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Three Rivers councillor sorry for his 'downtown Hong Kong' comment

Coun. Gerard Holland, centre, spoke during a Three Rivers special council meeting at Kings Playhouse in Georgetown on Aug. 24.
Coun. Gerard Holland spoke at a Three Rivers special council meeting at Kings Playhouse in Georgetown on Aug. 24. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THREE RIVERS, P.E.I. — A Three Rivers councillor has publicly apologized for a comment he made at a recent municipal meeting that sparked controversy.

"We want you here," Coun. Gerard Holland said. "You're obviously welcome here, and I don't want you to think for one second that that doesn't include myself."

Holland was speaking directly to a few Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI) nuns during a special council meeting at Cavendish Farms Wellness Centre in Montague. Before the meeting was officially called to order, the councillor apologized for a comment he had made at a meeting the week before.

The GWBI has applied to construct a residence building as part of its multi-building development in Brudenell. One of Holland's concerns at the time was how quickly the process was moving forward, so before supporting the application he wanted to know what council and the GWBI planned for Brudenell to look like in 50 years.

"Whether we want it to look like Brudenell or whether we want it to look like downtown Hong Kong," Holland said on Aug. 24.

The application was ultimately tabled, and following The Guardian's publication of the story, Holland's comment received backlash as it seemed to be using an Asian city as a stereotype to describe the area's growing Buddhist community. 

"My remarks sparked off a controversy," he said. "I wish I had them back to say again. But I don't."

His intention with comparing Brudenell to Hong Kong wasn't to do with race, he said, but rather to compare a rural area to a highly urbanized area.

"(Like) downtown Toronto. Or downtown Charlottetown, for that matter."

While Holland still has concerns regarding aspects of the large development, he accepted responsibility for his comment and said he has since learned the GWBI is sensitive to preserving a rural look for Brudenell.

Both he and Mayor Edward MacAulay noted Three Rivers is a multi-ethnic community, and discussions were had with GWBI about the comment before the public apology. MacAulay recalled some experiences throughout his life where Islanders displayed opposition to people from away moving to the province.

"We're not used to change," he said. "But we gotta accept change."

Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.

Twitter.com/dnlbrown95

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