Academics, politicians and the media have reduced Canadian history to a series of regrettable events requiring abject apology and compensation. In doing so they downplay, ignore or deny the many admirable aspects of our past that remain worthy of celebration and respect. But what of those events that truly are lamentable today? Greg Piasetzki looks at Canada’s Chinese head tax and the role played by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, commonly considered the racist villain of this policy. Piasetzki’s careful scholarship reveals in full what Macdonald actually said and did on this issue, and recounts his efforts to protect minority rights in Canada a century before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If Canada’s past is not to become a pure tool of politics and ideology, we must insist that the facts still matter, including if not especially in controversial areas like Indigenous history. In a meticulously documented essay containing original archival research, Greg Piasetzki chronicles the remarkable career of a late 19th – early 20th century Canadian who embodied many of his era’s signature characteristics – enlightenment rationality, belief in progress, idealism and commitment as well as vanity, opportunism and jarring prejudice. The facts, Piasetzki finds, make for a fascinating though decidedly mixed and at times disturbing story. So why, he asks, do this complicated man’s present-day Indigenous supporters insist on elevating him to near-sainthood?
Were he alive today, Sir John A. Macdonald would make short work of his many present-day critics through his legendarily quick wit, disarming personality and mastery of the facts. Unfortunately, he isn’t around to defend himself against horrifying claims he committed genocide against Canada’s Indigenous people. To take on this calumny, Greg Piasetzki goes back to the source. Using Macdonald’s own words and other contemporary voices, Piasetzki brings alive our Founding Father’s determination to save native lives and protect their interests throughout his time in office.