On September 3, 2020, MPs Andrew Scheer, Warren Steinley, and Michael Kram held a virtual rally in support of John A Macdonald’s statue in Victoria Park, Regina.
The speeches they gave were often hard to hear over shouting and cursing from several activists present at the event, which left little room for important context and nuance.
Below are the speeches given by all 3 MPs, which illustrate their perspectives in greater detail.
ANDREW SCHEER, MP (Regina-Qu’Appelle)
Why do we build statues and monuments? Is it because we recognize the few public figures who were perfect? Of course not. Perfection is not for this side of eternity. No, we do not memorialize people because we glorify every aspect of their lives. I do not believe anyone has ever looked at a marble figure of Caesar, William the Conqueror, Victoria, Patton, Montgomery, Rocket Richard or any other person who played a significant role in history and thought: That person must have been perfect and we are remembering because he or she never did anything wrong.
Of course not. Instead, what we are saying is that this person played an important role in some aspect of our life that we appreciate and remember.
And that is why it is so frustrating to see images of modern day iconoclasts tearing down statues of Sir John A. MacDonald.
Now, at this point I would like to clearly say: I understand that many of Macdonald’s actions and policies caused hardship and pain. It is not only reasonable to debate and discuss his decisions. We are literally standing in a spot very close to where, Louis Riel was hanged.
As a Westerner, especially during the current conversation about our role in confederation, I can understand why many people would take issue with many of the policies of Sir John.
But we didn’t erect a statue of him in Victoria Park because we want to celebrate the policies that led to so much suffering among indigenous peoples. Or because we endorse his protectionist policies that disproportionately hurt western Canadians.
If we are going to reserve monuments in public statements to those who have been perfect, well…I’m not sure who we would end up honouring.
Shall we apply the same logic to Laurier? Here’s the text of an order in council signed by that Liberal Prime Minister: For a period of one year from and after the date hereof the landing in Canada shall be and the same is prohibited of any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which is deemed to be unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.
Should we take him of the $5 bill? How can Liberals still have an exclusive club for their top donors named after him?
How about Mackenzie King? He turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. In fact, well after Hitler’s horrific attacks on the Jewish people had become well known, King praised Hitler…comparing him to Joan of Arc and stating that he hoped King opened by praising the “constructive work” of Nazi Germany and said he hoped that “nothing would be permitted to destroy that work.”
It is fashionable today to look down at the past, but that is a luxury we enjoy from heights built by those who preceded us in this chamber. If we look back at our rich history and study the leading figures in its telling and see only the blemishes, then we are missing out on the beautiful story of a country constantly bettering itself, and consistently offering a refuge to so many around the world. It is a story of different parliaments at different times, working through the imperfections of the day. It is a story that on the whole has been a story of hope for so many. It is a story of prosperity, compassion, liberty, and human rights.
To those who deny we have anything to be proud of as a country, I would pose a simple question: “Where else would you have rather lived for the last 150 years?” That is not a rhetorical question. It is a straightforward question for which there is only one honest answer. There is nowhere we would rather have lived, no country we would rather call our home, for no country has acquitted herself better at home and abroad than Canada.
It is indisputable that the world has been better off for the last 150 years because of Canada.
And it is indisputable that Sir John A. played a critical role in building this great nation.
And that is why we honour him.
If we replace cancel culture with critical thinking, we can have heartfelt conversations and actual dialogue, instead of emotional reactions. And by talking, and by learning from those mistakes.
WARREN STEINLEY, MP (Regina-Lewvan)
Throughout our short history, Canada has always punched above its weight. For such a relatively small country, Canadians have contributed so much positivity and progress to the world, and we should all be proud of these contributions.
Canadian diplomacy has helped save the world from conflict countless times. Our medical and scientific innovations save lives every day. The innovation of our private sector continues to push the limits of possibility, making life easier and more enjoyable in ways both big and small. Canada is a great country.
There is no question that there are shameful chapters in our history that need to be addressed through conversation and education. Yet if we judge historical figures like MacDonald purely on the mistakes they made or some of the views they held, we wouldn’t have any statues left.
Tommy Douglas is mainly remembered today for his contributions to Canadian healthcare, yet we often forget that he wrote his masters thesis on eugenics and advocated for the sterilization of “mental defectives and those incurably diseased”, to use his exact words. Should his statue come down as well?
What about Wilfred Laurier, who banned immigration from India, and explicitly discriminated against black immigrants in an order-in-council?
Certainly, not everything that Sir John A. MacDonald said or did is worthy of celebration. There is no denying that many of his views and actions, especially regarding Indigenous Canadians, were totally unacceptable.
My argument for why his statue should continue to stand where it does is not rooted in a defense of these ideas, but rather a celebration of his positive contributions to Canadian Federation and his key role in the evolution of what has become the greatest country in the world. Without Sir John A MacDonald, Canada simply wouldn’t exist.
Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples must not stop at criticizing the worst parts of Canadian history.
John A. was also the Prime Minister that most remarkably got his MPs to agree to the most imaginative reform of his time; any indigenous person could gain the vote while retaining all his privileges, such as freedom from taxes. And as a side note Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier cancelled this reform, with these measures not restored until John Diefenbaker did so in 1960.
That is why I say we need to build more statues, not remove and destroy the ones we have. Creation is the only pathway to forward progress and destroying and vandalizing monuments are the actions of a few that want to further the divide between Canadians.
These acts of vandalism also show just how much easier it is for someone to tear down and destroy something, compared to how much time and effort it takes to build something in the first place.
For families and individuals all over the world, Canada represents a beacon of hope and opportunity, a place where hard work is championed, anything is possible, and freedom is guaranteed.
For me, being a Canadian is about living up to these ideals as much as possible, and to always work towards a more inclusive and welcoming society. We have never been and likely never will be perfect, but we can always strive to be better.
Without Sir John A MacDonald’s work, the Canadian dream as we know it would not exist. Despite his flaws, he played a critical role in creating a country that has changed the world, for the better, and improved the lives of millions.
It’s for these reasons that Sir John A MacDonald deserves a statue in Victoria Park for generations to come.
And one more final reason why I think Sir John A. should stay and why we should build even more statues to honour our past influential leaders and nation builders, I want my children to grow up in a country where we celebrate great people whom helped build, liberate and continue to strive to improve our country. Canada was, is and always should be a country where no dream is too big.
Please be sure to click on the link following our Facebook live feed to support John A.
Now my colleague the MP for Regina Wascana Michael Kram would like to say a few words.
MICHAEL KRAM, MP (Regina-Wascana)
There is a simple fact of human life that we just can’t avoid. None of us is perfect. Is there anyone on this earth who would like to be judged solely on their worst action, or their worst day? I don’t think so. Yet, that is what cancel culture would like us to do with our historical figures.
People who would tear down statues like to talk a great deal about justice. Yet there are fundamental aspects of justice that they ignore, such as the presumption of innonence, due process, and right to a defense. In the modern world of social media and political activism, if you are accused, you are guilty; and if somebody else tries to defend you, that person is also guilty. It is the mindset of witch trials.
There can be no doubt that the Canadian nation has committed horrible injustices against indigenous peoples. Reconciliation is a responsibility we all share, collectively. The blame cannot be placed on one individual.
Truth matters, and facts matter. It is true that residential schools were a dark and difficult chapter in our history. It is also true that Sir John A Macdonald did not invent them. They were invented in 1831, long before Macdonald became Prime Minister.
It is also true that John A and other Prime Ministers expanded their use. Residential schools did not become mandatory until 1894, three years after Macdonald had died. John A Macdonald also did not impose the Indian Act. That was Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie. The Chinese head tax was supported and raised by governments of both parties.
Clearly, many mistakes were made by many people. Our history is not a comic book, there are no supervillains. There was just a lot of regular people trying to do the right thing, who succeeded in biulding a great country but also made their share of serious mistakes along the way.
For our country to progress, we must recognize our mistakes; but we also must recognize our accomplishments, including those of Sir John A Macdonald. Accomplishments such as Confederation, expanding our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and the construction of the transcontinental railway. We must be able to approach history with balance and maturity. We cannot allow our history to be rewritten by an angry mob.
If you care about Canadian History, I encourage you to sign up at supportjohna.com to show your support. Thank you.