Sir John, Eh? -

Sir John, Eh?


Today (Monday) is the 195th birthday of our first and greatest prime minister, the man who, in the title of Richard Gwyn’s terrific biography, “made us.” In any self-respecting country, this would be a national holiday, but as this is Canada, it isn’t — though it has, since 2002, been officially designated Sir John A. Macdonald Day, which at least puts him one step ahead of Louis Riel.

I trust you will all find appropriate ways to celebrate.


Sir John, Eh?

  1. I hope you mean closest to greatest Prime Minister rather than the greatest Prime Minister, because frankly I don't think Canada has ever had a great Prime Minister. (Personally, I think Wilfred Laurier was the closest we have ever come.)

    • MacCross.

      Define your criteria for determining what 'greatest' is.

      Graham in Scotland

      • To me a great leader is somebody who unites the country, makes important reforms (regardless of public opinion), is economically sound, is transparent, realistic, and puts the country ahead of his/her ego.

        You can state, correctly, that Canada can have a 'greatest' leader, but that would mean that we would have had to have a great leader in the first place. I don't believe Canada has. That's not me being negative, I love this country, but I do have to be realistic. Labeling someone as the greatest leader, and forgetting/intentionally leaving out the bad decisions, corruption, and legislation that hurt the country more than helping it is being a wishful and ignorant thinker at best, and a partisan hack at worst.

  2. In many ways MacDonald and Trudeau are the bookends of the first century (or so) of Canada: Sir John putting the project in motion, Trudeau forming it into a modern nation state.

    • Except Canada isn't a nation-state at all.

  3. I think Robert Borden has my vote for Greatest Prime Minister. After Canada fought so well in the war, he stood up to Great Britain and told them that we earned our own place in the world. That set Canada's independence in motion.

  4. I would think the most appropriate way to celebrate would be by raising a glass of gin to him while at work, preferably during a meeting or debate!

  5. Macdonald's on the 10$ bill. I think that's a decent way to honour him. Is it enough? Probably not.

  6. Macdonald, one step ahead of Louis Riel?
    In Manitoba, land of Coyne's birth I believe, the third Monday of February is Journée Louis Riel Day, a provincial holiday named in honour of Manitoba's founder.

    • Mike….astute insights. It seems you've done your homework. Don't worry about semanticists like Hatch.__Graham

      Lucien, it goes without saying that Louis Riel's efforts to speak up for one segment of our early Canadian society did not bode well with the established WASP segment running the country – politically, socially and economically.
      I agree that his role has been grossly misaligned, under-played and swept aside. It is time for the Metis of our country to begin a process to rectify his misdoing and ensure that young Canadians learn the real truth about Louis Riel and how he suffered in his attempts to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

  7. The February 15 statutory holiday is officially Louis Riel Day in Manitoba so we all we need is for the Upper Canadians to just get over it. And we’ll happily have a holiday on whatever other days you need for whatever $10 prime minister you come up with. We’ll see your PET Day and throw in a Diefenbaker Day and what does everyone think about Meighen Mondays? Tupper Tuesdays? Where’s your patriotism people?

    • Good for Manitoba. Perhaps every province should put a day aside to commemorate the efforts of one of their pioneering leaders in making the confederated dominion of Canada what it is today.

  8. Happy Birthday, John A. Macdonald. In your honour, I'm gonna get drunk from sea to shining sea!

  9. By reading about him and noticing that he proroged parliament to shut down parliament because the the railway scandal and corruption and that eventually he was censured from parliament and resigned and the Liberals won the next election.

  10. I am not surprised to read Andrew Coyne saying this. It is consistent with everything he has said in the past. But, you know, the vision Sir John had of Canada was a complete flop. Oliver Mowat was smarter than Sir John so itw as the Ontario premier's vision of separation of powers that prevailed. Meanwhile, Sir John's vision of how economics and trade should work was a silly Romantic fantasy that collapsed under its own weight.

    But he did build a railway. It was a spectacular case of greed and graft but he got it finished.

  11. John A. is overrated. For one, Andrew, you seem to forget that he was a socialist who launched the beginnings of Canada's labour laws (it isn't till St. Laurent that the Liberals became the party of big government, and even they were pretty pro-business). He built the railroad while feathering his own nest (prompting a scandal that almost killed the railroad) – clearly another Conservative would have been a far worse PM. His national policy drove the maritimes from riches to rags, where they have been since. Moreover, the imperialist rhetoric he spouted prevented Canada from realizing its natural economy destiny till 1988. When John A. and his successors bungled the Manitoba School question they also destroyed the promise of a west settled by French and English alike – that, much more than Riel's hanging (a completely justifiable decision) ensured that Canada's history would be a divided one. Canada survives today in spite of, not because of, John A. Macdonald.

    My vote for number one? William Lyon Mackenzie King. He fixed the economic mess caused by the Tories – twice. He led Canada through the most important war in the history of mankind without causing the same rifts to national unity that Borden had. He (Borden deserves some credit here) gave Canada true independence from the mother country. His role in creating a postwar order, also made Canada more influential at the world stage than it had ever been before (or ever will). When a guy as uncharismatic and insane as WLMK gets re-elected in every election save one from 1921-1948, you know he's doing something right.