Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to rise today as the member for Kingston and the Islands on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada to honour on the bicentennial of his birth, Sir John A. Macdonald, a Father of Confederation and our first prime minister.
Sir John A. was an immigrant, a man with an immigrant’s sense of hope and vitality, who was also determined to play a public role in building his new country. In 1844, he was first elected as the member of Parliament for Kingston, the seat he held in this House at his death, 47 years later, in 1891.
In Kingston on June 6, the anniversary of Sir John A.'s death, people still gather annually for a memorial ceremony organized by the Kingston Historical Society. It takes place at Sir John A.'s very modest gravesite located in Cataraqui Cemetery.
In 1891, the outpouring of grief was anything but modest. Ten thousand people greeted the funeral train as it arrived in Kingston from Ottawa. Kingston continues to keep alive for us the memory of Sir John A. Macdonald with place names, events, historical markers and buildings, including his bar, the Royal Tavern, which still stands today.
Arthur Milnes and Jim Garrard of Kingston led the charge for a national celebration of the Sir John A. bicentennial.
Sir John A. Macdonald, with his political, interpersonal and constitutional skills and his determination, was likely the only person who could have brought together the provinces and colonies of British North America which formed the new nation in 1867. Sir John A. understood and was a most powerful advocate for the idea that despite the differences, a federation of united provinces would be stronger, better governed, more secure and more prosperous.
Indeed, our federation has allowed us to preserve our differences. We embrace our differences and we are thereby enriched and strengthened.
Confederation was not simply a political solution to a problem. Sir John A. Macdonald had an ambitious long-term vision for a big Canada stretching from sea to sea. Sir John A. the statesman believed that a strong government should lead in realizing that vision. Sir John A. the political leader won six majorities, allowing him to begin the building of this new Canada.
After 1867, Sir John A. welcomed three more provinces and the Northwest Territories into Confederation. He built the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1873, he planned the North-West Mounted Police, forerunner of today's RCMP, and in 1885 created Canada's first national park, Banff.
I do not believe we will ever stop building and improving Canada, and we will never stop being inspired by the man who put his talents for politics and statecraft to work in our nation’s early years.
Sir John A. Macdonald was human and a man of his times. He and his family suffered personal tragedies. He was a man of many faults, who made mistakes and held indefensible and damaging positions, notably those regarding the treatment of indigenous peoples, damage that we must still work to overcome today.
Yet, perhaps these faults render the man more accessible. I ask members of the House, who among us do not have faults and failures and have not committed errors? Our faults are on display in the public square as we conduct the nation's business. That is part of politics. We can allow them to dominate our legacy, or we can pursue the politics of purpose.
Like Sir John A. Macdonald, we too at times are frail, but his accomplishments and his legacy can inspire us to be just as determined, to envision, to hope and work for a better Canada.
Happy 200th birthday, Sir John. A.