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The Dominion Institute


Time to honour a national hero

By John Turner

Part 2 of 2: Father of Our Nation

Sir John A. Macdonald

VIDEO from
Former prime minister John Turner on Sir John A. Macdonald (Jan. 12, 2002)

Brian Mulroney marks the centennial anniversary of John A. Macdonald's death (June 6, 1991)

W-FIVE: Prof. Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald biographer (January 8, 1967)

Printable versions of the essay
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Take the Sir John A. quiz
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Macdonald played a leading role in promoting Confederation, to the point of making alliance with his staunch political rival and Opposition leader, George Brown. With his wide-ranging personal vision and constitutional expertise, Macdonald drafted the British North America Act, which defined the federal system by which the five provinces were united on July 1, 1867.

Macdonald was appointed prime minister of Canada and won the federal election the following month. In his first administration, his primary purpose was to build a nation. Communications between the provinces were essential and, to this end, Macdonald began the Intercolonial Railway. It would run from Halifax to the Pacific Coast and include Canada's two new provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories.

Under Macdonald's leadership, Canada achieved a certain degree of autonomy from Britain in foreign affairs. He also brought in a system of tariffs to protect Canadian products from foreign imports, especially those from the United States, in order to boost economic growth.

We as Canadians should remember him for his accomplishments. He was the leading Father of Confederation. As Canada's first prime minister, he was responsible for securing the West, in the face of a very real American threat. He saw the Canadian Pacific Railroad through to its completion, against considerable opposition, and thus he created of Canada something more than a mere geographic expression. His national policy provided a framework within which a national economy would develop.

In the final analysis, he not only did more than anyone else to bring Canada into being, but he also ensured her survival through the early, difficult years. In doing so he earned, or should have earned, the title Father of Our Nation.

An 1860 speech summed up his lifelong political creed and political goals: ". . . one people, great in territory, great in resources, great in enterprise, great in credit, great in capital."

He foresaw the issue of free trade with the Americans: "As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born, a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, will I oppose the veiled treason which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance."

Macdonald's 1891 election address: "But if it should happen that we should be absorbed in the United States, the name of Canada would be literally forgotten; we should have the State of Ontario, the State of Quebec, the State of Nova Scotia and State of New Brunswick. Every one of the provinces would be a state, but where is the grand, the glorious name of Canada? All I can say is that not with me, or not by the action of my friends, or not by the action of the people of Canada, will such a disaster come upon us."

Here is what Bob Rae had to say about him recently, "I still think he was our greatest prime minister. He was a rousing stump speaker; he was rivetting in Parliament. He understood, as few people have, the relationship between our two founding peoples. He reached out to Lower Canada, now Quebec, and he made it happen. He also understood our need to remain independent beside the then-overwhelming military power of the United States, now the military, economic and political power of the United States, and he launched his National Policy.

"In other words, he understood the fabric of the country and our need to remain sovereign and independent from the United States."

Do we do enough to remember him?

No we don't. How about Washington's birthday in the United States? How about Lincoln's birthday? How about the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Memorial?

If Jan. 11 won't do it (too close to New Year's and Christmas) how about the date of his death in 1891 - June 6? We need more heroes in Canada: let's begin again with Sir John A.

John Turner is a former prime minister of Canada.

• July 2, 1867 - Macdonald's inauguration

• June 8, 1891 - Macdonald's obituary


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