16 April 2018
A Proud, or Shameful Founding Father of Canada?
Thousands are protesting in Ontario, demanding officials to take down monuments of John A. Macdonald. Why though? John A. Macdonald was the man who led Canada to achieve the “national dream” of building a railway connecting from eastern Canada to the west (“The Star”). Although many experts claim Macdonald was racist, ultimately it is vital to recognize that he fought for women’s rights to vote, and our current values should not be infringed upon when criticizing Macdonald.
Women in Canada were heavily discriminated against and were not allowed to voice their opinions. However, the first national leader to extend the vote to women was John A. Macdonald. On April 27, 1885, “[Macdonald] noted that the definition of ‘persons’ should be broadened to include women, this being half a century before the deed would finally be done by the famous Person’s Case 1929″ (Gwyn 5). If Macdonald was truly discriminatory towards minorities, he wouldn’t have argued against Opposition MPs and even his wife to allow women to vote at a time men were far more superior than women. To this day, women’s rights are protected under section 15 and 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are welcomely accepted as a member of society.
On the contrary, many experts claim John A. Macdonald to be racist. However, these claims are based on the present, not the past. Therefore, current values should not play a large role when determining what was morally right when criticizing him. When judging based on current values, it is extremely unjust to pay workers far below minimum wage and discriminate one’s culture. However, back when Macdonald was in power, it was abnormal to think Chinese workers were being discriminated and that discrimination was bad. Although Macdonald may have not been the best prime minister, or do his job properly, that doesn’t mean other Canadian prime ministers were any better. Until the 1930s, “no other Canadian government […] gave people money, food or anything else to its people just because they had no job or nowhere to live or no pension” (“The Star”). Even after 50 years since Macdonald’s passing, people considered Macdonald’s actions towards the Chinese labourers to be acceptable. It happened to be only decades later, societal values took a shift.
It seems as if John A. Macdonald’s mistreatment towards minorities left a bigger impact on society compared to other prime ministers during the same period. The reason why Macdonald is receiving political backlash is simply because we only remember the negative actions, not the positive consequences. Sure, he was discriminatory but he also advocated for women’s voices to be heard, and his actions based on past values were not necessarily deemed to be “wrong.” Although it may not be possible for everyone to agree not remove Macdonald from the public sphere, more people have to realize that the Canadian citizenship they proudly hold wouldn’t have been possible without John A. Macdonald.
Gwyn, Richard. “Sir John A. Macdonald, the Greatest PM of All.” Thestar.com, 9 Jan. 2015,