Sir John A. MacDonald, should he stay or should he go?

As a reaction to the movements in the United States to remove statues of controversial figures of history, Sir John A MacDonald, our first Prime Minister, has found himself on a similar wanted list.  Just as the United States has done with figures of their history, Canada has plastered MacDonald’s name across buildings, schools, and various other facilities across the country. In MacDonald’s case, the fuel for the fire is his connection and creation of the Indian Act, and the resulting cultural genocide on the native population.  Many have already asked or are beginning to ask, should John A’s memorial statues be taken down, his name ripped from the title of countless buildings across Canada?

In my view, it is not that simple. Abolishing his name from the face of the country is removing a pivotal part of Canadian history, and is not a responsible thing to do, especially in the reconciliation effort. Recklessly erasing MacDonald from the face of Canada is an immature game of monkey see, monkey do, between our values and the values of the United States, a country whom’s efforts continue to scream immaturity and a pungent lack of reconciliation and education.  In the name of reconciliation, the current efforts against MacDonald’s name feel like just another task to check off the to-do list. Rather than continue this trend, in my view, what should be done is not to simply ask the question should our once fabled – now infamous – first Prime Ministers’ statues stay or go, but rather how can we better represent and educate the public on the good and the shame that these statues should justly demonstrate.

Sir John A is most often credited with the Canadian Pacific Railway, which is not without it’s own issues, mainly labour.

Sir John A. MacDonald built our country from the ground up. For over one hundred years we have seen him as the forefather of what a Canadian democracy should look like, and what it means to be Canadian. Now, more than one hundred and fifty years later, we begin to question these two assumptions, the latter in particular. Our country has grown and changed so much since John A’s time, and what it means to be a Canadian has shifted drastically. We have begun to recognize and reconcile with the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada and the actions we took against them in our early years of confederation. The simple solution can not be the chosen solution, and is not the responsible solution. Erasing his name from buildings across Canada does not only erase him from our history, but takes with it the names and significance of those he exploited to gain the success he brought our nation. In my view, a major factor in the large scale nature of the reconciliation discussion is due to the sheer prevalence of undesirable figures presence, namely MacDonald. As time progressed, however,  Canada has grown to become a multicultural and (for the most part) accepting and inviting nation for people of all ethnicities and religions, all but one group, our natives. As we question what roads lead us to the heinous acts we did against them and their culture, it is not long before MacDonald’s name comes up, just as Robert E Lee’s name did in the United States just a few short years ago.

A statue of Robert E. Lee being removed.

On the topic of the United States, this discussion was in fact prompted by said conflict in the United States as they have begun to take down all the statues of the aforementioned Robert E. Lee, a military general who fought in the civil war for the right to own slaves. The civil war is a clear example of how Americans deal with internal conflict, quickly going to arms against each other, not only to defend what they believe is right, but to attack the opposition and attempt to spread their ideology forcefully upon victory. It was a bloody mess, that luckily ended in the favour of the north who opposed slavery. Now, in 2017, when this civil war and conflict is settled and rarely comes into question, an entirely unnecessary new conflict is produced by abruptly removing the statues in one fell sweep. Now, compare this to an internal conflict that Canada has dealt with, Quebec separatism. Much like the conflict in the US, Canada finds itself with two internal groups fighting against each other for their beliefs. Except we didn’t fight, we as Canadians had a long-term and formal discussion for many years debating if it was appropriate and necessary for Quebec to be its own nation; these formal discussions happen to this day. It is responsible, Canadian, nature to find reasoning and resolution when conflicts arise, so why copy a nation like the United States, who prefers gunfights rather than formal debates when it comes to remembering their past and recognizing our history? The responsible, and Canadian proven approach to recognizing the faults in our past is to find common balance between what is good, and bad, and balancing the truth appropriately between the two.  Instead of removing Sir John A from our parks and from the names of buildings, we should redefine the importance of a statue, from a celebration of the person sculpted, to a recognition of said person’s importance and faults to Canada, and the effects of that person, and their actions have brought us to present, defining what it means to be Canadian.

However, this all comes with recognizing that I, as a white male, coming from my perspective in life being that of a white male, can hold these points and opinions of what should and should not be done about Sir John A’s name, am not the reason that this is happening. This question is being asked for those who can’t ask it. These people are the aboriginals that lost their voice through Sir John A’s Indian act and residential schools, and if this situation is to truly take a responsible, Canadian, approach. (One that I have been so strongly supporting) it is important that I recognize that I am not that little aboriginal kid going to his first day of Elementary School at Sir John A Macdonald Public, soon after being told by his mother to not look up to the man the school is named after, because he took away my voice when I first went to school like you are now. It is important that when we take the Canadian approach, that we give that little boy and his mother as well as their long-lost culture and heritage the same voice and recognition that I, the white male writing this essay was given.