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Prime Minister’s Day the solution to February blues

We're right in the thick of that seemingly endless stretch of winter and for those of us who can't go skiing or riding every day, the long cold nights can start to wear thin right about now.

Days spent indoors with little sunlight, the pervading chill in the air and the recycled colds that never completely disappear may all have something to do with the winter blues.

And while a two-week trip to the Caribbean would be nice, a short simple statutory holiday in February would just about do the trick too.

It would certainly ease the long stretch between New Year's day and Easter. Plus, a three-day weekend is always good for the soul – it gets people rejuvenated (at least, rejuvenated enough to cope with a four-day work week).

Stat holidays in Canada commemorate a variety of things, from the Queen's birthday to the country's birthday.

Now the Dominion Institute, a charity dedicated to improving Canadians' knowledge of their history, has launched a national campaign promoting the creation of a new public holiday called Prime Minister's Day.

Just as the Americans celebrate their past presidents in February, the Institute wants the Canadian holiday to be on the second Monday of the same month.

It would appear, however, that setting aside a day to commemorate the achievements of our forefathers is a much needed, if not much-wanted idea.

In a December survey, the Dominion Institute polled 1,000 adults and a mere 51 per cent could name Sir John A. Macdonald as the first Canadian Prime Minister.

This number would never be allowed to get so abysmally low in the U.S.

Of course, it's much easier to remember George Washington's name. He has a state named after him, as well as the capital in the District of Columbia, a mountain, a university, a newspaper, a magazine etc. That's the way important historical figures have been honoured by our southern neighbours – not so Canadians.

Of all Macdonald's accomplishments, and there were many, he has been remembered most in history as a drunk.

This was the man who drafted the British North America Act that defined the federal system. This was the man who kept the west for Canada despite an encroaching American threat. This was the man who united a sprawling nation with the beginning of a coast to coast railroad.

In fact, Macdonald may be credited with the fact that many British Columbians have the maple leaf on their flag rather than the stars and stripes.

Macdonald enticed B.C. settlers, who were pushing to join the U.S., with the promise of a national railroad that would cut through the Rockies and link them to the east.

Sure, he was forced to resign in 1873 amid scandal about dealings between his Conservative Party and a consortium of railway investors. But then, would he be a true politician had he not been involved in scandal?

To put it bluntly, Macdonald did enough in his lifetime for Canada that should at least warrant recognition by more than half the population as the first Canadian Prime Minister.

Other results from the survey show that less than half of those surveyed knew that Pierre Trudeau had invoked the War Measures Act, saying "Just watch me."

And less than 20 per cent could name Sir Wilfrid Laurier as Canada's first francophone Prime Minister.

The stats say everything – Canadians don't know enough about Canadian history.

Despite this, only 47 per cent said the holiday would be a good idea and 52 per cent said it would be a bad idea.

To be fair, the February stat holiday wouldn't mean that people would be holed up at home perusing their history books on their three-day weekend. But, it would be a gesture to symbolize the role that people like Macdonald, Trudeau and Laurier played in fashioning our country.

It would seem to me that in order to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Canadian, we have to look back and see where we came from in the first place.

We're about so much more than beer and "eh" and being polite and not being American. It's about time we realized that.

To vote on the proposed holiday, log on to www.globeandmail.com and click on the Prime Minister's Day campaign logo.

The results of the online survey will be featured in the Globe and Mail and on CTV on Monday, Feb. 11 – the proposed day for the holiday.

If you don't think you fall into the above category – if you knew Sir John was PM number one, and Laurier was Quebec PM number one, and Trudeau suspended our civil liberties in the face of the FLQ threat – then take the quiz on the Prime Minister's Day Web site. It'll shock you.

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