Debate flares as Victoria votes to remove Macdonald statue from city hall
Victoria council will pass a motion to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald that sits in front of city hall.
The council's Committee of the Whole voted 7-1 Thursday in favour of removing the bronze statue from the Pandora Avenue entranceway of city hall this Saturday. The motion was expected to be formally adopted at a Thursday night council meeting.
Coun. Geoff Young was the lone vote against removing the statue, citing a lack of public input for the reason behind his decision, while Coun. Ben Isitt wasn't present for the meeting.
But other councillors who voted for it said they still had concerns with the way the plan was presented to the public, and how fast the decision was made.
"They have had ample opportunity to work through these issues, to discuss them, but our citizens have not," Young said, referring to the council-appointed City Family group headed by Mayor Lisa Helps.
Coun. Pam Madoff echoed Young's concerns even though she voted for the statue's removal.
"Hearing the stories from our representatives on our 'City Family' it's very clear that they have experienced an extraordinary journey over the period of a year," she said. "And it would have been my hope that the next step of that journey would have been bringing along the broader community, because reconciliation is about the broader community. It's about all of us."
City Family was tasked last summer with heading up the city's advisory committee on reconciliation, and is made up of Helps, councillors Charlayne-Thornton Joe and Marianne Alto, and members from the local Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
City Family came to the decision to remove the statue, which has sat at the steps of Victoria City Hall since the1980s, due to Macdonald's controversial legacy that includes the creation of the residential school system that saw First Nations families torn apart.
Helps defended the lack of public consultation on the decision, saying it doesn't fit in with the ultimate goal of reconciliation with First Nations.
"The reason we're not doing a big public consultation on the statue per se is it would become a debate about do we keep the statue or do we remove the statue? That's not the debate we want to have," she said. "What we want to have is a conversation about how do we as a city and as a community have reconciliation in the city that's built on the homelands of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations?"
The issue has sparked nationwide debate on Macdonald's legacy and the removal of monuments honouring controversial historical figures.
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took to Twitter to weigh in on the topic Thursday.
"We should not allow political correctness to erase our history," Scheer wrote. "We can look to the past, acknowledge and learn from mistakes, and celebrate achievements at the same time."
But others argue it isn't erasing history at all, just changing how that history is presented.
In Regina, which seen similar debate over a John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria Park, some have been vocal in their desire to remove it as well.
"They go back to the old argument, 'Well that's erasing history.' That's not erasing history, it's just choosing not to honour people like him," said Del Crowe.
Closer to home, Victoria resident Eric McWilliam says he was disturbed when he first heard the statue would be taken down, saying he believes the decision will tarnish the city's reputation.
"Mayor Lisa Helps' decision to recontextualize history is just an attempted to erase our history and erase our culture," he said. "I'm very proud of our culture, I'm very proud of the accomplishments of all Canadians including Scottish-Canadians like myself."
After the statue is removed the city says it will store it until it finds an appropriate way to give Macdonald's legacy context from a perspective of reconciliation.
McWilliam said he'll be back on Saturday to protest the takedown of the statue.