No second

I had an interesting experience at last week’s council meeting. I made a motion — one i thought a no-brainer, that everyone would of course be on board with — and moved it, carefully worded … and nobody seconded it. That means it dies, falls off the table, is not even discussed. That could be embarrassing, except it wasn’t; i saw it at once as an object lesson in politics.

letter main street rename.pngThe item being discussed was a letter from a resident regarding the renaming of Main Street. (You can find it here as item 7.1.) The resident makes a solid point — i do think Main Street is confusing, because it’s not Tofino’s main street anymore, and it seems ripe for a more historically significant name.

But the interesting part for me was the district’s NAMING OF NEW STREETS, LANES AND PARKS policy, also attached at the above link.

The policy includes a page of acceptable names under the rubrics “EARLY SETTLERS OF CLAYOQUOT SOUND—1901” and “MINISTERS—ARTIST—EMPLOYER—WELL KNOWN PEOPLE TO 1940,” split out as “available” or “not available” (i.e. already in use). Noble names all, redolent with history, but the striking thing to me was that there’s not a single First Nations name on the list.

Reconciliation is a hot topic these days, both as a trendy “right thing to do” but, far more than that, as a necessary component for progress on all fronts. The highest courts in the land have made it clear that, if Tofino is to move forward at all, it must be side by side with Clayoquot Sound’s First Nations (the Tla-o-qui-aht in particular as the district sits wholly within unceded TFN traditional territory).

So it was ironic to read this in the policy: Suggestions for the naming of streets, lanes and parks shall be governed by a desire to honour those persons who have historical significance within the District of Tofino and surrounding area. I’d call it indisputable that nobody has more “historical significance” in Clayoquot than its First Nations.

That clearly wasn’t the thinking when the NAMING policy was first worded, back in 1998. So i figured the glaring omission could be addressed by the following motion:

MOVE to have staff review the NAMING OF NEW STREETS, LANES AND PARKS policy of Jan-22-2013, to create and action a process to add local First Nations names to the list, before any new features are named.

The motion wasn’t seconded, which means that there was a pregnant silence, and the agenda moved on.

There were several lessons here. The first is that the matter on the table was the renaming of Main Street, not amending the NAMING policy. A motion should reflect directly on the topic under discussion, not go off on a related tangent. It’s always possible to make another, separate motion to address the tangent after the first matter is settled.

The second is that, politically speaking it’s unwise and politically risky to drop a motion out of the blue without sounding out one’s fellow councillors about it beforehand. It’s a simple courtesy, but it’s also the fact that what is obvious to one person may have a very different and unanticipated complexion to another. This happens all the time at council table: good points being made that i had never thought of.

Indeed, a bit of reflection on my stillborn motion told be this is a matter worthy of forethought and thorough discussion, not an off-the-cuff pronouncement.

It wasn’t till a couple of days later i realized that my colleagues had done me, and the NAMING cause, a great favour by letting that motion die. Looking at it through a reconciliation lens, what the above motion says, between the lines, is this: We, the colonizers, have decided that we want some of your names in our town, so please come up with some for us. Yikes, what a wholly colonial notion, fully grounded in unconscious privilege! Despite the best intentions, it could well set us off on another round of subterranean power machinations, frustration and misunderstanding.

I’m still very interested in seeing more First Nations names — and art, and cultural presence — visible around our little town. I believe this would provide a significant boost to reconciliation, to culture, to relations with our neighbours and, yes, to the world famous Tofino “brand.”

But the way forward with this is together, not through unilateral action. I intend to talk with First Nations friends and leaders, and with many of you, and with my fellow councillors. Then, if it looks like there’s sufficient interest, i’ll bring forward a new motion.

So there’s my political lesson for the week.

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