August 29, 2017 2:00 am

Take John A. Macdonald’s name off schools, said no majority of Canadians, anywhere: poll

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to concerns over an Ontario Elementary Teachers' Federation motion to review the use of former prime minister John A. Macdonald in the naming of schools.


The idea of removing John A. Macdonald’s name from Canadian schools doesn’t enjoy majority support in any demographic across the country, at least according to a poll released by the Angus Reid Institute on Tuesday.

The poll asked 1,512 people what they thought of removing the name of Canada’s first prime minister from schools, as was suggested by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario because of Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.”

Coverage of schools named after John A. MacDonald on

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The Angus Reid Institute asked for people’s opinions after presenting Macdonald as both Canada’s first prime minister, and as the one who approved the first residential schools.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents in the institute’s survey said they opposed the idea of renaming schools that bore Macdonald’s name, while one-quarter of them said they were in favour of it.

Results were fairly consistent across the provinces; at 28 per cent each, the idea enjoyed the most support in British Columbia and Quebec, and the least in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where together, 19 per cent of respondents said they were on board with the idea.

Opposition was strongest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, at 66 per cent, followed by Alberta with 63 per cent.

READ MORE: Teachers’ union pushing to strip Sir John A. MacDonald’s name from Ontario schools

Differences were more pronounced along political lines.

Of those who voted Conservative in the 2015 election, 76 per cent opposed taking Macdonald’s name off of schools, while 56 per cent of people who voted Liberal and 37 per cent of those who voted NDP felt the same way.

At the other end of the spectrum, support for removing Macdonald’s name was strongest among NDP voters from the last federal election (37 per cent) and weakest among Conservative voters (16 per cent).

Sir John A. Macdonald is shown in an undated photo. An elementary teachers’ union in Ontario has issued a call to remove the name of Canada’s first prime minister from schools in the province.

National Archives of Canada/CP

“This is a suggestion that is sort of running up against a wall of firm opposition,” Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, told Global News.

“And while that opposition is driven largely by past Conservative voters, more than half of Liberal voters and two in five NDP voters also oppose that move.”

But that wasn’t the only notable result in the institute’s poll.

It also found that a strong majority of Canadians in every survey demographic felt that people should “take into account the entire life of an individual and principal legacy they left behind.”

This graph shows that 88 per cent of respondents to an Angus Reid Institute survey feel that, in assessing names to monuments, we should take an individual’s entire life and principal legacy into account.

Angus Reid Institute

Macdonald is largely remembered for his role in founding Canada, and in building the transcontinental railway.

But he was also an architect of the residential school system, and he denied food to Indigenous people until they moved to reserve land so the railway could be built in the first place.

Macdonald’s government also levelled a head tax of $50 on Chinese immigrants when they came to Canada.

READ MORE: The controversy over Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, explained

“It’s almost as though Canadians are not wanting to say these politics, positions don’t matter,” Kurl said.

“They do matter very much in the minds of Canadians.”

Kurl went on to say that, in Macdonald’s case, “The majority do think and do accept that people have values and took positions that are not acceptable today.”

But she also said the survey reflected a “discomfort with judging historical figures by today’s concepts of racism.”

Sixty-nine per cent of respondents agreed that, “We should not judge historical figures by today’s concepts of racism.”

This feeling was most pronounced among Conservative voters in the 2015 election (84 per cent) and least pronounced among those who voted NDP (61 per cent).

  • With files from Katie Dangerfield

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from August 25 – 27 among a representative randomized sample of 1,512 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI. 

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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