EDITOR’S NOTE: UPDATE TO PROFILE PUBLISHED IN 2020:
Coun. Isitt is currently a director with the Red Cedar Cafe, a non profit organization focused on providing community meals and council community liaison for Fairfield Gonzales. The role has caused controversy on council, see http://Councillor’s multi-tasking during meeting causes friction
In 2021, he co-authored (along with Ravi Malhotra) Disablement, Radicalism, and the Political Life of E.T. Kingsley. The book chronicles the life of the founder and leader of the Socialist Party of Canada and an editor of the Western Clarion newspaper, one of the most prominent left wing publications in Canada before World War.
Like him or not, there’s no denying Coun. Ben Isitt involves residents, stirs passions and sparks heated discussion on municipal issues. Given that he is the best known and most controversial politician on the South Island, Grumpy Taxpayer$ believes this profile is consistent with our non-partisan mandate of understanding and improving municipal governance to achieve better value for our tax dollars.
The 42-year-old historian, legal scholar, and sessional lecturer holds a law degree and PhDs in law and history, and has taught history, international relations and labour studies at UVic and other universities. His curriculum vitae spans 22 pages. A U.S website peoplepill.com offers a lengthy bio – he’s a Capricorn – detailing Coun. Isitt’s early life in Winnipeg, graduate work and community involvement over the years.
He has authored several books including From Victoria to Vladivostok: Canada’s Siberian Expedition, 1917-19 and Militant Minority: British Columbia Workers and the Rise of a New Left, 1948-1972.
Make no mistake, Coun. Isitt has very successfully tapped into the voter zeitgeist, who voted him in as Victoria councillor since 2011. He was the top ranked candidate in 2018 with 14,205 or 48 per cent of the vote. Although, that’s down from 60 per cent of the vote and topping the polls in the 2014 election.
Coun. Isitt has sat as a director on the CRD board since 2011, and on most of the important committees, such as governance and finance, regional housing, hospital district, parks and environment.
During this past 18 months in particular, Coun. Isitt has taken various controversial stands on issues that have often garnered strong support from his voter base.
The stands include advocating council pay increases, removing Christian symbols at Christmas, championing a class-action lawsuit against major fossil fuel companies, assessing costs associated with Remembrance Day – some are almost urban legend.
Critics argue the issues are often outside the local mandate and expertise of councillors, and amount to shameless grandstanding at the expense of neglecting providing quality core services.
Others though – by the way, the millennial generation outnumbers Baby Boomers in Victoria – have been enraged enough to call the city “Loopyville.”
The business community, which pay taxes at a rate of almost 3.5 times that of residential taxpayers, argue that owners are hampered from voting in municipal elections and influencing council.
Coun. Isitt’s controversial positions are often supported by the civic political party Together Victoria consisting of Couns. Sarah Potts and Sharmarke Dubow, and colleague Coun. Jeremy Loveday.
Coun. Isitt indicated publicly that he holds a membership in Together Victoria, but in June 2018 denied any suggestion that he’s behind organizing a slate to solidify council’s balance of power on the left.
Not everyone is a fan and his positions have prompted considerable public backlash.
One commentator, Allan Allnutt, the former editor and publisher of the Montreal Gazette and Times Colonist, says Isitt’s populist tactics are similar to that of President Donald Trump.
Last year Allnutt wrote in the Times Colonist, “Ben Isitt is not as naive as he would have us believe. He is a left-wing populist (yes, there are many) whose playbook is borrowed straight from The Donald’s.”
The postmillenial.com website writes about ‘Ben Isitt’s four craziest city council demands.’ The website change.org offers a petition to ‘Ban Ben from Victoria City Council!’ There is a page dedicated on VibrantVictoria.ca since 2014.
Eventually, as a result of public blowback, Coun. Isitt backed away from calling for the banning of horse-drawn carriages, settling for greater regulation of the industry. But, that was after a large and noisy protest in May, 2019 – within earshot of council chambers – some yelling “Ban Bolshevik Ben.”
To date, the most controversial issue had Coun. Isitt and council opposing the Coastal GasLink project in northern B.C. followed by three councillors attending the demonstration at the Legislature. That event led to a pointed exchange of words between Coun. Isitt and VicPD Chief Del Manak after he made allegations police were spreading ‘fake news.’
Earlier this month, popular host Adam Sterling of CFAX mocked the ‘Top 10 conspiracy theories of Ben Isitt‘ – it was not complimentary.
Despite reservations, city council with the exception of Coun. Geoff Young, endorsed in principle a left-wing policy document tabled May 14 by Coun. Isitt called ‘Common Vision, Common Action’.
Pitched as a grassroots initiative to create and implement a regional agenda for social and ecological justice, it calls for lobbying the province and the federal government to bring in a wealth tax, among other things. Four of the 20-member planning committee that drafted the initial 2018 document were city councillors at the time.
So, what’s next for Coun. Ben Isitt?
Another run at the mayor’s office may not be appealing: As a 24-year-old student he first challenged Mayor Alan Lowe in 2002 and again in 2005 and was defeated on both occasions.
Despite leading frequent forays into provincial issues as a municipal councillor, provincial politics is less likely an option following harsh words by Premier John Horgan during the Coastal GasLInk protests.
In the meantime, Coun. Isitt is pitching the Common Vision, Common Action political agenda, and working behind the scenes hoping to influence the outcome of the eventual municipal by-election.
In a Twitter message meant to rally the troops last fall, he said,”Stakes are too high with ecological and social crises of capitalism to allow Chamber of Commerce, big business and developer interests to shift Council back to the right.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Coun. Isitt declined two requests for an interview during the preparation of this story.
How millennial leaders will change America, Time Magazine Feature Edition, Jan. 23, 2020.
The resurgent Left – Millennial Socialism, The Economist Feature Edition, Feb. 14, 2019.
Inside the corrosive new generational blame game, Macleans Magazine Feature issue, Jan. 10, 2020. READ MORE