Sir John A. Macdonald will no longer stand outside Victoria’s city hall. As his statue disappears out of public view, we should be concerned about how it happened.
Victoria council approved a recommendation on Thursday to remove the statue and put it in storage until a decision is made about whether or where it should emerge into the daylight.
For all the complaints about history being rewritten, statues are not history. They are celebrations of particular people from history. Our impressions of those people might change. Our knowledge of their words and actions might change. The values or achievements we choose to honour might change.
If Macdonald no longer reflects the values we cherish, his statue can go. But that decision should be made in a democratic manner.
In this case, a committee that Mayor Lisa Helps calls the “city family,” made the decision and Helps announced on her own webpage that the council would approve it, so the statue would come down today. That is not even close to the way it’s supposed to work.
Committees, even if they are called “families,” make recommendations, and elected councillors vote on those recommendations according to their judgment and conscience. Just because council approved formation of the family doesn’t mean it has to accept the recommendations.
And the mayor has no business telling the world how council will vote before council votes. Even some councillors who supported the removal of the statue were clearly unhappy at being painted into a corner.
Knowing how contentious the decision would be, the city should have taken extra care that the process was above reproach.