Proposal to take Sir John A.’s name off schools is ridiculous

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
August 25, 2017 - 5:06am

KAMLOOPS — The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has done everyone a favour in pointing out how ridiculous the movement to tear down statues and take the names of controversial historical figures off public places has become.

The teachers are urging school boards in Ontario to remove the name of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister, from public schools.

Macdonald, to be sure, was a flawed personality. He drank too much, for one thing. He also refused to pardon Métis hero Louis Riel after the latter was sentenced to be hanged.

But that’s not why the teachers of Ontario want his name removed from schools. It’s that Macdonald had a role in the expansion of the residential school system.

Some of Macdonald’s comments about Indigenous peoples were not his finest hour, but without him Canada would not have become a nation from sea to sea. He stitched the country together with a trans-continental railway.

Shall we now put everyone who has a statue or a park or a school or a mountain named after them under a microscope to be judged on whether their contributions to building the country should be negated by something they said or did that doesn’t pass muster by what’s politically acceptable today?

That seems to be what’s happening. Names like Cornwallis, Begbie, Ryerson and Langevin are suddenly being regarded with disdain in some corners. We must, they say, erase them from public view and forget about them.

Shall we establish a points system to sort out who goes and who stays, or simply get rid of anyone who said or did anything we might consider offensive?

The idea of removing Sir John A. from the public record is quite ridiculous, really, taking the debate to such an extreme that it defeats the entire argument. As former foreign affairs minister John Baird said, the idea is “political correctness on steroids.” (Sir John A.’s face is also on our $10 bill, by the way.)

Dealing with the lingering pain of the residential school system is something the country must do. Continuing the healing process, yes.

But doing it this way — no. Thanks to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario for pointing that out, though unintentionally.