Historical figures are often examined under a negative spotlight, leaving people no choice but to recognize and perpetuate their wrongdoings. Recently, Canada’s first prime minister and founding father, John A. Macdonald, has been questioned for his values. A dispute has formed within communities, bringing up the topic of whether John A. Macdonald should be removed from the public sphere or not. Although his personal beliefs and ideas don’t correlate with the current societal norms, he should not be hidden away from the public eye, as he was an influential and determined leader despite his flaws. His work for Canada should not be dismissed simply because his views are not considered acceptable today. John A. Macdonald’s choice to extend voting rights to the First Nations peoples and women, as well as the fact that we cannot judge him without a historical perspective, are reasons why he should be kept in the public sphere: acknowledged and respected.
When John A. Macdonald was prime minister, he attempted to extend voting rights to both the First Nations peoples as well as women. These bold decisions went against the norms of his time, causing controversy within the nation. Yet, he still fought for this policy to be put in place. This act was the closest that Canada would get to achieving equal rights in the mid-1800s, and his actions can now be seen as rightful in the contemporary mind. In fact, it has been proven that this policy “pre-dated the granting of the vote to women in Canada in 1918 by a third of a century” (Gwyn). Unfortunately, in 1898, Wilfrid Laurier disapproved of this policy and thus, shut it down. Macdonald unknowingly took one of the first and biggest steps towards shaping Canada into what it is today. Battling against the norms of his time, he was the first to take action in making an effort for equality within Canada. Since the majority of people in the 1800s were what we now consider “sexist” and “racist”, they were not exactly thrilled to hear that Macdonald believed “that the definition of “persons” should be broadened to include women” (Gwyn). Despite the disapproval from his fellow comrades, his stubbornness allowed him to take a stand for his own beliefs, which is an admirable trait for a political leader.
Contrarily, some would argue that Macdonald was a severely flawed person and having his displays in public is a sign of disregard of all the poor choices he made. However, they forget that we cannot judge his perspectives because they were formed in a time when “sexism” and “racism” weren’t acknowledged. 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. Rather than deprecating him and his brutal actions towards the Indigenous peoples, leaving him present in the public sphere merely allows people to realize and recognize the flaws and qualities of this man. Not only is it crucial for us to realize how far we have come in the current day, but also to acknowledge both the good and bad Macdonald did for Canada. With his statues and monuments displayed around Canada, we can educate ourselves about the first prime minister, including his actions and behaviors, both constructive and destructive. Macdonald was a strong-willed leader, who was willing to make sacrifices for what he believed was best for the country. To those who perceive Macdonald as an imperfect, flawed human, one must remember that “while Macdonald did make mistakes, so did [all] Canadians, collectively” (Gwyn). Nevertheless, his brave and daring efforts to confederate this wild and wide land was inspirational and worthy of recognition.
Removing John A. Macdonald’s name from public schools will not reduce problematic issues regarding reconciliation. It is, in fact, dismissing the bad deeds he has done as a prime minister as well as the good. By erasing him from the public sphere, we are invalidating his accomplishments and work as a founding father. John A. Macdonald is an eminent person. He is someone who established the very land we live on today. Just because he is not someone who perpetuated reconciliation or peacemaking does not mean we have to follow in his footsteps. Our current values and norms as a nation do not have to mirror his; however, understanding the truth of all perspectives in history is important for our knowledge of Canada. John A. Macdonald should not be removed from the public sphere, as his figure and name represent the progress we’ve made throughout the years.
National Post. “Richard Gwyn: How Macdonald Almost Gave Women the Vote.” National Post, 14 Jan. 2015, nationalpost.com/opinion/richard-gwyn-how-macdonald-almost-gave-women-the-vote.
Johnson, J.K., and Tabitha Marshall. “Sir John A. Macdonald.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-john-alexander-macdonald.
Gwyn, Robert J. “Canada’s Father Figure.” Canada’s Father Figure – Canada’s History, 6 Jan. 2016, www.canadashistory.ca/explore/prime-ministers/canada-s-father-figure.
Clio’s Current. “Hero or Villain: Sir John A. Macdonald in Recent Canadian Memory.” Clio’s Current, Clio’s Current, 17 Apr. 2015, clioscurrent.com/blog/2015/4/17/kjjw2i32yhqmb8zvscr74yz5bbahjo.