Halifax council voted today to have Mayor Mike Savage make two mayoral proclamations. One proclamation made the donair the “official food” of the city of Halifax; another proclamation committed the city to “a new equal partnership with Aboriginal people in Canada; one based on truth, dignity, and mutual respect.”
Guess which proclamation made national news, and guess which proclamation was ignored by the TV cameras.
Three different TV camera people came for the donair vote, setting up before the vote and packing up and leaving immediately after the vote. They came back at the end of the meeting to interview Savage about donairs.
The TV news people didn’t care a whit about the proclamation of reconciliation with aboriginal people. They weren’t there for the vote, and they didn’t ask Savage about it afterwards.
To Savage’s credit, he castigated the TV reporters for making such a big deal out of the donair proclamation. “You’re the ones who made this controversial,” he told the TV reporters.
During the meeting, the donair issue took about 10 minutes to deal with. It was councillor Linda Mosher’s pet issue, so she introduced the motion, and a half-dozen councillors seconded it. Councillor Bill Karsten spoke sensibly against it, saying council shouldn’t be dealing with such trivial issues. Then council voted 7-7, but Savage’s tie-breaking yes vote meant the motion passed.
In contrast, the reconciliation proclamation unfolded solemnly. Savage gave a heartfelt speech, pointing out that mayors in cities out west with large First Nations populations often open their meetings by acknowledging that their City Hall is on un-ceded territory. The history of Nova Scotia starts with the Mi’kmaq, said Savage, and we’ve ignored them too long.
Savage was followed by councillor Waye Mason, who said that the Mi’kmaq contribute economically and culturally to our community. Councillor Jennifer Watts broke out in tears as she said “this is the most important vote I’ve had made as councillor.” Several other councillors spoke of the important symbolism of the vote. Council then voted unanimously in favour of the proclamation.
After the vote, Watts and Pam Glode-Desrochers, the director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, embraced, perhaps unaware that they were enacting the very promise of the proclamation.
Look, neither the donair nor the reconciliation proclamation have the force of law or commit the city to any action. They’re symbolic. But so far as symbols have meaning — and the broad support the donair proclamation had on social media sure suggests it held meaning for lots and lots of people — then surely the reconciliation proclamation is the one we should be paying attention to, no?
And yet on tonight’s TV news, it will be all about donairs.