The Greatest Canadian of them All

When CBC viewers cast their ballots in 2004 on who was the Greatest Canadian, Sir John A. Macdonald ranked number eight – one place behind Don Cherry.

As part of the Canada150 celebration organized by the Old Ottawa East Community Association, Dr. Philippe Azzie of Carleton University made a compelling case for why he deserves a much higher ranking.

Macdonald excelled in three distinct but related fields: as founder, nation builder, and leader.

He was a founder of Canada – a Father of Confederation. In fact, he was the principal architect of our Constitution.

But earlier he also founded an alliance that brought Upper Canada Tories with Lower Canada Bleus to form a political party that has helped shape Canada ever since.

As a nation builder, he held office as Prime Minister for 19 of Canada’s formative first 24 years. Under his guidance, four eastern provinces grew to become a trans-continental dominion. Among the achievements Professor Azzie listed:

·         Prime minister during the creation of the provinces of Manitoba, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island;

·         the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway;

·         the establishment of the North West Mounted Police;

·         Canada’s first labour legislation (Trade Unions Act of 1873); and

·         the implementation of the National Policy of tariff protection.

As a leader, he held a Parliamentary Caucus together and led his Party to victory in six federal elections. His leadership style was pragmatic and practical. It was both partisan and patriotic. He used camaraderie and good humour to make allies and placate opponents. To create a new nation, he was capable of forming a Great Coalition with his enemy, George Brown.

While one could argue that other Canadians were equally important and exceptional in one or even two of those fields, Professor Azzie points out that no one matches Macdonald in combining all three. Mackenzie-King governed the country longer, but did not help create the country and its constitution. Apart from Charles Tupper’s administration which lasted a mere ten weeks, none of the other Fathers of Confederation led a federal government. Wilfrid Laurier may have been Macdonald’s equal as a Parliamentarian and a nation builder, but he was not a founder.

What was Macdonald like?  “When we think about Macdonald,” says Professor Azzie, “we tend to forget or not know how highly intelligent he was.”  He deliberately cultivated an image of himself as a practical man, not much interested in visionary ideas.  Yet, he was the most adept constitutional scholar among the Fathers of Confederation.

Professor Azzie noted that, “He genuinely liked people – including political opponents – and had a legendary memory for names and faces.” His life was marred with personal tragedy, but he maintained an aura of bonhomie and good will.

The father of Medicare and Canada’s first NDP Premier, Tommy Douglas was the choice of the CBC viewers in 2004 as the Greatest Canadian. Professor Azzie suggested that, without John A. Macdonald, we might not have been able to vote on who was the Greatest Canadian, because there might not have been a Canada.

Professor Azzie’s talk was the second in a series of discussions on Canada’s Prime Ministers. In the first lecture in March, Professor Richard Clippingdale spoke about Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

[This article first appeared in the June, 2017, edition of the Ottawa South Community Association Review -- OSCAR.]

 

If I had influence over the minds of the people of Canada, any power over their intellect, I would leave them this legacy: ‘Whatever you do, adhere to the Union. We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.’

SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD DAY

January 31st, 2015

WHEREAS, Canada’s first Prime Minister and a prominent Father of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, 200 years ago this month; and 

WHEREAS, to honour his memory, the Scottish Society of Ottawa, in partnership with Winterlude and with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Scottish Government, has organized an event known as “Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate”; and

WHEREAS, skaters on the Rideau Canal Skateway are invited to wear kilts, tartans, and other clothing to celebrate Sir John A.’s Scottish heritage, and gather at Confederation Park for Winterlude festivities, including Scottish music; and

WHEREAS, similar kilt skates to mark the bicentennial of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth will be held this day in Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Calgary;

THEREFORE, I, Jim Watson, Mayor of the City of Ottawa, do hereby proclaim January 31st, 2015 Ottawa Sir John A. Macdonald Day.

JOURNÉE DES ÉCOSSAIS À OTTAWA

Le 31 juillet 2014

ATTENDU QUE la Journée des Écossais à Ottawa honore les traditions, la musique et l’héritage de l’Écosse par le biais d’un concert qui célèbre les musiciens de la Ville d’Ottawa et ses visiteurs; et

ATTENDU QUE cette journée célèbre le talent et le dévouement des nombreux participants à un spectacle créé par le Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, le corps de cornemuse civil le plus ancien au Canada, établi dans la capitale nationale en 1896; et

ATTENDU QUE le 31 juillet marque le onzième concert annuel d’excellence celtique animé par Sons of Scotland; et

ATTENDU QUE cette journée donne l’occasion aux amateurs des arts celtiques de se rassembler à un concert soulignant la merveilleuse musique et la camaraderie d’un grand nombre de talentueux et généreux bénévoles de notre communauté;

PAR CONSÉQUENT, je, Jim Watson, maire de la Ville d’Ottawa, proclame par la présente le 31 juillet 2014 Journée des Écossais à Ottawa.

 
Jim Watson
Mayor / Maire