Happy Sir John A. Day!

John_A_MacdonaldThis January 11, 2015 marks a special anniversary for our country: the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Since 2002, this day is set aside for Canadians to remember their first Prime Minister, one of the Fathers of Confederation. So it is fitting to that we take this occasion to highlight a few interesting facts and celebrate the man.

Through the years, By George has lamented the ignored legacy of Sir John A in many of our posts (and we have tagged “John A. Macdonald“). We have compiled lists of his quotes and a few years back featured our 10 favourite quotes.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A., Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote a stirring piece that commemorates our first PM. PM Harper writes:

Others had ruminated about Confederation but only he saw how to get it done — how to make the case for unity, how to rally common hopes and fears, how to overcome different perspectives and interests.

But Macdonald did more than achieve it; he made it work…. Of the greatest importance for all of us, perhaps, was that Macdonald appropriated from the British constitution its conception of freedom, of “ordered liberty,” of the balancing of popular rule and minority rights, of (in the terms of the era) equality before the law and governments responsible through the legislature to the voters.

Richard Gwyn, the celebrated biographer of John Macdonald wrote in the Toronto Star a column trumpeting: “Sir John A. Macdonald, the greatest PM of all”

Gwyn makes the point that “had there been no Macdonald, there would be no Canada for anyone to be a citizen of.”

Under Macdonald’s leadership as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891), the country was extended from sea to sea, giving — at last — it a certain geographical coherence. Macdonald also led Canada to achieve the National Dream, a railway the entire way from eastern Canada to the West Coast. The railway, together with Macdonald’s policy of high tariffs to protect Canadian companies from their far more efficient American rivals, made it possible for Canadians to do business with and get to know each other despite all their differences (French vs. English, Catholic vs. Protestant, Aboriginal vs. European) and the immense distances between them.

By other initiatives, Macdonald fashioned a distinctive Canadian way of getting things done that has stayed with us ever since.

In a National Post article noting the significance of this day, Bob Plamondon, respected political observer and author, makes the perceptive comment:
Macdonald’s greatest gift to us, then as now, was to show us how we can be stronger as a nation when we celebrate and respect our diversity.

All of this is by way of hanging our collective heads with the discouraging fact that Canadians really do not know enough about Macdonald and his legacy. On Canada.com, there is a telling release this week: Poll conducted ahead of the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth

One in four Canadians can’t identify Sir John A. Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada, according to a new poll commissioned by Historica Canada.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, shows Canadians don’t know their history as well as Historica would hope. Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians don’t know the year of confederation, and 44 per cent don’t know Canada turns 150 years old in 2017.

So, today, take a moment and share a story or two about our first Prime Minister. Talk about him. Toast his legacy. Canada is very much a living testament to Sir John A. Macdonald’s vision and efforts. It is so important that more Canadians appreciate this fact.

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