Victoria’s new mayor, Lisa Helps, declined to swear allegiance to the Queen at her inauguration Thursday, stirring controversy on her first day in office.
The move, subtle enough to go unnoticed by many in the crowd, was criticized by monarchists, but appreciated by at least one First Nations chief. In addition to Helps, three councillors chose not to say the oath.
Helps clarified after the meeting that she is not an anti-monarchist and supports the decision of the councillors who took the oath, but said it’s time for change.
“To be completely honest, it just seemed outdated,” she said.
“One of the things we need to do in the City of Victoria is not to do things the same way [just] because that’s the way we’ve always done them. Otherwise we’re not going to have change.”
Helps swore allegiance to the Queen when she joined council last term, but said she framed it differently for the new council.
“It was posed to us in 2011 that you could opt out. I kind of did it the other way. I made it an opt-in policy so that it would be comfortable for people both ways.”
Chris Coleman, Margaret Lucas, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Geoff Young chose to make the pledge, while Marianne Alto, Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday did not. Pam Madoff did not make the pledge, but said she had planned to and it was left out in error.
Council members are required to swear the oath of office, but are not required to swear an oath of allegiance, said Rob Woodland, the city’s director of legislative and regulatory services. Past council members who have declined the convention include Isitt in 2011, Lynn Hunter in 2008 and Denise Savoie in 2002.
Making the pledge to the Queen is not the norm in all municipalities. In Esquimalt, for example, it hasn’t been part of the inauguration ritual in recent terms, Mayor Barb Desjardins said. “It certainly isn’t a slight in one way or another, it’s just not been part of our process,” she said. “The question didn’t come up.”
Helps said underlying her decision was respect for First Nations. “I have nothing against the Queen, but I do strongly support the Songhees and Esquimalt nations. This is their territory and if there’s anything to emphasize, it’s that.”
Songhees Chief Ron Sam said he appreciated the gesture. “I see that as a show of support to the nation. But it’s not something I expect people to do. We understand people have their own ways of doing things and we respect the way things are done.”
Others took offence, including Bruce Hallsor, co-chairman of the Victoria branch of the Monarchist League. “I know a lot of members of the Monarchist League voted for Lisa Helps and I think they’re pretty disappointed today,” he said. “If Lisa Helps and other councillors didn’t support the monarchy or felt it was inappropriate to pledge allegiance to Canada’s head of state, they could have said so.”
He pointed to Helps’s slim victory over incumbent Dean Fortin, by 89 votes, suggesting the outcome could have been different.
Those who did make the pledge said they did so out of respect for tradition.
“We are a constitutional monarchy, we house the Queen’s representative on Rockland Avenue, we also talk about respecting systems,” Coleman said. “So I think it’s everyone’s choice, but mine is to broaden the circle of respect and recognize the constitution and makeup of the country.”
Loveday echoed Helps’s perspective on respecting First Nations. “Part of it is out of respect for the First Nations and the fact that we’re on unceded territory,” he said.
The oath, which includes allegiance to the Queen’s heirs and successors, made him uncomfortable, Loveday said. Monarchs have not behaved universally well and it’s possible future monarchs won’t either, he said.
“There have been some pretty horrible queens and kings, and I do not swear allegiance to them.”