#77 – Starve the Soul, Feed the Ego Part Three: Alexander Mackenzie

English Canada lionizes the wrong early Prime Minister.

This guy was great. He brought in such minor innovations as the secret ballot (which is kind of important), the idea that perhaps enshrining race into voting rights was a bad idea, attempts to control rampant patronage in Canadian politics, building the House of Commons itself, and the utterly blasphemous notion that a mere stonemason could be Prime Minister. Picking up after the total mess that the Pacific Scandal had left Canada in, he was elected in 1873. His devotion to simplifying government compelled him to succeed in the creation of the Supreme Court and the Auditor-General. That the former was called for in the British North America Act and could only be passed by Parliament almost 10 years later is beyond me.

Anyhow – there’s this guy who refused knighthood and who tried to have Parliament built so that there would be a way to escape the lobbyists in the antechamber, who actually succeeded in a number of important innovations to Canada’s government, who opposed the potentially-disasterous policy of using race as a qualification for voting and demanded that voting be done in secret so as to avoid corruption. Not a bad dude, wouldn’t you say? At least worth some praise?

Naturally, he is totally forgotten in favor of John A. Macdolan. An economic crisis beyond Mackenzie’s control and the subsequent failure of his concept of free-trade with the United States lead to a resurgence of – you guessed it – John A. Macdonald. Why remember the guy who ran the country with some concept of what it should look like and why it should look that way when we can remember the corrupt guy who screwed up so badly in the first place? He even continued with the national railway.

Of course, Mackenzie also had some pretty racist ideas. He certainly didn’t destroy the Indian Act or anything like that. But he did make serious progress in other areas and helped to establish Canadian democratic ideals in an era where democratic ideals were far from guaranteed. He was certainly a helpful contrast to Macdonald – a civilized, sober, clear-headed fellow who thoughts and deeds helped to make Canada a better place. Steering a bad idea slightly right deserves more praise than Macdoofus, which is why he is remembered only in Southwestern Ontario and in McGill’s scholarships. Priorities, ladies and gentlemen!

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