In an age of progressing social views, Canadian values are shifting to adapt to the growing discourse around minority groups and historical figures. As information about John A Macdonald’s controversial legacy is resurfacing in the eyes of the general public, Canadians are scrutinizing the past of their first prime minister. While advocates of Macdonald emphasize his contributions to Canada’s formation as an individual nation, those who push for his removal believe that his discriminatory views towards indigenous and Chinese peoples warrant the erasure of his name from public establishments. Due to his success in building Canada as an independent nation, Macdonald’s political, social, and economic legacy should not be removed from the public sphere.
John A. Macdonald’s National Policy cemented the future of Canadian autonomy. The National Policy, in effect from 1879 to the Second World War, was a multifaceted strategy which included conservative economic policies, increased immigration, and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Macdonald believed that a successful union could only last if it was strengthened by the creation of a strong national economy (Bélanger). The economic program of the National Policy included high tariffs to shield Canadians from American competition and to “restore the confidence of Canadians in the development of their own country” (Brown). The policy reduced manufacturing costs for domestic producers while making Canadian goods comparatively cheaper to American goods in order to encourage domestic purchases (Bélanger). Furthermore, Macdonald’s championship of the Canadian Pacific Railway allowed for increased trade and development between Eastern Canada and British Columbia. This also grew the influx of immigrants, which contributed to the development of Canadian infrastructure and cities (Lavallé). Without the National Policy’s impact on the uncertain state of the Canadian economy, Macdonald’s goal of making certain that Canada did not become America would not be a reality (Gwyn). Macdonald’s vital work in forming an autonomous nation should be recognized by the public within the very country he campaigned for.
In contrast, supporters of the removal of Macdonald from the public sphere draw on his discriminatory policies against indigenous and Chinese peoples, citing his choice to use underpaid Chinese immigrants to build his railway and his advocacy for the assimilation of indigenous peoples into western society in his 1883 platform (Hamilton). This rhetoric entirely ignores the historical norms and values of the time and discredits Macdonald’s comparatively progressive social views. Without a powerful figure such as Macdonald to propose innovative policies such as women’s voting rights, the Northwest Mounted Police, and the support of French-speaking Canadians, non-discriminatory policies would not be possible. In 1885, Macdonald became the first national leader in the world to attempt to extend the vote to women (Gwyn). Additionally, he was a supporter of French-Canadians and the impartiality of the law through the NWMP. He believed in “equal rights of every kind of language, or religion, of property and of person” (Gwyn). Macdonald’s ambitious political platform of social cohesion within Canada was the foundation for Canadian values that hold immense importance today.
John A Macdonald’s long-lasting legacy is widely controversial, with supporters focusing on his contributions to the growth of Canada as a country and opponents criticizing his derogatory beliefs and policies. When one considers Macdonald’s role in bolstering social unity and allowing the Canadian economy to become self-assured and independent, Macdonald’s construction of an entire autonomous nation far outweighs the controversial aspects of his life. As values and norms shift in a rapidly progressing society, it is crucial to continue publicizing the figures who pushed for the development of our values as a whole. Sir John A. Macdonald gave Canada the social, political, and economic strength to rally behind our viewpoints and become the nation we are proud of.
Brown, Robert Craig. “National Policy.” National Policy | The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/national-policy. Accessed 5 May 2018.
Bélanger, Claude. “The National Policy and Canadian Federalism.” The National Policy and Canadian Federalism – Studies on the Canadian Constitution and Canadian Federalism – Quebec History, 2009, faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/federal/npolicy.htm. Accessed 7 May 2018.
Gwyn, Robert J. “Canada’s Father Figure.” Canada’s Father Figure – Canada’s History, 6 Jan. 2016, www.canadashistory.ca/explore/prime-ministers/canada-s-father-figure. Accessed 6 May 2019.
Hamilton, Graeme. “’A Key Player in Indigenous Cultural Genocide:’ Historians Erase Sir John A. Macdonald’s Name from Book Prize.” National Post, 29 May 2018, nationalpost.com/news/canada/a-key-player-in-indigenous-cultural-genocide-historians-erase-sir-john-a-macdonalds-name-from-book-prize. Accessed 5 May 2019.
Lavallé, Omar. “Canadian Pacific Railway.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 24 Jan. 2018, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-pacific-railway. Accessed 5 May 2019.