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Hey Canada – party on, dude!

It seems there are balloons tied at every corner we turn these days. Switch on the television and Sir John A. Macdonald is as ubiquitous as the Kardashians, whoever they are.

He's in re-enactment history clips, the topic of panel discussions and even cast in gold and silver. There is the Sir John A. "toonie" that everyone can own. For $599.95 you can purchase a 14-karat gold coin with his likeness – or, for those less inclined, $89.95 for a Sir John A. coin in fine silver, $69.95 for one that is lightly gold-plated.

Ottawa tagged $4-million to celebrate Sir John A.'s 200th birthday, which fell on Jan. 11. In the new, hyper-polarized Canada, however, all this wild spending appeared to do was trigger a national debate over whether our "George Washington" was a visionary or a drunk, a nation builder or a destructive racist.

Surely they never saw this coming when the government decided to salute the country's founding prime minister. There were, however, a few hints – two years ago, on his 198th birthday, when vandals struck his Kingston memorial with graffiti calling him a "Murderer" and "Colonizer" and claiming "This is stolen land" – but no one could have seen the nastiness that the bicentennial birthday party would initiate.

They debated his true value to Canada. Yes, he committed to the railway that would join one coast to the other – but what about the graft and scandal that threw him out of office? Yes, he was Canada's first recognizable face to the world, and when sober he presented quite well. But how could a country that prides itself on tolerance tolerate a prime minister who allowed a policy of starvation toward aboriginals, who told the House of Commons that the Chinese, the very people who had built his beloved railway, should afterwards be kept out lest they take jobs and breed a "mongrel" race that was both "semi-barbaric" and "inferior"?

Sir John A.'s many defenders argued he was being made a "scapegoat" and that it was unfair to compare generally held prejudices of 150 years ago with today – but no matter, the $4-million seems, in retrospect, a rather unworthy investment.

That said, underpaying can have just as severe a backlash. Perhaps because it was a Liberal creation, the current government committed a piddly $50,000 to celebrate the 50th birthday of the country's flag – surely a symbol even more powerful than the first prime minister. The effort was disgraceful, both by the government and other national institutions. As one e-mailer said about the tiny wall exhibition staged by the Museum of History in February, "It looks like a grade-six class project."

A few years back, the Department of Heritage began to prepare for the flood of celebrations heading into 2017, the year Canada will turn 150. The department prepared a document titled "Key Milestone Anniversaries on the Road to 2017." The year 2016 contains a half dozen special moments, beginning with the 175th anniversary of the Union of Upper and Lower Canada – something that didn't exactly work out very well. This celebration is also to include "the election of Baldwin and Lafontaine – leaders for Responsible Government." Good luck selling that one.

Next up for 2016 would be the "175th anniversary of Sir Wilfrid Laurier's birth." Laurier, of course, was the first French-Canadian prime minister. He did many great things, not least of which was to encourage immigration and the settlement of the Prairies. But there were also botched projects and corrupt officials, and Laurier made patronage a Canadian art form.

And then there was Émilie Lavergne. She was the wife of Laurier's law partner and considered the prime minister's greatest confidant. It did not pass notice around Ottawa that young Armand Lavergne, her doted-upon son, bore a striking resemblance to the sitting prime minister. Let the debates begin.

Also on the department list for 2016 is the 150th anniversary of the Fenian Raids, a nearly forgotten invasion of Canada from south of the border that had much to do with early feelings of anti-Americanism. There is the "Centennial of women's suffrage," celebrating decisions by Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to give women the right to vote. There is also – and let there be no argument here, please – the "Centennial of the Battle of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel" and the "75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong."

This document, says one who worked on it, may be more interesting for what is not in it than for what is. There is nothing about aboriginal heritage, for example. An earlier draft of the list, it is claimed, did include a peg in the year 2013 as the "250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763," but this critical document in aboriginal-Crown relations did not, for some reason, make the final cut. Too much certain debate there, likely.

Nor is there, understandably, any mention whatsoever of one of the most dramatic moments in Canadian political history. That would be Feb. 3, 1916, the day the Centre Block burned down.

Snide comments aside, nothing to celebrate there.