Look who waded into Victoria’s Sir John A. Macdonald statue debate.
None other than Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose Progressive Conservative government offered to pay for the statue of the Father of Confederation to be shipped to Ontario, where Canada’s first prime minister (a Conservative, to boot) was the Member of Parliament for Kingston.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is running for re-election on Oct. 20 and she announced Aug. 8 that the 1982-erected statue of the former Victoria MP would be removed this weekend, in sympathy with local First Nations because of Macdonald’s role in setting-up Indian residential schools. City council voted 7-1 in favour.
Ontario PC House Leader Todd Smith wrote to Helps on Aug. 10, in a bid to take the unwanted statue off Victoria’s hands.
“Our government does not believe his memory and legacy should collect dust in a storage facility,” Smith wrote. “The government of Ontario is offering to take ownership of the statue and we will proudly display the statue on Ontario government property.”
Smith’s letter said Macdonald should be honoured for holding a “significant place in the hearts of many Canadians.”
“Sir John A. Macdonald built and shaped this country and province. He connected the west to the east under one flag and one name.”
Helps has not formally replied to Smith, and has not explained why. In an email to theBreaker, she said that Victoria is not getting rid of the statue.
“It was a gift to the city. We are storing it carefully and in the meantime, we will have a continued dialogue with the nations and the community as to the best place, way and context to place the statue that balances commemoration with reconciliation.”
Helps has a master’s degree in history on public space in Victoria from 1871 to 1901 and is studying for a doctorate on the history of housing, homelessness and poverty in Victoria and San Francisco, from 1931 to 1971. Yet, she is running for re-election in a city that counted 1,525 people living on streets and in inadequate housing last March. A third of those people are indigenous, even though indigenous people are less than 5% of the population.
Helps is also mayor of a city named after Queen Victoria, who is known as the “Famine Queen” by many Irish who blame her for indifference during the potato famine that claimed an estimated million lives from 1845 to 1852.
John Dann, who made the statue that was erected on Canada Day in 1982, wrote to Helps. His Twitter-published letter said: “If my sculpture can engender a discussion about the violence inflicted on native peoples, then frankly I am honoured.
“I am not sure that removing the sculpture is the best way to accomplish this, however, the sculpture belongs to the city and it may do with it as it pleases, governed, of course, by law, including artists’ rights.”
Update (Aug. 19): The statue’s sculptor, John Dann, said he is seriously considering running against Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in the Oct. 20 election .
“It keeps pulling at me,” he told the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington.
Dann denied his work was intended to glorify Macdonald or colonialism, but is disappointed because the public was not properly consulted before Helps rammed through the decision to remove the statue.
He said the controversy provides an excellent opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the past and find a way towards unity.
Dann need not be a resident of Victoria to put his name on the ballot. In 2014, fringe candidate David Shebib ran for mayor in 13 Victoria-area municipalities. It is legal for any Canadian, 18 or over, who has lived in B.C. for at least six months to run in any municipal election in the province.
Vancouver resident Dann, however, would not be allowed to vote for himself.
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