moved that Bill S-14, an act respecting Sir John A. Macdonald Day and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and were men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and proclaiming prophecies; leaders of the people in their deliberations and in understanding of learning for the people, wise in their words of instruction.
This passage from chapter 44 of Ecclesiasticus reminds us of the obligation of humanity to honour its great men and women, both of the present and of the past.
Canadians as a nation are a modest lot, which is in many ways an endearing quality. I am reminded of the advice I was given many years ago before I moved to Nova Scotia. I was told that things would be well if I simply remembered the chief operating principle of all Nova Scotians: who the hell does he think he is? I must say that in the past few days as the House has been considering the delicate subject of pay increases for MPs, I have heard more than one constituent express this very sentiment.
Canadians, however, for all their becoming modesty, do not seem well equipped to deal with greatness, to praise famous men and women. This is partly because by definition greatness is in short supply at any given moment in history. Indeed when we are confronted with true greatness, we are startled. We hardly know how to react, so rare is the experience.
In my time in the House we have met greatness in this Chamber in the persons of Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela. There is something rarefied in the air, something special which is hard to define but utterly palpable, something which produces a sense of awe mingled with excitement.
So too was it when Pierre Trudeau died and his body was brought last fall to Parliament Hill to lie in state. The spontaneous decision of thousands of Canadians to come to Parliament Hill from all over the country to pay their last respects, to line up for hours before filing by his coffin, reminds us of the power of greatness to awaken within all of us profound feelings of wonder, awe and sadness.
Those who planned Pierre Trudeau's last trip to Ottawa were well aware of an earlier lying in state, that of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in February 1919. The aptly named Laurier Lapierre, in his book Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Romance of Canada , describes the scene:
The country did well by him. All the seats in the temporary House of Commons in the Victoria Memorial Museum were removed, except his, and the room was adorned in the purple and black colours of mourning. He lay in the centre of the room in his open casket, candles surrounding him, flowers banked in profusion, and police officers guarding him. After the officials had passed by, the doors were opened to the general public. From about 7:00 p.m. on Thursday until the early hours of Saturday morning, fifty thousand of his countrymen and -women, many with their children, came to bid him farewell.
Meanwhile, Ottawa, Hull and neighbouring municipalities were inundated with a mass of humanity. Every hotel, pension , and empty room was occupied as, by every means of transport available, thirty-five thousand people came to take part in the national moment.
Saturday, 22 February 1919, was a calm day with a fluttering of spring in the air. By 9:00 a.m. thousands of people were already on the streets through which the funeral procession would pass. Soon thereafter, close to a hundred thousand were lined, six rows deep in many places, to await Wilfrid's passage. . .
At 10:30, as the procession proceeded down Metcalfe Street, every train in the country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, stopped, wherever it was, for one minute.
This brings me in an admittedly roundabout fashion to Senate Bill S-14, an act respecting Sir John A. Macdonald Day and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Day, which I have the honour of introducing in the House of Commons today. Its purpose is simple. In the words of its proposer, Progressive Conservative Senator John Lynch-Staunton, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate:
The Bill declares the birthday of each outstanding Canadian (January 11 and November 20) a national holiday as distinct from a statutory holiday. Canadians too often are faulted with not being as familiar as they should be with their history, particularly how Confederation came about and its early years; honouring Macdonald and Laurier in such a special way will contribute greatly to correcting this deplorable situation.
As a Liberal member of the House of Commons I am pleased to support the initiative of my Conservative Senate colleague. It should be noted that this bill was given unanimous third and final reading in the Senate.
It is a curious fact that Canada has no equivalent of Washington's birthday, presidents' day or Martin Luther King day. The closest we come is Victoria Day and her Quebec cousin, Dollard des Ormeaux, or perhaps our acknowledgement every September of Terry Fox. This bill would begin to rectify that lack by honouring two of Canada's greatest prime ministers.
In some ways they make an odd couple. They were men of totally different character and temperament. Macdonald was a character, indeed almost a rogue. What contemporary politician would dare boast in an election speech as he did “I know enough of the feeling of this meeting to know that you would rather have John A. drunk than George Brown sober”? A man of artfulness and subtlety in politics, he was variously known over the course of his political life as Old Reynard, Old Tomorrow and The Wizard of the North. As one anonymous Liberal member of the legislature was heard to mutter “Ah, John A., John A., how I love you! How I wish I could trust you!”
Laurier, the first French Canadian to become Prime Minister of Canada, had a totally different personality. He was an elegant and refined intellectual, an extraordinary speaker, and there was a tragic dimension about his persona that was absent in Macdonald's case.
He had to face difficult tests during his political life, including the challenge of francophones outside Quebec, the Catholic Church in Quebec, the threat to national unity posed by World War I, and the challenge represented by compatriots such as Henri Bourassa.
These two great men also had much in common. John Raulston Saul, in his book Reflections of a Siamese Twin , argues that Canada was built over a century and a half through eight dramatic strategic acts. Another term for these is national projects, deliberate, strategic acts of nation building.
We think of Macdonald and we think of confederation itself, or the national policy or the building of the transcontinental railway. We think of Laurier and we think of the building of the west.
These great national projects were the acts of great men. They were not incrementalists. They were risk takers.
I would like members to listen to Macdonald defending his railway policy in 1873:
We have fought the battle of Confederation. We have fought the battle of unity. We have had party strife, setting Province against Province. And more than all, we have had, in the greatest Province, every prejudice and sectional feeling that could be arrayed against us. I throw myself on this House; I throw myself on this country; I throw myself on posterity, and I believe that, notwithstanding the many failings of my life, I shall have the voice of this country rallying round me. And sir, if I am mistaken in that, I can confidently appeal to a higher court—to the court of my conscience and to the court of posterity.
That is the authentic voice of a great leader. These were men of vision who were not content to accept things as they were. They were creators. They were agents of change. They were also great humanists, apostles of tolerance and respect in an era that was decidedly less respectful and tolerant than our own.
Here is what Laurier said at Montreal's National Club:
We, people of French origin, have a sense of our own individuality. We want to pass on to our children the language we inherited from our ancestors. But while we cherish this feeling in our hearts, we refuse to admit that it is incompatible with our being Canadians. We are citizens of Canada and we intend to fulfil all the duties that this title implies.
This being said, whenever we invite men from another race to our table, we affirm that they are our fellow citizens, just like they affirm that we are their fellow citizens. Our country is their country: their political opinions are our political opinions; our aspirations are their aspirations. What they want, and what we want, is that the rights of minorities be respected; that our constitutional guarantees be safeguarded; that the provinces remain sovereign and that Canada be united in its diversity.
Let the House now praise two famous men, two great Canadians, by voting to support Bill S-14, an act respecting Sir John A. Macdonald day and Sir Wilfrid Laurier day.