OTTAWA -- Mayor Jim Watson says he wants to focus on dealing with substantive issues to address racism and discrimination in Ottawa and Canada instead of removing statues of political leaders.

The mayor says he does not support removing statues and monuments of Sir John A. Macdonald or other leaders from Canada’s past.

“My view is I’d rather deal with substantive issues. How do we get better representation by the Black community on boards, agencies, commissions, the police service, the public service, and so on,” said Watson Friday morning.

“Those are ways that I think are going to solve the problem, as opposed to getting into a philosophical debate about what someone did 150 years ago and his or her statue on Parliament Hill.”

A petition has been launched calling for the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Montreal.  Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister, and played a key role in creating the residential school system.

In Ottawa, a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald is located on Parliament Hill. A parkway along the Ottawa River and the Ottawa Airport are also named after Canada’s first prime minister.

Appearing on CTV Morning Live Friday morning, host Leslie Roberts asked the mayor if there are statues or monuments in Ottawa that should be taken down because the leaders have racist pasts.

“I don’t support taking the Sir John A. Macdonald statue down,” said Watson.

“I think that despite the fact he’s criticized and certainly did things in his time that probably would not be completely accepted here. He was the first leader of our country – warts and all.”

A statue of Macdonald was taken down in Victoria, B.C. in 2018.

“I think there are other things we can do that are more substantive to improve race relations then getting into a whole debate over statues that are symbols,” said Watson.

“I’d rather go and deal with things that we can do to help the Black community, ensure that they are not confronted on a daily basis, in some cases, with racism, behaviour, and language and taunting.”

The mayor noted the Inter-Faith Zoom gathering was interrupted by racist words on Tuesday night, adding, “we need to root out this kind of evil racism that hurts people and has no place in a civil society like ours.”

A petition has been launched to change the name of Russell, located just east of Ottawa. The town is named after Peter Russell, who was the Receiver General of Upper Canada.