moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, the perils of fame. This is the second time I have had the privilege to speak to the bill. I thought today I would locate our intention of passing a bill to honour the birthdays of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Sir John A. Macdonald in the context of where we find ourselves as a country on this day, in the same month by the way in which Sir John A. was born so many years ago.
Ever since September 11 I think all of us in Canada have been reflecting more soberly and more thoughtfully on the nature of sovereignty, specifically our sovereignty.
What does it mean to be a sovereign country? In some ways sovereignty is the very reason that countries exist.
It is indeed their purpose.
Countries do not just come into being by accident and they do not survive by accident. They come into being as purposeful creations. They come into being as the product of intention and they maintain themselves purposefully and with intention.
What is significant about the two men whom the bill would honour is the thoughtfulness, intention and purpose they had in conceiving of Canada and, equally important, the action that was inspired by that intention and that purpose, because purpose by itself and intention by itself will lead to nothing. We must have intentional action.
In his book Reflections of a Siamese Twin , John Ralston Saul speaks of the history of Canada as a series of what he calls great “strategic acts”, great decisions taken by the population as a whole, in that we want to change things, we want to be something.
Another way of describing these great strategic acts are national projects.
In French, this is called “projet de société”.
These projects are something in which the whole of society is consciously and purposefully dedicated to some common end and some common goal. Surely the act of Confederation itself is the greatest of all strategic acts, which brings me, of course, to the principal author of Confederation in 1867, Sir John A. Macdonald. In the great book which Donald Creighton wrote about Macdonald, he describes the context of Canada. He says that Macdonald used to think of Canada as a problem in isolation. Here is what Creighton says:
All too frequently the problem of governing a united yet divided province had been inextricably and yet distractingly connected with other puzzles--with the questions of western expansion, interprovincial union and external defence. In the past these complications had been intermittent; but now, as a result of the American Civil War, they threatened to become continuous. The peaceful relations between England and Canada on the one hand and the United States on the other might be endangered now at any moment and for years to come. The war might end in a division of the original republic and the independence of the Confederacy. It might end in a political turmoil throughout the entire continent, which would render meaningless all the old divisions and boundaries. These obvious threats to the independence and separateness, to the very existence, of British North America were a main consideration in the minds of Macdonald and his contemporaries; but there were other and more subtle ways in which the war [the civil war] influenced their speculations. It brought up for re-examination the whole question of political unions in general and federal unions in particular. It raised the still more fundamental problem of the validity of the democratic and republican form of government.
It is important to note, as Creighton says, that:
Macdonald approached these matters with little prejudice against the United States and with a good deal of respect for the American character and American political experience.
However, as he said himself in 1861:
It is the policy of the government to try to secure the union of the lower provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and perhaps Newfoundland, but when unhappily we see the fratricidal strife which rages across the line, we must take advantage of the faults and defects in their constitution. We must take care that we will not, like them, have a weak central government. We must have local governments for local purposes only, and not run the risk in this country, which we see on the other side of the frontier, of one part of the country destroying the other part.
So what we see is that events in the United States, the American civil war, created an environment in which it became necessary to create the Dominion of Canada to protect ourselves and our unique way of life in this country. This was the great vision of Macdonald, which came of course in a time of war, not completely unlike our own.
Macdonald saw Canada, as I think all of us do these days, as an alternative model of life in North America, an alternative vision, not a hostile one but one which draws its inspiration not only from the south but from the east and the west and indeed the north.
Macdonald, in his last election address, said the following in 1891, long after he had founded Canada:
But if it should happen that we should be absorbed in the United States, the name of Canada would literally be forgotten; we should have the State of Ontario, the State of Quebec, the State of Nova Scotia and the State of New Brunswick. Every one of the provinces would be a state, but where is the grand, the glorious name of Canada? All I can say is that not with me, or not by the action of my friends, or not by the action of the people of Canada, will such a disaster come upon us.
Macdonald reminds us of the importance of attending to our sovereignty, of not taking Canada for granted, of not assuming that it will go on without change, without dedication, without transition and without the great strategic acts of which he spoke.
It was the creation of the Dominion of Canada that set the context for what were then some of Macdonald's greatest national projects. Two, of course, are outstanding. The national policy of the 1870s attempted a radical reorientation of the economic map by stressing the east-west connections in our country to try to offset the north-south pull. How current that sounds in the context of our trading relationship with the United States. How important to remember the offsets, the reorientation of the direction.
In the 1880s it was Macdonald and his government that ultimately brought about the creation of the trans-Canada railway, CPR, during our own small war, during the Metis rebellion. That was a great national project. It took the resources of an entire small, young country to build this mighty connecting link, the CPR.
Of course the story does not end there; it continued with Laurier. That is why it is so appropriate to honour both men when we do this: because it is a two part invention, if you like, Canada. Laurier brought with him another dimension, another aspect.
Laurier is the one who put more emphasis on the development of Canada in the west. His vision was the settlement of the prairies and the creation of two new provinces during the 20th century.
Laurier also had a new way of doing, looking at, and talking about things, a new model for Canada to succeed. Before him, Canada's image was mainly British. Laurier revealed a new face of Canada, and Canada is now a diverse country.
Bill S-14, this bill to honour these two great creators' birthdays, these two great initiators of Canadian sovereignty, these two men who should continue to inspire us in our time in the 21st century, reminds us of why we honour great men. It is not simply out of some kind of archaism. It is not some sort of historical nice thing to do. It is because they remind us of who we are as a people and of what our country is and, more important, of what our country can be. Think of the changes they themselves brought about to create the country we now call Canada. Let us find in their work the inspiration to be creators in our time of great strategic acts, of great national projects, to meet the challenges of our time to justify the existence of an independent and sovereign Canada.
As Laurier said about Macdonald after his death in 1891, and as we might well say of Laurier:
His loss overwhelms us. [Macdonald's place in history] was so large and so absorbing that it is almost impossible to conceive that the politics of this country--the fate of this country--will continue without him.
Writes Laurier LaPierre “This was not the time for political partisanship; rather, it was the time to sink all differences” and, as he quotes Laurier, it was a time to:
--remember only the great services he has performed for his country--to remember that his actions displayed unbounded fertility of resources, a high level of intellectual conception, and, above all, a far-reaching vision beyond the events of the day, and still higher, permeating the whole, a long road of patriotism, a devotion to Canada's welfare, Canada's advancement, and Canada's glory.