Comment: Give the Macdonald statue a good home as soon as possible

A commentary by a former Victoria city manager.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says that a major priority over the next year should be a series of six meetings, called reconciliation dialogues. Helps seems to believe that the public has a great desire to learn more about reconciliation and First Nations, so an educational series is needed.

This should not be the first priority of council. The first priority should be to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from storage, determine a location for its proper presentation, and put it in place as soon as possible.

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Little has been done over the past year, except for this plan for 12 months of meetings — a plan based on the notion that we should learn more and make a better decision to not remove the statue from storage, as after all, we apparently agreed with the decision to remove the statue as part of reconciliation efforts.

The statue was removed upon the recommendation of the City Family, which Helps helped to create, with city and Indigenous representatives.

The decision to remove the statue was based on the principles of reconciliation.

There was no public consultation. There was, however, much outrage from the public that this action was taken with no process to seek to understand the public’s points of view.

Helps says the City Family is not, and was never intended to be, an advisory body or a committee of council — yet she recommended from the City Family discussions that the Macdonald statue be removed and stored until a decision was made to place it in some other location.

In addition, she says the City Family does not conduct city business and does not exercise any delegated authority on behalf of the City of Victoria.

It is simply a process to meet and discuss issues and improve understandings and relationships between our communities.

All of this is somewhat confusing. The City Family, through the mayor, recommended the removal of the statue, which was approved by council and immediately stored in an unknown location.

The mayor has said that the City Family is a gathering and that it is Indigenous-led and Indigenous-informed to sit down and talk.

I think that the City Family will talk, make recommendations to spend city money, and in the long term make demands that the city give land and other benefits. There will be much more than simple talk. All talking will lead to recommendations from the City Family and the city will be expected to respond.

Nothing will be simple, but let’s hope there will be respectful discussion and reasonable and fair recommendations.

Respectfully, the City Family process of discussion is not led by First Nations. It is led by its giving party, the City of Victoria, through its mayor.

My recommendations:

The first priority, in my opinion, is to decide where the statue will be placed, and get on with its placement in a great public location. As soon as possible.

Regarding the City Family, terms of reference should be prepared outlining, among other things, the details of process and commitment to principles of time and numbers of the parties on each side, the City of Victoria and First Nations.

The public should be included in the process of completion of the terms of reference. We should not continue with the plans for six educational sessions. They are being planned because Helps seems to believe that we are uneducated about reconciliation, and that the process will lead to us concluding that the statue should not be placed in a position of prominence.

Before those sessions take place, we need guarantees that the statue will be placed in a prominent location as soon as possible. That is the first priority.

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