How Psychology Undermines the Success of Sir John A. Macdonald

Loss aversion states that emotions invoked from negative experiences are twice as powerful as positive ones. Recently, plenty of people advocated for the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s image from the public sphere. Supporters of this movement argue that Macdonald’s successes as the first Prime Minister do not justify his contemptuous actions towards Indigenous and Chinese peoples. On the other hand, individuals who disagree believe that the accomplishments and role of Macdonald overpower his poor decisions. We tend to overreact to negative results, making it feel as if Macdonald was worse than he was. However, his support for the Canadian Pacific Railway and bold perspective on the voting rights of women and indigenous far outweigh his poor decisions; therefore, Sir John A. Macdonald’s name and likeness should stay under the public eye.

Before the confederation, Canada was “expected [to] come to terms with [its] economic and geographic realities and join [the] dynamic, booming, post-civil war America” (Gwyn). John A. Macdonald understood the colonies needed to unite to avoid this. The “Canadian Pacific Railway was formed to […] unite Canada” from the Pacific to the Atlantic and would support a “wide range of related and unrelated businesses” (CPR). The railway made Canada easily accessible to the public, developed new cities, sold new land, and boosted tourism and immigration all around the country. The railway was a financial success. Additionally, the railway possessed political benefits for the confederation, promising the addition of British Columbia upon its completion. During the World Wars, the benefits of the CPR continued to be felt, being used as not only “transportation, but also the production of armaments and materiel[s]” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Even today, the CPR’s freight trains are still in use, generating billions of dollars in revenue. The negative emotions amplified by our minds do not take away from the fact that, without Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada would not exist as it is today.


Contradictorily, those supporting the removal of John A. Macdonald from the public sphere claim that he was a racist and misogynist who decimated the indigenous culture. However, the Prime Minister “[…] wanted to see Indigenous peoples assimilated into the colonial society of Canada” (Ballingall). It is easy to say that “he didn’t need to be so cruel,” but in his time, our ideas of kindness and equality were absent; in fact, he was better than most others in his time (Daschuk). Claiming he intentionally hurt the indigenous is likewise to blaming ancient doctors of intentionally harming patients with unconventional practices; the lack of knowledge was common knowledge. Additionally, John A. Macdonald held unique beliefs that were decades ahead of his time. He wanted to give women and indigenous peoples the right to vote. Macdonald “hoped [that] Canada could have the ‘honour’ of being the first; and that women had endured ‘centuries of oppression’” (Gwyn). However, other political entities did not agree. John A. Macdonald eventually “gave up and withdrew the legislation’s section concerning votes for women” and the indigenous lost their rights until “[…] 1960[,] when John Diefenbaker restored Macdonald’s initiative” (Gwyn). However, his uncommon beliefs and dedicated actions are forgotten because of the negative things we have prioritized.


Throughout his career, John A. Macdonald influenced and changed Canada in an undeniably positive way. His support and success with the Canadian Pacific Railway influenced Canadian economics and politics in a way that we can still experience to this day. Additionally, his unique perspective of the world pushed him to challenge the norms of his time and move Canada forward. The claims that he was an ill-intended, racist, and misogynist individual are over exaggerated and unknowingly takes away from the magnitude of the good he did for our country. In the end, the true scale and success of Macdonald, a founding father and Prime Minister of Canada, are undermined by how we tend to magnify negative emotions. Undoubtedly, Sir John A. Macdonald’s name and likeness should remain in the public sphere.

“Canadian Pacific Railway.” The Canadian Encyclopedia,
“Canadian Pacific Railway.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 May 2019,
“Common Menu Bar Links.” ARCHIVED – Sir John A. Macdonald – People – Canadian Confederation – Library and Archives Canada,
Gwyn, Richard. “Canada’s Father Figure.” Canada’s Father Figure – Canada’s History, Nov. 2012,
Gwyn, Richard. “Richard Gwyn: How Macdonald Almost Gave Women the Vote.” National Post, 14 Jan. 2015,
Hopper, Tristin. “Sure, John A. Macdonald Was a Racist, Colonizer and Misogynist – but so Were Most Canadians Back Then.” National Post, 24 Jan. 2015,
“Loss Aversion.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Apr. 2019,
“Our History.” Connecting Canada,
“The Debt We Owe Chinese Canadians.” The Globe and Mail, 17 Apr. 2018,

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