Consequential to Canada’s proximity to the most powerful and influential country in the history of the world, American culture often seeps into Canadian society and influences it.
The news that a main association of Canadian history scholars has voted to remove Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from a prestigious prize is another example of how political-cultural issues in the United States, such as the removal of statues of historical figures, negatively influences Canada.
The latest attack on Canada’s first Prime Minister is nothing new. In 2017 the Elementary Teachers Union in Ontario was lobbying for the removal of the name Sir John A. Macdonald from schools. The growing trend of attacking Sir John A. Macdonald has caused me, in the spirit of Canadian Professor George Grant, to truly “Lament for a Nation”.
It has been 52 years since Grant’s master piece, “Lament for a Nation”, was first published, and arguably much of what he says remains true today. In this short book, he argues that Canada will not be able to withstand the cultural influence of the United States, and Canadian identity will become unrecognizable from American identity. At this point, Grant argues, the great Canadian project will be dead. How fitting is it that the current wave of outrage south of the border has caused us here to consider removing from schools and prestigious prizes the name of the man who set out to create a Canada that was to have a separate identity from the United States.
It is true what they say about our First Prime Minister. He embodied the negative characteristics of a Victorian-era Colonial politician: he drank too much and when we modern people apply our current ethical and moral standards to the way in which he treated indigenous populations on his road to building a nation, we rightfully look upon these aspects of Macdonald with shame. Luckily, we are sophisticated people and can highlight these aspects of Macdonald and demonstrate to our youth how far we have come as a nation in these 150 short years. Furthermore, we must recognize the atrocities committed to indigenous peoples, and continue striving to make amends and move forward in a positive, collaborative way. Having Sir John A. Macdonald’s name on a prestigious prize or on a school does not glorify the dismal past of Canada’s relationship with its First Nation’s peoples; instead, it respects one of the fathers of our nation whose vision and dedication gave us the society we inhabit today.
Macdonald was a visionary. He spent his political career trying to prevent American expansionism into what is now western Canada; he aimed to ensure that British North America would not be swallowed up into the United States. He aimed to create an independent country, one that had its own values, and one that could act independently and support itself. His National Policy, while arguably the beginning of west/east tensions in Canada, ensured that our country would prosper into the twentieth century. And make no mistake, there was no guarantee that Canada would survive.
Macdonald was a progressive politician for his time. He was an early supporter of woman’s suffrage, a whole half century before they were considered persons under the law.
Although he did a terrible job at getting food for First Nations communities, his policy was, “We cannot as Christians and as men with hearts in our bosoms, allow them the vagabond Indian to die before us…We must prevent them from starving, in consequence of the extinction of the buffalo and their not yet (having) betaken themselves to raising crops”.
Another example of his progressivism is when he once said, “I never asked the question; and never will ask, what a man’s religion, race or ancestry may be; If he is a capable man, the right man for the right place; that is all I ever enquire into”. Macdonald was not the evil man that many of his critics claim.
The fact that we have had discussion surrounding the removal of Macdonald’s name from schools and have now removed his name from a prestigious prize at the same time as the confederacy outrage is taking place in the United States is an example of the influence of American culture on Canada.
Political correctness is a very big problem in our society and must be confronted. Keeping the name Sir John A. Macdonald on schools and monuments is a reminder that we as Canadians are not American. There is no need for us to follow our American friends south of the border into the polarized pit of chaos that has permeated American culture.