Chantal Hébert of the Toronto Star is no William Shakespeare. A good writer but sometimes a bit too Quebec-centred, I was annoyed at her column the other day questioning why John A’s still on a pedestal.
Sir John A. Macdonald is on a pedestal (actually, under a statue, it is called a plinth) because he belongs there. For all his weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and alcoholism and skulduggery, he did a hell of a job putting this country together. And that is why there are statues and places named after him across the breadth of this nation.
This country needs heroes. We have damn few. It amuses me when visiting Queen’s Park in Toronto that there is a collateral relative of mine on a plinth in front of the legislature. It is Oliver Mowat. My old friend Bob Nixon, when leader of the Ontario liberals, referred to Mowat in a speech once as “that myopic little man.”
While I argued in favour of my relative, I had to admit that many of the problems facing the Canadian federation today, can be blamed on Sir Oliver Mowat. He was the main advocate for provincial rights in his time and, in that time, he was right. He had no way in his day to see the long-term needs of this country. It was his one-time law partner, Sir John A. Macdonald, who saw the need for a country-spanning railroad and a strong federal government.
But, in terms of the needs of the country back then, just before the turn of the 20th Century, it is not for us to say who was right or wrong. For people to throw paint at statues is a wasted effort—it is but a foolish action by callow youth.
The question today is ‘Can we change the past?’ Ask that of the paint throwers. Ask those who stand in the halls of government and apologize for the actions of past generations. They should tell us who could land on these shores and tell us how to interact with the aboriginals who sheltered here?
We should never forget that, in the thinking of past times, there was no greater offer to our aboriginals than to become as one with these late-comers to this land. Canada never has been the ‘melting pot’ of the Americans.
Only when we are sure that aboriginals have all the rights, privileges and opportunities in this land of which they are due, can we stand tall beside them.
Copyright 2021 © Peter Lowry
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