Happy Birthday Sir John A.!

Elizabeth May

January 11 is the birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald. Our first Prime Minister.

Sir John A. Macdonald believed in Canada. He knew we had to build the links that allowed us to embrace from east to west coasts. The north-south pressures would be evident without help. In fact, the gravitational pull to the U.S. orbit should be resisted. His National Dream, the national railway, showed the confidence of early nationhood. You build now the things that last. You think in decades.

He wrote of the threat to Canada’s forests, bemoaning the rate of logging: “We are recklessly destroying the timber of Canada and there is scarcely any possibility of replacing it.”

Sir John A. was also our first Prime Minister to join a coalition. The “Great coalition” from 1864-1867 brought several parties together -- the George Brown’s “Clear Grits,” George-Etienne Cartier’s Parti bleu and John A. Macdonald’s Liberal-Conservatives. Upper and Lower Canada found common ground. The result was Canada.

Sir John A. had much to recommend him. He was bilingual. Sure, he didn’t speak French, but English and Gaelic. Sure, he drank too much, but he was entertaining.

Sir John A. Macdonald lived in a time when a Prime Minister had only the powers that came from persuasion. The Members of Parliament, even of his own party, did not have to follow him. He referred to them as “loose fish.” They had independence in thinking and action.

That was all a long time ago...