While she now governs a city named for a queen, renowned for its tea rooms and the capital of a province with the word “British” in its title, the first act of new Victoria mayor Lisa Helps was to refuse to swear an oath to the current Queen.
“Today I affirmed an oath to serve my community with integrity. This is what today should be about,” said Ms. Helps in a Twitter post written soon after her refusal set local media abuzz — and filled her inbox with angry email.
The question no one has asked: Which Canadian mayors DO pledge allegiance to the Queen? Pls RT Let’s find out!
Lisa Helps (@lisahelps) December 06, 2014
Today I affirmed an oath to serve my community with integrity. This is what today should be about. Speech: ow.ly/Fotqc
Lisa Helps (@lisahelps) December 05, 2014
Honoured to start 2nd term as City Councillor. Thanks everyone who helped to continue standing up for people & planet http://t.co/KcVh8Pf8Lv
Ben Isitt (@Ben_Isitt) December 05, 2014
In post-inauguration comments, she said she had wanted to pledge her oath solely to the people of Victoria, and left out the Queen’s name partly as a gesture to the local Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
She was not alone. Five of the city’s nine-member council also broke with tradition by declining to pledge allegiance to “Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors.”
In a blog post explaining his decision, Councillor Ben Isitt cited the “tremendous suffering and dislocation for indigenous people” caused by British imperialism.
“I’m not a big fan of the monarchy, and I work closely with local First Nations, and I think to honour that work and the process of decolonization, I couldn’t in good faith take this voluntary oath,” he told the National Post.
The decision has incensed Victoria’s small, but vocal cadre of monarchists.
Bruce Hallsor, the Monarchist League of Canada’s representative, said members would not have voted for Ms. Helps had they known she would refuse to swear an oath to the Queen.
She won the November election by only 89 votes.
“I’m pretty sure there’s more than 89 monarchists who voted for Lisa Helps who would not have voted for her if she had been upfront about our recent position,” Mr. Hallsor told Global B.C.
While an oath to the Queen is mandatory for MLAs across town at the B.C. Legislature Assembly, the province’s mayors face no such requirement. For this reason, pledging fealty to the Queen was long ago abandoned in some of Victoria’s older, richer and arguably more monarchist suburbs.
“We don’t take the oath, and there’s quite a number of other communities around here that don’t do it either,” said Nils Jensen, mayor of Oak Bay, a Victoria enclave renowned for its tweediness.
“We are in the chain that leads up to the Crown, but whether or not you want to express it publicly, in my opinion, doesn’t matter one way or the other.”
Under British Columbia’s Community Charter, new mayors need only to pledge they did not buy votes or intimidate voters and they will not become corrupt.
The situation is different at the provincial and federal levels, where the Canadian Constitution demands representatives pledge to be “faithful and bear true allegiance” to the Queen.
Even Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois swore an oath to the Queen before becoming Quebec premier in 2012, although she did so in a reluctant closed-door ceremony.
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Elsewhere in Canada, First Nations are also known to ceremonially reaffirm their links to the Crown, saying they represent a “government-to-government” link that predates the creation of Canada.
In British Columbia, where much of the province sits on untreatied land, few such sentiments exist.
An oath to the Queen is also demanded of new citizens, although this year, the requirement was challenged in court by three immigrants from Jamaica, Ireland and Israel.
Their case was rejected by the Ontario Court of Appeal on the grounds any Canadian oath is technically an oath to the Queen, whether it mentions the monarch or not.
“Because the Queen remains the head of our government, any oath that commits the would-be citizen to the principles of Canada’s government is implicitly an oath to the Queen,” wrote Justice Karen Weiler.