Most Canadians want John A. Macdonald's name, image protected, poll suggests

A new survey suggests the vast majority of Canadians want to preserve the legacy of Canada’s first prime minister.

The Angus Reid Institute released its fresh findings Wednesday in an attempt to reveal how Canadians feel about Sir John A. Macdonald, the first person to lead the country after Confederation in 1867.

The survey suggests 70 per cent of Canadians polled say Macdonald’s name and image should remain in public view, while 11 per cent say it should be removed and 19 per cent say they aren’t sure.

The poll also found more than half of respondents believe Canada is spending “too much time” apologizing for the residential school system.

The poll results were published as a spotlight shines on Macdonald, a founding father of Canada who has recently become a controversial figure. Some historians say Macdonald was racist and cruel towards Indigenous people.

In 1876, Macdonald led the federal government to pass the Indian Act, which made all members of First Nations wards of the state. The government eventually established the federally-funded residential school system, which was used by more than 150,000 Indigenous children for over a century, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

The TRC says children were taken from their families to attend these schools, forbidden to use their own language and practices. Many suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse, while others died, the TRC notes. In 2008, the prime minister at the time, Stephen Harper, formally apologized for the residential schools, which was seen as a step towards reconciliation with Indigenous people.

A little girl stops to look at a statue of John A. Macdonald in Victoria Park in Regina on August, 22, 2018. In the same month, Victoria removed their statue of Macdonald after city council voted for the move. Photo from The Canadian Press.

The connection between Macdonald and residential schools has led some to distance themselves from Canada’s first prime minister, often in an attempt to reconcile with Indigenous people for past injustices.

In Victoria, city councillors voted to remove a statue of Macdonald. In Montreal, Macdonald’s statue was covered in red paint. In Regina, a statue of Macdonald was also splashed with red paint. In Scotland, the government removed references to Macdonald on their official website. All of these incidents occurred within the past month.

According to the survey, 55 per cent of respondents say they oppose Victoria’s removal of the statue, compared to 25 per cent who supported the move.

The Angus Reid Institute’s poll was conducted online from Aug. 21 to Aug. 24, 2018. The survey used responses from a randomized group of 1,500 Canadian adults, who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. The institute says a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.