocrisy after saying that “Canada is free and its nationality is freedom” is worth noting. The way that the West was colonized is the source of endless Canadiana, with the rampant political dishonesty, starvation, and poverty as unregarded there as it is today on Indian reserves; how much of that is Laurier’s to wear is a valid question. Who knows how many creative and exotic disasters Canada could have had were it not for Laurier?
Instead, we just have this looming disaster called Canada.