Somebody or other has made a television movie about the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald, better known nationally as "the guy on the ten", entitled John A: The Birth of a Country. While I am glad to see Canadians taking some interest in their history, I always have some fear about how it will be handled on screen. The wounds caused by the flat out disaster that was Passchendaele still ache in my heart.
Who was Sir John? Like the founder of the that republic to the south, the man is a mystery to most Canadians, but he is a more human mystery. George Washington is an iconic figure in American history- a general, a statesman, Cincinnatus reborn. Sir John was, first and foremost, a politician. Our country was not born on a battle field, forged in the storm of war, but was hammered out in back rooms and in political deals, and compromises, with a Constitution that was not conceived towards the philosophical goals of Life, Liberty and the individual Pursuit of Happiness, but to the practical goal of Peace, Order and Good Government. Through our history, we have generally had Peace, and Order. as far as the good Government is concerned.... well, as the song says, two out of three ain't bad.
At the heart of our origins lie a cast of colourful characters, French and English, orators and publishers, Freemasons and members of the Orange Lodge, and Green Fenians. Somehow, they worked together. At the heart of them was Sir John, a Scotsman, whose life had been touched by tragedy, whose wife was a laudanum addict, and he himself was a colossal drunk. If people know anything about his personal life, that was it.
I heard a story of him which I hope was true. Sir John was in a campaign, when he returned to his riding for a debate with the Liberal candidate. He had arrived a few days early, and promptly disappeared. On the night of the debate, the Conservatives had pulled in a second stringer to fill in for Sir John, and were waiting for the debate to start, when John A himself reeled into the hall, looking every inch like a man who had been on a two to three day bender. Which, of course, he was. He took his place on the dais, shooed away his helpers, and waited for the debate to begin. The Liberal spoke first. He made a speech to begin the debate, and as he spoke, anyone watching Sir john would have seen him getting worse and worse and worse as he sat in his chair, until, just as the Liberal finished his speech, Sir John rose from his seat, and vomited over the entire stage. "Sorry about that," he said as he wiped vomit from his chops. "But he always has that effect on me."
Our first Prime Minister. What a guy.