'Leave as is:' Charlottetown council votes to keep statue of Sir John A. Macdonald

Charlottetown city council voted Thursday to keep a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald on public display, and to talk with P.E.I.'s Indigenous community about how best to discuss Canada's contentious history of its dealings with Indigenous people.

Charlottetown council votes to open dialogue with Indigenous groups

Council will open dialogue with Indigenous groups. One option would be to place a plaque near the statue, discussing Canada's historical treatment of Indigenous people, and Sir John A. Macdonald's role. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Charlottetown city council is keeping a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald on public display, and will open talks with P.E.I.'s Indigenous community about how best to present Canada's contentious history of its dealings with Indigenous people.

Council passed the motion by unanimous consent at a special meeting Thursday.

"Leave as is," said Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown, in reference to the bronze statue of Canada's first prime minister, at the corner of Queen and Richmond streets.

"And start the conversation, get the dialogue going and provide as much as we can of the whole picture that represents Sir John A. Macdonald."

The statue was vandalized last week, doused in red paint, and council has received numerous messages in recent weeks about calls for the statue's removal.

Some members of Canada's Indigenous communities argue statues of Macdonald should be removed from public view because of Macdonald's links to the formation of Canada's residential school system and harm caused to Indigenous people.

Indigenous groups to be consulted

The mayor told council he's been in touch with L'nuey, the Mi'kmaq organization on P.E.I. that deals with rights and reconciliation issues. Coun. Alanna Jankov suggested that the Native Council of P.E.I. and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy also be consulted.

"I would just hope that the indigenous people are a part and a huge part of those discussions," said Jankov. 

Coun. Mike Duffy, who introduced the motion, told council that most people who have contacted him are in favour of keeping the statue, and opening up dialogue. At one point, council considered taking no vote on the issue. Duffy spoke against that.

"The people have asked us loud and clear, 'do you support one faction or to remove the other faction?'," said Duffy. "I think we need something for the record."

Several council members supported the idea of erecting a plaque near the statue that would discuss Macdonald's links to Canada's troubled history in relation to Indigenous people.

Just to get rid of a statue, doesn't get rid of history- Terry Bernard, Charlottetown Councillor

"There's certainly a lot of history in Sir John A. Macdonald," said Coun. Terry Bernard. "I think the recommendation to put the plaque and talk about the good and the bad is the thing to do. Just to get rid of a statue doesn't get rid of history."

Clean up of the statue has cost $1,200 so far in sandblasting services. Council heard Thursday that further repairs are required, to be done at a future date by the U.S.-based sculptor who made the statue.

The statue was commissioned in 2009 by the city, and other tourism agencies at a cost of $75,000. It features Macdonald seated on one end of a park bench. Tourists often perch beside the bronze figure and take photos.

The meeting would normally have been open to the public, but COVID-19 precautions required the public gallery remain closed. The meeting was live streamed on the city's web site.

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