It’s been a tough weekend for us in the County, so I hesitated to publish this open statement to Council re: the stalled public consultation on the statue of Macdonald Holding Court. I ended up thinking that Council needed to hear it was time to get on with it and stop procrastinating:
Mayor Ferguson and Councillors of Prince Edward County –
I wanted to share an open statement with you regarding the Working Group on Macdonald Holding Court (attached). I appreciate that this controversy is a political headache for you and adds unfortunately to the tensions and frustrations that we’re all feeling in the County this summer. Continuing to fail to provide leadership on this issue just lets it fester and get sorer. Frankly, your lack of commitment to moving us ahead is as incomprehensible as it is unacceptable. I’m writing with the hope that there’s at least one member of Council who’s prepared to move you ahead.
A journalist once asked British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, “What is most likely to blow governments off course?” Macmillan reportedly answered: “Events, dear boy, events.”
Since 2015, the municipal government of Prince Edward County has deflected or, whenever possible, simply ignored any public complaint about the statue of Macdonald Holding Court. Council’s decision to re-install the statue on Picton Main Street – without any public consultation – in December 2019 is a good example of Council’s studied indifference and unresponsiveness to citizen concerns. Promises to hold public consultation after the fact were never kept. Opportunities to use the statue to facilitate the difficult work of truth and reconciliation were never realized.
“Events” in the United States – racist events and anti-racist events – including police killing unarmed Black people and direct actions against Confederate statues and monuments to colonial conquest, have blown Council off course. The controversy surrounding Macdonald Holding Court no longer lends itself comfortably to Council’s habitual crisis-management-by-passive-aggression.
“Events” require that Council now at least makes a show of public consultation.
So, at the end of Friday, June 26, 2020, Council gave legal notice to the pubic that it was striking a Working Group to make recommendations to Council on the future of the statue. Council’s legal notice was tucked inside the online Agenda Package for the July 2, 2020 10 a. m. meeting of Council’s Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC). At that meeting, the PEHAC was to finalize the Working Group’s terms of reference. It’s not unusual for Council to give as little public notice of its proceedings as it can, while still complying with provincial statutes and regulations.
Several County residents, nonetheless, took notice and registered to comment on the draft terms of reference. Everyone expressed concerns about a lack of openness and transparency in the process and about a conflict of interest in appointing a representative of The Macdonald Project as a voting member of the Working Group. None of the public’s concerns were reflected in the PEHAC’s final version of the Working Group’s terms of reference. On Tuesday, July 7, 2020, the Council adopted the PEHAC’s terms of reference for the Working Group without question or comment.
As matters stand, Council is set to review the PEHAC’s recommendations on the future of the statue when Council meets on Tuesday evening, September 1, 2020. Between now and then, the PEHAC has scheduled three Wednesday meetings: July 29, August 12, and August 26, 2020. The PEHAC will presumably finalize its recommendations to Council on August 26, 2020. The PEHAC’s recommendations are to be shared with the public on August 27, 2020.
When I checked with the Clerk’s Office on Friday, the first meeting of the Working Group hadn’t been scheduled.
Given Council’s five year history of indifference and unresponsiveness to citizens concerns about the statue of Macdonald Holding Court, it was an open question as to whether the PEHAC’s Working Group finally reflected a genuine interest on Council’s part to consult with the public.
As a month has now passed since the PEHAC finalized the Working Group’s terms of reference, and no date is set for the Working Group even to begin what The Picton Gazette rightly calls a “monumental task,” we’re closing in on an answer:
“No, dear boy, Council is still not interested in genuine public consultation about the future of Macdonald Holding Court in the County.”