Our premier and I come at politics from such different angles, it always comes as a surprise to me when I find myself agreeing with him. But sometimes I do. And that’s the case with his offer to install the statue of John A. Macdonald that was toppled by vandals in Montreal last Saturday on the grounds of Alberta’s Legislature. If Montreal should no longer want it, of course. Kenney’s words were “It’s right to debate his legacy and life. But it is wrong to allow roving bands of thugs to vandalize our history with impunity.” I agree completely.

Kenney is undoubtedly also miffed because he, like Macdonald, is a conservative and the idea of a gang of leftists tearing down the statue of a conservative icon is infuriating. He has a point. To some on the left, Macdonald may seem a disposable hero.

Some academics have implied that Kenney’s use of the word “thugs” is racist code. It will be hard to make that label stick to a premier who just appointed a black man as his minister of justice and a Muslim woman as Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor. Kenney is no racist. Indeed he was Stephen Harper’s point man on dealing with ethnic communities and he was so successful that many claim his efforts were essential to the Conservatives finally winning a majority.

But about this John A. Macdonald fellow. He was a man who did some bad things, some good things, and at least one great thing. The latter gives him the right to statues and many other honours. He was the key figure in the founding of this country. And what a country! By any yardstick one of the very finest societies ever created. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a fact. People from around the globe have risked their lives to reach our shores.

So, keeping John A’s magnificent achievement in mind, was he overall a good man or a bad man? A saint or a sinner? Well, like most of us, he was both. But to truly judge the man, you have to understand him and his age. He was, perhaps above all, a child of the British Empire. So of course he saw the world through imperial eyes. How could he not? He was a product of his circumstances, his faults and his virtues much the same as his fellows. We are all, with few exceptions, creatures of our time and place. 

John A’s biographer Richard Gwyn wrote, “No Macdonald, no Canada.” But this hardly seemed to matter to the statue-topplers. They judge him not by the mores of his time, the only yardstick that counts, but by their own, which is meaningless both morally and historically.

Be that as it may, for a small band of radicals to assume they have the moral authority to decide for the community who it should commemorate is arrogant and self-righteous. Premier Kenney has wisely instructed these folks that it is right to debate John A’s life and legacy—just lay off the vandalism.

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