Sir John A. Macdonald, the father of this great nation, has been booted out of City Park and the silent majority has no one but itself to blame.
Sniffing which way the political wind is blowing as an election looms next year, city council decided the statue must go to appease some and avoid possible violence, injury and damage to the statue.
In fairness, councillors agreed that the move was right to respond to public angst about Macdonald’s connection to policies that harmed Indigenous people.
But the element of intimidation involved in the vote is cause for concern.
The choice put before Council was this: get the statue out of there or it will be torn down and somebody will get hurt. Their decision was never in doubt.
There was plenty of hand wringing but did anyone at Council speak out against intimidation and violence? No.
The city will tell you Macdonald has not been removed. He has been relocated.
The City’s choice is Cataraqui Cemetery. At least he’ll be welcomed there by the people in charge but there’s no guarantee he’ll be any safer there than downtown in City Park---or anywhere else.
A working group appointed last year by council had recommended the removal and discussed the possibility of violence if council decided the statue should stay.
“If Council chooses not to remove the statue, it is likely that the peaceful actions and ceremony that are underway at the statue will be disrupted and displaced by others who will likely forcefully remove the statue,” said a staff report summarizing discussions of the working group.
Several councillors echoed that fear during the agonizing 5-hour meeting on Wednesday to deal with this controversial issue.
Among the 12 delegations who appeared before council were those who consider Macdonald a saint and those who see him as the devil incarnate. Those who take the time and effort to read some history will likely come down somewhere in the middle.
“On the practical level I am very worried about public safety and I don’t want anyone to get hurt over this,” said councillor Wayne Hill, referring to “impassioned elements” who are involved.
Community activist Mary Farrar, who serves on the working group, said she regretted that council was being rushed to make a decision and recommended the statue’s removal be conducted with respect “so it will be saved from being destroyed.”
It has come to this in one of the world’s great democracies and hometown of the man whom historian Richard Gwyn summed up this way: “No Macdonald. No Canada.”
The 13 members of Kingston City Council had been beset with lobbyists in advance of Wednesday night’s vote. Several, including the mayor, said they have seldom seen our community so anxious and so polarized.
Councillor Peter Stroud, who represents tony Sydenham District, where the controversial statue is located, received up to 100 messages in recent days and said those wanting the statue removed outnumbered supporters of the status quo by about 8 to 1.
Having followed social media and reaction to my own earlier blog on the subject, I thought public opinion would be more evenly divided—especially right now when so many university and college students are in absentia.
Truth to tell, If most people wanted the statue to remain, they were obviously too lazy or complacent to bother telling their city councillors.
Do I sense a growing lack of faith in our democratic process? Are a lot of people afraid to speak out or convinced they don’t have a voice so why get involved? It is to worry.
Supporters of Macdonald gathered in City Park to grieve the statute’s loss and even weep as the machinery moved in and hauled it away. Where were they when councillors were taking the public temperature and made their decision?
It’s more than passing strange how it seems to take forever to get something done in this city but the act of removing one of the city’s iconic sites was deftly arranged and executed within hours.
The final vote was 12 to 1 to relocate the statue. The one vote came from a councillor who in recent months seems to have taken an oath of silence.
In an earlier 8-5 vote in the committee of the whole the only regret was that members of the Indigenous community were not consulted about the cemetery option and Councillor Stroud warned this option might go over “like a lead balloon.” We’ll see.
Mayor Bryan Paterson and staff came up with the last minute cemetery compromise designed to soften public reaction and lesson tensions.
Fresh in the minds of some would be the demonstration in Montreal last year when their Macdonald statue in a public square was pulled over with ropes and smashed to the ground. Education icon Egerton Ryerson was ripped from his pedestal at Ryerson University last week and the decapitated head ended up on a pole in another community.
Debating recommendations from its working group, one option for council was to leave the statue in place. Option two was to remove it, crate it up and decide at some future time what would happen to it.
Option three to relocate was designed to keep peace, lower the public temperature, and give each side in the controversy a partial win. “It gives something to both sides,” said the mayor.
Assurances of where the statue goes are absolutely necessary “If you are mindful of keeping this community together,” the mayor argued.
The community may remain together, Mr. Mayor, but there are many whose feelings range from deep disappointment to outright anger.
And what will happen if the Indigenous community rejects the cemetery location? Or any re-location? That is apparently still to be determined.
Meanwhile, the mayor worried that to simply “remove” Sir John A. could leave him all boxed up with nowhere to go. He could remain somewhere (perhaps the old Memorial Centre ) for years, as has happened in other cities that have exiled former heroes off to storage.
I guess that’s better than having the great man hidden in a wooden crate on the front lawn of our provincial parliament at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
After being vandalized, Sir John has been hidden away there for the past year and in the current political climate you can bet your last dollar his stay will be long. The provincial politicians also see an election on the horizon and aren’t going to touch him with a ten-foot pole.
You gotta wonder, who and what are next?
One thing to be sure is that this whole sorry situation is far from over.