Our views of historical figures are often spurious, their flaws forgotten with time, and we remember them only for the good they created, not the bad. John A. Macdonald is an example of this trend. We remember him for “unifying” Canada, but not for shaping it into an egocentric vanity project, which he meticulously designed to mimic Great Britain. He took away the right to vote from ethnic Chinese-Canadians because he feared their views would be conducive to building a white-nationalist state. He attempted to mold Canada into another Great Britain through exclusionary policies based on race. Canada should remove John A. Macdonald from the public sphere because of his biases and moral failings.
Contrary to popular belief, before the Electoral Franchise Act (which prevented Chinese people from voting), naturalized Chinese Canadians had the right to vote. John A. Macdonald was the only member of Parliament “to argue that Asians and Europeans were different species” and “it had taken Macdonald two years to get his legislation through the house” (Stanley). Views deeply ingrained in society don’t create such outrage and opposition. This insistence on integrating “biological racism” into Canadian law was perhaps the only piece of domestic policy that Macdonald insisted on. Faced with controversy when he tabled a bill to allow women to vote, Macdonald folded quickly and easily. If this bill had been merely a result of public opinion, he would not have pursued it to the extent that he did. His persistence in excluding Chinese-Canadians was a result of a personal bias, in which he tried to mold Canada into another England, to exclude and alienate those that didn’t share so-called “British instincts”. His prejudice against any non-white citizens represents the intolerance that he based so many of his policy decisions on, ingraining racism into Canadian society where it wasn’t before. Macdonald represents the dark side of Confederation and colonialism, further demonstrating that we should not worship him with statues and tributes, and thus remove him and his name from the public sphere.
Contrary to this point, some say that John A. Macdonald’s views were merely a reflection of the time. They justify his biased policies because these policies were based on views that were deeply embedded into Canada’s culture: this was just the way things were back then. This was not the case. John A. argued that the Chinese would control the vote in the new province of British Columbia, so he set out to ban these people from participating in the electoral system, even though the opposition argued “the Chinese were ‘industrious people’ who had “voted in the last election'” This bill was designed to prevent Chinese Canadians from voting, and it created controversy. John A. Macdonald’s views were clearly not simply a result of his time, but rather a personal one that unjustly influenced his political decisions.
Macdonald undoubtedly changed Canada; however, these changes were not positive. His leading role in denying the Chinese the right to vote opened the door for other exclusionary, unfair acts based on race. He created a legacy of division and discrimination that exists even to this day. John A. Macdonald’s checkered past does not make him a good role model for this country and statues of him “would be better suited for a museum” (Olivier). Removing John A. Macdonald from public spaces does not mean minimizing his contributions to building Canada, but is merely calling attention to the problematic actions whose impacts we still see in modern day Canada.
Gray, Charlotte. “We Need to Widen Our Views.” Library and Archives Canada, 2019, pp. 25–27.
Hopper, Tristin. “Sure, John A. Macdonald Was a Racist, Colonizer and Misogynist – but so Were Most Canadians Back Then.” National Post, 24 Jan. 2015, nationalpost.com/news/canada/sure-john-a-macdonald-was-was-a-racist-colonizer-and-misogynist-but-so-were-most-canadians-back-then.
Oliver, Annabelle. “Activists Deface Statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Downtown Montrea lActivists Deface Statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Downtown Montreal.” CBC News.
“Sir John A. Macdonald.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-john-alexander-macdonald.
Stanley, Timothy J. “John A Macdonald and the Invention of White Supremecy in Canada.” Ebsco Host, 2014,