Council Update: Cornwallis Statue Removal, Khyber, Housing

Cornwallis being removed. Photo: CBC

Cornwallis Statue: It was looking like a fairly quiet agenda for Council until Friday afternoon when the Assembly of First Nation’s Chiefs announced they were pulling out of the committee that was being formed to examine the commemoration of Cornwallis and Mi’kmaq history.

I’m personally very disappointed that the Committee that Council had hoped to create to examine the Cornwallis question didn’t get off the ground. I was in favour of the Committee approach because it had the potential to dig deeper into this issue and to be a real tool for truth and reconciliation. We don’t always get what we want in life though. No one said that reconciliation would be easy and without the Assembly at the table, Council had to find a Plan B.

The staff recommendation for us to consider in response to the Assembly’s decision was to temporarily remove the Cornwallis statue and then reengage the Assembly. I and eleven of my colleagues voted in favour of doing so (Hendsebee, Adams, Walker and Whitman voted against).

I want to emphasize that I didn’t vote to remove the statue because I feared violence or because it was being demanded of me and I didn’t cast my vote with any expectation that the statue might one day be put back in the Park. I voted to take it down because I believe it was the right thing to do based on everything I had read and heard on the topic. It had become clear to me that the status-quo was never going to work and that, at the very least, we were heading for some sort of redesign of the Park.

I heard from many people who argued “you can’t change history” and, they’re right. We can’t change history, but the piece that I think is missing in that argument is that Cornwallis isn’t just an historical figure. The problem is he has become a symbol for all that is wrong in the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. It’s not just a question of history. The injustices done to the Mi’kmaq run through the last 267 years and are still felt in the present day. Pick any social indicator you want from health, to education, to economics and you’ll find that indigenous Canadians are measurably worse off than non-indigenous Canadians.

Indicator Indigenous Canadians Non-Indigenous Canadians
Unemployment* 24.6% 9.1%
% didn’t finish high school* 28% 19%
% with a university degree* 12% 20%
Household income* $57,810 $66,590
% in substandard housing* 18.5% 9.9%
Life expectancy (men) 73 years 79 years
Suicide rate 126 per 100,000 24 per 100,000
* indicates a Nova Scotia stat, rest are national numbers


This isn’t just a question of history. The present and the past are all wrapped up in this. I think that’s been at the core of the Cornwallis question and it’s part of why it’s been so hard. It’s difficult to find a common understanding on what to do when a lot of the people involved, Mi’kmaq and European descendents, aren’t even talking about the same thing!

There was no erasing history in Council’s vote. Cornwallis will still be in the history books as the controversial founder of Halifax. That hasn’t changed. Ironically, we all probably know more about him now than any of us were ever taught in school. What Council has voted to do is to take Cornwallis, literally, off the pedestal and to, hopefully, work towards a better present and future in the Province that we now all share. At the end of the day, it’s just a statue. A piece of bronze that has come to symbolize the violence and injustices done to fellow Nova Scotians. What was it really adding to our community? For us to move forward with reconciliation, it needed to go.

I understand if you disagree with Council’s and my decision. Questions of identify are never easy, but I felt it important to lay out my thoughts and rationale on the matter and to let you know that this wasn’t something I voted for because I thought it was the easy way out, because I feared violence or because it was demanded. It was because I’m convinced it was the right thing to do.

Below is my four minute speech on the issue at Council.

Housing: In other business, Council voted to explore the possibility of taking over housing responsibilities from the Province. The motion was moved by Councillor Mason and his argument is that almost all big cities across the country have some role in the provision of housing and that the Province’s track record, from governments of all three parties, hasn’t been great. The need in HRM is growing with 1/4 of households in the municipality spending more than 30% of their income on housing (the generally agreed upon statistical cutoff). HRM has set a goal of seeing 5,000 affordable units built by 2020 (province, non-profit, etc), but so far, the number actually constructed is 0. Something needs to change.

There were some real reservations about this motion around the table because housing is currently a provincial responsibility. I supported the request for a staff report as it’s an area that urgently needs attention. I’m not sure what will come back, but I definitely won’t support HRM taking on housing if it doesn’t come with the transfers to pay for it. This can’t be a download to the municipality. Councillor Mason suggests that the Province could transfer to HRM a portion of their share of the property tax revenue (approximately 30% of property tax revenue that is collected by HRM actually goes to the Province for housing, education and corrections). We’ll see what develops on this one.

Khyber. Photo: Metro

Khyber: The other significant item on Tuesday’s agenda was the Khyber. HRM owns the building and designated it as surplus a few years ago. The Khyber has a long history in the arts community, but it, unfortunately, also requires major work totaling several million. A non-profit society, 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society, proposes to take over the Khyber and run it as an arts incubator. The Society plans to pay for the cost of renovating the building through federal, provincial and municipal grants (50%) and through fundraising (50%). Ongoing operations would be sustained by renting out the space with a mix of market and non-market rent.

Unfortunately, the Society has been caught in a catch 22 in that that they can’t apply for funding from other orders of government to get the project off the ground if they don’t own the building and HRM won’t sell the building to the Society if they can’t show that the venture will be successful. Council voted to break the deadlock by asking staff to prepare for a sale of the building to the Society for $1. Part of terms and conditions will be a buyback clause so that, if the Society’s plans don’t work out, HRM can get the building back. In a buyback situation, all HRM would be out will be the legal costs. It’s a calculated leap of faith. The Khyber will return to Council again in the near future.


  • Directed staff to continue developing an “all ages and abilities” bike route in Downtown (fix Hollis)
  • Voted to monitor the development of basic income initiatives
  • Adjusted some street names to eliminate duplication (Craigburn Court) and correct the misspelling of Cathedral (Cathdral)
  • Approved changes to private road maintenance fees in a few places (Shag
  • Provide the United Way with a $50,000 grant towards the development of an anti-poverty strategy
  • Directed staff to send a letter to the Canadian Transportation Agency indicating HRM’s willingness to acquire the Windsor-Hantsport railway in the Sackville area for a future rails-to-trails project
  • Initiated the planning amendment for the Oceanstone Seaside Resort in Peggy’s Cove
  • Approved a study for the Eastern Shore Lifestyles Centre in Sheet Harbour, a possible combination of the library, hall, and rec centre
  • Awarded audit services to KPMG
  • Directed staff to pursue the federal smart cities challenge with a poverty reduction focus
  • Scheduled a public hearing for planning amendments to allow automative repairs in an existing building at the corner of Albro Lake and Victoria
  • Approved the 2018 volunteer awards


  1. Thank you Sam for doing the right thing. No one wants to change history but putting up statues is how we recognize a hero and how they may have changed our world for the better.

Comments are closed.