Victoria staff have been told to investigate the possibility of giving away the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald that was removed from the steps of city hall in August.
During recent budget sessions, while councillors were considering a placeholder amount of $10,000 to cover the cost of possible relocation, they also directed staff to review records to see if there’s any prohibition on the city, donating the statue to another government body.
Coun. Ben Isitt said the statue probably should be donated to the province noting that most of the feedback council received when it removed the statue was related to B.C.’s entry into Confederation. It’s worth discussing whether the city should to talk to the province about accepting the statue, he said.
That raised concerns from Coun. Geoff Young who said most of the “scores and scores” of letters he read when the statue was removed were about council’s process in making decisions about the statue without adequate public input — something that appeared to be happening again.
“We started off by talking about how we’re going to get public input and before the sound has echoed through the chamber, Coun. Isitt and Mayor [Lisa] Helps are already determining that their preference is to give it to the province and we’re costing it on that basis,” Young said.
“The idea of getting public input is you get the public input and then you make the decision. It’s not you make the decision and then you get the public input to support it,” he said.
Young suggested budgeting at least as much for relocation as it cost to remove the statue — about $30,000.
Isitt said that would be throwing good money after bad.
“It was probably a mistake for the city to accept the statue in the first place. We were assuming a provincial and federal responsibility in terms of telling the very complicated story of Canada and British Columbia. That’s not a municipal responsibility,” he said.
“I think we should be looking to exit ourselves from this situation with the least impact to taxpayers and also not bogging down staff capacity, and financial capacity and political capacity on this issue, when there’s so many existing opportunities to partner with First Nations on reconciliation and decolonization.”
Councillors approved $10,000.
Helps said relocation of the statue is an item of high public interest and that asking staff to research whether the statue can be donated would help inform the public discussion to come.
“One of the things that would probably come up at a public conversation is: could we donate the statue? We would have to say we don’t know,” she said. “So before we have a public conversation we need staff to find out what are the public limitations, if any, with respect to the statue.”
Helps said she has no preconceived ideas of what should happen. “My imagining is I will host a series of conversations over the next five to six months with a wide variety of stakeholders,” Helps said.
City council agreed in August to remove the statue in the interest of reconciliation with First Nations. It was acting on the recommendation of an appointed panel called the City Family, which included Helps, councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Brianna Dick representing the Songhees Nation, Esquimalt hereditary Chief Ed Thomas, Indigenous community member Carey Newman, and Janice Simcoe, head of the Indigenous program at Camosun College. The panel objected to having the statue at city hall’s entrance, citing Macdonald’s involvement in setting up the residential school system that took Indigenous children away from their families and sent them to boarding schools.
While the city maintains the decision to remove the statue followed a year of “deliberation, conversation and truth sharing,” lack of a public process prior to the statue’s removal prompted significant public outcry.