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B.C. board launches public effort to rename school named after ‘racist’ federal MP – BC


A Vancouver Island school district is embarking on what could be a difficult exercise to rename an elementary school named after a long-serving, controversial former municipal, provincial and federal politician.

The Alberni School District in Port Alberni, B.C., is setting the stage for a public consultation to rename A.W. Neill Elementary School, named for Alan Webster Neill, a former mayor, member of the B.C. legislature and a federal MP who represented the area in the House of Commons from 1921 to 1945.

Neill, known as and advocate for a blue-collar workers, an early backer of the Canada Pension Plan and a supporter of unemployment insurance, was also considered racist for his efforts in the House of Commons to deny voting rights to Asian immigrants, his support of anti-Chinese laws in the B.C. legislature and his approval of Indigenous residential schools.






First Nations’ students successfully petition B.C. government for provincial park name change


First Nations’ students successfully petition B.C. government for provincial park name change

Neill’s own home in Port Alberni included a restriction that it could never be sold to Asian people. He died in 1960 at 91. The home’s covenant was removed earlier this year.

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“In my opinion, his behaviour and his beliefs were so heinous that he doesn’t deserve a spot on a main plaque on any public building,” said Rosemarie Buchanan, a school board trustee who spearheaded a failed 2017 attempt to have the city council drop the name of Neill Street.

“To think we were sending children to a school named after somebody who was an Indian Agent, who believed the residential school system was good for kids,” she said. “He said the Japanese people were a cancer.”


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The district’s school board said in a statement last month it is considering a name change for the school.

“In the Alberni Valley, much discussion has taken place about the values and actions of A.W. Neill and whether or not A.W. Neill Elementary School should continue to bear this individual’s name,” said school board chairwoman Pam Craig.

She said board trustees propose A.W. Neill elementary become either Compton Elementary School or Kitsuksis Elementary School.


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Prof. Reuben Rose-Redwood, a social and cultural geography expert at University of Victoria, said there is a long, worldwide history of renaming places, including cities, streets and public squares. He cited the Soviet Union as an example of a country that underwent extensive name changes.


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Victoria’s council approved the removal of a statue of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, from the front entrance at city hall earlier this year.

Rose-Redwood said the two issues are similar.






City of Victoria removes John A. Macdonald statue


City of Victoria removes John A. Macdonald statue

“It speaks to what do we in the present hold as our values of who we choose to honour from the past,” he said. “How can we constructively engage with the past in the present to create a better future.”

He said the debate about to unfold in Port Alberni is healthy.

“We often learn our history, not by having monuments there, but by the debates that arise from people who suggest we should remove monuments.”

The Port Alberni school board will decide by next spring whether to make the name change, said Craig, adding the board is looking for public input.


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Buchanan said she knows that people don’t like change.

“Some people have said to me, ‘that was just the way that was at that time.’ There is no get out of jail free card because it was said so many years ago. It is still incredibly racist.”

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Former Port Alberni mayor Mike Ruttan said he expects old history to collide with today’s values during the debate.






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“I can tell you it isn’t going to be an easy conversation because it isn’t just the name,” said Ruttan, who was mayor when the council rejected a name change for Neill Street.

“Without a doubt, A.W. Neill was racist, but also, we have to think about that time. It was a very racist time and there were what people perceived as a lot of threats to the economy, a lot of threats to safety and all that kind of stuff.”

Neill was the MP during the Great Depression, the years of the Second World War and the growth of residential schools.

Ruttan, a retired school principal, said he went to A.W. Neill school as a youngster. He said he did not know about Neill’s history while growing up in Port Alberni.


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“It’s going to be a really interesting community discussion and ultimately the decision, as I understand it, will be made by the school board,” Ruttan said. “Kudos to them if they can work through this decision without alienating people in the larger community.”

Prof. Ian Baird, a geography expert at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Neill’s views were strong even for the time period.

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“Even for his day and age, and I think this is the very important thing to recognize, he was one of the most racist politicians around,” said Baird. “He was fundamentally against all Asians from the first moment he entered politics. Asians were seen as an economic threat to white people, or at least to him.”

Baird, who owns property in the Port Alberni area, said changing the name of the school is up to the people of Port Alberni, but “it doesn’t seem to me he’s worthy of an honorific.”




© 2019 The Canadian Press







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Chrystia Freeland heads to Mexico in effort to finalize new NAFTA revisions


OTTAWA—Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is to meet American and Mexican officials in Mexico City on Tuesday amid reports a deal to revise the new North American free-trade agreement is close to completion.

The federal government revealed Freeland’s itinerary late Monday following a day of furious speculation about the state of the United States-Mexico-Canada trade deal — and concerns from Canada’s aluminum sector about what the agreement could mean for the industry and workers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump talked directly about the deal Monday, Trudeau’s office reported, without details.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement was signed by the three countries last year, but U.S. ratification has been stalled for months as congressional Democrats and organized labour have bickered with Mexico over labour rights as well as the agreement’s treatment of steel and aluminum.

There were concerns the agreement, which aims to update the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, would not be approved before Congress disperses until 2020 and its focus shifts to next fall’s presidential election.

Freeland was cautious Monday amid chatter of an imminent deal.

“In the lives of ordinary Canadians, there is perhaps no issue in our relationship with the United States that matters more than trade,” she said in question period.

“The prime minister raised the ratification of the new NAFTA and other trade issues in his meeting last week with the president and we have been working intensively, including many conversations over the weekend and this morning with our American partners, on getting the deal finalized.”

Trump weighed in Monday, saying: “I’m hearing very good things, including from unions and others that it’s looking good. I hope they put it up to a vote, and if they put it up to a vote, it’s going to pass.

“I’m hearing a lot of strides have been made over the last 24 hours, with unions and others.”

The breakthrough appears to have followed Mexico accepting — with a five-year phase-in period — a U.S. demand to tighten the definition of North American steel in a section of the agreement dealing with where cars and their parts can be said to originate.

Products that officially originate in North America get more favourable treatment than ones that originate abroad but come through one of the countries in the agreement.

However, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said his country would not accept the same tighter definition for aluminum because the raw materials are not produced in Mexico.

Mexico also rejected U.S. demands for American inspectors to be sent in to ensure Mexican auto workers are being paid $16 per hour on average, though U.S. officials were said to have accepted Mexico’s offer to allow dispute-resolution panels to review labour-law compliance.

Labour unions in the U.S. were to be briefed on the proposed amendments on Monday with the hope they would agree to the changes, which would pave the way for the Democratic leaders to offer their own approval.

The Trump administration, as well as the Canadian and Mexican governments would then be asked to agree formally to the amended deal before introducing legislation to put it into force.

Details of the amendments had yet to be communicated to Canadian industry and labour groups Monday, but those representing the aluminum sector and its workers were upset the deal may not include a tighter definition on what constitutes North American aluminum.

“We’re certainly not happy with this at all because it simply means Mexico wants to keep an open door to foreign metal coming in from China, from the Middle East, from India,” said Aluminum Association of Canada president Jean Simard.

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Noting the industry was battered by U.S. tariffs last year, Simard added: “Canada has taken the case of aluminum as much as steel up to now and we certainly expect Minister Freeland and the Canadian government to hold their position on this like they’ve been doing up to now.”

Ken Neumann, national director in Canada of the United Steelworkers union, which represents employees in both the aluminum and steel industries, was also critical of Mexico’s demand for a five-year phase-in period for tightening the definition of North American steel.

“We strongly would anticipate or hope that our government is going to stand up for our aluminum workers,” he said.

“So we’re going to keep our fingers crossed. We’re going to consult with the government of Canada to make sure they’re going to stand up for what’s right for the steel industry and for our aluminum workers.”

Neumann and other members of the United Steelworkers’ leadership team in Canada were scheduled to fly to the U.S. to be briefed Tuesday on details of the proposed amendments.

“At this stage of the game, all eyes are on where organized labour is on Mexico’s newest proposals,” said Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based trade lawyer with law firm Dickinson Wright and an expert in Canada-U.S. trade. “If they agree, it’s likely House (of Representatives) Democrats will sign off on this.”

Yet while there is a chance that legislation could be introduced this week and passed by Congress before Dec. 20 to bring the deal into force, Ujczo warned there still could be unexpected hurdles.

“Nobody has seen the implementing bill soup-to-nuts,” he said. “So we’re closing Phase 1 of the deal process, then we’re on to Phase 2, which will be we’ll all have to take a look at the implementing bill.”

The new trade pact would replace NAFTA, which came into force in 1994 and eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Critics, including Trump, labour unions and many Democratic lawmakers, branded NAFTA a job-killer for America because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalize on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the U.S. duty-free.

Mexico ratified the new North American deal in June while the Canadian government has said it is waiting to ratify the agreement at the same time as the United States.

—With files from The Associated Press





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