Alberta Premier Jason Kenney decried the removal of the statue of Canada’s first prime minister on Tuesday.
Kenney’s remarks came days after the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School for indigenous children in the province of British Columbia.
The discovery prompted the Charlottetown city council to vote to permanently remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, from a downtown intersection in Prince Edward Island, the city council announced Monday. Macdonald’s government introduced the residential school system in 1883, allegedly causing the deaths of 3,200 indigenous children.
However, at a Tuesday press conference, Kenney said it’s necessary to consider the complexity of those leaders and the historical context at the time when such policies were introduced.
“If we want to get into cancelling every figure in our history, who took positions on issues at the time that we now judge harshly, and rightly in historical retrospect, if that’s the new standard, then I think almost the entire founding leadership of our country gets cancelled,” he said.
Kenney gave examples of other prominent Canadian leaders whose policies could also invite criticisms under modern-day values, including former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas’s eugenics policy to sterilize the mentally diseased; former Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, who increased the head tax to curb the influx of Chinese immigrants; and former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, whose “None Is Too Many” policy effectively barred Jews fleeing the Holocaust from entering Canada.
“I really think it’s inappropriate to focus on one or two figures if we want to get into a debate about cancelling Canadian history,” Kenney said. “We need to understand that it means all of our history, and I think … that kind destructive spirit is not really the spirit of reconciliation.
“The spirit of reconciliation is to learn from the wrongs of the past, to seek to remedy them, while knowing our history and moving forward together,” he said.
Kenney said Canada has been taking steps to amend the victims of the Indian residential school system, including providing over $3.5 billion in compensation to the system’s survivors. He also noted that Alberta is proposing a new draft to grades K-6 social studies curriculum to increase the content regarding the history of Canada’s indigenous community.
“There is no shortage of sadness, tragedy, and injustice in our past. The greatness of Canada is that we have overcome those things,” Kenney said. “Yes, we have had imperfect leaders, and yes, we have had imperfect institutions. And yet, we have still built through that, a country that is the envy of the world.”
“I think that’s the solution, which is … to present all Canadians, including new Canadians, with a balanced depiction of our history, including the terrible, gross, injustice, and tragedy of the Indian residential schools,” he said.