Sir John A. has been carted off and shunted in Victoria.
The capital city of Canada’s left coast insists this is not about erasing history.
“We’re in an era of reconciliation, and no one’s erasing anything, but we have to understand the complexity of history, and that’s what this process is about,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said last week.
Except this is erasing history.
No one can deny the part that Sir John A. Macdonald played in Canada’s residential school system. Yet if we must banish him from the the public square because of that, what about all the prime ministers, cabinet ministers and others between Macdonald’s time and 1996?
Because that is when the last residential school closed.
Do we need to denounce every single prime minister between Macdonald and Chretien? Do we need to ignore the good they did elsewhere because of this or other blemishes?
Plenty of racism in our history.
As I have written elsewhere, Sir. Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King were horrible racists.
Laurier banned black immigration to Canada and took the Chinese head tax up to $500 to try and stop Chinese immigration. A young Mackenzie King, then working as a civil servant for Laurier, developed the policy that effectively banned immigration from India. When he became prime minister, King introduced the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Do we remove them from our money? Do we take down statues? Pretend they never existed?
People are complicated.
Few people are all good or all bad and we are all products of our time.
Sir John A. Macdonald did many great things, like all of us he had blemishes but he was not a monster. The residential school system was thought to be a wonderful progressive proposal in its day. It was supported by all the leading experts.
And it was a mistake.
I’m not saying Macdonald should be excused because of his intentions, I’m simply pointing out this was a widely held view.
Activists though have targeted Macdonald. They want his name removed from schools, from parks, from buildings, they want statues taken down.
And yes, they want to erase him from history.
Wouldn’t it be better to learn from the good and bad this man did, learn about how he shaped the country for good and bad?
Others want to preserve the statue.
As the city takes down the statue, others are offering to pick it up.
The Ford government in Ontario has made an offer. Government House Leader Todd Smith wrote to Mayor Helps offering to erect the statue on the grounds at Queen’s Park.
“Tearing down statues does not erase the past. History is complicated and Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s history is complicated, but this serves as an opportunity to learn – for our students, for our visitors, and for our decision-makers,” Smith wrote.
The answers from the City of Victoria, no.
“The City has no intention of getting rid of the statue. It was a gift to the city,” was the response.
That is the same response businessman Ken Simpson received. Simpson is a direct descendent of Thomas Heath Haviland, one of the Fathers of Confederation.
“I am very interested in purchasing the statue,” Simpson wrote.
Mayor Helps also sent a response there to say it is not for sale.
“We are merely storing it safely until we can have a conversation as a community about an appropriate place and context to situate the statue other than on the steps of Victoria City Hall,” Mayor Helps wrote in reply.
It’s the same story with Morgan Nagel, a town councillor from Cochrane, Alberta who offered a new home.
I don’t believe Mayor Helps for a minute. I don’t believe that she is looking for a new conversation, I think she is looking to do a historical purge.
This statue is destined to collect dust in a warehouse.
Unless Canadians speak up, that will be the fate of Sir John A. as well.