Nova Scotia

Cornwallis panel to be created for Halifax region

The panel will advise council on how best to remember Halifax's controversial founder and honour Indigenous groups.

Body would advise regional council on how best to remember city's controversial founder

Edward Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. He issued the so-called scalping proclamation the same year, in which he offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

Halifax regional council voted on Tuesday to form an expert panel to advise the municipality on issues that arise surrounding public spaces and monuments named after Edward Cornwallis.

Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, was one of the founders of Halifax in 1749.

The British military officer issued a so-called scalping proclamation the same year, in which he offered cash to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person.

"We're building a new relationship with the Indigenous community in Canada and I think we need to do that here in Halifax as well," said Coun. Shawn Cleary, who represents District 9, Halifax West Armdale.

Most of council supported motion

Cleary introduced the motion Tuesday afternoon, and after some deliberation most councillors ended up supporting it.

Coun. Steve Adams suggested an amendment to the original motion, saying the words "fact-based" or "evidence-based" should be added to the motion and precede the instructions to the panel in their decision-making process.

Coun. Tim Outhit called the amendment "derogatory," saying the phrase would be redundant and that the process would be naturally "fact- and evidence-based."

The move for that amendment was defeated.

'Unbelievably friendly' debate

"Given the way the debate went last year, this debate was unbelievably friendly," said Cleary.

Council narrowly defeated the very same motion to create an expert panel in March 2016.

Many of the faces of Halifax regional council have changed since the first vote, leading to a nearly unanimous decision this time around.

"Clearly this is a far more very progressive council, a very empathetic council and I feel like we're moving forward together," said Cleary.

Next steps

Staff will now work on deciding who will form the new panel, which, according to the motion passed today, will include "reviewing all aspects and facts of the situation and then advise council regarding the historical recognition of Edward Cornwallis."

Cleary said the expert-panel process would be preferred to a public-engagement-style system. He favours leaving the academic community to the task.

"This issue is divisive, it's emotional. When we look at that, it's going to take our staff a little while. There's going to be a lot of input into this," said Cleary.

Cleary said he wasn't sure how long it would take to assemble the panel, nor how many members the panel would consist of, saying those decisions would be left to staff.

The intention isn't to tear down statues of Cornwallis, but to get an expert opinion on how the controversial figure should be commemorated in public spaces, Cleary said.