Skip to main content

January 11, 2012: A bust of Sir John A. Macdonald is seen during announcement in Ottawa Jan. 11, 2012.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced on Wednesday that the Ottawa River Parkway will be renamed in honour of Canada's first prime minister.

The scenic four-lane parkway will be renamed Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, said Mr. Baird, who is also the minister responsible for the National Capital Commission. The renaming is part of the government's efforts to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Macdonald.

"This is a full and total victory for those who want to embrace and learn from Sir John A.," said Bob Plamondon, a public policy consultant and former Conservative insider. Mr. Plamondon said so few Canadians know their history – and particularly, about Macdonald, who he calls "the greatest prime minister."

Wednesday's announcement is the latest initiative by the Conservative government to rebrand and celebrate Conservative icons. In early January, the National Capital Commission changed the name of a historic Bank of Montreal building on Wellington Street to the Sir John A. Macdonald building. Also, the Old City Hall building, which the government bought in 2003, was designated the John G. Diefenbaker building in September, 2011. Diefenbaker also has a human rights award named after him, and the government announced that a new icebreaker that will join the Canadian Coast Guard fleet in 2017 will be named CCGS John G. Diefenbaker.

There is also talk of erecting a statue of largely forgotten Conservative prime minister R.B. Bennett on Parliament Hill.

Because the NCC manages the parkway and owns all federal land and buildings, it's within its purview to dole out these honours. But that may not be the best way to decide who to honour, says Scott Reid, deputy chief of staff for former prime minister Paul Martin. He said decisions about naming historical landmarks should be out of government hands.

"All political parties do this, they elevate their own political heroes," Mr. Reid said, adding that he thought Liberal attempts to boost the profile of prime minister Wilfrid Laurier during their time in office were also wrong. But nothing compares to what the Conservatives are doing now, Mr. Reid said.

Recent events signal an "unstated, very deliberate effort" to immortalize Conservative heroes by the government, and "one can't shake the sense that there is a strong political impulse at play," Mr. Reid said.

He compares it to efforts made by the Reagan Legacy Project, started in 1997 by Republican lobbyists to "memorialize the spirit and achievements" of Ronald Reagan by installing a Reagan landmark in every county in the United States, according to the organization's website.

Mr. Reid said he would like to see the creation of an independent committee of historians who would look at renaming proposals, and make recommendations on how best to celebrate our history. "That way," he said, "no one can ascribe politics to these projects again."