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Jan
14 2014

Two Nation-Makers: Macdonald and Trudeau

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

Ruth Abernethy's marvelous new bust of Canada's first PM was on site at Queen's University. They led different parties and governed in different centuries. But University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach says Sir John A. Macdonald and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, as nation-makers, had a lot in common. Not only that both prime ministers achieved their crowning achievements after losing elections, then returning to power with subsequent victories. For Macdonald, it was the creation of the railway; for Trudeau, a repatriated Constitution with an accompanying Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Both the railway and the Charter bind us together as Canadians from coast to coast,” Roach told a conference at Queen’s University in Kingston, on the occasion of the 199th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth on January 11th. U of T Law Professor Kent Roach at the Macdonald "Canada Then and Now" Conference on Saturday, January 11, 2014. The two were also great compromisers, Roach says.  Macdonald needed to be a skilled compromiser to make Confederation happen in 1867. Trudeau needed those same skills in 1981 when he accepted the “notwithstanding” clause in the Constitution, thereby ensuring the support of nine of the country’s provinces. (Quebec has technically still not “signed on”). The two former PMs also had the same attitude to provincial power. Neither was amused or impressed with it. Having watched the American states kill half a million of their brothers in the U.S. Civil War, Macdonald was adamant that provinces not have similar powers to rip Canada apart. Similarly, Trudeau was determined to repatriate the Constitution, despite having eight provinces opposing him for almost the entire negotiating period (only Ontario and New Brunswick were initially with Trudeau). However, Roach adds, both men also had blind spots when it came to dealing with indigenous Canadians. “They failed to understand those issues and made mistakes.” Macdonald perpetuated the tragedy of residential schools and had Metis leader Louis Riel executed. Trudeau suffered through a strong backlash in 1969, when his white paper on aboriginal affairs suggested eliminating treaties between First Nations and the Crown. “Our two greatest nation builders had significant uncompleted business here,” says Roach. A full house was on hand at Kingston City Hall to celebrate Macdonald's 199th birthday. Follow !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");Follow !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");  

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