Ottawa is embracing another Conservative icon in John A. Macdonald as the Harper government looks beyond John Diefenbaker in its continuing effort to burnish the memory of past Tory prime ministers and put its own stamp on Canada.
The Harper government on Wednesday announced it is renaming a government building only metres from Parliament Hill as the John A. Macdonald Building. It unveiled the move on the 197th anniversary of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister.
Also on Wednesday, Heritage Minister James Moore pointed out that Ottawa has given $263,250 to an organization dedicated to promoting Canadian history so that it can encourage schools to organize their own John A. Macdonald celebrations each Jan. 11.
“Our government received a strong [election]mandate to support and celebrate important milestones, like the birthday of Sir. John A. Macdonald,” Mr. Moore said, explaining the grant to the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Until now, Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th prime minister, has been the Harper government’s favourite choice for efforts to raise the profile of past Tory statesmen.
Relations between Mr. Harper and former Progressive Conservative prime ministers, such as Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, have been strained over the years, but Diefenbaker’s brand of Prairie populism has admirers in the current Tory caucus.
The Harper Tories in 2008 announced they would name a yet-to-be-built icebreaker after Diefenbaker. In 2010, they announced a $1.3-million grant for the University of Saskatchewan's Diefenbaker Canada Centre, and last February created a human rights award in the former prime minister’s memory.
Last September, the Conservatives went a step further, renaming 111 Sussex Dr. – a few blocks from the prime minister’s residence – the John G. Diefenbaker building.
Mr. Harper has made no secret of his wish to make his party the default political choice for Canadian voters and replace the now third-place Liberals as the so-called “natural governing party” of Canada.
To that end, his government came to Ottawa determined to add Tory symbols to a national scene they considered dominated by Liberals, changing red government graphics on websites and documents to Conservative blue.
Few symbols have Tory names, although the Langevin block where the Prime Minister’s Office is located is named after a public works minister in Macdonald’s government. Also, the Ottawa international airport was renamed the Macdonald-Cartier airport in 1993 by Mr. Mulroney, honouring the first prime minister and another father of Confederation who also served in his government.
The building the Conservatives announced Wednesday that they are renaming in honour of Canada’s first prime minister is a former Bank of Montreal branch at 144 Wellington St. It’s being renovated to serve for Parliamentary functions.
The Harper government is also making plans to commemorate Macdonald’s 200th birthday in 2015, part of a stated desire to highlight Canadian history.