Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ John A. Macdonald statue apology is not enough, rivals say

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps' John A. Macdonald statue apology is not enough, rivals say
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WATCH: The removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue from the steps of Victoria’s city hall has become a lightning rod for conversations about reconciliation across the country. But many in Victoria feel like they’re the only ones that didn’t have a say. It’s something Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has since apologized for, but in an election year, many say that her future at city hall is now on shaky ground. Kori Sidaway has more.

Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue was hoisted and carted off amid cheers and jeers in Victoria earlier this month. But not far from the steps of city hall, another symbolic structure is being carved out.

“We gotta remember that history and learn from it. It’s a part of our learning and a part of our healing to remember that, not to hide it,” said artist Tom LaFortune.

Tom and Perry LaFortune are Indigenous artists. It gives them a unique perspective on the removal of the Macdonald statue.

“It’s a part of history, it’s a part of Canadian history: good, bad or different. It should be explained, not be hidden,” said Tom.

The statue’s removal and lack of public consultation have sharply divided the city’s residents. It’s something Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps said she regrets.

“Well, I think had I had a broader mind at the time with this specific issue that at least Victorians wanted to be informed about the work for reconciliation, so I take responsibility as mayor,” said Helps.

All this is coming down during an election year and some rivals say the issue has rocked Help’s seemingly solid base.

“I would caution these are crocodile tears. I don’t think this mitigates what she and council have done,” said mayoral candidate Gary Beyer.

“She’s never been more vulnerable.”

Another mayoral opponent Stephen Hammond says quick, behind-door decisions have been a pattern for Helps.

“Mayor Helps made a huge mistake and she apologized for it, but I find Mayor Helps is more of an apologist mayor these days because she’s doing things very quickly and she’s having to apologize for them.”

With the complex task of reconciliation ahead, Helps hopes people take the long view.

“In an election, as the incumbent mayor, it’s the job of my opponents to pile on and point out all my flaws. What I hope is that Victorians will look at is all the things we’ve done for the last four years,” said Helps.

Helps is promising a more open dialogue in the future but meanwhile, the conversation continues just down the street.

“Racism and discrimination is alive and breathing today and it has nothing to do with John A. Macdonald,” said Perry.

“It’s people’s perceptions of First Nations people, so how is removing the statue going to fix that?”

The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald is set to be removed from Victoria City Hall this weekend.

The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald is set to be removed from Victoria City Hall this weekend.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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