Do you know what day it is?
Quick quiz. Whose birthday is it today? Here's a hint. If he hadn't died he would be 197, and probably his liver would be quite frail.
OK. I realize the accompanying picture probably gave it away, but if you hadn't checked out my blog, would you even know?
You wouldn't. And that's my point. The birthday of the man who is arguably the greatest leader Canada has ever had, and his anniversary is ignored. At least I could find no mention of it in a quick search of our major media â€“ not a word mentioned on CBC unless I missed it, and not a word in the Globe and Mail.
By comparison, can you imagine George Washington's or Lincoln's birthday sneaking by unnoticed?
I recently saw the Lincoln movie. It was excellent. But what's not so excellent is that the average Canadian knows more about Lincoln than about MacDonald, despite the fact that what he did was equally impressive.
There are a couple of reasons â€“ sure, Americans are a more patriotic lot and sometimes they go over the top on that, and because of the economies of scale James Cameron or Steven Spielberg won't be doing a John A. MacDonald blockbuster any time soon, but still it's a damn shame Canadians don't know much about one of the greatest Canadians ever.
Part of the blame is the boring way they teach history in school. Mind you it's been a while since I sat in a classroom, but from what I'm told teaching of history hasn't improved much in the interim.
All that focus on dates, at the expense of the real stories was a damn shame. I was lucky back then because I had a teacher who managed to catch my interest by telling me about Joseph Howe. I became fascinated with the stories of how he bought a newspaper and was relentless in exposing political corruption at the time, and how he was charged with libel, and how he decided to represent himself. He testified for six hours straight, producing example after example of civic corruption. The judge still directed the jury to find him guilty, but the jury disagreed. It was seen as a giant step forward for Freedom of the Press.
It was that story that hooked me on history, and influenced me enough that I decided to pursue a career in journalism.
Point being, our history matters. And the stories, in the right hands, are rich, not boring at all. And they can inspire. One of MacDonald's greatest strengths was his ability to find consensus among both his party and the Opposition. Today, that seems to be a lost art in politics, and lost with it are the opportunities and benefits for the country that consensus can bring.
Of course John A was no saint. He was human, and had warts galore, but those are important parts of the story. He was thrown out of office for bribery, but does that make him less great?
In the Lincoln movie there is a powerful quote at the end that summed up what had just transpired. â€œthe most liberating constitutional amendment in history â€¦ had been passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in Americaâ€.
Lincoln knew that buying off politicians was the only way he'd get the 13th amendment passed. You could say the same about Sir John A. and his railroad, a railroad that would eventually unite Canada as a country.
There's a group of us that meet at a local hotel for breakfast every Friday. It's a small but interesting group representing various political stripes and an array of professional disciplines. We talk about all manner of things and quite often the lack of national recognition of John A. gets kicked around.
This morning, there was a cake decorated with the Union Jack with a little statue of John A. on top, in recognition of his all but forgotten birthday.
I would have offered a toast in his memory, but all we had was coffee and water, and that would have been inappropriate on so many levels.
But here's to ya John A., on your birthday. You really should be better celebrated.