The Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) says Christmas lights are a vital part of the downtown core in the winter season.
“Decorating downtown during Christmas is really important for creating a warm and inviting space for people to come and visit, which is important for our small local businesses,” said Jeff Bray, executive director of the DVBA.
Last week city council passed a motion to re-evaluate the spending on winter decorations, particularly those with potential religious connotations such as Christmas trees, poinsettias and Santa Claus. The motion was put forward by Coun. Ben Isitt, who said that the city should look into making the decorations more inclusive.
“We’ve never had a negative response from the public, and actually the response is the opposite in that people want to see more,” Bray said. “We certainly are very sensitive to any overt religious icons, but in terms of lights around trees and these things, we don’t think there’s been an issue identified by the public.”
One of the most prominent displays up for debate is the Christmas tree decorated in Centennial Square, adjacent to City Hall. While the tree belongs to the city, the lights themselves actually belong to the DVBA, who put them up with the City’s permission. The city also fronts the cost to rent a crane to get the lights to the top of the tree.
The city is also responsible for street lamps and banners, but many other groups contribute to the downtown seasonal ambiance, including local businesses, the DVBA, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and major property owners. Based on the public response, these entities will likely continue to decorate as per usual.
“Nobody has come in and complained about holly to me, so I don’t know how holly or poinsettias or lights around a tree is itself a problem,” Bray said. “Those are seasonal displays that lots of people put up in their homes and businesses that don’t appear to be divisive in any way.”
Still, Bray said Isitt is certainly entitled to his opinion, and that carefully evaluating costs is an important task that council is responsible for.
“He is looking at the expenditure side, regardless of if there’s a religious connotation or not, and if it is a valuable use of public dollars, which I think is a valuable thing to look at,” Bray said. “I would argue that it’s absolutely vital to contribute towards the vibrancy of our downtown… and quite frankly lighting even helps with issues like safety; more lights on, more people feel safe. We think it’s a great use of public dollars.”