April 20, 2018
Historical figures are often held at a higher scrutiny regarding their negative actions then positive as they affect a wider array of people’s livelihood. Recently, this sparks the debate over Canada’s first prime minister Sir John. A, Macdonald, who is receiving criticism for his promotion of the Indian act, and similar legislations, that goes against modern Canadian principles. Although some argue that Macdonald is rightfully titled as ‘Father of Confederation’ due to his resolution to unite Canada, those who call for the removal of Macdonald’s name and statue believe that his actions towards minorities, such as the Indigenous and the Chinese, are a direct insult to the multiculturalism that is prevalent in Canada today. Nevertheless, because of John A. Macdonald’s historical values that cannot be judged by contemporary mindsets and his strong effort to keep Canada a separate entity from the United States, his displays should rightfully remain in the public sphere.
Since values are determined by the wants and needs of society during a specific time period, one cannot judge Macdonald with current values, as when society progresses values change as well. Although the Dominion of Canada had multiple misjudgements in its creation, one must note that “while Macdonald did make mistakes, so did [all] Canadians, collectively” (Gwyn). Macdonald cannot be used as a scapegoat for the thousands of other Canadians during the 1900s, who also believed that white supremacy was the fundamental basis of law, hierarchy and order in a society. Viewing Macdonald objectively as only a leader of this environment, his first priority was to Canada as a whole and to please Canadians in order to form a new thriving force. Since the majority of vote holders at the time were white, privileged men, it made sense for him to appeal to them in order to implement his big ideas. Like any other praised political leader, he was committed to the right values of society then, and worked hard to ensure that his actions reflected the people’s wants. Instead of seeing Macdonald as an obstacle to Canada’s acceptance of all ethnicities, one can view Macdonald as a reference point of Canada’s progress and rapid changes in the Canadian zeitgeist.
Contrarily, others argue that John. A. Macdonalds’ public displays accentuate and glorify his negative values such as racism that don’t align with current Canadian values. However, Macdonald’s monuments represent moments in time that deserve appraisal from the public, most notably, his determination that kept Canada a separate nation from the United States. Macdonald was prime minister during the time labeled “Canada’s age of failure, [when] one in five Canadians left for a better life below the border” due to the poor economy (Gwyn). However, despite Liberal promise of a free-trade agreement with the United States, Macdonald’s strong resolution and vision towards Canada convinced Canadians to vote for him at the election of 1878. By keeping high tariffs, taxes paid by importers and exporters to have their products available internationally, he helped to promote the economy by forcing Canadians to buy domestic goods. Without Macdonald’s determination to prevent the free-trade agreement, Canada’s economic dependence on the United States would soon shift to a political dependence; the wealth of culture and diversity that can be seen in Canada now would have been lost. The statues of John. A. Macdonald honour his efforts in uniting Canada as an independent nation, and because this is still valid and of importance today, his figure should not be removed.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario states that the removal of Macdonald’s name from public schools is necessary for children to feel safe in their own environment, while others say that removal will prevent us from learning about Macdonald’s legacy as the father of confederation (National Post). However, when one understands that Macdonald cannot be judged with our current values, and that his determination stopped Canada from merging into the United States, it is clear the Macdonald should be a figure that remains in the public sphere. Sir. John. A. Macdonald made plenty of bad judgement calls, but just because the values of his time were different then now, hiding our past by removing his likeness isn’t helpful in the long term. As Canadians, we should be honest when looking past our history, and understand the sacrifice and efforts made to achieve Canada’s multicultural society. Similarly, while understanding Sir. John. A. Macdonald and respecting his endeavours, we can learn from his mistakes and make sure history does not repeat.
Additional Works Cited:
Press, The Canadian. “Ontario Elementary Teachers’ Union Calls for Renaming John A. Macdonald Schools.” National Post, 24 Aug. 2017, nationalpost.com/news/canada/ontario-elementary-teachers-union-calls-for-renaming-john-a-macdonald-schools.