Monday September 01, 2014

Sir John A. Day. What?


View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: Is Sir John A. MacDonald Day (Jan. 11)relevant?

No sentimentalism

I’d be willing to bet most Canadians have no idea that January 11 is Sir John A. MacDonald Day.

I’m also willing to go out on a limb and guess that, even if they did, it would be irrelevant to most. In fact, I did a bit of a survey of people around the office and on Facebook and that’s exactly what I found. That’s hardly scientific, I know, but hardly surprising. A 2009 Historica-Dominion Institute survey found that 42 per cent of Canadians could not identify MacDonald as Canada’s first prime minister.

The act of Parliament that created the day was the brainchild of Conservative senator John Lynch-Staunton. The bill also designated November 20 Sir Wilfred Laurier Day. It was ushered through the House of Commons by then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and received Royal assent in March 2002.

While I find it unfortunate that so many Canadians are so unaware of our own history, I am also not a fan of sentimentalizing history.

There is no question that MacDonald was one of the most significant figures in the building of the nation, but whitewashing his character flaws and celebrating him as an American-style “founding father” of Canada smacks of historical revisionism.

And, let us not forget, he was wildly unpopular in the west.

Despite Louis Riel’s exile to the United States—which MacDonald perpetuated with bribery—Manitoba elected the Métis leader to the House of Commons three times. Not to whitewash Riel’s foible’s either, but his martyrdom was MacDonald’s doing by personally ensuring Riel was hanged.

He also gave us the Pacific Scandal, accepting large kickbacks from the Canadian Pacific Railway that he used to buy the 1872 election. The following year he was forced to resign as prime minister because of the scandal and, in 1874, in the first Canadian election conducted by secret ballot, lost miserably to Alexander Mackenzie.

He made his comeback in 1878 with the Conservative National Policy of high trade tariffs, which was also extremely unpopular in the west where voters favoured free trade with the U.S.

Historical hindsight tells us the profoundly corrupt arrangement between the CPR and the Conservative Party continued right up to the time of MacDonald’s death in 1891 and beyond, finally coming to an end under Sir Robert Borden during World War I.  

The country during MacDonald’s second stint as prime minister (1878-1891) was characterized by economic protectionism, completion of the railway and western land settlement, all perhaps critical to the development of the nascent country.

These days, Pierre Trudeau is still frequently blamed for western alienation, but truly John A. MacDonald was the father of western alienation.

It has been argued that MacDonald’s corruption, political style and policies were necessary in the late 19th century for nation-building. That may be true and, if having a day in his honour promotes a greater appreciation of Canadian history, I’m all for it. Let’s just make sure it’s not the rose-coloured glasses version of history.

— Thom Barker

With pride

With barely a notice, which I suppose is simply evidence of being Canadian, a movement seems afoot to have Sir. John A. MacDonald Day (enacted by Parliament in 2002) be more widely recognized.

If there is one thing this country, and its people, have always been lax to do, it is celebrate our own successes.

It is almost synonymous with being from Canada that we deflect attention away from anything which shows a pride in being Canadian.

Look through the holidays on the calender, the ones that really matter because we get a statutory day off to celebrate them, and with the exception of Canada Day, none are specifically Canadian.

So simply celebrating a day marking the accomplishments of a well-known Canadian is a positive in my book. It would be a day where we could, as a Canadian collective, thrust out our chests with some added pride.

Yes, the argument can be made that MacDonald was far from our best Prime Minister, although I won’t start a political debate about who might be better here.

What MacDonald was, was our first PM, and in terms of history, that accounts for something, much as Americans mark Washington’s birthday.

MacDonald also held a vision for Canada, one of a country stretching coast-to-coast, and he undertook to make that vision a reality. He was instrumental in building the railroad which was the link to bind a developing nation together.

Are there other Canadians we should mark with a day? Likely, and if polled we’d all have a different vision of who those would be.

But Sir John A. is a worthy place to start a little more Canadian pride, so Jan. 11 ( he was born on that date in 1815), is a fine day to remember a man whose vision was a foundation for the Canada we have today.

 — Calvin Daniels


Sir John A. Macdonald Day is celebrated on January 11 in Canada to celebrate the first Canadian Prime Minister, the honourable and respected Sir John A. Macdonald.

But why should you, as a Canadian citizen, celebrate it?

Well, for one, Sir John A. was one of the key people responsible for Canada becoming its own country in 1867. Before 1867 we were simply an extension of the United Kingdom. But thanks to Sir John A. Macdonald and his ‘merry men’ Canada had finally moved out of its parents’ basement to become a respected, albeit young, member of the world.

January 11 is also Sir John A.’s birthday. You should consider Macdonald as a part of your family for what he has done for our great nation. Celebrate his birthday in whichever way you want.

Keep in mind, however, that Sir John A. was Scottish by birth. So you may want to celebrate Sir John A. Macdonald Day in a way that would make him proud.

Combine Canadian and Scottish lifestyles. Go curling, play some hockey, wear a kilt and eat a supper containing both poutine and haggis. If you don’t know what haggis is, consider yourself lucky.

Sir John A. Macdonald, for what you did for Canada I thank you.

— Randy Brenzen



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