In politics, all debates in regards to the previous are actually in regards to the current and the long run.

So it’s with Conservative chief Erin O’Toole’s concern for the nation’s statues — which is actually in regards to the management of Justin Trudeau and, in the end, how this nation ought to maneuver ahead.

The nation’s provide of statues is not at all good. Simply seven prime ministers have been honoured with statues on Parliament Hill; the newest was Lester B. Pearson, who left workplace in 1968.

However O’Toole’s worries in regards to the doable erasure of historical past haven’t led him to marketing campaign for a statue of Pierre Trudeau. As an alternative, he is targeted his consideration on the current toppling of a statue of John A. Macdonald in Montreal.

After the primary prime minister’s likeness was pulled down final month, O’Toole tweeted his objections and known as on unnamed “politicians” to “develop a spine and get up for our nation.” In a subsequent video message, he condemned “lawlessness,” “violence” and “mob rule.” O’Toole then raised his issues once more on Wednesday throughout a speech to Conservative MPs in Ottawa.

This isn’t a brand new focus for O’Toole. Two years in the past, he criticized a decision by the town council in Victoria to remove a statue of Macdonald from City Hall.

Historical past with a political spin

O’Toole prefaced his newest feedback by noting that he and his fellow Conservatives had been assembly within the Sir John A. Macdonald Constructing. However that was much less of a poetic coincidence and extra of a helpful reminder that Canadian politicians are not often apolitical once they invoke historical past. On this case, Macdonald’s identify was given to the previous Financial institution of Montreal constructing by Stephen Harper’s Conservative authorities in 2012. (Pierre Poilievre dressed up in period costume for the announcement.)

That commemoration was introduced a 12 months after the Conservatives renamed Ottawa’s old City Hall to honour one other Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker. Months earlier than that, John Baird reportedly insisted that his enterprise playing cards as overseas minister not embrace the identify of the place during which he labored — the Lester B. Pearson Constructing.

One doable rationalization for O’Toole’s curiosity in statues could be present in survey results launched by Leger Advertising and marketing a number of hours earlier than he addressed his caucus. In keeping with Leger’s findings, 50 per cent of Canadians oppose the removing of statues of politicians who expressed racist views or applied racist insurance policies, whereas simply 31 per cent help eradicating such statues (the opposite 19 per cent are undecided).

Opposition is highest amongst Conservative voters (80 per cent). So whereas O’Toole moderates his social gathering’s place on fiscal coverage, statues may present him with a tradition battle rallying cry for the Conservative base.

A problem with cross-party enchantment

Sticking up for Sir John A. may additionally enchantment to a number of the voters O’Toole’s social gathering wants to type a authorities. Fifty-six per cent of Bloc Quebecois supporters additionally oppose the removing of controversial statues, whereas Liberal voters are evenly break up — 41 per cent opposed, 41 per cent in favour.

Somewhat than tearing down statues of individuals like Macdonald, O’Toole has mentioned such memorials ought to embrace inscriptions that acknowledge each the nice and dangerous points of their lives and work. He joked (considerably curiously) that such a plaque may very well be added to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Worldwide Airport in Montreal. (As Sen. Murray Sinclair told the National Observer, Macdonald’s misdeeds and Trudeau’s faults do not appear analogous.)

However O’Toole’s concern for statues — and his suggestion that Trudeau is not doing sufficient to face up for them — looks as if an extension of a critique Conservatives began building three years ago.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the United Nations Common Meeting on Sept. 21, 2017. (Richard Drew/Related Press)

In September 2017, Trudeau went to the United Nations and used Canada’s talking slot on the Common Meeting to debate this nation’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and the necessity for reconciliation.

Six weeks later, the Conservative Celebration despatched a fundraising pitch to supporters that claimed Trudeau was “travelling overseas to locations just like the UN Common Meeting to denigrate our nation, and diminish Canada’s nice achievements.” The e-mail pointed to a speech made days earlier by then-leader Andrew Scheer during which he lamented that it is “modern right this moment to look down on the previous.”

Dealing with as much as the previous

“If we glance again at our wealthy historical past and research the main figures in its telling and see solely the blemishes, then we’re lacking out on the gorgeous story of a rustic always bettering itself,” Scheer mentioned, arguing that anybody dwelling in Canada right this moment must agree that this nation has been the most effective place on the earth to stay for the previous 150 years.

Many individuals previous and current — Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians, the poor — may disagree. Liberals little doubt would object to the suggestion that they solely see the grimmer points of Canada’s historical past.

However Trudeau definitely has aligned himself with the thought that it is essential for a society to acknowledge and perceive its errors — that going through as much as the injustices of the previous is a vital a part of righting wrongs and constructing a extra simply society.

If Conservatives do not solely reject that pondering (it was Stephen Harper, in spite of everything, who launched the Fact and Reconciliation Fee and formally apologized for residential colleges), they’re a minimum of keen to enchantment to anybody who’s uncomfortable with the thought, or with Trudeau’s strategy to it.

However there absolutely would be much less curiosity in toppling statues of John A. Macdonald right this moment if the essential injustice he propagated and superior had been absolutely corrected by now — if the sins of the previous had given approach to a really simply current. And what leaders do to attain reconciliation and social justice now absolutely will matter extra than how they really feel about statues.

Trudeau’s file in these areas can be debated. O’Toole has expressed some curiosity in Indigenous reconciliation however the proposals contained in his management platform had been primarily framed round financial points.

The subsequent a number of months may very well be instructive. Earlier than the pandemic, the Trudeau authorities was dedicated to pursuing motion on quite a lot of fronts, together with new laws to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Liberals have since promised to come back ahead with a plan to fight systemic racism.

O’Toole, who has expressed misgivings in regards to the UN declaration already, presumably will should take a place on regardless of the Liberals provide you with after which clarify what, if something, he would do in another way.

Such stuff may lack the spectacle and depth of arguments about statues and historical past. But when future generations determine they need to see any of right this moment’s leaders forged in bronze, it is going to be due to what they did to enhance the current and the long run — not how they felt about commemorating the previous.


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