Update: Matt Whitman all-lives-matters Cornwallis panel

Outspoken councillor faces blowback for his criticism of the committee tasked with judging Halifax’s problematic founder.

click to enlarge Update: Matt Whitman all-lives-matters Cornwallis panel
Councillor Matt Whitman at City Hall.

Update: Mason clarifies his since-deleted tweet was agreeing only that Whitman, Adams and Hendsbee need public shaming, not that they are shitheads. The councillor previously told The Coast he stood by his comment when asked about “shitheads” Tuesday evening, but today says he thought we were referencing a different comment. “Sorry, totally my bad,” Mason tweets.


Matt Whitman’s opposition to Halifax’s Cornwallis panel has him facing tough criticism from the city’s poet laureate and one of his fellow councillors.

On Tuesday, Regional Council voted to create a special committee to conduct historical research and hold public engagement sessions on how the municipality commemorates both Edward Cornwallis and the area’s Indigenous history.

An eight-member panel, half of whom will be chosen by the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs, will report back to council with recommendations in six-to-eight months.

Whitman, along with Stephen Adams, were the only two votes against.

The Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor says his opposition to the panel is multi-faceted. The administrative order doesn’t specify “fact-based” decisions, Whitman claims, and it's too narrowly focused around Cornwallis.

“How about African Nova Scotians?” he says. “How about Acadians? How about gays, lesbians, everyone else? This is just about Cornwallis. There are lots of other names—Barrington, Quinpool, Coburg—that we should also be looking at if we go down this road.”

“He’s ‘all lives matter’-ing that,” HRM poet laureate Rebecca Thomas says in response to Whitman’s comments. “He’s ‘not-all-men’-ing us. We’re not having a conversation about that.”

Barrington Street is either named after William Barrington, a minor British politician, or is a misspelling of Harrington. Coburg is presumably named after the German Saxe-Coburg dynasty. It’s believed Quinpool Road gets its name from an Irish widow—named Quinn—who lived by the Northwest Arm.

There doesn’t appear to be a public effort to rename any of those three streets, but calls to topple Cornwallis’ south-end statue and rename Cornwallis Street and Park have been ongoing for years.

Whitman was also against a similar panel proposed a year ago by councillor Waye Mason. The councillor argued at the time that Cornwallis “wasn’t perfect,” but his celebration on city land didn’t require further evaluation.

Mason’s motion was defeated by a single vote. The idea only came back to council this past spring after a performance by Thomas of her poem, “Not Perfect,” which was directly inspired by comments from Whitman and his fellow councillors.

Thomas says Whitman’s latest “all-or-nothing” remarks on the Cornwallis panel are problematic when it comes to truth and reconciliation.

“It places a lot of pressure on the oppressed group to be virtuous if they want to have any kind of argument to move forward. It’s either we do it all and be perfect, or if you can’t be perfect and do it all then it’s not worth doing.”

While some view Halifax’s founder as an important figure in the city’s birth, a growing contingent say Cornwallis’ violent actions towards the Mi’kmaq people mark him as little more than a symbol of colonial oppression, unworthy of civic honours.

The outcry climaxed over the summer when HRM briefly covered the statue in a dusty tarp to dissuade members of the public from ripping it off the pedestal themselves.

Given the high stakes, Stephen Adams argues that making an unbiased ruling could be difficult for some panellists.

“I dare say that the four Indigenous members will be under immense pressure to have that statue removed,” Adams told his colleagues on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s fair to put them in that situation.”

That’s faulty logic, counters Thomas, and condescending to the fact-based history of the area’s Indigenous population.

“That would be like me saying, ‘He’s one guy who’s representing an entire riding. That’s a lot of pressure,’” she adds. “He’s saying we don’t have the capacity to make these decisions based off of our knowledge and skills and expertise.”

Adams wasn’t alone in fretting about the panel’s membership. Councillor David Hendsbee questioned whether it was appropriate for historians and Mi’kmaq experts from outside HRM to have a seat at the table. Whitman also chimed in on the topic, claiming the wording of the administrative order could be mistakenly construed as a requirement for the panel to have four non-Indigenous members.

“I would say my concerns would be that all eight should be members of the human race,” Whitman later told reporters, echoing a comment made earlier in the day by councillor Steve Stretch. “I know four are going to be Indigenous. I think the other four should possibly be Indigenous. Or not.”

The remarks by Whitman, Adams and Hendsbee prompted one local Twitter user to call-out the three councillors as “shitheads” in need of public shaming. Councillor Waye Mason agreed with at least half of that assessment.

Update: Matt Whitman all-lives-matters Cornwallis panel (2)
A since-deleted tweet from the councillor about his non-shithead colleagues.

Whitman in particular, Mason tweeted, appears to have a “mammoth” lack of understanding and pride in his ignorance of Indigenous issues.

“Emotions tend to run high and people tend to get quite entrenched, but I think it’s important that we approach this with the spirit of openness and we look at this with an open mind,” Mason had told his colleagues earlier in the day. “That we all, both this council and the people on the committee, are willing to listen to different points of view…and we try hard as a community to come together and resolve this issue.”

Council approved the four names it will appoint to the expert panel during an in-camera session Tuesday night. The remaining committee members will be nominated by the Assembly of Chiefs.

The names were not immediately released to the public, pending confirmation.

A separate staff report on HRM’s truth and reconciliation efforts is expected back in the next few weeks.

About The Author

Support The Coast

At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support independent journalism. We are committed as always to providing free access to readers, particularly as we confront the impact of COVID-19 in Halifax and beyond.

Read more about the work we do here, or consider making a donation. Thank you for your support!

Comments (8)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Get more Halifax

The Coast Daily email newsletter is your extra dose of the city Monday through Friday. Sign up and go deep on Halifax.

Recent Comments

  • Re: The truth about great white sharks in Nova Scotia

    • I believe there was one more incident about 15 years ago that was reported by…

      Posted by: Morris Green on Aug 7, 2022

  • Re: Why Schmidtville matters

    • Agree 100%! It's amazing what you and the group have accomplished for the protection and…

      Posted by: Donna Brinson on Aug 4, 2022

  • Re: The politics of imagination

    • Really enjoyed this article, thanks for sharing. Evidence of the difficulty of pulling past what…

      Posted by: Bloctopods on Aug 4, 2022