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MacDonald both hurt and helped, lets look at both sides.

I believe the statue should be in Victoria park with an explanation of how he both hurt and helped all of us. His accomplishments were many and you can easily condemn his dark side but consider the alternative. Without his accomplishments there would be no Canada today and the Indian peoples would have suffered far worse under the US. Below is a column by Richard Gwyn that summarizes MacDonalds time as Prime Minister far better than I can.

Among our 23 prime ministers, the first and most important was Sir John A. Macdonald.

Had there been no Macdonald, it’s all but certain there would not be a single Canadian reading this article or others like it, never mind raising a celebratory toast to him on the 200th anniversary of his birth on Jan. 10 or 11 (the records of his father and of the local Register Office in Glasgow, where he was born, differ).

That’s because had there been no Macdonald, there would be no Canada for anyone to be a citizen of.

Under Macdonald’s leadership as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891), the country was extended from sea to sea, giving — at last — it a certain geographical coherence. Macdonald also led Canada to achieve the National Dream, a railway the entire way from eastern Canada to the West Coast. The railway, together with Macdonald’s policy of high tariffs to protect Canadian companies from their far more efficient American rivals, made it possible for Canadians to do business with and get to know each other despite all their differences (French vs. English, Catholic vs. Protestant, Aboriginal vs. European) and the immense distances between them.

By other initiatives, Macdonald fashioned a distinctive Canadian way of getting things done that has stayed with us ever since.

That unique approach was born with Macdonald’s creation in 1873 of the North-West Mounted Police (today, the RCMP), which he dispatched to the North-West (the Prairies).

Macdonald gave his force two orders. One was to wipe out the liquor trade based in Benton, Mont., a flood of alcohol that had a devastating effect on the prairie Indians. The second was to impose the rule of law throughout the region.

South of the U.S. border, the gun ruled. North of it, the law ruled. Below the border, not a single jury ever judged a white man guilty of mistreating native people. Above it, white men were hauled into the courts on charges of treating natives badly. Prairie Indians understood the difference. The name they gave to the border was The Medicine Line, suggesting that above it there might just be some fair play and healing.

Sadly, as will be described later, that radical difference between the two territories didn’t last that long.

Macdonald’s overall contribution to Canada was irreplaceable nonetheless. The best description of what he did for this country is that because of him Manifest Destiny never became manifest. This is to say that the Americans’ assumption that all of North America was intended by God or geography to be theirs would never be realized.

Macdonald was able to do this because, even though the stage on which he performed was small and rough, as a politician he was among the ablest of the times, alongside Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Disraeli. He was, that is, every bit as devious and cunning as they were, and far better at winning elections — six out of seven, all with majorities.

He paid a price for being so good a politician. Our academic historians have commonly written him off as merely a clever and cynical operator with no ideas except the importance of gaining power and holding on to it for as long as possible.

The experts have been dead wrong. Consider that Macdonald was the first national democratic leader in the world to try to extend the vote to women, introducing such legislation in the Commons in 1885. He got nowhere, but he described the future exactly, warning MPs it was “certain” that the female would “completely establish her equality as a human being and as a member of society with man.” That’s a description of the gender equality we’ve at last achieved, more or less.

His argument for how English-Canadians had to accept the distinctiveness of French-Canadians despite the fact that they were a minority would not be matched by any English-Canadian politician for a century. It was: “Treat them as a nation and they will respond as a free people usually do, generously. Treat them as a faction and they will be factious.”

It took until 2006 for us to recognize Quebec as a nation.

Macdonald’s status was merely that of a member of the British delegation, a post given him, without his being told, in case Britain needed to offer Canada to the U.S. as a substitute for all of the U.S.’s financial claims. To the disbelief and fury of both these countries, he made Canadian interests, such as of our fisheries, the topic of more than half of the discussions and only shut up once Britain had pledged him a loan for the transcontinental railway.

He most certainly had flaws. He was a drunk, the single fact about him most Canadians are aware of. Known by very few, though, is the fact Macdonald quit, an accomplishment even more difficult in that hard-drinking era than it is for addicts today.

He was corrupt, taking money from businesses that depended on government contracts, albeit for his Conservative Party rather than himself. Later, Sir Wilfrid Laurier would adopt Macdonald’s patronage program in every respect except, cleverly, by making sure his own hands were clean.

In the past few years, Macdonald’s reputation has been assaulted by an entirely new and a deadly accusation. This is that he was a “racist” who, once the buffalo had been exterminated, deliberately allowed Indians to starve in order to clear the way for his railway. Sometimes, “racist” is escalated into an accusation of him having a “genocidal” policy.

He did make mistakes, the most serious being how he put the needs of his railway ahead of those of the native people of the Prairies, his attention wandering because the railway was threatened by bankruptcy. Had the railway gone down, the risk was real that the nation itself, already struggling with an economic depression, would go down, too.

The new criticism that Macdonald was a racist is really about the present, not the past. Today, large numbers of Canadians are, justifiably, disgusted by the botch we have made in our relations with aboriginals and are outraged by the appalling treatment, including sexual abuse, of native students in residential schools.

In effect, Macdonald is now a scapegoat so that guilt for misdeeds done in one way or other by all Canadians can be transferred to him alone. He does fit that role. He did make mistakes. He did say things that are now shocking but back then were everyday comments — as did Winston Churchill about the people of India and as did Tommy Douglas about euthanasia, which he once advocated. Best of all, he died long ago.

The truth is, though, that for his time, Macdonald was unusually liberal-minded. Among his lifelong friends were Indians and Métis. He wasn’t in the least afraid to tell the truth about relations between native people and whites, as in: “We must remember they are the original owners of the soil of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors.”

Most remarkably, he got MPs to agree to the most imaginative reform of his time: any Indian could gain the vote while retaining all his privileges, such as freedom from taxes. Unhappily, Laurier cancelled this reform, with the measure not restored until John Diefenbaker did so in 1960, which was far too late to make any difference.

His actual policy for getting food to the Indians — one his critics always avoid citing — was: “We cannot as Christians, and as men with hearts in our bosoms, allow 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.”

Circumstances made that task extremely difficult. Amid a depression, few Canadians were prepared to be generous. The opposition Liberals seized the opportunity and repeatedly charged that by feeding native people, Macdonald was turning them into permanent dependents of government.

It’s still true that he didn’t do the job well. But no other Canadian government until the 1930s gave anyone money, food or anything else to its people just because they had no job or nowhere to live or no pension. In those days, charity was the exclusive responsibility of the churches.

Criticism he certainly deserves. But charges of racism, let alone of genocide as in the article by Stephen Marche in the current issue of Walrus magazine, aren’t merely vicious and destructive or, to be gentler, a bid for attention.

At stake is our connection to the leader to whom we owe Canada’s existence. The risk is that Macdonald, our most important leader and our most attractive one but for Laurier, could become a kind of contemporary version of an untouchable.

We’d lose a lot. We’d lose the only prime minister we’ve ever had who was genuinely funny. He was one of the most intelligent we’ve had, although, unlike Pierre Trudeau, he never waved around his cleverness so all would know he was the smartest person in the room. His daughter Mary was grievously disabled; he and Lady Macdonald never once considered placing her in an institution and each day he related to her all he had been up to.

The best description of what Macdonald did to us and for us was provided by a long-time friend of our first prime minister, George Monro Grant, the first principal of what is now Queen’s University and, incidentally, great-grandfather of one-time Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. It was this:

“He believed there was room on the continent of America for two nations and he was determined that Canada should be a nation. He believed in the superiority of the British constitution to any other for free men and that the preservation of the union with the mother country was necessary to the making of Canada. He had faith in the French race, and believed that a good understanding between French and English people was essential to the national welfare.”

Who else among our 22 other prime ministers has done more than Sir John A. Macdonald did for his country?

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