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Friday, December 05, 2008

Wilfrid Laurier and Repeal Day

Today the United States celebrate repeal day. It is the day that the constitution was changed to end the prohibition of alcohol. Today I encourage all of Americans and Canadians to celebrate their freedoms by choosing to get drunk (or by choosing freely not to get drunk).

There is an interesting moment in Canada’s own prohibition history that I didn’t know about before. In 1898 there was a plebiscite in Canada to decide if alcohol should be banned. The yes side won but the Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier refused to enact the law. He said that the margin of victory was too small.

Never before have I heard anything that underlines the difference between individual liberty and the principles of democracy. Laurier’s refusal was undemocratic. The majority of the electorate had made their decision and Laurier, one man, was refusing their ‘general will.’ At the same time it was the right thing for Laurier to do.

A tyranny of the majority is still a tyranny, and in many ways it is worse than the tyranny of the one. Laurier acted to protect individual freedom against the tyranny of the ‘general will.’ He ensured that each person would have the ability to come to their own moral and philosophical conclusions when it comes to alcohol. Local municipalities could still vote to make themselves dry, but Canada as a whole would never prohibit alcohol.

So on this repeal day celebrate with the Americans for the restoration of their freedom, and give one toast to Wilfrid Laurier.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on December 5, 2008 in Canadian History | Permalink


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Mr. MacIntyre,
Wilfrid Laurier didn’t act to protect individual freedom.
He did it because if he hasn’t, he would have lost the political support of Quebecers.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-12-05 11:29:55 AM

Indeed he would have. Quebec being the second heaviest drinkers in Confederation, beer is a significant part of their society. But just because he had a political motivation doesn't mean that he didn't have a principled motivation. If you read his speeches and his writings, what he did fits very well with his ideals.

Posted by: Hugh MacIntyre | 2008-12-05 11:44:38 AM

Mr. MacIntyre,
Prohibition at the time would have been disastrous on the economic level for the Confederation. Since only 44% of the population got out voting on the issue, he had no choices than to refuse to enact the law. If he did, his political career would have ended and the national economy would have been in jeopardy.
He can talk of freedom all he wants but, you know, he was a politician.
His record on liberties and individual freedom is not the brightest I have seen.
Enjoy the weekend.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-12-05 12:09:31 PM

No politician has a perfect record on liberties. It is the nature of the game. But Laurier has one of the best if not the best of all Canada's Prime Ministers.

Posted by: Hugh MacIntyre | 2008-12-05 12:15:44 PM

A slight twist on this story but relevant all the same.
On the subject of celebrating freedoms in a supposedly free society one would have to look at the glaring lack of freedoms of the lowly cigarette smoker.
Now this is a legal substance (as alcohol is too) yet to look at our present day bylaws and the antics of the anti smoking crusaders...one would think this stuff society is legally allowed to smoke is in fact a smokin' gun!

I can't recall seeing a sadder nor more socially persecuted crowd than the gainfully employed tax contributing office worker, ten odd paces off the front entry of their workplace, furtively choking back a few drags while looking like a truant schoolkid at a downtown mall hoping nobody his parents know spots him out of class.

I know we could get into the second hand smoke thing etc. but save me the trouble of mentioning that fume spewing diesel bus that just managed to gag me while I was on the corner waiting for the walking green.
Now I should mention at this time that I am a 60 yr old who has never smoked in my life beyond a couple of fags with my eight year old wanabee buddies back in the fifties.I should also mention that I think it a filthy habit but that doesn't give me the right to deny my fellow traveller his pleasures as long as its not right in my face which I'm sure he would happily accomodate, given the chance.

Posted by: nothside 777 | 2008-12-05 6:21:38 PM

I think that you will find that referenda and plebiscites are advisory only. They have no standing in law.

Posted by: DML | 2008-12-08 12:12:46 AM

I didn't say that they aren't DML. That is how he was able to ignore the plebiscite. But if recent events have underlined anything it is that there is a difference between legal and democratic.

Posted by: Hugh MacIntyre | 2008-12-08 12:17:51 AM

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