First PM considered progressive

Sir John A. Macdonald was the prime minister of a racist country. He was also, in his day, progressive and moderate in his relations with Indigenous peoples.

He should not be made a scapegoat any more than the 18 prime ministers who followed him who kept residential schools in place.

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Macdonald acted on the advice of experts, who recommended the expansion of the residential-school system. Misguided as this was, his intent was more to improve general living conditions than to emasculate a population.

Macdonald was sympathetic to the plight of the Indigenous peoples and said: “We must remember that they are the original owners of the soil, of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors … the Indians have been the great sufferers by the discovery of America and the transfer to it of a large white population.”

It was Macdonald who boldly suggested extending the vote to “Indians,” a move that was widely criticized out of sheer racism, but also because his opponents feared he would get the majority of their votes. And many Indigenous people living south of the 49th parallel moved north under Macdonald for reasons of safety and security.

Some politicians in Victoria might feel good about removing Macdonald’s statue. Better that they think about how we will all be judged by future generations, with living standards today on many reserves below Third World conditions and with youth suicide rates at epidemic levels.

Bob Plamondon


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