John A. Macdonald. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The death toll from the fall of John A. Macdonald’s statue in Montreal Saturday still stands at zero, the gods be praised.

One would have thought it was much higher, however, given all the outraged virtue signalling from Conservative politicians and their “issues managers” here on the western edge of the Great Plains.

The chirp of outraged tweets was so deafening for a spell one would almost have thought an army of infuriated crickets was marching into battle.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in high dudgeon, declared the fall of the statue to be the work of “a lawless band of thugs” who were attempting “to erase history.” Elsewhere, drawing yet more inspiration from the defenders of Confederate statuary south of the 49th parallel, he exclaimed: “This vandalism of our history and heroes must stop.”

With a sly dogwhistle at the Quebec authorities, Kenney offered to re-erect the monument here in Wild Rose Country, where presumably it would be safer than in a province where, bien sûr, they don’t even treat the language of Shakespeare with reverence.

Presumably here in anglo-saxophone Alberta (AA), Sir John’s blessed memory can be protected by that vigilante militia the UCP is pondering to assist in the rule of law when chronically underfunded lawful authorities are temporarily unavailable.

Many of Kenney’s cabinet ministers, press secretaries and issues managers were soon tweeting much the same words, with barely a hint of nuance that might acknowledge, as embarrassing as this may now be, that Canada’s first prime minister, political clever boots though he may have been, was also a repugnant racist with Indigenous blood on his hands.

Premier Kenney is younger than me, but not all that much, so it is possible the teachers at the private schools he attended were still using the same social studies curriculum I was taught in public school the 1950s and 1960s, in which plenty was said about prime minister Macdonald, but very little of it other than the bit about the heavy drinking was negative.

Many of the premier’s twittering cabinet ministers and most of his issues managers, however, are men and women of the 20th century, at least, and you’d think some of them might have noticed. Apparently not.

Erin O’Toole, the latest Conservative to qualify for public housing in Ottawa, weighed in with a tweet that asserted, “Canada wouldn’t exist without Sir John A. Macdonald.”

This also suggests a deficiency with the social studies curriculum in Ontario, where the new Conservative Opposition leader spent most of his school years, since it is most certainly the case that the idea of building a unified nation state in British North America in the mid-19th century was an urgent project of the colonial office in London. The Crown, after all, faced the prospect of a reunited United States emerging from the Civil War, battle hardened, armed to the teeth and ready to revive the notion of manifest destiny to bind that nation’s self-inflicted wounds.

Speaking of social studies curricula, it sounds very much as if the one Kenney, his education minister and his colonial champion Christian Champion intend to restore is the tendentious narrative in which John A. Macdonald does no wrong.

As for the American Civil War, it was astonishing how these defenders of the Conservative faith in prime minister Macdonald’s legacy took their arguments, pretty much word for word, from the talking points of those who defend the preservation of monuments celebrating the heroes of the Confederacy as a defence of history.

Regardless of the merits of spontaneously toppling public statuary, which I grant the internet’s many self-appointed “centrists” is a topic of worthy debate, it is an indisputable fact that such stuff is erected to celebrate the deeds of the subjects, not to explain them.

Which is why, presumably, so many of the same people who nearly fainted from outrage at the thought of John Macdonald’s effiginous head rolling across the sward in Montreal cheer whenever a mob pulls down a statue of, say, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin or even Karl Marx in some other land. It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

Which brings us back to the business of the death toll from the outrage in Montreal Saturday.

For some reason the small but noisy Western separatist set in these parts, which has been carefully nurtured by Kenney as a faux threat to national unity that only Conservatives can defang, seemed to take the insult to Canada’s first prime minister as a particular affront.

So for a while yesterday I was afraid some lonely Wexiter might soon perish from apoplexy at the thought of the prime ministerial head rolling through the streets of Montreal, local police officers dismissing the matter with a Gallic shrug.

Now, why someone who dislikes Canada so much they’d like a permanent divorce from the place would be so upset by an insult to its first prime minister is a question for the experts. At a guess, though, it’s probably because John A. Macdonald was a racist and many of them are too.

As for the intense interest among the UCP’s strategic elite, it’s probably as simple as this: I imagine they’d rather we were all yammering about the fate Sir John’s graven head than what happens when Alberta’s crowded classrooms reopen later this week in the middle of a pandemic that has already resulted in a significant death toll.

So what about the premier’s irresponsible school reopening plan? Never mind that! Look over there!

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog,

Image: Wikimedia Commons​

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...