Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
In recent weeks, Canada, like the United States, has been embroiled in controversy with respect to removing statues and changing building names due to historical grievances.
A statue of the first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, which had sat in front of a city hall building in Victoria, B.C., since 1982, was unceremoniously carted off on Aug. 11.
Why would one of the Fathers of Confederation be treated this way? Native communities have regularly expressed frustration with their relationship with Macdonald. In particular, they point to his significant role in building church-run Indian residential schools that tried to force indigenous children to assimilate into Western society — and led to instances of physical and sexual abuse, and unusually high mortality rates.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government offered to take the statue, but Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps turned the government down. Its fate remains unclear, but for now it will probably just collect thick layers of dust in storage.
About a week later, a second Macdonald statue was vandalized in downtown Montreal. So-called anti-colonial and anti-racist activists spray-painted it in red and demanded it receive the same sordid fate as the Victoria statue.
Sadly, this has been part of a growing trend. Last year, people organized through Facebook to protest a statue in Halifax of Edward Cornwallis, a British military officer who served as governor of Nova Scotia (1749 to 1752). They denounced his treatment of indigenous communities. The statue was eventually removed by the city on Jan. 31.
It’s also worth pointing out another controversy involving Macdonald. A bar in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario, succumbed to pressure and changed its name from Sir John’s Public House to the Public House. It’s in the same building where he practiced law from 1849 to 1860. You would never know it today, however.
But is this a rational reaction to these controversies? Absolutely not.
Go through the histories of the United States and Canada. There are many prominent leaders and individuals with buildings, statues and landmarks named after them who either did awful things, made bigoted statements or have an additional skeleton (or two) in their closets.
Hence, there will always be somebody, somewhere, who has a grievance. It’s also hard to believe that these building names and statues are really causing this much of an emotional upheaval. Most people have walked by these institutions without batting an eyelash. I worked in Langevin Block for former prime minister Stephen Harper, and I don’t recall a single complaint about the name from people of a similar or different political stripe.
Should we ignore history, or attempt to rewrite it, because a small number of individuals are having an exceedingly hard time dealing with historical figures whom most of us have long since moved past?
Meanwhile, those who claim that opposition to these name changes and statue removals is rooted in racism have greatly weakened their side of the debate. Some Canadians and Americans simply believe history should be preserved in all ways, shapes and forms. The important thing to do is teach our children about these historical figures and explain in depth what they did (or didn’t) do in their time periods.
If governments or private organizations propose additional plaques to sit side by side with existing statues, that would make sense. Let each side tell its own unique tale and expose the good, bad and ugly elements that the sands of time have regularly produced.
Canadians and Americans need more awareness and less obliviousness to history. Otherwise, we will lag behind as free, open and tolerant societies at the very same time.