The City of Victoria and local First Nations are mulling over what to do about the mothballed Sir John A. Macdonald statue.
VICTORIA — B.C. Premier John Horgan is keeping his hands behind his back as the City of Victoria mulls where to pass the political “hot potato” of its Sir John A. Macdonald statue.
City council discussed the possibility of donating the statue to the provincial government at a recent budget meeting and directed staff to identify any prohibition on donating it to another entity.
The statue of Canada’s first prime minister and Member of Parliament for Victoria from 1878-1882 was removed from the steps of Victoria City Hall last August.
Critics said Macdonald’s role, as the head of a government that created the Indian Act, established the residential school system and his racist comments about Indigenous Peoples, made the statue inappropriate.
“I haven’t played hot potato since elementary school,” Horgan joked with reporters Thursday. “I haven’t had any conversations with the mayor about Sir John A. Macdonald and if I see her coming I may well run the other way.”
Horgan said the statue is Victoria’s problem to deal with but the province would be happy to help and he’s prepared to speak with Mayor Lisa Helps if she approaches him.
Helps said during the budget meeting that council’s direction to staff was about preparing for potential questions ahead of public consultations, not about making a decision on the future of the statue itself.
“The motion asking staff to do a bit of research is precisely so that we can have a public conversation. One of the things that will likely come up at a public conversation is, ’Can we donate the statute?’ And we would have to say, ’Well we don’t know,’ ” Helps said.
Council also approved up to $10,000 for its relocation, bringing the total bill to $40,000 that staff say will be spent on its removal and relocation as part of the city’s reconciliation efforts.
Helps said that Victoria will be holding talks in the coming months, focusing on what the city must learn about reconciliation and also considering the best place to relocate the statue. A decision on a new home won’t be made until after talks conclude.
Helps said politicians, Coast Salish First Nations in the area and the public have to consider how the statue could be placed with more context, ensuring history is expanded, not erased.
“What we heard very clearly from (the Songhees and Esquimalt) Nations is that a broader story of John A. Macdonald needs to be told,” she said.
“I think the imagining, at least from the nations … is that when the statue is re-situated, there will be some other piece put in conversation with it in some way,” she said, adding the city still needs to hear the opinions of First Nations and other community members.
Coun. Ben Isitt had suggested the provincial government would be a good destination for the statue, given that it has resources dedicated to heritage.
Helps said council has directed that the upcoming talks about the statute and reconciliation should be run through her office.
She said the format could include “people coming, sharing a few meals, sitting around tables and having a conversation to start.”
A date for talks is expected to be set after council approves Victoria’s strategic plan.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford wrote a letter to Helps in August offering to accept the statue and display it on government property.
“Our offer still stands,” press secretary Ivana Yelich said Thursday.
LISTEN: This week on In The House, Mike Smyth and Rob Shaw discuss NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s victory in the federal Burnaby-South byelection, the NDP government’s response to threatened school closures in Vancouver, the latest in the legislature spending scandal and the province’s response to a measles outbreak.