Richard Gwyn's prize-winning biography has been praised for giving us a John A. Macdonald for the twenty-first century, writes Phillip A. Buckner. Two days ago it won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing from the Writers' Trust.
Gwyn presents Macdonald as a hero for a modern bilingual and multicultural Canada, a liberal nationalist like Gwyn himself. But I fear it doesn't wash. Macdonald never doubted that the English language and the English system of common law should be dominant. All his life he fought against the principle of universal male suffrage. When challenged about the purpose of creating a Senate composed of men appointed for life, Macdonald declared that its function was to protect minorities, especially the rich who are always fewer in number than the poor.
He also makes extravagant claims about Macdonald's influence, arguing that "had there been no Macdonald, there would almost certainly be today no Canada." But the argument that Confederation would never have taken place without Macdonald is at best tendentious. Even if Macdonald had not been at the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences, the outcome would likely have been much the same. The
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