What about Cartier?

January 14, 2015

Last week many heads of state traveled to Paris to participate in a massive demonstration in reaction to the Paris shootings. The French and German leaders were front and centre. I scanned the photos for Stephen Harper. Nowhere to be seen.

Mr. Harper turned out to be in Kingston to make a speech on the occasion of the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald. At no time during this speech did he name any of the other fathers of Confederation. It was all John A.

In a Globe and Mail column today Jeffrey Simpson laments “presentism” as the re-interpretation of history in the context of contemporary values. But then he returns to comparing Macdonald and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, effectively falling into the presentism trap himself. Insofar as Confederation was put together a couple of years after his death, Lincoln was largely irrelevant to the formation of the Canadian federation. But of course presentism presents Canadian history through an American, Republican lens.

Apart from providing an excuse to avoid a potential combat zone on a Paris street, Harper’s mission in Kingston last week was apparently to purge Sir Georges Etienne Cartier from the Confederation myth. Any student of Canadian history will tell you that Cartier partnered with Macdonald in the grand project. As a young man Cartier fought in a couple of rebellions against British rule. He brought Quebec and then Manitoba into the federation. He was the equivalent of the premier of Lower Canada. He made the deal with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He controlled the Grand Trunk Railway. Most historians give Cartier the nod as the most important father of Confederation.

But according to Stephen Harper and the English media in Canada at the moment, the man never existed. For example I have just read four National Post articles about John A. and his birthday and only one of them made a passing reference to Cartier.

We get it, Steve. You want us to believe in the great man myth. But you’d be more convincing if you quit pointing at yourself when you say John A.’s name.

UPDATE:

Turns out I’ve been scooped by the Montreal Gazette:

http://montrealgazette.com/opinion/opinion-happy-200th-birthday-sir-george-etienne-cartier

But at least I was ahead of Lysane Gagnon of the Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/stephen-harpers-parisian-no-show/article22441877/

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