While he admits that the timing of discussion was “unfortunate,” Victoria City councillor Ben Isitt stands behind an amendment he made to a motion this week, which proposes that the costs of “military events” like Remembrance Day be largely funded with federal dollars – specifically from the Department of National Defence – rather than solely by the city.
He proposed the amendment on Thursday, June 6, – the 75th anniversary of D-Day – a move which quickly drew backlash, both for the timing of the amendment, and the amendment itself.
Speaking to reporters after the fact, Isitt apologized to “anyone” who was offended.
However, he added that he’s “not sorry for standing up” for taxpayers.
“I proposed the motion that our staff would talk to federal officials to see if there was a willingness to make a contribution towards the city’s costs, to defray the costs that are currently imposed entirely on the taxpayers of Victoria,” he explained.
That said, “it would have been preferable to have that discussion on any other day of the year.”
Asked about the timing of the discussion, Isitt said it was out of his control, but said he understood why people were upset about it.
“We didn’t choose the timing,” he said. “It was a request that came from the chief of police…but D-Day was certainly not the best day for council to consider special-events funding – including funding relating to military events.”
Isitt said the main item “had to do with council discussing what to do with the budget’s $130,000 overrun in policing expenditures for special events.”
The reason it was time sensitive, he explained, is because “the main overrun is associated with Canada Day, and that event is happening in a few weeks, so there had to be some certainty about what to do about that cost.”
Isitt acknowledged the issue of timing around the discussion, particularly given the material.
“I had a great, great grandmother who was murdered by the Nazis in her village in the Ukraine – along with 700 of her Jewish neighbours – so the horrors of Nazism and fascism have affected my family directly,” he said. “I think it’s important to honour anyone who contributed to the successful fight against fascism, and that really should have been the focus. So it was unfortunate that council happened to be considering that item.”
So does he regret the timing of the amendment and discussion?
“Maybe it would have been preferable just to postpone consideration of the motion until next Thursday,” he said. “Procedurally that would have been a better way to deal with it.”
Isitt also spoke about his assertion that Remembrance Day is a “military event.”
The event, he said, is one that commemorates the contribution of veterans, and “it’s an event where the armed forces are the primary organizers.”
As such, he said, “it’s a question of should the expenses associated with that event fall on the taxpayers of Victoria and Esquimalt, or should they be borne either regionally, or by the organizers?”
Isitt also noted that the size of the budget for the Department of National Defence is “nearly 100 times” the size of Victoria’s budget.
“So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to ask them whether they’re prepared to share the costs with us,” he said.
Isitt’s amendment passed with votes from councillors Jeremy Loveday, Sarah Potts, Marianne Alto, and Laurel Collins. The full motion – along with Isitt’s amendment – will be revisited next week.