Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was a founding father of this country. More than 100 years after he died, we today find ourselves trying to make sense of his legacy.
This latest episode arrives to us by a motion passed at a meeting of an Ontario teachers’ union to ask school boards to remove Macdonald’s name from schools, alleging he “played a key role in developing systems that perpetuated genocide against Indigenous people.”
I want to begin by focusing on the British North America Act of 1867, which Macdonald participated in forming and vigorously debated. There are some great words in it, but my favourite must be what appears in section 91: “Peace, order and good government.”
Let’s first look at the words “good government.” Has anyone ever stopped to think about what this really means? Why did the founding fathers stop at “good?” Why not “great” or “amazing” or, even better, “perfect” government. The Americans wanted “a more perfect Union” for their country, yet we get stuck with a seemingly unimpressive “good government.”
But it is the way our democracy works. You see, we expect our governments to make mistakes. We have these pesky opposition members that ask questions that expose these mistakes. If we had perfect government, there wouldn’t be any questions to ask. These same opposition members put forward proposals to rectify the mistakes and we ask voters to pick their destiny.
If we had perfect government, there would be no need for an alternative path — North Korea seems to be the “perfect” example.
In essence, the contestation of public policy, the debate about whether the government is “good” enough, the partisanship that coalesces around competing viewpoints, are essential components to our freedom.
That is why I support a debate about Sir John A’s legacy. There wasn’t unanimity of opinion about his legacy at the time and there shouldn’t be unanimity now. Governments make mistakes, and progress occurs when we highlight, debate, and learn from them. If nothing else, we should thank Sir John A for promoting a system of government that is the greatest guarantor of our liberty.
I am perfectly fine with some people thinking our first prime minister was racist, but the problem of taking his name off our schools is that it would be a statement that we should all think he’s a racist.
It’s is an example of alt-left political correctness that goes like this: label something racist and if others don’t agree that it is racist, they are bigots.
Call the founding of our country genocide, as some teachers have, and no one can take pride in our nation because it means implicit agreement with wiping out an entire people.
Throw away the debate, the contestation of ideas, or opposing anything.
I stand with John A because he wanted a country that rejected uniformity, conformity of thought, and, dare I say it, consensus. I am a freer person because I can openly oppose and disagree.
A great fear of freedom and democracy, the one that Macdonald so passionately proposed and defended, is that positions are so ridiculed and shamed that they become too politically incorrect to contest.
The lesson in an Ontario teachers’ union’s request for the removal of Sir John A Macdonald’s name from schools isn’t about his legacy of racism and genocide for me.
It’s about his legacy for freedom and democracy. It’s about giving me the right to challenge other points of view, and for others to challenge mine. It is a legacy that makes Canada one of the freest countries in the world, and a legacy I will vigorously defend. He deserves to be on our schools, and students deserve to hear his full story.
This article appeared in Queen’s Park Briefing. Visit QPBriefing.com to subscribe to this publication and stay on top of all things related to Ontario government and politics!