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Jan
20 2012

Mr. Speaker on Sir John A.

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

By Peter Milliken Former House Speaker Peter Milliken, yours truly, and Liberal MP Geoff Regan, at an event at Kingsmere.  While I served as Kingston’s MP, I remember attending the commemoration of Sir John A. Macdonald on the 100th anniversary of his death at his Kingston grave. The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney was the speaker that special day. Our 18th Prime Minister was so moved by the ceremony at the cemetery, he wrote about it in his recent memoirs. “As we waited for the ceremony to begin, I marvelled at the simplicity and dignity of our first Prime Minister’s family plot,” he wrote. “My diary reveals I took comfort in the example Sir John A. had left me and all the prime ministers who followed him.” “As I reflected on Macdonald’s extraordinary challenges and the unfailing criticism to which he was subjected, my own problems appeared somewhat more manageable and I disembarked the helicopter from Kingston in a more confident mood that I had felt in a long time.” As one with proud Scottish heritage, I also have personal reasons to recall Prime Minister Mulroney’s speech that day.  The Prime Minister, quoting the late PEI MP and Senator Heath Macquarrie, compared Sir John A. with other “greats” from Scotland. “Sir John was far closer to Robbie Burns than to St. Andrew,” he said. “While the lovable Burns went for wine, women and song, his fellow Scot, John A., did not chase women and was not musical!” The coming bicentennial of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister in 2015 presents us with a unique opportunity. Most importantly, it is a chance for us , particularly the leaders in our schools, colleges and universities – to re-acquaint and inspire coming generations with the Macdonald story. It is also a chance for local, regional and national artists – like the actors and their colleagues we saw in action last summer while the play, Sir John Eh: The Musical, was performed in Kingston  – to use their talents to celebrate the Macdonald story in their own unique way. I salute playwright Jim Garrard and the whole team that gave us Sir John Eh: The Musical and look forward to more productions from them along the road to 2015 and beyond. I applaud the City of Kingston for supporting the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission and the Kingston Historical Society’s efforts in promoting the Macdonald Bicentennial. Through our Mayor and Council, Macdonald bicentennial plans are advancing. They will benefit from plans to light Sir John A’s Kingston statue, Kingston’s placing of the impressive signs along 401 announcing our community as the home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, and continued support of Sir John A. Macdonald-themed walking tours of our downtown, and so much else. In a speech later published in book form in 2008 by Tom Axworthy and co-edited by Kingston’s own Arthur Milnes, Politics of Purpose: 40th Anniversary Edition, a collection of the 17th Prime Minister’s speeches, John Napier Turner perhaps put it best. “I still think Sir John A. was our greatest Prime Minister,” Mr. Turner said. “He was a rousing stump speaker, he was riveting in Parliament. He understood, as few people have, the relationship between our two founding peoples. He reached out to Lower Canada, now Quebec, and he made it happen.” And finally, I want to end with the words Arthur Meighen, Canada’s 9th Prime Minister. As many of you know, a large crowd gathered in Kingston today (on January 11)  at the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in our City Park. Along with Prime Minister Mackenzie King and others, Mr. Meighen himself visited that same spot in our community decades ago. He spoke there in 1941 at  the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Sir John A.’s death. Mr. Meighen said: “We turn aside for a mere moment to pay tribute where tribute is due,” Meighen said, “and to gain inspiration if we can, courage if we can, wisdom if we can, at the fountain of history.” In Sir John A. Macdonald and his story we Kingstonians, and all Canadians, find this and so much more. At Macdonald’s statue earlier today, and this evening, we indeed paused at the fountain of history. Peter Milliken walks into the House of Commons for the last time as speaker on March 25, 2011. Parliament Hill employees lined the walls to applaud his final walk.  *   *   *   Peter Milliken, the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Commons in Canadian history, is now Counsel with the law firm of Cunningham Swan in Kingston. These are excerpts from his remarks before the Kingston Historical Society's dinner on Sir John A. Macdonald's birthday, January 11, 2012. 

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