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The ‘2nd Death’ of Sir John A. Macdonald

20-Oct-20 12:05 am EDT Leave a comment

Canada is, to some degree, disowning it’s first Prime Minister (PM), Sir John A. Macdonald. As every Canadian knows, Macdonald was something of a drunk and has been more recently cited as being an unrepentant assimilationist and among the lead architects of the residential schools programme (which, from Canada’s founding until the latter-half of the 20th century, took aboriginal children away from their families to a life of ritual abuse at the hands of government-funded authority). With aboriginal roots reaching well-into my own family, it might sound surprising that I am of two minds on the question.

First, Macdonald’s actions both on the aboriginal file (including the wrongful execution of Louis Riel from my home province of Manitoba), on the head tax levied against Chinese workers building the first railways, the CPR scandal among a number of corruption allegations, notorious alcoholism (including imbibing while sitting the House of Commons) and “fiscal insanity” according to a very forgiving review by a contemporary Canadian historian — there certainly is a lot to choose from when it comes to finding imperfections in this founding father of one of the world’s great nations. But as, secondly, as a student of history, I’ve always found it both difficult and unfair to judge the actions of our ancestors whilst living with all the creature comforts and morality of the modern age.

So here we are sitting with all the amenities of the early 21st century judging the rampant ignorance of those living in the 19th. What terrible people and fools they must all have been! Or so we say to ourselves — and not for the first time.

To take an example from the history of science, one could see with the benefits of 17th and 18th-century technology that Jupiter clearly had moons of its own and the Catholic Church’s original assertions that Earth must be the very center of the universe were clearly debunked by the Sun’s position there instead must also have seemed terribly ignorant. Indeed, there were those that said so.

Indeed, at first glance, Aristotle’s model of the solar system might seem a wireframe monstrosity gone horribly, horribly wrong. Until one factors in it’s a product of a unique genius making observations available to him with his own eyes, absent tools like the telescope living as he did in the 4th century BCE and with seemingly few people ahead of him in line making meaningful observations about the planets, the moon and the sun. Even after Aristotle helped spark further curiosity on the subject, by the Roman era people imagined the stars being phenomena hundreds of stadia away from the ground; or perhaps thousands. (The concept of a million as we know it was still to come down the road — not that even the nearest star could be measured in a distance meaningful in any way to a Roman citizen.)

Macdonald then was faced with challenges that bore out a considerable degree of immorality when judged by our 21st century standards. Of course the aboriginals had to be dealt with, sometimes harshly. He had a vision of Canada and the United States threatened that with invasion, as they’d done just over 50 years earlier in 1812. Claiming Cree and other tribal lands in Manitoba and elsewhere in the Canadian west was a priority to establish a Canadian-British claim on the territory, lest otherwise Canada not survive to see its own 50th birthday. And besides, as he would’ve seen it, bringing Anglo civilization to the ignorant, less technically sophisticated aboriginals could only be a good thing for them. The Spanish were the ones who’d used European technology to conquer their aboriginal peoples. Anglo civilization was gentler, more enlightened. So he’d have thought, surely.

So discredit where it’s due — but lets have the credit too, I say. Without Macdonald, we wouldn’t have Canada as we know it to hold up as a model for the rest of the world to follow. What he did to its aboriginal peoples was, of course, reprehensible, but assimilation policy was very British and the de facto approach when dealing with peoples that seemed irrationally resistant to its dominance (as happened in Ireland three centuries earlier when some bright folk decided that a certain “Ireland problem” needed dealing with). Macdonald it bears saying, with ample imperfections both personally and in policy-making, deserves to be credited with helping to forge the nation we’re all inextricably a part of today as Canadians and regardless of ancestral origin. A nation that embraces diversity in all its forms, conscious of social need and of being relied upon to (however eventually) fulfill its obligations to those it owes its friendship and duty, and fanatical in the pursuit of justice and service to its citizens.

Macdonald, whatever you may feel about him, helped create that nation undeniably. Maybe that means we rename a law school one day or remove a statue the next. But let’s not pretend he wasn’t among a tiny few to first and truly believe in something called Canada.

Ezra’s Error

14-Sep-14 06:27 pm EDT Leave a comment
A

Ezra Levant in a typical pose.

Ezra Levant in a typical pose.

bsent context, the Canadian political right has cultivated a new stereotype for itself in the last two decades.  Led astray in the wake of the Great Conservative Cataclysm (the deed of former Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney via Schreibergate), provocateur pundits like Ezra Levant have a new favourite tactic: to use character assassination and innuendo to shape political fortunes when the strength of goals and ideas can’t be found.

And in today’s Sun News’ “Straight Talk” column, a renewed drumbeat of criticism and dogma handed those of us who have a vein somewhere on our foreheads that thirsted to be-a-throbbin’.  Brought to us by way of Twitter: @SunNewsNetwork writes “Trudeau opposes revoking the citizenship of Canadians suspected of being involved in terrorism,” inviting readers to Ezra’s article and another poll that the neocons can use to erode liberties a little further, no doubt.

Funny how the right never seems particularly interested in getting at the truths comprising an issue and instead revert to wordplay masquerading as an unbiased poll (we’re supposed to ignore the leading nature of the question — after all, you don’t want to support terrorism do you?) which then somehow gets quoted in Question Period, in campaign literature or one of those helpful automated phone calls made during dinner.  The article itself turns out to be a tissue of quotes taken completely out of context; and you know there’s some constituency out there inhaling this stuff like a crack addict.  But how bad can it possibly be?  Surely there aren’t that many of ‘em out there…  Oh yah, this is the group running the government right now.

Uh oh!

Yes, there actually are enough people swallowing this stuff hook, line and sinker or people like Ezra wouldn’t have a job, and Harper wouldn’t be Prime Minister.  But Trudeau didn’t say Communist China was his favourite foreign country — it was just China, and he spent a bit of time there earlier in his life. Yes, you can favour decriminalization of drugs without advocating everyone should get high more often!  And taking quotes completely out of context and asking “Pardon?” as if it was Trudeau that didn’t make any sense instead of Ezra himself: this is just not supporting a political view centered on facts, reality or truth.

I don’t know how I will get through the next year if I have to watch the country come unravelled because Conservative politicians using vague ad hominem references, McCarthyist innuendo about views pursuing innocent political debate, or — I swear to God — one more tissue of lies published by Ezra Levant simply because he’s anxious to engage in another inflammatory, disingenuous diatribe on Liberal campaign issues (which aren’t published just yet).

Ezra, if the truth really will hurt the Liberals so much when they go public with their campaign, why are you slithering about the nether regions of what passes for Canada’s political theatre conjuring up demons?  Why not cling to whatever integrity as a journalist you have left and simply await this field day of yours, smiling patiently?  Reducing the political discourse to the degree you do really is bad for the country!

Harper vs. Trudeau: Pot High-perbole

31-Aug-13 05:08 pm EDT Leave a comment
C

anadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper got a few more shots in on Liberal Party Leader and upstart threat to the nation’s highest political office Justin Trudeau late last week by complaining that Trudeau’s position on drug de-criminalization amounted to trying to force the nation’s children onto drugs.  When will the Conservatives finally realize that such nonsense is out-of-touch with average Canadians (if not average Canadian voters)?  I suppose the message might have to await the next federal election – but it’s really difficult to listen to this guy without wondering if his Machiavellian treatments of Canada’s democratic process aren’t ever going to stimulate the electorate out of its apathy just once in my lifetime to bring a sense of reason back into our political process!

Source: CBC News / CBC Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, August 29, 2013; Copyright ©MMXIII (2013) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, all rights reserved. YouTube.com edition reproduced here under “fair use” provisions of Copyright.
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