Former politician Bob Rae says he's not against changing the name of Ottawa's landmark Langevin block, but he's advising the government to come up with a more consistent renaming policy when it's suddenly faced with the prickly pasts of some of Canada's historic figures.

Indigenous leaders are calling on the government to change the name of the building, which sits across Wellington Street from the Parliament Buildings and houses the Prime Minister's Office, because it is named after Hector-Louis Langevin, a strong proponent of the residential school system.

Langevin was a father of Confederation and a prominent member of Sir John A. Macdonald's cabinet. He proposed the creation of the schools as the most expeditious way to assimilate First Nations children.

Rae, a former MP, federal Liberal party leader and Ontario premier, acknowledged on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday that Langevin "was one of the architects" of the residential school system.

'We need to understand that if you fixate on one individual, you're missing the point.' - Bob Rae

"He was present, certainly, during the debates around the residential schools and the Indian Act in 1876, and was very much a man of his time in the sense that he strongly supported the Indian Act, which was extremely discriminatory; even more discriminatory then than it is now," Rae said.

​"I think we need to look at a building like the Langevin block and say, 'Is there not some other way of saying who we are today as Canadians?' Hector's had a good run — he had his name on the building for a good while — but it doesn't mean the names can't be changed."

Listen to the interview with Rae here.

Praised separating families

On Thursday, MP Hunter Tootoo pointed to a speech Langevin made in Parliament in 1883, when he spoke to the virtues of residential schools, as reason enough to strike his name from the building.

"The fact is that if you wish to educate the children you must separate them from their parents during the time they are being taught," Langevin said in the speech to Parliament.

"If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they will remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes … of civilized people."

Rae said there should be a debate on renaming the building, but that it would be 'unwise' to start renaming government buildings en masse.

Langevin Block - PMO

Indigenous leaders are calling on the government to rename Langevin block, home to the Prime Minister's Office, because Hector-Louis Langevin was a strong proponent of what would become Canada's residential school system. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"I don't disagree with the fact that we need to have a strong debate about renaming buildings and how we commemorate them, but we do need to have some appreciation that the passage that Hunter read could well have been said by a great many other people at the time, including Sir John A. Macdonald," he said.

"I don't think there's any question that this is a situation that needs to be fully discussed, but we also need to understand and appreciate that as a country, it would be unwise for us to start taking down official portraits of people and pretending people didn't play a role in our national life when in fact they did.

"That's all I'm saying. ... Hector Langevin was not, if I can borrow a current phrase, ... a lone wolf," Rae said.

"We need to understand that if you fixate on one individual, you're missing the point."