Maori activist Ken Mair is not surprised long-time "h" opponent Michael Laws has a problem with the city's new dual-spelling welcome signs.
Seven signs now greet travellers entering the city via State Highways 3 and 4, Airport Rd, Great North Rd and Riverbank Rd. They feature the phrase "Haere mai ki Whanganui" followed by "Welcome to Wanganui", with a backdrop of a person canoeing the Whanganui River.
At a Wanganui District Council meeting on Monday, Mr Laws objected to the signs because the Maori greeting took precedence over the English and because the full council had not been consulted before the signs were put up last week.
Mr Laws told The Dominion Post he had no problem with the words "haere mai" but, since the spelling of Whanganui with an "h" had "no official status whatsoever", it should not feature prominently.
"It is usual, on all tourism signs, for English to be the precedent ... and then for the Maori translation to run under it."
Mr Mair said that view was disrespectful, but he acknowledged it was held only by a minority of councillors.
"That doesn't come as a surprise, as it's being led by Michael Laws. That's been his prejudiced position for a long time."
Whanganui iwi would prefer the welcome signs did not feature the non-h spelling at all, he said.
We saw one of the new signs for the first time as we drove back into W(h)anganui after our RWC trip to Wellington at the weekend. And we have to say that it looked really, really good; a marked improvement on its predecessor.
And Laws is wrong when he says that the alternative spelling has "no official status whatsoever"; he knows only too well that the New Zealand Geographic Board approved the spelling in September 2009, but allowed businesses and organisations to choose whether or not the adopted the "h" version. After all, as Mayor, he described the NZGB's decision then as "racist, biased and failed".
The world did not end in September 2009, and the majority of W(h)anganui residents really don't lose too much sleep over the H Issue. Michael Laws is no longer our Mayor; he is by his own admission an infrequent attender around the table of the Wanganui District Council and its committees. It is time for him to cut his losses and move on, as just about everyone else has.