The Voters Speak
Macdonald and Laurier, I think, are equally indispensable to Canada's evolution as a nation. Without Macdonald, Canada would have collapsed and fallen under the influence of the United States. Without Laurier, the Tories post-Macdonald would have continued to rule, and they weren't exactly what you could call promoters of a strong Canadian identity.
Macdonald is probably the most corrupt prime minister in history.
For his time, [Macdonald] was actually quite progressive in many areas. He was an Ontario Protestant who was quite willing to tolerate Quebec Catholics - which put him at odds with the Orange Lodge. He even wanted to extend the vote to women and natives who owned property.
To be fair I'll state that Laurier probably received a fair bit of right wing support as well. If you examine his political views I'd say they would likely be deemed "right wing" by today's perspective. He ran an entire election on the basis of free trade, and was quite classically liberal in his perspective. While I'm critical of his construction of railroads after the initial line simply because it was a "popular" thing to do.
I'm a modern conservative yet a classic liberal. I'm voting for Laurier because he represents my view of the country.
1. Success based on merits
2. Independence from Britain
3. Free trade
It's funny, if both MacDonald and Laurier were around today I'm quite sure that MacDonald would be the Liberal and Laurier the Conservative.
And in that final vote, I'd say that Macdonald had the more significant accomplishments (i.e. creating the country and getting the railway done) but that Laurier was the better man (personally and philosophically), and he gets my vote on that basis.
By not allowing the NW to become one large province or even two (Buffalo which would be Alberta and the western half of Sask, and Manitoba which would contain the eastern half of Sask) [Laurier] preserved the dominance of the Great Lakes/St Lawerence regions. He may have listened to western concerns but he made sure that the CPR kept its monopoly, and MacDonald's National Policy remained in place to stifle any attempt to get cheaper goods from the US.
Our historical distance from Macdonald allows us to gloss over his vicious partisanship and if you think the current Liberals or Mulroney's Conservatives were corrupt, my GAWD, but this drunkard was. So our history books gloss over a lot of bad stuff with Macdonald and our memories won't let us forget a lot of bad stuff about Mulroney. HOWEVER, the man founded the nation and his National Policy created the architecture of business and government partnerships that have defined the growth of the nation.
[Laurier] spoke of a vision of a united, growing, independent Canada. He did in fact unite the country - French, English and previously ignored Western farmers - until the British war disrupted everything. He had foresight about where Canada's future lay - in North America - and advocated reciprocity (a sort of freer trade).
Macdonald created Canada. He brought English and French together. He built a railroad that connected the West coast. He started our equalization program by giving money to the Maritimes. He was a true statesman who deserves praise for keeping all of British North America out of the United States.
Laurier cemented what Macdonald started. He made French-Canadians truly part of the nation. He built a second railroad to expand on what Macdonald started. He began the process of asserting an international role for Canada. He oversaw one of the greatest times of growth in Canadian history. He ensured that the conscription crisis in WWI was a political issue so that Quebecers had a political outlet for their frustration. He ensured that Canada's foundations remained strong.