Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Canadian history should be honoured and celebrated — warts and all.
“I believe Canada’s history should always be celebrated,” Scheer said Monday morning in Ottawa during an announcement that also included a promise to eliminate admission fees at all nine national museums across the country.
“Now, is it perfect? Of course not, but we must never allow political correctness to erase what made us who we are,” said Scheer.
“We can and we should celebrate the giants of our history,” said Scheer, before naming Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, who was a Conservative, as well as Liberal prime ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
“We can look to the past, acknowledge and learn from mistakes and celebrate achievements at the same time,” said Scheer. “If we look back on our history and our leaders and see only the blemishes, we miss out on a beautiful story of a country that has progressed into one of the safest, freest and most prosperous in the world.”
In the last few years, statues and other memorials dedicated to controversial figures from Canadian history have been subjected to greater scrutiny — and even removal — due to greater awareness of and sensitivity to the role they played in causing harm to First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
In the United States, monuments and other memorials to Confederate heroes from the American Civil War have also been removed, partly driven by the belief that they glorify white supremacy.
Two years ago, the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau renamed Langevin Block, a building that sits across from Parliament Hill, out of respect for Indigenous Peoples. Hector-Louis Langevin was a father of Confederation, but also an architect of the residential school system.
The building is now called the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council.
In January 2018, the City of Halifax took down a statue of Edward Cornwallis, who founded the city in 1749. The removal was considered an act of reconciliation over a proclamation Cornwallis had made that offered bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.
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In August 2018, a statue of Macdonald was removed from the steps in front of Victoria City Hall, also as a reconciliation gesture over Macdonald’s part in creating and defending the residential school system in Canada.
Scheer spoke out against the removal of the Macdonald statue at the time.
“I think it is a disgrace that some would allow extreme voices in this country to erase our proud heritage,” Scheer said in his speech to the Conservative party convention in Halifax in August 2018, adding that Conservative prime ministers were not the only ones who had promoted racist policies.
Laurier approved an order-in-council in 1911 proposing to ban black immigrants from Canada.
“Do we hear voices from the left saying we better take his name off of everything and rename universities?” Scheer asked.
King was prime minister during Second World War, when his Liberal government decided that “none is too many” when it came to how many Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust could come to Canada.
“Will the Liberals work to take his face off the $50 bill?” Scheer asked in Halifax.
“No, but you can see how divisive this approach is, how destructive is to our Canadian identity,” he said.
On Monday, Conservatives said scrapping admission fees to nine national museums would make it easier for families to learn about Canadian history, as well as make school trips and family vacations more affordable.
The parliamentary budget office estimates that would cost the government about $21 million a year.
“The very act of walking into a museum is a reminder that before us came generations of Canadians who shaped this land into what it is today: a single, united country with shared experiences, of trial and triumph, and shared responsibilities towards one another,” said Scheer.
The nine national museums include the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian War Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, as well as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.
Scheer said he would also make the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina a national museum, and also make its admission free.
The announcement also included a promise to designate the grave sites of all past prime ministers, as well as former governors general, as national historic sites.
“Because despite those who wish to sweep some of these leaders under the rug, they have left their mark not only on our country but on the entire world and they are worthy of honour and respect,” Scheer said.
Scheer made the announcement on an otherwise quiet day, as the party leaders prepare for the English-language debate Monday evening.