Victoria’s city council will cover a major property tax hike for the B.C. capital’s last active Legion mission – a measure the mayor hopes will quell questions raised over a recent council debate on Remembrance Day ceremony costs.
“I hope that the message this decision sends is that Victoria is a place that values veterans, that we value the services our legion provides,” Mayor Lisa Helps said in a weekend interview. “If there was ever any question of that, that can now be laid to rest.”
She added, “I hope this decision that council has made to support the Legion can do a little bit of repair work for the image of Victoria that might have been cast by some councillors’ ideas.”
The rescue of the affected Legion comes after intense criticism of city council last month over a councillor’s suggestion, in a motion, that the military pay for such events as Remembrance Day ceremonies in the city. Councillor Ben Isitt raised the idea on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The notion, which Ms. Helps opposed, died at a subsequent council meeting.
Angus Stanfield, speaking for the Royal Canadian Legion Trafalgar Pro Patria Branch, said the operation – the only active Legion serving greater Victoria – would have been finished without last week’s council help via a grant.
“It would have been the start of the end,” the chairman of the Victoria Remembrance Day Committee Poppy fund said in a Monday interview.
“We were facing a pretty difficult situation. We didn’t have the money."
The Pro Patria Branch had set aside about $70,000 for property taxes – a figure in line with recent costs. However, it turned out the bill was going to be $104,231.78 – an increase described in a staff report as “untenable” and “unexpected."
At a council meeting late last week, council voted unanimously to a grant to cover the $36,481 difference affecting the branch, which has 1,340 members.
Future help through a partial tax exemption will be subject to further discussion this fall. The staff report proposed subsequent annual grants, starting with $40,000 in 2020, and increasing by $5,000 a year until 2025 when the custom is to be reviewed.
The motion also calls for sending a council motion to the September convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities requesting the province consider a policy and/or legislative change to provide exemptions to Legions in B.C. from payment of property taxes. The staff report ahead of last week’s debate says Victoria is one of few B.C. municipalities to offer no tax relief to a local Legion branch.
Mr. Stanfield said it was the first time the Legion has ever received such a grant from the city although they have previously made some appeals.
He directly linked council’s support to recent events.
“[They] created the circumstances where we were able to get what we did,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for some of that kind of press surrounding these issues, I don’t know if they would have listened to us," he said.
Mr. Stanfield says he raised the issue of the taxes some time ago with Councillor Marianne Alto.
In an interview on Monday, she said she has been interested for years in tax issues facing the Legion and brought in the motion that led to this year’s help.
She said it was hard to say if the controversy over Remembrance Day ceremonies affected the recent council vote.
“I am not going to be able to speak to the motivation of my colleagues and how they voted, but certainly it would be fair to say there was a greater awareness of the issues of the Legion,” Ms. Alto said in an interview.
“Did [the controversy] create a greater understanding, which would have informed a more broad-based decision? Sure. I think so."
The Remembrance Day issue comes after Victoria was also in the national spotlight for removing a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, from the front steps of Victoria City Hall as part of a gesture toward reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Ms. Helps said the statue concerns and Remembrance Day debate are distinct issues.
The matter around the statue, she said, was “thoughtful and considered” policy while the Remembrance Day matter came out of a “knee-jerk, spur-of-the moment” action of a councillor.