Reasoned views about the historical record.
  • Sir John A. Macdonald – The Full Story

    January 13, 2021

    Sir John A. Macdonald - $10 bill, Canada First Prime Minister

    Sir John A. Macdonald portrait from a Canadian 10 dollar banknote.

    Excerpt from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute statement published January 12, 2021. Additionally, there were full-page advertisements in The National Post and The Globe and Mail.

    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.

    Born on January 11, 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 George-Étienne 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.

    January 12, 2021 over 150 experts issued a statement in defence of Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy. They 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.

    Belated Happy Birthday Sir John A. Macdonald – and thank you.

    Written and published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, (MLI) Canada’s only truly national public policy think tank based in Ottawa. MLI is rigorously independent and non-partisan, as symbolized by its name. Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier were two outstanding and long-serving former prime ministers who represent the best of Canada’s distinguished political tradition. A Tory and a Grit, an English-speaker and a French-speaker, each of them championed the values that led to the creation of Canada and its emergence as one of the world’s leading democracies and a place where people may live in peace and freedom under the rule of law.

    Peace, Order, and Good Government. This phrase is used in section 91 of British North America Act of 1867, now called the Constitution Act of 1867.

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