ANALYSIS: Reconciliation reinterprets the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald
On this week’s episode of Global News’ original podcast This is Why, host Niki Reitmayer discusses the controversy surrounding Canada’s first prime minister John A. Macdonald and looks at why many organizations and local governments are looking to disassociate themselves with his name.
The City of Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps has announced plans to remove a statue of Macdonald outside of Victoria City Hall.
In a letter on her campaign website, Helps wrote that in addition to being the first prime minister of Canada, Macdonald was also a “key architect” of the Indian Residential School system.
Helps added that the after the Songhess and Esquimault Nations decide an “appropriate amount of time has passed,” a cleansing, blessing and healing ceremony will be held in the space where the statue formerly stood.
“After a year of discussion, deliberation, truth-sharing and seeking counsel from the Songhees and Esquimalt chiefs and councils on multiple occasions, the family decided on the first concrete action we would like to take as we continue the path of truth and reconciliation,” Helps wrote.
While Canadians wrestle with Macdonald’s place in history, one historian is in favor of Victoria’s decision.
James Daschuk, a University of Regina historian and winner of the Sir John A. Macdonald prize in 2014, supports the decision to remove statues of Macdonald and place them in a more appropriate and educational setting.
“He built the dysfunctional Canada that we live in today. We’ve got so many unresolved issues with regard to indigenous people, it’s not funny.”
Daschuk says that he sees why some people have recommended that the statue be taken down.
“Their perspective is that this is a violent symbol that continues to give its message in the streets of Victoria.”
However, the idea of removing John A. Macdonald’s name from Canadian schools didn’t enjoy majority support in any demographic across the country, at least according to a poll released by the Angus Reid Institute last year.
Watch below: the John A. Macdonald controversy
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.”
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.
Speaking on 980 CKNW, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos expressed his disappointment on hearing that Macdonald’s statue was to be removed.
“History is supposed to be a learning tool, it’s not supposed to be a platform of settling of previous accounts or trying to rewrite history.”
As a former student of history at McGill University, Sen. Housakos believes that we must acknowledge our past and learn from it.
“We have to not make the same mistakes of the past and use it as a tool to bring communities and people together.”
To hear more about this topic, listen to this week’s episode of This is Why, as host Niki Reitmayer chats with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, historian James Daschuk, and Angus Reid pollster Shachi Kurl.
John O’Dowd is a co-producer of This is Why. This story contains files from Richard Zussman and Jess Ferreras.
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