Sir John A. Macdonald was neither angel nor devil, but a fallible human being who accomplished great things. Looking solely at our past errors is not the right standard by which to measure Canada or Macdonald and their great achievements. All Canadians deserve to hear the full story about Macdonald, the founding of Canada and Canadian history generally. Only then can we form reasoned views about that historical record.


Over 150 experts issue statement in defence of Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy

OTTAWA, ON (January 12, 2021): Those who see Canada’s history as little more than a shameful series of mistakes and failures have grown increasingly vocal in calling for the shunning of figures like our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Macdonald, however, is owed not our contempt and derision, but our thoughtful measured thanks.

This is the message of more than 150 historians, policy experts, educators, business leaders, public figures, and thought leaders who have signed a joint statement in defence of Macdonald. This statement, a joint project of the Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, ran today in the National Post as a full-page advertisement to coincide with Macdonald’s birthday. The statement can be read in full here.

“All Canadians deserve to hear the full story about Macdonald, the founding of Canada and Canadian history generally,” reads the statement. “Only then can we form reasoned views about that historical record.”

Macdonald’s legacy is one of remarkable accomplishments. He, alongside his contemporaries like George-Étienne Cartier, set themselves the task of creating Canada, overcoming sectarian and linguistic strife and years of mistrust and political deadlock. He led the original Confederation effort, persuaded three other provinces to join, hugely expanded Canada’s territory, dissuaded American expansionism, brought economic stability, promoted unity between Canada’s language and religions factions, and much more.

The statement’s signatories also note that Macdonald, like all national leaders, had significant failures. These include his policy establishing the residential school system – a decision with a dark legacy that hangs over the country to this day.

Macdonald’s undoubted errors must be weighed, however, against “an impressive record of constitution and nation building, his reconciliation of contending cultures, languages and religions, his progressivism and his documented concern for and friendship with the Indigenous peoples of Canada,” suggest the authors.

According to Professor Patrice Dutil, one of the organizers of this initiative, "the sustained attacks on monuments to Sir John A. Macdonald and the attacks on his good name in schools and at Queen's University in 2020 prompted many of us to simply say: Enough!" Professor Dutil goes on to note that while Macdonald's record is hardly without blemish, "his policy failures must be weighed against his phenomenal policy successes. This effort, I hope, will become a turning point in how Canadian society examines Macdonald, and its past generally."

As MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley puts it:

“It is easy to criticize the past and the decisions made there. But it is a conceit of each and every generation that it alone is free from poor judgments, intellectual shortcomings and historical myopia.”

“Macdonald was neither angel nor devil, but a fallible human being who accomplished great things. Looking solely at our past errors is not the right standard by which to measure Canada or Sir John A. and their great achievements,” argues Crowley, who was one of the signatories of today’s statement.

The signatories urge governments, historians, teachers, media and other engaged Canadians to ensure everyone has access to a balanced view of our common past and the people who made us.

“Looking at our history with a dispassionate eye will give us a much clearer vision of the future,” they write. “Let’s start with Sir John A. Macdonald.”

For more information, media are invited to contact:

Brett Byers
Communications and Digital Media Manager
613-482-8327 x105
brett.byers@macdonaldlaurier.ca

In defence of Sir John A. Macdonald’s Legacy:

Born on January 11th, 1815, he came here from his native Scotland in 1820. When he died 71 years later, Macdonald had become one of our greatest immigrant success stories, and the most respected and honoured Canadian of his era, having been Prime Minister for 19 of our first 24 years.

Sir John:

  • Re-imagined British North America as Canada and did so with courage, wisdom and integrity.
  • Dissuaded aggressive American expansionism. Macdonald, with Cartier, stared down opponents of Confederation in Quebec and Nova Scotia.
  • Acquired territory that made Canada the second largest country in the world.
  • Persuaded Manitobans, British Columbians and Prince Edward Islanders to join Confederation. Brought economic stability, with a farsighted Bank Act and an economic National Policy.
  • Spearheaded the building of a railway to the Pacific.
  • Championed unity between English and French, Protestant and Catholic.
  • Promoted freedom of expression and the press.
  • Launched policies that failed, as happens to all national leaders. This is certainly the case with the establishment of a national policy on Indian Residential Schools. Even though widely supported at the time, the schools had a dark legacy that hangs over the country to this day.
  • Made many other mistakes respecting Indigenous peoples and policies Canadians today strongly disapprove; we understand the frustrations of the descendants of those affected by these mistakes. Macdonald’s failures must, however, be weighed against an impressive record of constitution and nation building, his reconciliation of contending cultures, languages and religions, his progressivism and his documented concern for and friendship with the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

All Canadians deserve to hear the full story about Macdonald, the founding of Canada and Canadian history generally. Only then can we form reasoned views about that historical record.

We urge governments, historians, teachers, media and other engaged Canadians to ensure everyone has access to a balanced view of our common past and the people who made us. Looking at our history with a dispassionate eye will give us a much clearer vision of the future. Let’s start with Sir John A. Macdonald.

Signed by:

  1. Richard Alverez
  2. Ronald Anderson
  3. Thomas d’Aquino
  4. John Arvanitis
  5. Dianne Axmith
  6. Tom Axworthy
  7. Dean Baxendale
  8. David Bercuson
  9. Brenda Bisiker
  10. Robert Bothwell
  11. John Bragg
  12. Pauline Browes
  13. George Burger
  14. Derek H. Burney
  15. Charles Burton
  16. Murray Campbell
  17. Dave Caputo
  18. Lincoln Caylor
  19. C.P. Champion
  20. Jean Charest
  21. Duanjie Chen
  22. Kenneth Coates
  23. Louis Comeau
  24. Sean Conway
  25. George Cooper
  26. James Cowan
  27. David Crombie
  28. Philip Cross
  29. Brian Lee Crowley
  30. Don Cummer
  31. Ian Cunningham
  32. Ken Cuthbertson
  33. Ian Davidson
  34. Peter Davis
  35. Ramsey Derry
  36. Leo Deveau
  37. Mark DeWolf
  38. Dorothy Dobbie
  39. David Dorward
  40. Steve Douglas
  41. Christopher Dummitt
  42. Patrice Dutil
  43. John English
  44. Amelia Farquharson
  45. Brian Flemming
  46. Bruce Flexman
  47. Konrad von Finckenstein
  48. Don Forbes
  49. Yves Fortier
  50. Benjamin Forster
  51. Michael Francis
  52. Dennis Freeman
  53. David Frum
  54. William Galbraith
  55. Ted Glenn
  56. John Godfrey
  57. John Graham
  58. Jack Granatstein
  59. Charlotte Gray
  60. Diana Green
  61. Rudyard Griffiths
  62. Carol Bishop Gwyn
  63. Robert Hage
  64. Roger Hall
  65. Peter Hebb
  66. Ralph Heintzman
  67. Susan Hershman
  68. John Honderich
  69. Michiel Horn
  70. Philip Horgan
  71. Jean-Paul Hubert
  72. Charles Huband
  73. Michael Ignatieff
  74. Robert J. Jackson
  75. Mary Janigan
  76. Stephen Jarislowsky
  77. Jan Jekielek
  78. Barbara Kay
  79. Thomas Kierans
  80. Philip Khaiat
  81. Sanjeev Kumar
  82. Katarina Glozic
  83. Bill Laidlaw
  84. Marjory Lebreton
  85. Robin Lecky
  86. Lewis Lederman
  87. Christian Leuprecht
  88. Anastasia Lin
  89. Peter Lockyer
  90. John MacDonell
  91. Donald MacGregor
  92. Lyman MacInnis
  93. Peter MacKay
  94. Vaughn MacLellan
  95. Margaret MacMillan
  96. Sandy MacMillan
  97. Stan Maj
  98. Shuvaloy Majumdar
  99. Hubert Marleau
  100. Duncan Matheson
  101. Joe Martin
  102. Larry J. Martin
  103. Sandra Martin
  104. Ernie McCullough
  105. Brett McDermott
  106. Michelene Brunet McDougall
  107. Duncan McDowall
  108. David McFadden
  109. Darcy McGee
  110. John McIntyre
  111. Ken McLaughlin
  112. Michael Meighen
  113. Peter Menzie
  114. Jim Miller
  115. Jack Mintz
  116. Garfield Mitchell
  117. Alexander Moens
  118. Douglas Moggach
  119. James Moore
  120. Reid Morden
  121. William Morrison
  122. Scott Munnoch
  123. Kelvin Ogilvie
  124. Joe Oliver
  125. Bob Onyschuk
  126. Richard C. Owens
  127. Doug Owram
  128. John Palmer
  129. Mark Palmer
  130. Christian Paradis
  131. Tina Park
  132. John Pepall
  133. Rick Peterson
  134. Greg Piasetzki
  135. Bob Plamondon
  136. Brian R. Porter
  137. Raheel Raza
  138. Gilbert Reid
  139. Colin Robertson
  140. John Robson
  141. Noel Roddick
  142. James Rodger
  143. John Ryder-Burbidge
  144. Mohan Sampath
  145. Bill Saunderson
  146. Shelly Scriver
  147. Gail Scott
  148. Graham Scott
  149. Kaveh Shahrooz
  150. Robbie Shaw
  151. Jeffrey Simpson
  152. Helen Sinclair
  153. Britton Smith
  154. Denis Smith
  155. Don Stevenson
  156. D. M. Stewart
  157. Fraser Sutherland
  158. Harry Swain
  159. Richard Tattersall
  160. Pamela Taylor
  161. Sarah Teich
  162. Mary de Toro
  163. Ryan Touhey
  164. Diana Tremain
  165. Denis Tsarev
  166. Ian Urquhart
  167. Jonathan Vance
  168. Ian Waddell
  169. Gordon Walker
  170. Sam Wakim
  171. David Warrick
  172. David Wells
  173. Michael Weizman
  174. Glen Williams
  175. Shawn Whatley
  176. Ed Whitcomb
  177. Ken Whyte
  178. Henry Wiercinski
  179. Rob Wildeboer
  180. ‘Red’ Wilson
  181. Conrad Winn
  182. Kai Xing
  183. Shura Xu
  184. Eric Zadro
  185. Mona Zhang
  186. Sabrina Zuniga

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(As of January 20, 2021, 4:00pm ET)