Yunmin Lee


May 5th, 2019


Outcome over process: John A. MacDonald’s Way of Victory


With continuous changes in our social paradigm, the media of today tends to communicate rather provocative and negative criticisms of eminent figures in history. Unfortunately, Canada’s first prime minister is not an exception. John A. Macdonald’s contributions towards Canadian history should be respected and praised as his work stands as the keystone foundation of Canada, the country Canadians proudly call home. Along with many world leaders in both the present and the past, John A. Macdonald is often critically acclaimed based on his methodology, rather than his respectable achievements. A significant number Canadians hold beliefs that are against MacDonald’s appraisal due to various reasons such as the creation of the Indian Act and general racial segregation, which was justified at the time,  yet fail to recognize the number of accomplishments he made during his lifetime. His unrivalled expertise in political relations, prudent decisions in the establishment of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and his intrepid implementation of tariff policies were all crucial steps of building our nation. Most importantly, without his determination “to make certain that Canada did not become America”, there would be no Canada we have today, let alone have a country at all (Gwyn).


A number of politicians were known throughout the world for their supreme social skills; John A. Macdonald was definitely one of them. His determination and a strong sense of leadership led Eastern and Western Canada as well as the French community to follow his footsteps into joining Confederation despite his equally powerful rivals such as George Brown, who did not want to uphold the rights of the French. Furthermore, John A. Macdonald was also recognized for his flexible mindset. He had an extraordinary ability to abruptly abandon ideologies that had lost popularity in favour of alternatives he had previously opposed. A famous example would be representation by population, a political system in which seats are allocated in the House of Commons on the basis of population. Such qualities he possessed as a leader “allowed Macdonald to remain continuously in public life from 1843 to his death in 1891” (Pennington) and represent the Canadian citizens. His strategy of giving the people what they wanted, or as some may argue, needed, rather than bluntly imposing his own beliefs on the public was arguably a quality that made him a memorable and influential leader, creating the Canada we have now.


Today, many Canadians criticize John A. Macdonald’s personal morals, arguing that his racist prejudicial views against the Chinese and Indigenous peoples back in his time is completely unacceptable. What these criticisms fail to capture is that social ideologies were drastically different in the past. Macdonald may have been a “racist, a colonizer, and a misogynist”, but the majority of the Canadian population supported such beliefs (Hopper). Additionally, some may argue that John A. MacDonald as a person had morally questionable values, but it is not a leader’s job to advocate for every individual, but to advocate for his country. While in power, Macdonald said, “On the whole, it is considered not advantageous to the country that the Chinese should come and settle in Canada,”. “That may be right or it may be wrong, it may be prejudice or otherwise, but the prejudice is near universal”. His prudent decisions to value a whole nation not only gives him an advantage over his people as a leader but, he strengthens the sense of community by reinforcing shared values. Macdonald viewed politics as a game “which requir[ed] great coolness and an utter abnegation of prejudice and personal feeling” (John A. Macdonald), …. These abilities further prove that John A. MacDonald was a strategical and essential leader for the development of Canada.


Our founding father has always had his controversies, but he was particularly under the spotlight in 2017, when MacDonald was voted to be removed from all public infrastructures such as statues or schools by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. He may have contributed to racial prejudice, but the “defining issue to him was quite clear and he never deviated from it, he was bound and determined that Canada would not become American, that Canada would not join the United States” (Mills). John A Macdonald’s ideology was that the Canadian way of life was the British way of life, which he considered to be superior compared to the American counterpart. His last election was a battle against a free trade agreement with the USA, which became background chatter as soon as his Pacific Railway scandal arose. To everyone’s surprise, he still managed to win with a larger majority than when he was thrown out. Although the raised awareness of Indigenous reconciliation and acknowledgement of past prejudicial events is beneficial for today’s Canada, we must not forget John A. MacDonald’s integral work in confederation to establish the Canada we have today.


Works Cited (MLA)


“Confederation.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Accessed 9 May 2019.

“Facing Sir John A. Macdonald’s Legacy.” The Canadian Encyclopedia,

Hopper, Tristin. “Sure, John A. Macdonald Was a Racist, Colonizer and Misogynist – but so Were Most Canadians Back Then.” National Post, 24 Jan. 2015,

“What Makes a Great PM? Sir John A. Macdonald Biographer Weighs In.” The Globe and Mail, 9 May 2018,