I don’t usually respond to letters to the editor. But Paul Allen’s letter in the September 16 edition of The Times deserves a response.
Mr. Allen believes I am in conflict of interest and should be barred from any involvement or expression of my views on the current discussions on the future of the John A. Macdonald statue on Picton’s Main Street. As I am a member of the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC), was a member of the Macdonald Project, which gifted the artwork to the community, and I have a private business, History Lives Here Inc., which conducts walking tours of Picton, he believes that I personally gain from these activities.
I am a member of PEHAC, a volunteer committee appointed by Council to advise them on heritage matters. I am currently serving my second term working with the other committee members, planning staff, and two councillors to undertake our work.
A working group to review the future of the Macdonald statue reporting to PEHAC was formed this year at the request of the municipality. I recused myself from sitting on the working group in an email to the PEHAC chair, Ken Dewar, on June 4, 2020.
I have voted in favour of two appointments to the working group of people who do not share my views on the future of the statue, but are voices I believe should be heard. I also suggested that we needed to include a representative of the Macdonald Project on the working group – as I do not believe we can have an inclusive process that begins with the exclusion of a key stakeholder, a motion supported by the other members of PEHAC.
I was also a member of the Macdonald Project to create Holding Court, the art work by renowned Canadian artist, Ruth Abernethy, depicting Macdonald’s first court case in October 1834 at the Picton courthouse. Mr. Allen disputes the court case ever took place, and claims the Macdonald art work is a hoax.
The court documents for the trial are available from the Ontario Archives. He has described award-winning journalist, the late Richard Gwyn, a member of the Order of Canada, and author of a two-volume set of books on Macdonald, as an “amateur historian.” I resigned from the Macdonald Project committee in December 2014, and the group has been largely inactive after its project finished in late 2015.
My company is engaged in a wide range of community history projects including walking tours of Picton. The John A. Macdonald artwork is one of a dozen brief stops on our 90-minute tours. Mr. Allen states this provides me with a financial benefit. We aren’t conducting tours this year. In the previous two summers, we averaged 100 people taking the tours at $25/ per person.
I’ll let you do the math. These revenues barely cover the liability insurance for my guides. Perhaps one day the tours will be profitable. And that would be great. But I plan to continue them regardless, as I strongly believe they are an educational benefit to residents and visitors.
Mr. Allen has bundled up his concerns into a 9-page document presented once to Council and twice to PEHAC. He has repeated these charges in local newspapers.
I asked the County’s Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swayze, to review them. In his August 14, 2020 judgment, Mr. Swayze agreed that I am not in conflict simply because I have a different view than Mr. Allen on how we as a community should resolve this issue. He also agreed that whether the statue of Macdonald remains on Picton’s Main Street or not, it has little impact on our tours. He concurs that there is also no economic benefit to me from the activity. In summary, Mr. Swayze wrote, “In fact, your knowledge and opinions on heritage is the reason why you should be on these committees and any suggestion that you have a conflict is misplaced.”
Mr. Allen is puzzled why there have been no questions for him during his three presentations to Council and PEHAC.
When you know the facts, I think the answer is obvious.