’Even by the standards of his day, Macdonald was unenlightened on racial matters’

Stephen Azzi counters Richard Gwyn’s defence of our first prime minister.

Macdonald’s actions can be judged by comparing his words and deeds to those of his contemporaries. While Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier urged understanding in dealing with the so-called rebels, Macdonald showed no compassion. He wanted them to hang, “to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.” And hang they did. Métis leader Louis Riel and eight aboriginal men went to the gallows…

Gwyn tells us that Macdonald’s head tax of $50 on each Chinese immigrant was “an act of comparative moderation” when judged beside the actions of the U.S. government, which had prohibited all immigration from China. Gwyn neglects to say that the number of Chinese immigrants dropped from 2,762 in 1884, the year before the head tax was imposed, to 212 in 1886, and to 124 in 1887. So, yes, Canada admitted more Chinese than the United States, but the difference was negligible and does not demonstrate Macdonald’s moderation.