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Canadians support Prime Ministers Day

By Krista Foss
Monday, February 11, 2002

More than 300,000 Canadians want a day off in February to honour a dead prime minister and many favour celebrating the country's glib-tongued founding father whose taste for tippling was legendary: Sir John A. Macdonald.

Those are the results of a unique Web-based petition that invited Canadians to weigh in on whether we need a new national holiday that gives the nod to our forefathers and gives us a break in the depths of winter.

The internet petition was launched Jan. 11 on by CTV, The Globe and Mail and the Dominion Institute, which is campaigning to persuade the federal government to establish a national Prime Ministers Day on the second Monday of February.

By the time the petition was stopped on the evening of Feb. 8, 375,280 people had responded to the question: Do you support the creation of a new public holiday to honour dead Canadian prime ministers? A sound majority -- 317,551 or 85 per cent -- said yes.

"It's mind-boggling . . . the fact that 300,000-plus Canadians are concerned about what we do or, more likely, don't do, to recognize our prime ministers," said Rudyard Griffiths, the Dominion Institute's executive director.

On the first day of the petition only, respondents were also asked which Canadian prime minister they felt most deserved to be honoured on the inaugural holiday. Of the 36,125 respondents, 45 per cent voted for Sir John A. Macdonald, who was followed closely in popularity only by Pierre Trudeau (34 per cent). Progressive Conservative Party Leader Joe Clark, a living former prime minister, has no problem with the idea. "I think that recognizing Canadian prime ministers is a very good thing -- we are in a culture where it's too easy to be washed over by the American presidential system," said Mr. Clark before reaffirming his party leadership in Halifax this weekend.

Mr. Clark noted that there was a bill near final reading in the federal House that aims to honour past prime ministers and it would be a good idea to "merge" the efforts.

He said Macdonald was the country's "defining" prime minister, and it was appropriate to celebrate him.

Not everyone was so sure in the "Have Your Say" section of the cyber petition, which received up to 50 comments daily while the petition continued.

"Why exonerate such as Sir John A. MacDonald?" wrote Sue Shaw, who prefers a holiday to honour Mr. Trudeau. "He never created Canada. He had to be convinced that it would be a good idea. It must have been a long, costly process, for Sir John A. rarely thought of much beyond his next drink. . . . It seems we like politicians who booze it up, lie to us and mistreat the poor."

Other Canadians who commented questioned whether getting a day off was what their fellow countrymen needed, and several noted that they would prefer a holiday to honour recently deceased radio broadcaster Peter Gzowski rather than a politician.

Mr. Griffiths concedes that Macdonald was a rogue and a harmless villain. "But he is our George Washington," he said. "This country was an uncertain thing in 1866. He united the English and French and the sectarian divisions, and this was his great accomplishment."

Just as uncertain, however, is how well-remembered Canada's first political titan, the Glasgow-born Sir John A., is.

In December, when 1,000 adult Canadians were formally polled by Ipsos-Reid, only 51 per cent could correctly name "the Scottish immigrant, skilled lawyer and Father of Confederation who became Canada's first prime minister."

Still, Mr. Griffiths believes that it's the younger generation of Canadians who are creating a resurgence of interest in the country's history -- and who would energize a national holiday.


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