The debate over where to place a plaque commemorating the 1976 wildcat strike continues, with a final vote at last Monday’s committee of the whole meeting failing 3-3. Councillor Mary Murphy was absent.
Councillor Mario Feldhoff made a motion to place the plaque in the museum courtyard, which was one of several options provided to council by staff, as well as for council to advocate for the placement of a plaque at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Other locations included the originally proposed Centennial Park, Lions Park, and Coghlin Park, among others.
“I don’t recall the placement of a plaque ever creating so much community animosity,” said Feldhoff, referencing the strong response council has received from community members in regards to the project, which is spearheaded by the BC Labour Heritage Board, and initiated in Kitimat by Unifor 2301.
When it was first announced that council would be supporting the placement of the plaque in Centennial Park and providing financial support of up to $1,000, many residents wrote letters to the District stating that they were worried the commemoration would correlate to a celebration of an event that drove a wedge through the town. Many residents also took issue with the proposed placement in Centennial Park, where most of the monuments recognize those who have given their lives in war or in the workplace.
The strike was a result of union members in Kitimat who were unhappy with federal wage control measures, and culminated in workers walking off the job in protest. The RCMP were brought in, and there is still seemingly a lot of bad blood in the community over the event.
“There are some vivid opposing memories of the CASAW wildcat strike of 1976, and how that should most appropriately be remembered,” Feldhoff continued. “Many of us on council did not become aware of those divisive feelings until after our original July 18 motion.”
At the subsequent council meeting following the initial decision to support the plaque on August 2, council voted to reconsider the motion, which prompted a presentation at the August 15 council meeting by members of Unifor 2301 and the retirees chapter of the union.
Those presentations asked council to continue to their support of the project, as they believed it was an important event to remember, to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
After discussion amongst councillors regarding the history of the event and the appropriateness of the plaque being located in Centennial Park, councillors asked that the motion brought forward by Feldhoff be split into three separate parts to be voted on.
Council voted unanimously to support the placement of the plaque, with a location undetermined, while councillor Rob Goffinet voted against advocation for a plaque at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Council also voted unanimously to provide financial support up to $1,000 for the project, but during the vote for placing the plaque in the museum courtyard, mayor Phil Germuth and councillors Edwin Empinado and Mario Feldhoff voted in favour, while councillors Larry Walker, Claire Rattee, and Rob Goffinet voted against, which negated the motion.
The matter will be discussed once again at the council meeting tonight.