On January 11, Canada will celebrate Sir John A. MacDonald Day in honour our first Prime Minister and one of the architects of Confederation.
Sir John A. MacDonald lived a remarkable life - one marked by triumph and tribulation. His political shrewdness, ingenuity, and grit led to the formation of our nation, the construction of the CPR railway, and the protective tariffs which help us to gain economic and political independence from the United States.
His overriding national preoccupations were unity and prosperity. An 1860 speech summed up his lifelong political creed and political goals: "One people, great in territory, great in resources, great in enterprise, great in credit, great in capital." (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-john-alexander-macdonald/)
MacDonald’s leadership was not without black marks, though, (the Pacific Scandal and the execution of Louis Riel, for example). MacDonald and the Canadian government were also responsible for excluding Asian Canadians from voting and placed a head tax onto Asian immigrants entering the country. As Prime Minister and as the Indian Affairs Minister, MacDonald’s policies were responsible for the creation of the residential school system.
[The] two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child.” Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country. (Prime Minister Stephen Harper, official apology, June 11, 2008. http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/government-policy/the-residential-school-system.html )
The celebration of Sir John A. MacDonald is a chance for all Canadians not just to remember our first Prime Minister but also the politics and policies that created this country. Were it not for Sir John A. MacDonald, there would be no Canada and at the same time there would not have been residential schools. Sir John A. MacDonald and his policies were products of their time. Since that time, Canada has grown to be a multi-cultural country that includes people from every part of the planet. We still have many challenges to overcome, but as a nation, we need to look back and learn from our past injustices while celebrating our accomplishments and the things that unite us as Canadians. The most wonderful thing about Canada is our democracy and our freedom to change. For that, we can thank John A. MacDonald, who set us on a path towards national independence.