KAMLOOPS — Yesterday, we celebrated our country’s 150th birthday. The usual kudos to our great country, lots of fun and frivolity, and, yes, a little controversy too as some of the still-raw sores continue to fester.
John A. Macdonald had a tremendous vision of what this country could be. He worked much of his life to see it come about. Despite his personal demons, and there were many, Macdonald persevered and managed, with the help of a number of others, to lead us into Confederation. He was able to gather most of the Eastern provinces into the fold, worked with friend and foe to get both Upper and Lower Canada to buy in, and sold the goods to all who saw the advantage of moving together as one large nation. There was a great fear among many that we would become swallowed up by the U.S. and Macdonald did everything he could to prevent that from happening. Macdonald did not get everything he wanted. He wanted more power concentrated in Ottawa, and a clause that would allow the federal government to overrule the provinces in certain circumstances.
Others, like D’Arcy McGee, wanted the rights of the Catholics enshrined throughout the land.
George Brown, the fiery statesman from Upper Canada, hated Macdonald, and wanted to be the Prime Minister himself. It took a great deal of persuading, in his own mind and by others, that Macdonald was the man for the job. It almost didn’t happen. The Eastern provinces wanted a railroad. Macdonald and his longtime supporter, George Etienne Cartier, had a broader vision, a railway that stretched from coast to coast.
Cartier, the diplomat, really did much to bring the French to the table, and get the rights of the French and Catholics solidified in English Canada and convincing others that George Brown’s concept of enshrining English rights in French Canada was also good.
Alexander Galt, another father of Confederation, was a major part of the plan as well. He was originally asked to be the Premier of the Province of Canada, but, knowing his limitations in gaining support of the majority, declined the post.
The sad part of our history is that there is so little of it. When I was in school, far more was made of the journeys of explorers south of the border than the exploits of people like Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and David Thompson.
We are all familiar with the tremendous negotiation that had to take place to form the United States. We’ve heard those stories to death. But my suspicion is that our country, with its French issues, having two official languages and the opening up of the West, provided much more of a challenge, especially when there was also a group who didn’t have a problem with us becoming Americans.
We didn’t get it all right. We didn’t do the Indigenous peoples any favours in the way we handled things. If you think of all the problems we could have avoided now if we’d dealt fairly with indigenous peoples back then, we’d be in a much better state.
Macdonald didn’t handle the Louis Riel situation well. But all in all, the vision of a nation from sea to sea has been met. Still lots to do, but 150 years ago, we made a good start. We should be proud of what we’ve done, not losing sight of where the journey must take us now.