OTTAWA - Canada's first prime minister appears to have been dragged into another political fight, just as the current government details how it plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth two years from now.
A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston, Ont., was hit overnight Thursday by vandals who left it covered with graffiti, including the words "murderer" and "colonizer," and the phrase, "This is stolen land."
The vandalism took place on the eve of an event by Heritage Minister James Moore in the same downtown park, and prior to Friday's tumultuous meetings between aboriginal leaders and the prime minister in Ottawa.
Friday also happened to be Macdonald's birthday.
Moore called the unknown perpetrator a coward.
"It's just disrespectful, unnecessary and I just think it's ugly," Moore said in an interview from Kingston, Macdonald's hometown.
"We live in democracy where people are free to protest, and free to talk about things, but committing crimes and vandalizing historic monuments is kind of a coward's route to making a point."
Kingston police speculated the vandalism might have been politically motivated — but not necessarily by those sympathetic with the Idle No More protests for aboriginal rights.
"It would look to be a political statement, but at the same time people might be seeking that for political purposes," said Kingston police Const. Steve Koopman.
"We're going to be cautious as to what the motive is at this point."
Thousands of aboriginal protesters and their supporters participated Friday in demonstrations across Canada. At the same time, a group of First Nations leaders met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss a range of issues from treaty rights to resource development.
The federal government has earmarked $860,000 to help mark Sir John A. Macdonald's bicentennial in 2015. A half-million dollars has gone to the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission to organize commemorative and educational activities, and $360,000 to the Historica-Dominion Institute to develop a series of television spots about Macdonald and fellow father of Confederation George-Etienne Cartier.
Macdonald, who was prime minister for 19 years, was instrumental in forming the Great Coalition with his political rivals that served as the basis for Confederation in 1867. During his tenure, other provinces and territories were subsequently brought into the new nation, and the national railway was built.
The Scotland-born politician also oversaw the period in which Metis leader Louis Riel was tried for treason because of his role in the North-West Rebellion in what is now the province of Saskatchewan. Macdonald did not commute his death sentence in 1885, carving a rift between francophones and his Conservative party.
Moore said there are many points of debate about Macdonald's tenure and his share of political scandals, but they are outweighed by his vast accomplishments.
"Is he a man without flaws? No. Is he a man who misspoke? Of course, from time to time we all do," said Moore.
"But he is not a man that Canadians should consider anything other than a great visionary who built our Canada."
City crews in Kingston had managed to clean off part of the paint splattered on the statue by midday Friday. Koopman says a forensics officer is on the scene gathering evidence and that police intend to speak to nearby residents for information on who attacked the statue.
On Parliament Hill, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel tweeted about her own four-step celebration of Sir John A.'s 198th birthday around Parliament Hill.
Rempel gave the prime minister's director of communications a cupcake featuring Macdonald's face. She visited Macdonald's statue near Centre Block, and ate lunch at a local bar with the former prime minister's portrait propped up on the table.
Her final step featured a picture of the Idle No More protest on Parliament Hill.
"Appreciate the legacy of his country includes freedom of expression, and opportunity," Rempel tweeted.