Victoria councillor releases statement on Christmas decoration uproar
A Victoria councillor is defending his suggestion that downtown Christmas decorations be reviewed to see whether they could be more secular or inclusive.
Decorations like poinsettias are symbols of Christianity that don't reflect the separation of church and state, Coun. Ben Isitt argued.
Council approved his motion to have city staff review how they're decorating for the holiday, looking at options for secularization or increasing cultural diversity for holidays of other faiths.
But the move sparked a furor online. Many argued that not everyone sees the decorations as religious, and that the decorations like Christmas lights add to the ambiance of the downtown core.
Isitt refused to speak on-camera about the motion and instead released a statement on Twitter Tuesday, saying the suggestion came as council goes about its budgeting process.
"This was consistent with my promise during the recent election advocate for cost-effective public services," he wrote. "One question that I asked last week related to the appropriate level of public funding on decorations, in the context of other priorities for public services, and whether decorations should be arm's length from specific religious or spiritual practices."
He went on to say that the media has chosen to focus on the decorations, "which is their right," but that he intends to keep focus on other issues "including housing rights, climate actions and other measures to build a strong, sustainable city and region."
While much of the reaction online has been negative, the non-profit B.C. Humanist Association, which advocates for secularism, threw its support behind Isitt's motion. It says the councillor should be able to question how public dollars are being spent.
“He’s not saying that we need to tear everything down, or war on Christmas or anything," said executive director Ian Bushfield. "He just wants some reasonable accounting, and to make sure that the decorations that the city puts up and supports reflect the cultural and diverse viewpoints of residents of Victoria.”
Much of the lighting downtown comes from a partnership between the city and the Downtown Victoria Business Association, and the city spends about $64,000 a year on seasonal decorations, including lights and other adornments around winter holidays.
Mayor Lisa Helps said Tuesday she doesn't see a problem with the downtown decorations.
"In my opinion, we've got bigger things to worry about," she said.
Isitt's Twitter account appeared to be momentarily deactivated Monday before it came back online in the evening.
Victoria aims to finalize its city budget in late January or early February.