Last week, the City of Victoria removed a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front of its City Hall to pay respect to the Indigenous community that lives and works in the area. A report from the city council found that removing the statue would be a positive step forward in the ongoing Reconciliation with the Indigenous community. When the statue was removed Saturday, the municipality had not yet decided what to do with it, saying it would be kept in storage for the time being. The Ontario provincial government has an idea, though: send it their way.
The Ontario Conservatives announced Monday that they would be willing to relocate the Macdonald statue rather than have it placed in storage. MPP Sylvia Jones took the floor at Queen’s Park to call attention to the pivotal role Macdonald played in Confederation and the creation of Canadian government. She also informed the room that the Ontario government has written to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps about acquiring the statue.
“History matters,” Jones said, “And we need to acknowledge the important role Sir John A. played in Canada and Ontario’s history.”
Our government let the City of Victoria know that we are willing and able to give Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue a home in Ontario. History matters and we need to acknowledge the important role Sir John A. Macdonald played in Canada’s and Ontario’s history. pic.twitter.com/qnIzdGVG6a
— Sylvia Jones (@SylviaJonesMPP) August 13, 2018
Ontario Premier Doug Ford echoed Jones’ sentiments on Twitter later. He had previously weighed in on the statue debate when Victoria first made the decision to remove the monument. He quoted Conservative MPP Todd Smith who said that Macdonald “holds a significant place in the hearts of many Canadians and should be honoured accordingly.”
Sir John A. Macdonald played a central role in our national story. As one of the Fathers of Confederation, he founded our nation. That’s why our government wrote to the Mayor of Victoria to say we’d be happy to give Sir John A. a new home here in Ontario. https://t.co/VRNVjj9F0e
— Doug Ford (@fordnation) August 13, 2018
“As father of Confederation and our first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald holds a significant place in the hearts of many Canadians and should be honoured accordingly.” –@ToddSmithPChttps://t.co/SKu62gdAdb
— Doug Ford (@fordnation) August 11, 2018
The Ontario Conservatives are taking on a common argument made whenever controversial monuments are taken down (or when taking them down is even considered). People who seek to have these statues remain often argue that it is an erasure of history, a “gateway” to removing all monuments and offensive to the person’s memory and significant accomplishments.
John A. Macdonald may be the first prime minister of Canada, but he is also the cause of oppression and violence against the Canadian Indigenous population that has not been reconciled even to this day. He was a key figure in the establishment of the Residential School System that took Indigenous children from their families and taught them Western culture while stripping them of their own, causing severe trauma to both parents and children. The reasoning behind the statue’s removal in Victoria is that the gesture would serve as a symbol of the ongoing Reconciliation process.
“We will remove the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front doors of city hall so that the family members and other Indigenous people do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government,” Mayor Helps said in a post on her website, “We do not propose to erase history but rather to take the time through the process of truth-telling and reconciliation as part of the Witness Reconciliation Program to tell this complex and painful chapter of Canadian history in a thoughtful way.”
The statue was replaced with a plaque on this past Saturday explaining the significance and nuance of Sir John A. Macdonald’s contributions to Canada. It was vandalized with an X overnight, which Victoria authorities said they were not surprised by considering the divisive nature of the issue.
Mayor Lisa Helps has not yet responded to the Ontario government’s offer to display the statue.