Membership has its privileges: The Macdonald Project in Prince Edward County

Introduction

It’s only fair that supporters of Macdonald Holding Court have been seeking the most favourable terms for their side’s participation in Council’s review of their statue’s future in Prince Edward County. I’d say, they’re faring fairly well.

David Warrick, who founded The Macdonald Project to promote and raise funds for the statute, has been invited to sit as a voting member of the eight-to-ten member Working Group, that’s to draft recommendations about the statue’s future.

Peter Lockyer, who was a leading member of The Macdonald Project, already sits on the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC), that’s to review the Working Group’s recommendations for final approval, before sending them to Council.

Public concerns have shared with the PEHAC and Council that members of The Macdonald Project have a clear conflict of interest in matters pertaining to their statue. The Macdonald Project’s conflict of interest should disqualify members of that association from sitting on the Working Group.

During the PEHAC’s discussion of the Working Group’s Terms of Reference, three members of Council heard these concerns about The Macdonald Project’s conflict of interest. Two members – Mayor Ferguson and Councillor Hirsch – initially shared the public’s concerns. In the end, however, it was the interests of The Macdonald Project that prevailed.

Mr. Lockyer‘s position

In defence of The Macdonald Project, Mr. Lockyer resorts to a variety of tactics that we can expect to see more of:

“… I think, you know, looking at the composition of the committee, I don’t know how it’s possible to have a true inclusiveness, and gather all the stakeholders there, if you don’t consult or have representation from The Macdonald Project. I’d suggest that David Warrick, who’s the Chair of that, be engaged in this somehow, because you’ll have a lot questions: ‘Did you have a consultant for the process about The Macdonald Project in the first place?’ A whole bunch of questions. He’s the person that [inaudible] all of that intimately, and has the best knowledge.

“By the way, can’t we, I just want to make sure that we don’t replace one tyranny with another tyranny and say, ‘Well, we’re not hearing from those people, because we don’t want to hear from those people.’ I think you really have to bring everybody together and, hopefully, what will come out of this that we can start a process in this community [inaudible] the conversation is long overdue of racism in Canada and the record of John A. I think he would, John A. himself likely say, ‘That’s what I did in my time. What are you going to do in your time? Are you going to make history? and What kind of history will you make?’

“So, we … I view this as a real opportunity for our little historic community to develop some sort of enduring [inaudible] and legacy that is truly respectful, inclusive, transparent, and I can think of all kinds of positive things that we can do together, if we can go through this in this manner.

“So, again, I want to say, I already indicated to the Chair [inaudible] me to be on that committee as there is a conflict, but I think in examining who sits [inaudible] or who says what, who tells the truth as we know it, and I’d say after fifty years of being a journalist, I don’t believe there’s an absolute truth, there are many truths, it depends on who tells the story.

“So, I would just like to put that out there. I don’t wish to serve on the committee, but I do think that you need to be very careful. There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring everybody together to discuss this in a respectful, thoughtful, civil fashion. … [My transcription]”

There’s a lot going on here; let’s consider some of the more artful manipulations:

  • Mr. Lockyer invites us to imagine two possible futures. In the first scenario, we agree with him and appoint a member of The Macdonald Project to the Working Group. In this world, we come to enjoy “a legacy that is truly respectful, inclusive, transparent [my emphasis]” and “all kinds of positive things that we can do together.” In the second scenario, we disagree with him. In this world, we succumb to “replacing one tyranny with another tyranny.” Resorting to inflammatory terms like “tyranny” only serves to frighten and divide people; scare tactics are incompatible with talk of “bringing everybody together.”
  • Mr. Lockyer misrepresents the opposition to The Macdonald Project’s membership on the Working Group. No one’s suggested that “We’re not hearing from those people, because we don’t want to hear from those people.” No one’s suggested that The Macdonald Project shouldn’t be consulted by the Working Group. But being heard and being consulted aren’t the same as being represented on the Working Group.
  • When faced with the slightest possibility that The Macdonald Project’s special interests might exclude them from the Working Group, Mr. Lockyer suddenly becomes a true-believer in “true inclusiveness [my emphasis].” The truth is, since 2015, The Macdonald Project has shown little or no interest in having a “long overdue” conversation about racism in Canada or in any open exercise that included critics of Macdonald and his statue.
  • Finally, Mr. Lockyer risks aligning the Working Group with an outlook that’s corrupting so much public discourse: “After fifty years of being a journalist, I don’t believe there’s an absolute truth. There are many truths, it depends on who tells the story.” Public intellectual must stake out a ground between claims for “an absolute truth” and Lockyer’s claim that “[truth] depends on who tells the story.” When anything and everything might be true, it’s futile for the Working Group to try to get closer to the truth of Macdonald’s legacy.

Mr. Warrick‘s position

Mr. Warrick was the founder of The Macdonald Project; he’s also now a member of the Working Group. While waiting for the Working Group’s first meeting, Mr. Warrick has published a “Fact Sheet” about “Macdonald and Canada’s Native People” online and has been soliciting support privately and publicly for his online petition to leave Holding Court alone. Mr. Warrick doubles-down on Mr. Lockyer’s claims and arguments.

Mr. Warrick cries that “the protesters [and] cancel culture have arrived in Picton and many are disturbed by it.” He asks for nothing more than a “fair forum” as he contemplates “the unenviable task of trying to explain how the study of history must include context.” It’s a big job, to be sure. Mr. Warrick, in fact, identifies that “all of the claims from social activists are either false or misleading [my emphasis].”

Conclusion

The Macdonald Project is to be congratulated for winning such favourable terms for their participation in the current review of Holding Court’s future in Prince Edward County. Perhaps it’s not surprising, though. Both Mr. Warrick and Mr. Lockyer are professional writers and expert communicators with decades of experience. Misrepresenting others’ positions, complaining about their supposed victim-hood, and using scare-tactics to frighten and divide people, have all worked to discredit the statue’s critics and preserve The Macdonald Project’s influence in the community. Naturally they’ll be tempted to use similar tactics and arguments as the Working Group gets underway, though their early success has come at a cost to the public’s trust in the process and the fairness of its outcome.


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